“Coorg Is United As One”

History

Courage has always been known in history as the home of a brave and the independent race of mountaineers, who maintained their freedom against the outnumbering forces of Haidar Ali, and only yielded to the British power after a sharp struggle, on condition that their national characteristics would be respected. The native tribe of Coorgs, preserve all the marks of a dominant race. They cultivated their hereditary lands on a feudal tenure, had borne arms at their pleasure, and interacted with British officials through their head-men in terms of honourable equality. No people in India had given more decisive proofs of their loyalty to the British crown as did the Coorgs.

As containing the sacred sources of the river Kaveri(Cauvery), the mountains of Coorg figure in early Hindi legends,which are duly recorded in the Kaveri Purana, forming an episode in four chapters of the Skanda or Kartikeya Purana. Local traditions supports the theory that the Coorgs are descended from the conquering army of a Kadamba king, who ruled in the north-west of Mysore about the 6th century A.D. The earliest trustworthy evidence that we now posses are certain stone inscriptions found in the Southern Coorg, which records grants of land by monarchs of the Chera dynasty dated in the 9th century. But it is not probable that the mountains fastness of Coorg were never permanently subjugated by the rulers of the lowlands. The Mohammedan chronicler Ferista, writing at the end of the 16th century, casually mentions that Coorg was governed by its own princes. According to tradition, Coorg was at this period divided into 12 kombus or districts, each ruled by an independent chieftain, called a nayak. The names of several of the families of these nayaks were held in veneration by the people; but the chiefs themselves all finally succumbed to the wily encroachments of the Haleri poligars, who founded the line of Coorg Rajas expelled by the British in 1834.

The origin of this Haleri dynasty is obscure. It is certain that they were aliens to the native Coorgs, for they belonged to the Lingayat sect of Mysore; whereas the Coorgs retain to the present day their own crude forms of demon and ancestor worship. However, this may be; they exercised for many generations absolute authority over the people; and, despite their bloodthirsty tyranny, they were universally accepted as the national leaders. It is commonly supposed that the founder of the dynasty was a younger scion of the family who ruled at Ikkeri in Shimoga District, known as the poligars of Keladi or Bednur. He is said to have first settled at Haleri, whence he rapidly extended his power over the whole of Coorg. This history of the Coorg Rajas is officially chronicled in the Rajendra — Nama, a work compiled of about 1807 in Kanarese by order of Dodda Vira Rajendra, and translated into English by Lieutenant Abercromby in the following year. This interesting native document may be accepted as fairly trustworthy. It comprises a period of 175 years, from 1633 to 1807.

The most brilliant chapter in the history of Coorg is the resistance offered to Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. When all the rest of Southern India fell almost without a blow before the Mohammedan conqueror, these warlike people never surrendered their independence but despite terrible disasters, finally allied themselves on honourable terms with the British to overthrow their common enemy. At one time all seemed lost. Haider Ali had invaded the country, and carried away the Raja and all the royal family prisoners into Mysore. Tipu followed in his father’s path with more than his father’s ferocity. He resolved to remove the entire stubborn population, and actually deported 85,000 souls to Srirangapatna. The land he granted out to Musalman landlords, on whom it was enjoined as an imperative duty to search for and slay the surviving inhabitants. It was reserved for a prince of the blood royal to rescue the Coorgs from this sentence of extermination. Vira Rajendra, the hero of Coorg history, and the Coorg model of a warrior king, escaped from his prison in Mysore, and raised the standard of independence on his native hills. The Mohammedan garrison was forthwith expelled, and a successful guerrilla warfare kept up until the intervention of Lord Cornwallis finally guaranteed Coorg from danger. With the restoration of peace in 1799 by the death of Tipu Sultan, the real troubles of Coorg began. Vira Rajendra himself, and also his successor on the throne, appear to have been cursed with the senseless ferocity which so often accompanies irresponsible power. By their subjects they were reverenced almost as gods, and in their countless acts of cruelty they rivalled the most sanguinary deities of the Hindu Pantheon. Repeated remonstrances from the British Resident at Mysore proved ineffectual; and at last, in 1834, Lord William Bentinck, then Governor-General of India, resolved on armed intervention. A British force of 600 men entered Coorg in four divisions. Though two of the invading columns were bravely repulsed by the Coorg militia, the rest penetrated to Merkara, and achieved the entire subjugation of the country. The Raja surrendered himself to the Political Agent, Colonel Fraser, who issued a proclamation dated May 7, 1834, announcing that, in accordance with unanimous wish of the inhabitants, Coorg was transferred to the government of the Company. The people were assured that their civil and religious usages would be respected, and that the greatest desire would invariably be shown to augment their security, comfort, and happiness.

The pledges given on this occasion (1834) have been faithfully carried out on both sides. Coorg has ever since shown a conspicuous example of a brave and intelligent race, ruled by the British with the minimum of change and interference, and steadily advancing in material prosperity without losing the virtues of their national character. The Raja retired to Benaras, with a pension of Rs. 6000 (£ 600) a month. In 1852, he was allowed to visit England, where he died in 1862. His daughter, the Princess Victoria Gauramma, was baptised into the Christian faith, with the Queen for her sponsor. She married an English officer, and died in 1864.

excerpt from The imperial gazetteer of India

by Sir W.W.Hunter

The Fascinating Theories of Origin (Coorgs)

The history of Coorg or Kodagu, the term derived from ‘kodimandal’ or ‘kudu’ meaning ‘steep’ or hill’, is shrouded in mystery. There are no less than 17 theories about the Coorgis and Coorg. One particular theory locates them as the original inhabitants of the land belonging to the martial Kshatriya clan but depending on agriculture, a contradiction in terms. Other theories treat them as outsiders belonging to the north-western region of India having roots in the famous Mohanjedaro civilisation, Indo-Scythian in origin and Dravidian in race. A recent theory tries to link the Coorgis to the foot-soldiers of Alexander the Great; descendants of pre-Christian Greeks; or pre-Muslim Kurds. It is also argued that the Coorgis originated from the area of Asia Minor, the Caucasian Mountains, northern and central Iran and Afghanistan on the basis of their dress code, appearance and celebration of festivals.

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