KELADI RANI CHENNAMMA
Dr K Prabhakar Rao
Rani Chennamma of Keladi of bye gone era has gone down the Indian history as a valiant warrior queen from Karnataka state of South India who took up sword and saved her kingdom from the invasions Bijapur Sultans and Mughal emperor Aurangzeb during 17 century. Often she is confused with Kittur Rani Chennamma of Karnataka. However these queens are different although they are from the same State . . Rani Chennamma of Kittur waged war against East India company in the early 19 century. Although she had some initial success, soon she was defeated by superior English army and imprisoned at Bailhangal fort near Darwad where she passed away in course of time. These queens lived in different periods. The queen under discussion ruled the small kingdom of Keladi (which is in the present day Indian state of Karnataka) for 25 years from 1671-1696.She was the eleventh ruler of the kingdom. This kingdom lasted from 1499 to 1763 and it was a Nayaka kingdom. It was originally a feudatory to Vijayanagar empire and after the fall of the Vijaynagar empire, they declared independence. It is in Shmoga district and Keladi is 67 km from shimoga district town. The Nayak kings ruled most of the coastal districts and great part of Central districts. The kingdom was overthrown by Hyder Ali at a later date. Later it merged with Mysore state.
Chennamma was not from a royal family and was the daughter of kotepura Siddappa from a merchant community at Rameswaram. The king of Keladi, Somashekhara Nayak met her and fell in love looking at her beauty and married her and she thus became the queen. She hardly looked like a warrior, but indeed she fought like a tigress and administered her kingdom well and took decisions that few others had the courage to take. She looked after the subjects of her kingdom and the servants of the palace with great love as if they were her children. She was not only a wife to Somashekhara Nayaka but also an adviser and trusted minister. If the government did any injustice, those who suffered, being afraid to go to the King, would make their appeals to the Queen. The Queen would speak to her husband and ensure justice. She was an inspiration to her husband to punish the wicked and protect the virtuous. The people of Keladi looked up to the Queen and were very devoted to her. All good things come to an end and the situation did not last long. Once, a famed dancer Kalavathi of Jambukhandi gave a performance before the royal couple on the occasion of Dussera festival. The beautiful dancer impressed Somashekhara Nayaka and he fell for her. The King who was pleased with her performance, gave her great wealth and she was appointed Rajanarthaki i.e chief dancer at royal court. Her mother and her foster-father, Bharame Mavuta, lived with her afterwards. Bharame Mavuta was a master of black magic , secret medicines and mischief. The king greatly befriended him. Gradually, the king began to live with Kalavathi herself and became slave of her and he became a puppet in the hands of Bharame Mavuta. He forgot his beloved Chennamma and stayed away from the palace. He used to take all sorts of potions and drinks that Bharame Mavuta gave him and as a result became half-mad with intoxication.Asa king he abdicated all responsibilities. Various diseases soon overpowered him. Even the ministers and officers had to go to the dancer's house to discuss matters of the State.
Rani Chennamma felt very sad at the ways of her husband and was overtaken by grief. Soon there was chaos in the kingdom .News about his ill health also spread everywhere. The king had no children and many conspirators planned to usurp the kingdom. The Adilshahi Sultan of Bijapur who had often been defeated by the kings of Keladi when they had tried to cause trouble, now attacked the kingdom. Rani Chennamma rose to the occasion at this time and decided to take over the kingdom to set things right at the crucial hour. It was inevitable to take over the rule so that dynasty continued. There was only one way, thought Chennamma, for the kindgom to continue and the dynasty to survive . The intelligent dynamic and heroic Queen also took the counsel of her father Siddappa Shetty. She enlisted the help of trustworthy and loyal commanders. Feminine hands adorned with bangles now brandished the sword, and successfully repulsed the enemy.
Although Bijapur forces were driven away, enemies within the kingdom began to surface. Opportunists believed that she could be intimidated and manipulated for their profit. One day the Chief Minister, Thimmanna Nayaka of Kasaragod, went to her with Subnis Krishnappa and said to her, "You must adopt as son Veerabhadra Nayaka, the son of the Commander-in Chief, Bhadrappa Nayaka. It is only then that we shall support you. Or else, we will unite the people against you and crown him." The same threat was held out by another minister, Narasappayya and a senior officer, Lakshmayya. Queen Chennamma heard them all patiently. On one side, Bharame Mavuta had the King under his thumb and was eager to take over the kingdom. On another side, all the ministers and other important men were ready to bring some one whom they liked to the throne and perpetuate their own positions. The Queen could not approve of either of these options. She had no child; so she decided that she should adopt a boy who was virtuous and would herald the welfare of the State. She chose a boy by name Basappa Nayaka from a relative markappa chetty residing at Bedanur. She decided to give him the proper type of training so that the kingdom survived and the people were made happy.Subsequently he proved to be a very brave king. Keeping an eye on the developments in Keladi, the Sultan of Bijapur thought that with a well planned strike he could swallow up the kingdom. He sent a representative by name Jannopant to the Queen for negotiations. Close on the heels of Jannopant the Sultan also sent a big army under the command of Muzaffar Khan. Rani Chennamma saw through the trick and raised an army of the common people, invoking the glory of their ancestors. The army repulsed Bijapur’s forces.
In peace time too the Rani ruled very well, and patronised arts and learning. She had an 'Agrahara' - an entire street with houses on either side - formed, and invited scholars to settle down there. It was named 'Somashekharapura'. Day and night Chennamma toiled for the welfare of the state. She expanded the army and strengthened security at the borders. After her work for the kingdom, Chennamma spent whatever leisure she had, in meditation and in acts of charity and kindness. She gave gifts of lands to rishis and religious institutions.
This was the period when Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was at zenith of power. He stayed in Deccan for 25 years to crush Marathas under Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj who carved out an Hindu kingdom right under his nose. Chatrapathi Shivaji died in course of time and was succeeded by his elder son Sambhaji maharaj after some palace intrigues. Sambhaji Raje fought Mughals tooth and nail and also gave asylum to Prince Akbar who revolted against his father Aurangzeb. This infuriated the emperor and he waged relentless war against Sambhaji. Finally Sambhaji was betrayed by his brother in law Ganoji Shirke and Sambhaji was captured at Sangameshwar by the Mughal commander. His wife and infant son ( later nmaed sahu) were captured and taken to Delhi. The Maratha king was tortured in inhuman way and was executed finally. But he did not yield to the demand of conversion to Islam. Sambhaji became a Dharmaveer. Raja Ram the second son of Shivaji Maharaj became the maratha king and led the war against Mughals . Mughals captured many Maratha forts and Rajaram was driven from place to place in order to crush Maratha kingdom. Fearing the wrath of the Moghuls, who were at that time the greatest force in India, not many kingdoms were willing to give refuge to Rajaram. One day Rajaram turned up at Keladi and explained his requirement for refuge. Rani Chennamma agreed to help him, with the rationale that Shivaji had greatly turned the tables for Hindus in India, and that to house Shivaji’s son was duty for a Hindu. Yet several ministers and leaders of Keladi such as Commander Bhadrappa and Minister Narasappayya amongst others opined that it was not worth the risk, because the Maratha kingdom that Shivaji has set up was destined to be destroyed.
Aurungzeb soon learnt that Rajaram had taken shelter in Keladi and he dispatched an army to punish them. Under Rani Chennamma’s leadership the attacks were successfully repulsed – a great achievement at a time when the Moghuls were very powerful. Many Mughal officers were captured by Kiladi army.Soon Raja Ram left for Jingee fort. The treaty that followed caused Aurungzeb to be forced to recognize Keladi as a separate kingdom and the Mughal army was withdrawn. The achievements of Rani Chennamma of Keladi are no mean considering the might of Mughal forces and her own resources. Chatrapthi Rajaram could never be captured by Mughals and he passed away at Sinhgarh fort subsequently. Marathas were soon inspired by his wife Tarabai who led her forces against mighty Mughals and her famous Maratha generals made life extremely difficult to the Mughals. At last, Aurangzeb died in desperation, humiliated and feeling defeated at Ahmednagar in 1707. Bahadur shah I the eldest son of Aurangzeb became the emperor after a war of succession and he released Sahu from palace custody. Marathas under next Chatrapathi Sahu revived with able guidance of the Peshwa. Mughal dynasty produced incompetent rulers after Aurangzeb and they became puppets in the hands of court nobles. Syyad brothers became king makers. Emperors were changed, killed and blinded at will. Marathas became a formidable force under Peshwa rule and almost occupied most of the portions in north India. It dictated terms to the mughal rulers. Mughal rule was finally terminated after 1857 Indian war of independence against the East India Company. The timely help of Rani Chennamma at keladi to Chatrapathi Raja Ram maharj was very crucial and her daring spirit can not be ignored. Rani Chennamma shines gloriously in the annals of Indian history and her contribution has gone down the Indian history in golden letters.
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