By MK Ashoka
Bangalore, July 31 (IANS): Kittur Chennamma, the Queen of Kittur is a common household name in Karnataka. The armed struggle she waged against the British long before the famous First Indian War of Independence in 1857 inspires the younger generation to this day.
Drupadi Murmu, the country’s 15th president, mentioned Rani Chennamma during his first speech in parliament after his July 25 swearing-in. Kittur Rani Chennamma is considered the pride of Karnataka as well as a symbol of bravery.
His statues are installed across Karnataka and one was also unveiled in the Parliament complex in New Delhi in 2007 by President Pratibha Patil.
During 1824, the British East India Company took control of one Indian-ruled kingdom after another. When they set eyes on the kingdom of Kittur, the Britons never thought that the queen would fight such a brave fight and defeat them.
Born on November 14, 1778 in a small village called Kakati in the Belagavi district of Karnataka, Rani Chennamma was trained in horseback riding, sword fighting and archery with the support of her father in the childhood. She was married to Raja Mallasarja when she was 15 years old.
After the death of her husband Mallasarja and later her son in 1824, the British moved forward to annex Kittur with their doctrine of forfeiture.
The doctrine stated that in case the ruler died childless, the state right would be taken over by the East India Company.
Chennamma not only defied the rule, but adopted Shivalingappa as his heir and challenged British rule. She wrote a letter to Mountstuart Elphinstone, then Lieutenant Governor of Bombay. His request was denied, and the British waged war on his kingdom with an army of 20,797 soldiers and 437 cannons.
The army led by Rani Chennamma and trusted military leader Sangoli Rayanna defeated the British in the first round, killing collector and political operative St John Thackeray. His army captured two British officers, Sir Wallet Eliot and Stevenson.
The British commissioner of Dharwad, a man named Chaplin, reached an agreement under which the war would be over, the kingdom recognized and the British officers freed.
But Chaplin continued the war.
Although her army fought valiantly against the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties, Rani Chennamma was captured.
She was kept prisoner at Bailhongal Fort, where she died on February 21, 1829. Rayanna did not give up. He continued to wage guerrilla warfare against the British.
The Indian government issued a commemorative postage stamp in 1977. The Coast Guard commissioned a vessel named “Kittur Chennamma” in 1983. The Queen’s exploits are immortalized in ballads and folk songs “lavani” and “gigi pada” . She was also played by B. Saroja Devi in a Kannada film made in 1961.
Rani Chennamma’s burial place is in Bailhongal. The government of Karnataka celebrates its victory and legacy in the form of Kittur Utsava from October 22 to 24 every year.