Saturday, 25 November 2017

When America celebrated a warrior from Mysore

Surrender of Baillie to Hyder Ali, 1780, illustration from 'Cassell's Illustrated History of England' (20th century) 1780
It was 1765 and a Duke in faraway England known for breeding race horses named his foal Hyder Ally. A few years later in 1782, and many more thousand miles away at the other end of the world, a single mast ship named Hyder Ally gave the fledgling navy of United States of America one of its greatest victories. How are these two events related and what connection did they have with the people of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore, the precursor to modern day Karnataka state, India?
In 1749 a 27-year old youth Haidar Ali (Hyder Ally as the British spelled his name), born at Budikote in modern day Kolar district, Karnataka put his military skills in action for the Mysore Army during the nine month siege of Devanahally Fort against a Poligor. Poligars (or Palegaras in Kannada language) were the local strong men, each controlling a few fortified settlements prior to the British rule. In early 1750s Haidar was also part of the action between the French and English in their struggle to install a person of their choice as Nawab of Arcot in which the Mysore Army sided with the English. Haidar Ali increased his stature among the military circles of the Mysore Army and was elevated as Faujdar of Dindigul in 1755. He successfully led Mysorean resistance to the Maratha invasion in 1759 and was consequently elevated as the Chief Commander of its army. Haidar’s perseverance in fighting his political foes paid off and in 1761 he was the lone survivor around the utterly weak Mysore King of the Wodeyar dynasty. He proclaimed himself a Nawab soon and found himself the de-facto ruler of Mysore Kingdom, being the most successful in protecting it from invasions by both other Indian kingdoms as well as Europeans 1.  By then the British East India Company had its eyes set firmly on peninsular India having taken control of Bengal in 1757 as a consequent of the Battle of Plassey.
Back in England, Peregrine Bertie was the 3rd Duke of Ancaster in England having succeeded his father in Jan 1742 2. He raised a regiment of foot for the King of England during the rebellion in Scotland in 1745 3. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of a General in the Army in 1755 and later as a Lieut. Gen., in 1759 4.  Peregrine was a leading horse racer who started a number of famous racing lines 5. He was appointed Master of the Horse to Queen Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland in 1765. Peregrine as a military administrator was probably aware of the military and political happenings in India. In fact he was transferred in a year from the post of the Master of the Horse to the Queen to that of the King, where he was 'responsible for overall management of all the royal stables, horses, carriages'. This transfer was due to the changes affected by the stock-holders of East India (EI) Company in England. The stock-holders were apparently alarmed by the acts of the English Prime Minister Lord Chatham to curb the influence of EI Company which by then controlled huge resources and land across in India.  Given this background Peregrine was probably informed of the meteoric rise of Haidar Ali in south India's political and military theatre. Indeed in 1760 an overconfident English Army detachment under Major Moore tasted its first defeat at the hands of Mysoreans under Haidar Ali at Trivadi near Pondicherry. And through that decade Haidar continued to spoil the political, economic and military aims of East India Company in Peninsular India with ramifications beyond this country given the global nature of the company’s trade. Did the military acumen of this Mysorean soldier play a role in Peregrine in naming his foal Hyder Ally in 1765 6,7? This may not be surprising as another race horse breeder in England named a foal Tippoo Saib in 1769 8, 9. Just a couple of years ago in June 1767, 17-year old Tipu Sultan (or Tippoo Saib as the British preferred to call him), heading a small force of the Mysore Army, stormed East India Company's HQ in south India at Madras and nearly imprisoned the Madras councillors who threw themselves into the sea and escaped in a dingy. A year later Tipu recovered Mangalore from the British who fled the fort leaving behind their sick and wounded 10. The military and political deeds of this father-son seem to have left an impression on the British psyche.
US Navy's tryst with Hyder Ally
Chance a race horse imported into USA by Col. Tayloe was a line of Peregrine’s Hyder Ally 8,11. Interestingly foals within America were also being named Hyder Ally (and Tippoo Saib) in 1770s.

A pamphlet advertisement for a stallion of Hyder Ally's line published in the city of Portsmouth, USA in 1798. Accessed from Library of Congress, USA on November 5, 2017 from this link.
The first Hyder Ally to be foaled in America was in 1777 and four other foals were recorded with the name in 18th century 12, 13. But something very interesting was recorded in eye witness accounts of America’s history in 1770s. An upheaval overtook the country in 1775 as ordinary Americans rose against the Government of Great Britain, declared independence and flew their own flag 14, 15. Apparently the first flag of the Union, now the US national flag- the Stars and Stripes, sent to the state of Maryland was hosted on a sailboat by teenaged Joshua Barney at Baltimore in October 1775 who served the US Navy since then. 

'Rocket Warfare', by Charles H. Hubbell (1898–1971) captures the humiliation of British at the Battle of Pollilur (Sep. 1780) by Mysorean war rockets
In 1780, in far-away Mysore Kingdom, America’s ally against the British through the French, the East India Company was suffering one of its worst reverses in its military history. The reverberations of the humiliation of British at Battle of Pollilur in September 1780 inspired the Americans who received the news 16 on 23 August 1781. On 19 October 1781, the British land force led by Charles Cornwallis (who later led EI Company’s army and its Indian allies to defeat Haidar Ali’s son Tipu Sultan in the 3rd Anglo Mysore War) surrendered to the Americans led by George Washington. Nine days later Cornwallis' surrender was celebrated at Trenton, New Jersey with the town being decorated with American colours. The town's who's who along with inhabitants attended a service at the Presbyterian Church, where a discourse highlighting the occasion was delivered by a Reverend. In the afternoon the gathering drank 13 toasts accompanied with a discharge of artillery one of which was for 'The great and heroic Hyder Ali, raised up by Providence to avenge the numberless cruelties perpetrated by the English on his unoffending countrymen, and to check the insolence and reduce the power of Britain in the East Indies'.
In October 1781, the British land force led by Charles Cornwallis surrendered to the Americans led by George Washington (Incidentally a decade later Cornwallis gave EI Company and its Indian allies victory over Haidar Ali’s son Tipu Sultan in the 3rd Anglo Mysore War in India). But America was far from being an independent nation. The British still ruled the seas. They kept a keen watch on the ships entering and exiting the ports of north east USA, often capturing the vessels and looting goods 17.
General Washington an American sloop-of-war was captured by Admiral Arbuthnot, and placed in the king's service under a new name The General Monk, which was then used to pirate American ships. By 1782 the commerce of Philadelphia City as well as the ordinary life of the residents of the coast and nearby streams was deteriorating. As the fledgling American Union was not in a position to protect the affected vessels the State of Pennsylvania, at its own expense, fitted a number of armed vessels that operated in waters leading to Philadelphia. The state purchased Hyder Ally, a small sloop (single mast ship) equipped it with sixteen six-pounder guns to help protect the American vessels. 23-year old Lieutenant Joshua Barney, now in the US navy, arrived at Philadelphia where he was honoured with the command of Hyder Ally17. Assigned with recruiting men, Barney used a poem penned by Philip Morin Freneau18 to attract young American men to the ship. The poem exalted Haidar Ali’s bravery against the British with the following lines:
Come, all ye lads who know no fear,
To wealth and honour with me steer
In the Hyder Ali privateer,
Commanded by brave Barney.

From an eastern prince she takes her name,
Who, smit with freedom's sacred flame,
Usurping Britons brought to shame,
His country's wrongs avenging;
Come, all ye lads that know no fear.

With hand and heart united all
Prepared to conqueror to fall.
Attend, my lads! to honor's call —
Embark in our Hyder-Ally!

And soon Barney led a force of a hundred and ten men. On April 8, 1872, he received instructions to protect a fleet of merchantmen to the Capes just before the sea, at the entrance of Delaware Bay. Dropping the convoy at Cape May road he was awaiting a fair wind to take the merchant ship to sea when he saw three ships19 which he realised were waiting to plunder the convoy. Barney immediately turned the convoy back into the bay, using Hyder Ally to cover the retreat. Soon the bigger General Monk under the command of Captain Rogers of the Royal Navy nearly double his own force of metal, and nearly one-fourth superior in number of men caught up with Hyder Ally. Despite being fired upon, Barney held Hyder Ally’s fire till within pistol shot when both the two vessels got entangled. A desperate fight, lasting for only 26 minutes though, resulted in the lowering of flags by General Monk indicating her surrender. Both vessels arrived at Philadelphia a few hours after the action, bearing their respective dead. The Hyder Ally had four men killed and eleven wounded. The General Monk lost twenty men killed and had thirty-three wounded including Captain Rogers himself, and every officer on board, except one midshipman!20
Source: 'Life of Commodore Joshua Barney, Hero of the US Navy (1776-1812), 1912
A hero is celebrated
Philadelphia burst in celebrations. Ballads were made upon this brilliant victory and sung through the streets of the city! And echoing with Barney’s name was that of Hyder Ally. Here are some lines 14:
And fortune still, that crowns the brave
Shall guard us o'er the gloomy wave —
A fearful heart betrays a knave!
Success to the Hyder-Ally!

While the roaring Hyder-Ally
Cover'do'er his decks with dead !
When from their tops, their dead men tumbled
And the streams of blood did flow,
Then their proudest hopes were humbled
By their brave inferior foe.
In 1782 the Legislature of Pennsylvania passed a vote of thanks to Captain Barney and ordered a gold-hilted sword to be prepared, which was afterwards presented to him in the name of the state by Governor Dickinson. It was a small sword with mountings of chased gold- the guard of which on the one side had a representation of the Hyder Ally, and on the other the General Monk 14. Barney was the last officer to quit the Union’s service, in July, 1784, having been for many months before the only officer retained by the United States.

Source: 'Life of Commodore Joshua Barney, Hero of the US Navy (1776-1812), 1912
Barney was sent by the American Government to Paris. A reception was given in France him as a hero of dashing naval exploits during the Revolutionary War 21. A painting representing the action between the two ships was executed in 1802 by L. P. Crepin in Paris by order of Barney, while in the service of the French Republic. The same was presented by him on his return to the United States, to Robert Smith, Esquire, then secretary of the navy 22. The painting is now in the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland 14. Barney was an intimate friend of Count Bertrand, one of Napoleon's generals 15. Napolean incidentally had an alliance against the British with Haidar Ali’s son Tipu Sultan, during the latter’s life time 23.

Barney was appointed a Captain in the Flotilla Service, US Navy on 1814 April 25 24. He took part in seventeen battles during the Revolutionary War and in nine battles during the War of 1812. A British Musket-ball lodged inside his body in battle at Bladensburg, Maryland in August 1814 25. He passed away on December 1, 1818, aged 60.

70 years after Hyder Ally’s victory over General Monk, James Cooper wrote "This action has been justly deemed one of the most brilliant that ever occurred under the American Flag. It was fought in the presence of a vastly superior force that was not engaged, and the ship taken was in every essential respect superior to her conqueror." 17

The world today is considered a global village thanks to the scaling down of boundaries between nation states and individuals alike. But it may surprise us even in the 18th century seemingly local political events and humans made an impact on lands and societies far away. The name Haidar Ali, after an adventurer from an obscure place in the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore who gave many a lesson in military and political strategies to global colonial powers of England and France, echoing across the proverbial seven seas in distant North America for nearly a century is testament of this 26, 27.
Painting of Commodore Joshua Barney at Independence Hall, Philadelphia,  'Life of Commodore Joshua Barney, Hero of the US Navy (1776-1812), 1912
Sources/ Notes:
1.              Col. Mark Wilks, Historical Sketches of the South of India, Volume 1 of 3, 1810. Wilks traces the origins and political lives of Mysore Kingdom’s rulers and provides an insight into their military campaigns.
2.              The New Peerage, or Present state of the Nobility of England, Vol. 1 of 4, 1784
3.              The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol.78, Part 1, 1808
4.              George Cokayne, Complete peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, 1887
5.              Allan Chivers, The Berties of Grimsthorpe Castle, 2010. Peregrine established the racing lines of Blank, Paymaster and Pacolet which were well-known in England. Their foals went to establish themselves in the US.  
6.              Blank was one of his favourite horses and he named a foal sired by it as Hyder Ally.  
7.              Hyder Ally was later sold by Bertie to C.Blake who then sold it to Richard Vernon. The later, in Oct. 1773, raced it at New Market, considered the birthplace and global centre of thoroughbred horse racing. Many of this horse's progeny were imported into America and entered racing.
8.     Online database on Pedigree horses. Downloaded Oct. 10, 2017.
9.              It is interesting that it was not uncommon for race horses to have names originating in the east. Such names in 1700s included Mumtaz Mahal and Salim7. But Pergerine’s only horse named after a human was Hyder Ally.
10.          Prof. B Sheikh Ali, Tipu Sultan – A Crusader for Change
11.          American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine, Vol. 2, 1831
12.          J.H.Wallace, American Stud Book, Vol. 1, 1867
13.          Other books that document Hyder Ally foals and sires are William Pick and R.Johnson's The Turf Register, and Sportsman & Breeder's Stud-Book (1803) and Patrick Nisbett Edgar's The American Race-turf Register, Sportsman's Herald, and General Stud Book, Vol. 1 of 2 (1833)
14.          A biographical memoir of the late Commodore Joshua Barney (1832) by Mary Barney sister of Joshua Barney provides in-depth information of the latter’s personal and military life. Born on July 6, 1759, 13-year old young Philadelphia Joshua Barney set sail on his maiden merchant ship journey to Ireland  in 1771 with his brother in law Captain Thomas Drysdale. He sailed back home the following year and made trips to ports in Europe again. He set sail for Nice, France in December 1774 during which journey Captain Drysdale died. He took control of the ship which needed urgent repairs and therefore docked at Gibraltar, Spain instead. In a few months he sailed to Algiers, Algeria from Alicant, Spain to deliver Spanish troops during which he witnessed the annihilation of these troops by the Algerians which made him return to Alicant soon. He immediately set sail across the vast Atlantic Ocean for Baltimore, USA. As he entered the Chesapeake Bay on 1st October he was surprised by the British Sloop of war Kingfisher. An officer searched his ship and informed him that Americans had rebelled and that battles were being fought. He was fortunate enough to escape detention.  Returning to Philadelphia he was determined to serve the Americans fight against British. At that time a couple of small vessels were under at Baltimore ready to join the small squadron of ships stationed then at Philadelphia and commanded by Commodore Hopkins. Barney offered his services to the commander the sloop Hornet, one of these vessels. He was made the master's-mate, the sloop’s second in command. A new American Flag, the first ' Star-spangled Banner' in the State of Maryland, sent by Commodore Hopkins for the service of the ten gun Hornet, arrived from Philadelphia. At the next sunrise, Barney unfurled it in all pomp and glory. In 1776, Robert Morris, President of the Marine Committee of the Congress offered him a letter of Appointment as a Lieutenant in the Navy of the United States in recognition of his efforts during  a naval battle engagement in Delaware.
15.          A summary of Mary Barney’s book14 is well recapped with notes in William Frederick Adams’ Commodore Joshua Barney: many interesting facts connected with the life of Commodore Joshua Barney, hero of the United States navy, 1776-1812  (1912).
16.          Frank Moore, ‘Diary of the American Revolution’, Volume 2, 1860
17.          James Fenimore Cooper in History of the Navy of the United States of America (1853)
18.          'The sailor's invitation', Freneau’s Poems written and published during the American Revolutionary War (1809)
19.          Two ships and a brig- a sailing vessel with two masts
20.          As explained by Barney himself in his painting of this war commissioned later
21.          A. Bowen, The Naval Monument,1815, Concord, Massachusetts, U. S. A. gives an account of the reception received by Barney in France
22.          The painting was accompanied by a description, in the hand-writing of Commodore Barney, which is reproduced in Mary Barney’s book
23.          Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD, (downloaded October 13, 2017)
24.          Record of Service, Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, United States Navy
25.          The conduct of Commodore Barney, at the battle of Bladensburgh, was appreciated by his military opponents as well. He was wounded in the engagement and was taken prisoner by General Ross and Admiral Cockburn but paroled on the spot. At the time of his death in 1818, the ball was extracted and given to his eldest son.  For the valuable services of her husband, Congress granted Mrs. Barney a pension for life.
26.          William Goold, Portland in the past, 1886 has information of at least one more well-known ship named Hyder Ally built in the US in 1800s after the one described in this story. This ship, like many other US ships, resorted to pirating British ships in the Indian Ocean all the way up to the island of Sumatra and around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in the run up to the British-American War of 1812. 

27.  Corbett's Annual register (1802) documents the ship 'Tippoo Saib' registered in Savannah, Georgia, the southern most of the 13 colonies that declared independence from the British in 1776 and formed the original 'United States of America'.

A version of this story was published on Nov. 20, 2017, in Deccan Herald, Spectrum supplement, Bengaluru 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Ghosha jhatka gaadi*

A portrait of the Maharaja of Mysore at Government Empress Higher Primary School taken in October 2016. This building was constructed in 1861 AD.
About 90 years ago (in 1930s), under Nalvadi Krishnarajendra Wodeyar's rule the 'Ghosha jhatka gaadi' (Purdah tonga/ horse cart) was introduced in Tumakuru District, Mysore Province in British India. A beneficiary of that was my father's Phuppu jaan (paternal aunt). She passed Grade 7 in that decade. Nearing a 100-years old, she is the oldest living member of our extended family now. As sharp ever, a conversation with her even today will reveal the quality of the education she received. She was a beneficiary of the many Urdu schools that flourished under this benevolent Maharaja's rule. Not just this, the Maharaja's administration went a step ahead in accommodation of Muslim women. Realising that Muslim girls observed Ghosha or Purdah (full veil), the 'Ghosha Jhatka Gaadi' was introduced. A horse cart would visit houses of Muslim girls who attended middle and high school, to transport them to the schools. This way many generations of Muslim girls accessed Western education. The entire next generation (my father's) attained University education in 1960s and 70s thanks to the infrastructure set up by the Wodeyars (and the later state governments). Many in that generation attained professional education- Engineering and Medicine. This includes a luminary in Aeronautical Science and Sufism.
* As told by my kind father Hajee Muneer Ahmed Saheb

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Governments' lust for people's gold

Not the first Government to show a keen interest in its subjects' personal wealth
The practise of Governments controlling the wealth exiting the country is fairly well documented. The Moghuls from their early days did so. There is documentation of how the Europeans vied for permissions of the Delhi court to conduct trade in the Indian subcontinent (1). And Alamgir Aurangzeb used Jeziya as a tool to control the prosperous Hindu traders and pheasants (apparently quite a few categories of people including the Brahmans were exempted from Jeziya).

Entrance to Moghul Emperor Akbar's palace at Ajmer, Rajasthan where his great grandson Emperor Jahangir received Thomas Roe of East India Company on Mar 1616
Pic: Ameen Ahmed. Info source: ASI board at the site
1700s in Mysore Kingdom: People’s gold and invading armies
But ever since the earliest organised Governance emerged, many Governments and rulers administering territories in what now is India have had their lust for their subjects wealth go beyond the taxes they impose. Surely there is no better way to control a geographical territory than through the absolute control of the wealth of its subjects. Post Aurangazeb, a state of anarchy prevailed in much of the subcontinent with kingdoms fighting each other for supremacy. As the Mughals receded the Maratha armies topped the list of native rulers successful in controlling the subcontinent’s largest geographical area. There are records of the Mysore Wodeyars paying ransom to the Maratha Armies each time the later invaded Mysore Kingdom and pillaged through towns and villages (2), till Hyder Ali (father of Tipu Sultan) put an end to this in 1758. Despite the change in power, subjects still managed to save their wealth thanks to the gold which they hid during raids of invading armies. The rulers knew this. And hence the rulers also banked on the wealth of trading community in their territories to fund their political survival. Hyder Ali borrowed a few lakh rupees (of those days) from the wealthy traders of Bengaluru Pete as he tried to regroup after his defeat by the Maratha army in early 1760s (3). And armies invading other kingdoms adopted various methods to take away the personal wealth of subjects. Edward Moor gives graphic details of the looting of personal wealth in Mysore Kingdom by invading Marathas during the 3rd Anglo Mysore War. When a Mysorean town was captured by the Marathas the residents would flee with their personal wealth. They would wander as refugees from one hill and jungle to another until the Maratha armies vacated their towns and villages. The Marathas adopted a strategy at some towns. They would invite residents back to a town offering them sanctuary if they paid a portion of their wealth. This way they would identify those who had wealth and then strip them off their remaining wealth.

1799 to 1947 - Brits and India’s gold

'Tipu Sultan seated on his throne' by Anna Tonelli. From the Clive Museum at Powis
Downloaded from Wikipedia on 1 Dec. 2016
Post Tipu Sultan’s death on 4 May 1799 his wealthy capital Srirangapatna was looted of almost every single ounce of gold. This included his golden throne which was cut and distributed as a war spoil, apparently as it was too heavy to be carted off to England. The Brits removed the remaining thorns in their path to the complete domination of India with little difficulty. And for the next 148 years, despite their taxation of ordinary people, the siphoning away of the sub-continent’s resources they still remained interested in the personal wealth- the gold which the ordinary Indians had saved. In the Raj era literature whenever the British touched economics they rarely failed to mention the gold that Indians had (or ‘hoarded’ according to the Brits). John Hurst in his book ‘Indika’ (1891) gives a good insight to the gold which the Indians held on to so dearly. To quote him:

The passion for acquiring jewels, instead of available property seems to continue. It is probably an inheritance from the earlier generations of the unsettled times. "I maintain." says Sundararaman, "that in every family in this country there is a disproportionate amount of the fortune of the family locked up in the form of jewels. There are families which can boast of 50,000 rupees worth of jewels, and often this amount is exceeded.

It is a very ordinary thing that over a third of the possessions of a family which has an estate of 10,000 or 15,000 rupees should be locked up in jewels. Even in the poorest families, there exists this disproportion of jewels to possessions. When Messrs. Orr & Sons put forth their advertisements in The Hindu regarding Hindu ornaments, they are said to have realized in the very first month a sale of over 20,000 rupees." - Unquote

Katherine Mayo (6) reaffirms the above almost 4 decades later in ‘Mother India’ (1927). She goes into greater details into the wealth of the people. To quote her:

‘A third actual drain upon prosperity, seldom advertised, yet affecting not only India but the rest of the world, is India's disposition of bullion. Since the early days of the Roman Empire, western economists have been troubled over India's intake of precious metals, rather than of foreign goods, in payment for her produce. These metals she has always swallowed up.
In 1889 it was estimated that India held imprisoned "a stock of gold bullion wholly useless for commercial purpose and increasing at the rate of nearly 3 million sterling [$14,000,000] annually, of the value of not less than two hundred and seventy million pounds sterling [$ 1,312,000,000] ."

This ever-accumulating treasure lies in the hands of all conditions and orders of men, from the poorest laborer to the most eminent prince.” - Unquote

Using people’s personal wealth for state purpose
How can people’s wealth be tapped for state use? The current government seems to be following in the footsteps of what foreign economists had stated nearly a century ago.
Mayo in Mother India reproduces an interesting statement in 1927 by Don C Bliss, American Trade Commissioner in Bombay in The Bombay Bullion Market, Don C. Bliss, Jr., U.S.Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Trade Information Bulletin No* W, PP. 5-6.

“Vast reserves have been accumulated, . . . estimated as amounting to more than five billion dollars but they have been jealously hoarded in the form of unproductive precious metals. Put to productive uses, or loaned out in the world's money-markets, they would suffice to make India one of the powerful nations of the world. The traditional "wealth of the Indies" is there, but in such a form that it yields nothing to its possessors.

From time immemorial it has been considered improper for any great heir to draw upon his father's hoard of precious treasure and equally improper for him not to build up a hoard of his own. The late Nyzam of Hyderabad collected in his vaults jewels to immense values. The present prince is understood to prefer bullion, of which his own accumulations are said to reach to between 150 and 200 million dollars. 

Equally, every peasant in the land secretly buries silver in the earth, and loads it upon his women's necks and wrists and ankles, for safe-keeping. Forty per cent, of the world's total gold production, and 30 per cent, of the world's silver, is thus annually absorbed by India. None of this gold is coined or goes into currency, and, says Mr. Bliss, of silver: "All of the absorption is in response to the demand for bullion for . . ornamental uses." 

"Undoubtedly," he adds, "an enormous quantity of bullion has been buried and forgotten."

The man heavily in debt to the bania commonly possesses a store of hidden coin, yet continues borrowing. This custom rests on the idea of being prepared for the rainy day and on a profound distrust of the human element in any scheme of banking.

The tendency of the world's gold and silver to concentrate in India and there to disappear from action tells its own story. On the one hand, an essentially poor country could not bring such a thing about. On the other hand, no country that buries its wealth and then lies down and sleeps on the grave can be really prosperous. - Unquote

A women displaying her gold bangles at a jewellery store in 2016 at Bengaluru, India
Pic: Ameen Ahmed
Post-independence successive governments have been trying to use the personal gold and wealth of people for state use. This seems to have acquired greater urgency in the past decade. The previous UPA Government tried to attract the common man to invest his money in Gold ETFs by offering tax exemptions on the same. Elected to power in 2014, the NDA took it a step further by offering to keep people’s gold in exchange for gold bonds. There is a distrust of the Government (irrespective of the party in power) hence all the previous schemes and provisions to attract people to give their gold to the government failed. This drastic step of making every Indian account for every single gram of gold they have at home seems to be a product of this attitude of the common man. Will this make the ordinary citizen trust the Government more by parting with her or his gold (although there is no choice)? And will the Government retain the trust by managing the state resources instead of squandering them to a select few? Time will be a witness to it.

(1) Jahangir giving permission to the Europeans to trade. Information at Ajmer by ASI.
(2) Mark Wilks, ‘Historical Sketches of the South of India’, 1817.
(3) Meer Hussein Ali Khan, Kirmani, ‘The history of Hydur Naik’, Translated by Col.W.Miles. 1842.
(4) Edward Moor, A narrative of the operations of Captain Little's detachment, and of the Mahratta army, commanded by Purseram Bhow; during the late confederacy in India, against the Nawab Tippoo Sultan Bahadur, London, J.Johnson, 1794.
(5) John Hurst, ‘Indika’, 1891
(6) Katherine Mayo, 'Mother India' 1927

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Kodi Basava Temple, a landmark in Tumakuru City, Karnataka

Kodi Basaveswara Swamy Temple, popular as 'Kodi Basava'
Among the many landmarks of old Tumakuru, an important city in the Old Mysore region of Karnataka state is the Kodi Basaveswara Swamy Temple, popular as 'Kodi Basava'. Residents of Tumakuru City have fond memories of this temple particularly when the city was a small town. It is located at the south-western edge of the expansive Tumakuru Amanikere. In the days gone by it was the first landmark as one entered the town north from Sira along the old National Highway 4, before the new city by-pass was built.

I visited the temple in October 2016 and interacted with Mr. Naveen, the temple priest. According to him, this temple is the most important of all Lingayat temples in the city. He said the temple was built during the time of Sri Siddlingeshwara Swamy (1), a revered Lingayat saint in 15th century. According to legend, villagers were trying to build a 'weir' ('kodi'in Kannada). But for some reason they were unable to do so. It was decided that a human would be sacrifice to help the cause. When Siddalingeswara Swamy came to of this he came here and offered prayers to Lord Shiva and blessed the 'kodi'. Due to this, the 'kodi' could be built and the human sacrifice was averted. A temple was built on the occasion and its name 'Kodi Basava' originates from this story.

According to Mallikarjun Manjunath a local history buff, the statue of Basava usually faces towards east but in this temple it faces south towards the kodi.

B.L.Rice in 'Epigraphia Carnatica'(2) states that this temple had an inscription on the Garuda stambha or the stone pillar. It dated to 1515, the era of Krishna Deva Raya, considered by many as the greatest king of the Vijayanagar Empire. The inscription on it refers to it being constructed by one Paravata-Nayaka son of Malli Setti. Unfortunately this stone pillar no longer exists.

The many ornaments it still has today were donated by King Krishnadevaraya and they are displayed during the annual festival of the temple.

The temple was rebuilt in 1991 by a city-based entrepreneur and philanthropist, as a remembrance for his parents.

Here's the text of the translation from its erstwhile stone pillar inscription, sourced from 'Epigraphia Carnatica':
'Be it well. (On the date specified), when the maharajadhiraja raja-paramesvara vira-pratapa Krishna Raya maharaya was ruling; - Malli Setti's son Paravata-Nayaka, in order that merit might be to his father and mother, errected a pillar of stone from the hillock, in front of...'

1) downloaded 4 Nov. 2016
2) B.L.Rice, 'Epigraphia Carnatica', Vol. 12, 1904

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Persecution and massacres of Hindu Lingayats in context of religious conflict based politics

Religious persecution is a hotly debated topic in India. But instances where people of a religion are killed by kings or warriors of their own religion are rarely looked into. A dispassionate look at such incidents can be done so by visiting those time periods and understanding the prevailing social, political and economic situations. This will help us understand the complex history of a diverse country like India and answer many questions raised in the on-going debates on religion based conflicts. This article looks into one such phase in the history of Karnataka and modern Hinduism, where people belonging to the Lingayat sect were persecuted and mass murdered by a king who practised Hinduism.

Conflicts of late 17th and 18th centuries
Thanks to religion-based politics being practised by various political parties, we often hear of the many conflicts between kings of different faiths, which resulted in the death and destruction of people belonging to the losing king’s faith. Rulers, particularly those claiming to be Muslim, are often accused of being anti-Hindu and carrying out massacres of non-Muslims. Like other regions of India even the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and modern day Karnataka saw direct conflicts between rulers of different faiths over religious issues. For instance, the forces of the Muslim Sultanate of Bijapur (who ironically were allied with the Hindu Marathas) had a not-so-pleasant tiff with Hanumappa Nayak a Hindu Nayaka ruler at Basavapatna, which was apparently vitiated by religious factors (1). 

It is interesting to note that the persecution of people or religious groups has a long history in this erstwhile kingdom, irrespective of the ruling king’s faith. While historians state that many Sufi Muslims escaped the Muslim Bijapur Kingdom and found refuge in the domains of the Hindu Mysore Wodeyar kings, when Alamgir Aurangzeb, the Moghul Emperor invaded and annexed this part of India (2), there are similar accounts of ordinary residents of modern day North Karnataka, mostly Hindus, suffering from Shivaji’s invasions- including his destruction of towns like Hubli, Karwar, Ankola etc (3).  History suggests that the Maratha Empire he left behind continued the pillaging and laying waste to towns, villages, temples and farmlands in the neighbouring kingdoms. Mysore was one of the kingdoms at the receiving end of the Maratha incursions, both when it was being ruled by the Hindu Wodeyar dynasty as well as under the Muslim kings Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. The later period of these Maratha incursions also saw Sringeri Mutt, among the holiest of Hindu shrines, being laid waste and its Brahman priests massacred by them (4) (5). Documents suggest that Tipu Sultan, a Muslim king who has serious allegations of being anti-Hindu, helped the restoration of the shrine (6). According to Kirmani, a contemporary and biographer of Haider Ali as well as Tipu Sultan, indeed the earliest incursions of the destructive campaigns of Mysore rulers into the Malabar coast happened under the Hindu Mysore Wodeyar rulers in 1750s. In fact, Nawab Haider Ali’s first foray into this region happened when he was sent by the Mysore Maharaja on a campaign to reduce the Malabar coast, in which both the Hindu Nairs and the Muslim Mappillas are said to have opposed him and suffered as a result (7).  But these events overshadow the violent conflicts between rulers and people of the same religious faiths, thanks to politics.

Hidden massacres of Lingayats in 17th century
Tipu Sultan had conflicts with the Hindu Nairs of Kerala as well as the Kodavas (8). His forcible religious conversions are a major point of debate more so ever in recent times, with passionate claims and counter claims. However, less known is the fact that religious persecution and massacres of the peaceful Hindu Lingayat sect were alleged to have been carried out by the Hindu Mysore Wodeyar king Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar towards the end of 17th century(9).

The dominions of Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar on his death in 1704. Source: Wikipedia

Edgar Thurston a well-read British Raj anthropologist authored many books on the caste and caste system of south India including 'Castes and Tribes of South India' which he co-authored with Rangachari. In the book the authors also delve into the migration of communities to the neighbouring states. In Vol. 3, published in 1909, they give an interesting account of Kannadigas (Kannada speaking people, whom they refer to as ‘Kannadiyans’) who were found in the British administered Madras Presidency (modern state of Tamil Nadu). These Kannadigas were found to be Lingayats. 

Source: Castes and Tribes of South India, 1909
On the question of the date and reason for their migration this is what the authors write:
The earliest date which can, with any show of reason, be ascribed there to seems to be towards the end of the seventeenth century, when Chikka Deva Raja ruled over Mysore. He adopted violent repressive measures against the Lingayats for quelling a widespread insurrection, which they had fomented against him throughout the State. His measures of financial reform deprived the Lingayat priesthood of its local leadership and much of its pecuniary profit.”

This frustrated the Lingayat farmers and traders alike. In supporting their argument, the authors quote Wilks, a well-known British historian of Mysore Province. Wilks in ‘Historical Sketches of the South of India’ (1817) states the following (10)
"Everywhere the inverted plough, suspended from the tree at the gate of the village, whose shade forms a place of assembly for its inhabitants, announced a state of insurrection. Having determined not to till the land, the husbandmen deserted their villages, and assembled in some places like fugitives seeking a distant settlement; in others as rebels breathing revenge.

Image for representation only
In response, Wilks suggests that the punishment was swift with the Mysore king using treachery as one of the tools to assassinate over 400 Lingayat priests.
ChikkaDeva Raja, however, was too prompt in his measures to admit of any very formidable combination. Before why they migrated they concluded that proceeding to measures of open  violence, he adopted a plan of perfidy and horror, yielding to nothing which we find recorded in the annals of the most sanguinary people. An invitation was sent to all the Jangam priests to meet the Raja at the great temple of Nunjengod, ostensibly to converse with him on the subject of the refractory conduct of their followers. Treachery was apprehended, and the number which assembled was estimated at about four hundred only. A large pit had been previously prepared in a walled enclosure, connected by a series of squares composed of tent walls with the canopy of audience, at which they were received one at a time, and, after making their obeisance, were desired to retire to a place where, according to custom, they expected to find refreshments prepared at the expense of the Raja. Expert executioners were in waiting in the square, and every individual in succession was so skilfully beheaded and tumbled into the pit as to give no alarm to those who followed, and the business of the public audience went on without interruption or suspicion.

Wilks further writes that the Maharaja did not stop at the killing of the above 400 priests at Nanjangud but issued orders for the destruction of all Jangam Lingayat Mutts and their followers. This, he suggests, led to the destruction of over 700 mutts and numerous deaths of Lingayats.
 "Circular orders had been sent for the destruction on the same day of all the Jangam Mutts (places of residence and worship) in his dominions, and the number reported to have been destroyed was upwards of seven hundred ....

This notable achievement was followed by the operations of the troops, chiefly cavalry. The orders were distinct and simple- to charge without parley into the midst of the mob; to cut down every man wearing an orange-coloured robe (the peculiar garb of the Jangam priests)."

A rationale discourse for a mature democracy
The nation is currently witnessing an unprecedented wave of politics based on conflicting versions of history. In the loud din of ‘for’ and ‘against’, we are overlooking the social context under which historical events and conflicts occurred. If conflicts between kingdoms, in what today is India, originated exclusively from differences in religions of the opposing kings why do we have the numerous instances of rulers professing one faith killing people of the same faith? This question may help our political discourse on history become more rationale. That will not only help reduce friction between various social groups but also help the country to be seen as mature democracy in the world eyes.


(1) Rice.B.L., ‘Mysore Gazetter’, Vol 2, 1897

(2) Personal communication with Muneer Ahmed Tumkuri, Tumakuru-based Historian and Author, 04 Nov. 2016

(3) Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, Vol. XXV, Part 2 – Kanara, 1883

(4) Edward Moor, ‘A narrative of the operations of Captain Little's detachment, and of the Mahratta army, commanded by Purseram Bhow; during the late confederacy in India, against the Nawab Tippoo Sultan Bahadur’, London, J.Johnson, 1794

(5) Major Dirom, 'A narrative of the campaign in India, which terminated the war with Tippoo Sultan in 1792', 1793

(6) Website of Dakshinâmnâya Sri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri, India, Downloaded 5 Nov. 2016

(7) Col.W.Miles, ‘The history of Hydur Naik, Meer Hussein Ali Khan, Kirmani’, 1842

(8) Col. Kirkpatrick, 'Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan to various Public Functionaries...Arranged and Translated by William Kirkpatrick', 1811

(9) Thurston and Rangachari, 'Castes and Tribes of South India', Vol. 3, 1909

(10) Col. Mark Wilks, ‘Historical Sketches of the South of India’ (1564 - 1799AD), Vol 1’, 1817

Wilks’ work is quoted by many British writers and also Mysore historians of 19th and 20th centuries including the below works
(11)  Lewin B. Bowring, C.S.I., Formerly Chief Commissioner of Mysore, 'Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan and the struggle with the Musalman Powers of the South', 1893

(12)  C.Hayadevana Rao, ‘History of Mysore’, In 3 volumes, 1944