Kittur Rani Chennamma - Joan of Arc of Karnataka

Rani Chennamma. 

During the British rule in the Indian subcontinent, their hypocrisy and atrocities so much became peaked, that several royal women were humiliated and ill treated by them after they had become widows with no legal heir. Some of them ultimately became well known rebels against foreign aggressors. Rani Chennamma was one among the valiant royal rebels against the British.   

Rani Chennamma was born in  Kakati (a small village in north of Belgaum in Karnataka) in 1778. From a very young age she received training in horse riding, archery and various aspects of military training. She was well known for her brave and bold exploits against the oppressive British rule just like Rani Velu Nachiyar (1730-1789?) of Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu. She became the queen of her native kingdom - Kittur.

Kittur Rani Chennamma, who married Raja Mallasarja, of the Desai family, had a son. Upon the unexpected death of her son in 1824, she under  legitimate Hindu laws, adopted Shivalingappa, and made him the legal heir to the throne. The British East India Company  had been on land-gabbing spree during their heyday for a long time. Using the doctrine of  lapse authored by Lord Dalhousie as a ruse, they unscrupulously targeted many rich Indian kingdoms  and gobbled them up one and by one without remorse.  It was was a crafty, but  sensitive annexation policy   ploy used by the British East India Company in India until 1859 to seize the lands/kingdom of those rulers who had no legal heir.  Under the doctrine, any Indian princely state under the suzerainty of the British  Company would have its princely status abolished and therefore  would be taken over by the Brinish  if the ruler was  either "incompetent or died without a male heir". They never accepted the legal adoption of a son in the royal family.  This  doctrine and its applications by the British Bobs had wide ramification  many Indian rulers and their subjects  quite furious. Consequently, the English company earned the ire of so many princely families who were given  pittances  as yearly pension to meet their needs.   In the case of Kittur Chennama,  the arrogant 

Statue of Rani Chennamma.

and haughty British officials did not accept the legal adoption  and went against adopted male heir taking the reigns of the kingdom. So, they  bluntly ordered Shivalingappa's expulsion
Kittur Chennama's fort, Belgaum, Karnataka.

Above image: Located at a distance of about 50 km  from Belgaum and 32 km away from  the city of Dharwad. Kittur fort is a popular one built  by the fifth ruler of   the Kittur dynasty, Allppa Gowda SarDesai during  his reign  -1660 to 1691. Under  Rani Chennamma, a valiant woman warrior  who successfully  resisted the British in 1824, the fort saw some expansion as had constructed  many buildings, including a palace  within the fort. It was a massive and sturdy fort made of  dark Basaltic rock, a kind of volcanic rocks that make up much of the Deccan plateau.  The palatial fort is on a land of  more than 23 acres  well protected by a moat all around it. The moat used to be filled with water fed by near-by lake to retard the raids by the enemies. The fort walls on both the sides  are tall, but the complex appeared to have many watch towers to keep an eye on the enemy movements near-by.  An archaeological museum  was established  in order to conserve the historical objects, artifacts, etc.,   of the palace and the fort. The fort as well as the palace inside it was constructed according to the Peshwa-Islamic architectural pattern. The palace inside the Kittur Fort is a structure with three different floors which comprised several rooms.................................

Lt-Gov. of the Bombay Presidency, M. Elphinstone,, .

Under the doctrine of lapse (officially codified between 1848 and 1856). Rani Chennamma sent a letter to  Elphinstone, Lieutenant-Governor of the Bombay Presidency pleading the cause of Kittur, but it was of no avail, her request was turned down, Lt. Governor Elphinstone  rejected reconsideration of British take-over and their annexation  was final.  Infuriated  Chennamma  defied the government order and war broke out. The British took away her personal collection of jewels.  She fought bravely two wars  against a huge force of 20,000 men  and few hundred guns. Chennamma's army killed several British military officers. During the second war the Sub collector of Sholapur, Mr. Munro, nephew of Thomas Munro was killed. In all wars against the British, she was ably supported by her loyal  military commanders Amatur Balappa,  Sangolli Rayanna and Gurusiddappa. Unfortunately, the latter's valid roles in the wars against the British had not been well recorded.   
Rani Chennamma of KitturKate Spitzmiller

Though she fought well, she was  ultimately captured by the British in collusion with her own  jealous relatives who were ready to betray her and the their mother land. They imprisoned her at Bailhongal Fort, where she ultimately died on 21February 1829. Till death, she remained a pious Hindu woman, spending her time in prayers. After Chennamma's imprisonment, Sangolli Rayanna became a rebel and conducted many guerrilla attacks against the foreign rulers but, at last, was caught and hanged by the them.  Shivalingappa was sent to prison. Diabolically, the British added another territory in their kitty. Thus, the poignant legacy of valiant queen Chennamma came to the end.

Chennamma, who entered  the Indian scene very much earlier than Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi and Rani Avantibai of Ramgarh,  was one of the earliest to have  led an armed rebellion against the oppressive British rule under the East India Company. In the state of Karnataka, she is still an icon of bravery and wisdom. she is celebrated along with Abbakka Rani, Keladi Chennamma and Onake Obavva, as the outstanding women warriors and patriots.

 Tit Bits:

01. The Times of India article ( Oct 30, 2012) 'Kittur Rani Chennamma's samadhi lies in neglect'' by Uday-Kumar mentioned the Samadhi of this valiant queen is in a state of neglect and the lights are not working.  Light poles  at the samadhi seem  function only during Kittur Utsav and Kannada Rajyotsava. Further, there is no information on her biography at the samadhi. It pained me to read the news item on
Kittur Rani Chennamma.  State government should come forward and rectify the mistakes. 

02.  At the Parliamentary Building in New Delhi on 11 September  2007, a statue of Kittur Rani Chennamma was erected . The statue was unveiled by Pratibha Patil, the first woman President of India.

03.  She is celebrated along with Abbakka Rani, Keladi Chennamma and Onake Obavva, as the outstanding women warriors and patriots.

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