Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Kannadiga victims of Maratha Empire invasions

In today's India one often gets to hear how the Peswhas 'united' Hindus against the 'tyranny' of Mughals. But buried in the cacophony of this mainstream narrative, built over a century by protagonists of the Maratha Empire, are the stories of tens of thousands of non-Maratha Hindus across India- the Bengalis, Rajputs, Dilli-wallas, Tamils and not to forget the Kannadigas. Here's a sample of the destruction Maratha Armies carried out in Karnataka (then Mysore Kingdom) in 1600s and 1700s:
1) Melukote Temple (Mandya District)  1771: Wooden chariots (Rathas or Raths) burnt to extract iron
2) Nagmangla town (Mandya District) 1791: 150,000 (1.5 lakh) palm trees cut.
3) Shivamogga (Shimoga), 1791: Maratha Army under Parasuram Bhow destroyed all 6,000 houses and carried away women.
4) Sringeri Mutt, 1791: Looted
5) Kudli Mutt, 1791: Looted, unarmed Shudras massacred

A view of the Shimoga Fort in early 1900s. During the 3rd Anglo-Mysore War, the Maratha Army under Parasuram Bhow is said to have destroyed 6,000 houses and carried away women.
Image source: 'Ellis Collection: Album depicting missionary life in South India', India Office Select Materials, British Library, London, UK. Image copied by Ameen Ahmed Tumakuru during a visit to the British Library, London. 
Maratha - Mysore conflicts in 1600s
The love-hate relationship between the Maratha warriors and Karnataka's rulers in post-medieval India dates back to Shivaji's father Shahji in 17th century (1600s). In 1639, Mysore Hindu King Kanthirava Wodeyar is said to have defeated the troops of Bijapur led by Randaulah Khan and Shahji at Srirangapatna (Imperial Gazetteer, vol.18, p177, 1908). Shivaji himself led many attacks on the towns and manufacturing areas of Karnataka and his incursions into North Karnataka have been mentioned numerous times in British Gazetteers, particularly the Imperial Gazetteer, 1908 (to know more about the sufferings of ordinary Kannadigas in Shivaji's invasions click here). When Aurangazeb dismantled the Muslim Bijapur Kingdom in 1680s, the Mysore Kingdom under Chikkadevaraya Wodeyar formed an alliance with the Mughals. And in 1696 when a troop of Maratha soldiers on their way to Ginjee fort in Tamil Nadu decided to try their luck at making a quick buck off the Srirangapatna treasury, the Wodeyar gave them a resounding defeat.

The Ganga dynasty built Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple at Srirangapatna, Mandya District. Kantiraya Wodeyar defeated the an army led by Shahji (Shivaji's father) and Ranadaulah Khan (Bijapur Kingdom) in 1639. The Maratha Armies are said to have subsequently invaded Srirangapatna many times to extract payments from the Hindu Wodeyar Kings. Pic: Ameen Ahmed Tumakuru
Aurangzeb and Chikkadevaraya passed away within a few years of each other in the first decade of 18th century (1700s) . Across the Indian sub-continent the Marathas quickly gained territory at the cost of the Mughals. And like the Mughals, their expansion put them in conflict with the many kingdoms that existed in those days. During the course of this conflicts the Peshwa armies displayed their ruthlessness and the people who suffered at their hands were often fellow Hindus themselves. Jadunath Sarkar one of India's prominent historian of the early 20th century (1900s) has written extensively on Mughals and Marathas particularly Shivaji and the later Mughals. Those books also explain the suffering of ordinary residents of people in Bengal, Delhi etc at the hands of the Peshwa armies.

Post Chikkadevaraya, Kannadigas heard the battle shrieks of 'Har Har Mahadev' by the invading Marathas more often as the Peshwa led Maratha horse came down to extract payments from Srirangapatna. By 1740s the British and French were involved in a do or die competition with each other to establish themselves in India, a part of their and their allies conflict in regions across the globe. An off-shoot of this was the British documentation of events as they saw it gained more prominence. They not just wrote but also translated into English many publications written by people of the Indian sub-continent in languages which include Kannada and Persian. This literature points out to the numerous times when Marathas gained ransom from the Mysore rulers- Mysore Wodeyars and Haidar Ali - Tipu Sultan. It also gives an insight into the suffering of the ordinary Kannadigas during the Maratha invasions.

Destruction by Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao's men in 1750s
During the invasions of 1750s, the Hindu Maharaja of Mysore had to pay a ransom of Rs. 1 crore (a big sum in those days) according to Kirmani (Col.W.Miles, 'The history of Hydur Naik, Meer Hussein Ali Khan, Kirmani', 1842). In late 1750s, writes the same author, the Marathas occupied much of Mysore Kingdom and laid waste to farms and towns. Makalidurga and Bengaluru were the only places not to fall into the hands of the Marathas thanks to the resistance put by the Kannadigas under Hyder Ali, who then was still subservient to the Maharaja. But the frustrated Marathas destroyed villages around Bengaluru.

A view of Madhugiri hill and fort, Tumakuru District. This prosperous town was destroyed by repeated invasions of the Maratha Armies including Balwant Rao's men in 1791. According the the Mysore Gazetteer published over a century later in 1897, the town never recovered from the destruction of the Marhata armies
Destruction by Peshwa  Madhava Rao's men in 1770s
There are numerous reference to the invasions of Peshwa invasions of Mysore Kingdom in early 1770s by authors of early 19th century (1800s). One of them is Francis Buchanan ('A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar', Vol. 1, 1801, who claimed to have travelled from Madras across the regions of Malabar (current Kerala state), Old Mysore and Coastal Karnataka and the Baramahal (Tamil Nadu) documenting the social, economic and political life. It must be added here that Buchanan's trip was sponsored by the East India Company. Although his stories seems to be written with a purpose of providing legitimacy to the British conquer of Mysore Kingdom and its subsequent exploitation, he has been in the past and continues even now to be quoted extensively by those seeking to establish a modern India based on Hindu-nationalism. These include law makers elected to Indian parliament.

Buchanan notes during his visit and stay in many towns and villages as well as travel across the farm lands on how many areas were affected by the Marhata invasions of 1771. Here's a list:
1) Madhugiri town (Tumakuru District) was a apparently prosperous under Haidar Ali but suffered under Maratha rule.
2) Chinna village (Nagamangala Taluk, Mandya District): The village was desolate when Buchanan visited it in 1801-02.
3) Melukote (Mandya District): Melukote (or Melkote) is a popular Hindu pilgrimage centre having numerous Hindu temples. It was often the scene of Mysore-Maratha battles. During the 1771 invasion of the Maratha soldiers set afire to the temple chariots (rathas or raths) to get their hands on the iron in them. In the process many temples caught fire and were burnt.  Writing on 29 August 1800, Buchanan claims that Melukote has not yet recovered from the Maratha invasions.
4) Katte Malawadi village (Hunsur Taluk, Mysore District): When the town was destroyed by Badji Row in 1771 most people perished
5) Satyagalu (probably today's Satyagala village, Hunsur Taluk, Mysore District): Destroyed
6) Singanaluru town: Destroyed
7) Sonda village (Sirsi Taluk, Uttara Kannada District): Under king Immady Sadasiva the town suffered from attacks by Marathas led by Gopal Rao (Row as the Brits spelled)
8) Sunticoppa town (Suntikoppa, Madikeri Taluk, Kodagu or Coorg District): 'Devastated by Maratha Peshwa'
9) Basavapatna village (Arkalgud Taluk, Hassan District): Destroyed during the 1771-72 Maratha invasion it was apparently rebuilt by the British after the final Anglo-Mysore War in 1799
10) Siddaramanahally (probably Siddaramanahalli village, Kadur Taluk, Chikmagalur District): Affected
11) Hiriyur (Chitradurga District): Affected
12) Banavara (Hassan District): Suffered
13) Nagapuri (Hassan District): Haidar Ali built a fort amidst hills to protect people but still could not prevent the Marathas from plundering it in 1771-72
14) Jamagulla (probably Javagal village, Arasikere Taluk, Hassan District): A large place that never recovered from the Marhata invasion
15) Grama (probably Shantigrama village, Hassan District): Suffered under Maratha invasion

The Maratha Armies under Parasuram Bhow and Hari Pant turned Sira Fort (above) into their head quarters when they camped here in 1791 during the 3rd Anglo Mysore War. The Maratha horsemen are said to have destroyed all villages around. At one village MN Kote (Tumakuru District), they are said to have carried away young girls when they could not plunder the town. Pic: Ameen Ahmed Tumakuru
Destruction by Parasuram Bhow & Hari Pant led Maratha Armies in 1790s
Contemporary sources of the decisive 3rd Anglo Mysore War waged by British, the Maratha Armies led by Hari Pant and Parasuram Bhow and the Nizam of Hyderabad speak of horrendous misery of Kannadigas. Parasuram Bhow's name appears numerous times in these sources associated with burning, looting, plundering, mass-murders, rapes, abduction of young girls, particularly the Shudras. 

Edward Moor was part of Captain Little's detachment that supported Parasuram Bhow's invasion of Mysore Kingdom in 1790-92. He has written an eye-witness account of the destruction in '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'. Published at London by J.Johnson in 1794. Here are some
1) Harihar (spelled 'Hurryhar' by Brits), Davanagere District: 'Scenes of death and destruction'
2) Hiriyur, Chitradurga District: Burnt
3) Chitradurga town: Looted, Looting parties around it
4) Chicklehooly: Mahrata soldiers quarrelled with everyone enroute & carried away things without paying
5) Tulkh (modern name unknown): Looted and burnt
6) Guntnoor, 10 miles north of Chitradurga (modern name unknown): Burnt
7) Dunderguttee, 6 miles north of Channageri (modern name unknown): Burnt
8) Sight of 10 villages burning at a single time near Channageri (Davanagere District)
9) Baderooelly, on the banks of Tunga (Byadra Hosahally?/ Modern name unknown): Looted
10) Gajanur (spelled Gajanoor by Brits), Shivamogga District: Burnt and looted
11) Shivamogga (Shimoga): Looted and partly burnt, A Cobbler's (Dalit's) wife raped and killed by an accomplice of Bhow
12) Devarayanadurga, Tumakuru District: Looted
13) Dharwar town: Looted

Other destruction:

Mulberry cultivation of the farmers was destroyed by the Grand Army (Marathas & English)

Buchanan has mentioned the below:
1) Dodda Bailea (near Madhugiri), Tumakuru District: 'Sufferred extremely'
2) Madhugiri, Tumakuru District: 'Destruction completed'
3) Badavanahally (between Sira and Madhugiri), Tumakuru District: Half of population not recovered in 1801 after the village 'fell into the hands of Bhow's army' in 1791
4) Sira town, Tumakuru District: During Dilwar Khan's reign the town had 50,000 houses which were reduced to 300 by the Marhata invasions. In 1791, the Maratha army under Hari Punt and Parsuram Bhow camped at the Sira Fort.
5) Villages around Sira, Tumakuru District: Purseram Bhow and Hurry Punt's men  'Destroyed most of the villages in the neighbourhood' which continued to be 'in ruins' when Bhow visited it in 1801.
6) Sira to Midgeshi town (Tumakuru District) country laid waste by Parasuram Bhow yet to recover
7) Mooka Nayakana Kote or MN Kote (spelled 'Muga-Nayakana-Cotay' by British), Tumakuru District: During one of their looting sprees the Maratha horse attacked the village. The villagers fought back and the Maratha army looters had to retreat but not before carryin away young girls.
8) Chikka Nayakana Halli town (Tumakuru District) was visited by Bhow on 20th and 21st of August 1800. Apparently the people were looted by Bhow's men both while marching onto and returning from Srirangapatna . The Maratha invasion destroyed half the arecanut and coconut and trees were cut down.
9) Turuvekere town (Tumakuru District) was visited on 21 Aug. 1800. Author claims there was 'merciless destruction' by Bhow. The horsegram fields and arecanut gardens were desolate.
10) Nagamangla town (Mandya District) was visited on 21 Aug. 1800. Before Bhow's invasion the town had 1,500 houses and only 200 remained after his destruction. Apparently 150,000 (1.5 lakh) palm trees were cut. Half the farmers, mainly from the Tigala community, had fled the area.
11) Palhalli village, Mandya District (near Ranganathitoo Bird Sanctuary): Suffered from Maratha Army 'terror'.
12) Between Sicanay Pura & Muloor (Mandya District): Agriculture destroyed by the Marhata army and Cornwallis' invasion
13) Satyagalu village (Mysore/Mandya District): All 1,000 houses were destroyed by Maratha army during Cornwallis' invasion.
14) Bailuru near Honnavara (Uttara Kannada District): Suffered
15) Bhatkal town (Uttara Kannada District): Plundered by the Maratha army during Cornwallis
16) Manda Gadde, Shivamogga District was a prosperous town until Bhow destroyed it
17) Shivamogga (Shimoga): Apparently Bhow destroyed all 6,000 houses,carried away women.
18) Kudli village,Shivamogga District was plundered and burnt. Bhow's men did not even spare the Kudali Swamy Mutt which was burnt. Bhow is said to have murdered all Shudras of the town in cold-blood despite them being unarmed and not taking part in the war.  But it is to be note that the kind-hearted Kudli Swamy helped people in the famine that followed the destruction by Maratha army.
19) Sahasivahally: Visiting this place on 4 April 1801 Buchanan found the country desolate 'due to Bhow'.
20) Malebennur town: Destroyed
21) Harihar town: Bhow looted the people and many died of hunger
22) Koduganar, Chitradurga District: Whole of Chitrakal province was 'reduced to a desert' by Bhow
23) Aligutta village, Chitradurga District: Land is barren due to Marhata invasions of 1771 & then again by Bhow in 1791.
24) Hiriyur town was affected by Bhow's invasion and the subsequent famine that followed
25) Belluguru: Buchanan visited this on 8 May 1801 and found that the land was uncultivated due to Bhow's army passing by
26) Garudanagiri village was found to be depopulated on 9th May 1801 due to Bhow
27) Banavara town, Hassan District: Suffered by invasions of Bhow
28) Hassan town: Buchanan claims only one quarter of agriculture remained due to the Maratha invasion

The 17th century Devarayanadurga Fort near Tumakuru City. This was a prosperous town until 1791 when it was looted by Maratha Army led by Parasuram Bhow. Pic: Ameen Ahmed Tumakuru

Later British sources:
Lewin Botham Bowring, (Chief Commissioner of Mysore and Coorg) in his book 'Eastern Experiences', 1871 writes this about the destruction in Chitradurga District by the Maratha Army in 1790-91.
'In former days, the Chitaldroog district was much exposed to the depredations of the Mahrattas, whose principal leader, Parsuram Bhau ruthlessly plundered the northern part of the Mysore province. It was no uncommon thing for the whole population to desert their homesteads, leaving their houses, and carrying with them all their portable property, while, under the appellation of the 'Valase,' they wandered about the country till the invaders retired, and circumstances enabled them to return to their native villages. The remarkable affection displayed by Indians towards their homes is perhaps unequalled in any country, the dreary barren hills of the Chitaldroog district being as much prized by the people as if they were a paradise upon earth.' 

While Buchanan visited many towns and farms 10 years after Bhow's destructive campaign and claimed they had not recovered, Bowring writes 80 years later that Shivamogga Town had still not recovered from the ravages.
'During the wars with Tippu Sultan, Shimoga was attacked, however, by the Mahrattas, under Parsuram Bhao, who ruthlessly plundered the country, and left marks of devastation from which the people have scarcely yet recovered.'

Rice.B.L. who compiled the 'Mysore A Gazetteer compiled for Government' (1897) writes that Madhugiri Town which was besieged for 3 months in 1791 by Maratha Army led by Balavant Rao and had still not recovered from the destruction, over a century later.

The British reinstalled the Wodeyar dynasty in Mysore State in 1799. As an ally of the British the Mysore Maharaja provided resources to East India Company to fight the Marathas including the crucial Battle of Assaye where Arthur Wellesley defeated the Maratha Armies which contributed to the end of the Maratha Empire soon. As the British gained upper hand subjugating the native states, a surprise benefit for the ordinary people of these states was the lack of wars. But the same people soon realised that while the British taxed them and provided insulation from outside invasions they also burdened them with the miseries of famines and the mass perishing of men and beasts alike.

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Hero, Tyrant or just another king? Shivaji's rule in Karnataka

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

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Hero, Tyrant or just another king? Shivaji's rule in Karnataka

I grew in southern India's Karnataka state occasionally coming across stories of Shivaji, a king who has a 'ji' added to his name as a mark of respect. I was told he fought an 'evil Empire' (Moghuls) led by an 'evil Emperor' (Alamgir Aurangzeb). As a boy I found the aura around him fascinating. As a wildlife lover I would be thrilled to hear stories of Shivaji's soldiers scaling the impregnable forts on the perpendicular cliffs of the many steep hills by using a rope fastened to a 'ghodpod' (monitor lizard - Varanus bengalensis). And it was easier to grasp such stories from fellow Marathi speaking kids as Dakkani (one of my twin native languages,  the other being Kannada) borrows many words from it. Here was a youth who rebelled against one of the most organised and formidable military machines ever to grace this part of the earth, effectively using 'hit and run' tactics against them, time and again. I am still an admirer of his dare devilry and for the fact that he fought for what he believed, irrespective of the might of the opposing forces.

Remnants of the Hubbali (Hubli) fort in 2015. Shivaji is said to have looted Hubbali town in 1672 and 'destroyed everything which he could not carry away'. (c)Ameen Ahmed Tumakuru

The debate of 'Hindu' rulers and 'Islamic' rulers, the former being categorized by the right-wing as 'natives', 'insiders' and 'locals' and the later being termed 'foreigners', 'outsiders' and 'invaders' got shriller in late 1980s, thanks to the dispute over a piece of land somewhere in northern India. That made me curious about who these kings were. When ever I had time I researched the primary and secondary sources for information on them. As I stepped into the 21st century, thanks to the internet and sites like, I could access tens of thousands of British India manuscripts from the 18th,19th and 20th centuries. These are from a variety of sources - biographies, auto-biographies, soldiers' narratives, shikar (British Raj hunting) accounts and notes by Christian missionary. Not surprisingly these documents also give one a fair idea of the social and political life of those centuries in what today is the Union of India. Interestingly these narratives spare no social group or ruler. While we have read enough about the Moghuls- the good and the bad that is attributed to them, I wondered if Shivaji also had another side of his much glorified life. 

Screen shot of, which is a treasure trove of primary and secondary sources on various events and personalities. Downloaded on Dec. 18, 2017
There is no doubt that almost all narratives, including Moghul accounts, single him out for his dare devilry. But reading the literature, raised the below questions: 
 - What is the complete story of Shivaji and what was his stature in 17th, 18th and 19th centuries? 
 - Was he actually the 'hero' that he is made up by many Indians particularly the right-wing? Or was he just another king who struggled to give a dignified life to his own kingdom/ social group at the cost of the rest?   
 - Did he also carry out the same excesses on his subjects, which is used as a yard stick to measure (and beat) his contemporaries like Aurangzeb? 
 - Did he ever indulge in mass punishment of his civilians (including 'Hindus') in enemy areas? 
 - What were the administrative reforms he introduced in the areas he controlled? 
 - Was his taxation policy better than that of the Bijapur Sultans or Moghuls, whose territories he often captured? 
 - Were the Dalits (lower caste Hindus), pheasants/ farmers better off under him?  
 - Was Shivaji a Hero, Tyrant or just another king? How can Shivaji's rule in Karnataka be seen in context of prevailing politics on erstwhile rulers particularly his contemporaries. 

A lot has been written about the origins, youth and the military life of Shivaji, particularly his friendship as well as the intense conflicts with the Bijapur Sultans and the Moghuls. But not much is known on how the residents of other kingdoms particularly the non Maratha Hindus received him or how they were treated by him. The Hindutva nationalist narrative tell us that he is a pan-India role model for Hindus. But literature from contemporary sources of Shivaji as well the Maratha Empire which he established, in particular the British Raj literature, tells a different story- much different from what I read and heard from not just the right leaning but also the left wing historians of India.

a) Shivaji's destruction of Hubbali (Hubli) town

'In 1672 Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur died leaving no heir but a child named Shikandar. Taking advantage of the discord at Bijapur, Shivaji sent an army into the rich manufacturing districts of Dharwar, sacked Hubli, and laid the country waste, destroying everything which he could not carry away.' 
Source: p126, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. XV, Part 2 - Kanara (1883)
b) Shivaji's burning of Karwar town
'In October 1675 Fryer paid a second visit to Kanara...Two years before when Shivaji attacked the place the house was not finished, but, though the town was burnt the factors were able to defend themselves with the help of a small pink or gunboat.' 
Source: p127, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. XV, Part 2 - Kanara (1883)

c) 'Misery' of common man at Kawar 'under Brahmans' during its administration by Shivaji
'Shivaji had a governor of the town of Karwar and a commandant of the castle, and over them the superintendent of a flying army. Almost all the places of trust were in the hands of Brahmans who acted neither for the public good nor for common honesty but for their private interest only. They asked merchants to come and settle only to rob them, or turmoil them on account of customs. Openly they were mighty zealous for their master's dues, but, in the corner, they took more for themselves than for their master. It was a grievous loss that so much of the coast had fallen into Shivaji's power ; where Shivaji had anything to do trade was not likely to settle.' 
Source: p127-128, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. XV, Part 2 - Kanara (1883)

A stream near Ankola town in Karnataka's Uttara Kannada District  (image taken in January 2008). The main market of the town is said to have been burnt by Shivaji in 1676 causing the suffering of its residents. (c)Ameen Ahmed Tumakuru
d) Shivaji's burning of the market at Ankola market and the suffering of ordinary people  
'In February 1676 Fryer with one of the Karwar factors started on a trip to Gokarn. Near Ankola hill, they experienced a lively portraiture of Hell, as the forest was on fire, apparently purposely burnt, because it had sheltered the rebel dalvi. No food was to be had. Through the iniquity of the dalvi, the people of a fishing village where the travellers had meant to rest, were left without fish, boats, rice, or nets.

Fryer and his friends spent the night fasting under a mango tree and by daybreak made for Ankola. Here they found the market half-burnt and the remaining shops tenantless. Shivaji had not spared the town when he took the castle which was a fine place and of good force commanding to the river Gangavali, the utmost extent of Shivaji's power southwards.' 

Source: 129, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. XV, Part 2 - Kanara (1883)

e) 2/3rds of land untilled around Karwar due to Shivaji's 'tyranny'

Fryer spent the rains of 1676 at Karwar. The chief products of the country were, rice, ndclvni, millet, hemp, turmeric, ginger, and potatoes. The soil was good, yielding two crops, one which ripened in September, the other about March. The second crop was grown with great pains, water being brought along gutters. Through the tyrany of Shivaji three-quarters of the land was untilled. There was not much trade at Karwar and the factory was decaying, merchants being out of heart to buy and sell because of the embroils of the country. The state of the people was wretched. The artisans could hardly live for the Banians who ground their faces as the Desais ground the faces of the husbandmen.' 
Source: 129-130, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. XV, Part 2 - Kanara (1883)

A view of beach at Karwar town the head quarter of Uttara Kannada District in Karnataka (image taken in January 2008). People around the town were said to have suffered under Shivaji's rule (c)Ameen Ahmed Tumakuru
f) Taxation of common man 'much milder' under Bijapur Sultans than Shivaji 
'Taxation had been much milder and the people far more comfortable under the king of Bijapur. It was pitiable to hear what the people suffered under Shivaji's rule. The desais had lands imposed on them at double the former rates, and, if they refused to take them, they were carried to prison, famished almost to death, and most inhumanly racked and tortured till they confessed where their wealth was hid.' 
Source: p128-129, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. XV, Part 2 - Kanara (1883)

g) The rulers of the Maratha Empire created by Shivaji tormented common man (irrespective of religious beliefs) across modern day India for over a century. 

One contemporary source that documents the pillaging of human settlements, looting of temples, destruction of crops and the carrying away of females by the Maratha Empire is by Edward Moor (1794) in '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, againt the Nawab Tippoo Sultan Bahadur.' The misadventures of Bargis, the Maratha raiders, across Bengal province in the 1740s are well-documented by Jadunath Sarkar in his many books. 

Here is a another summary of the Marhata Empire in a British Raj book ('Indika', 1891) 'The history of the great Mogul empire is one uninterrupted chapter of bloodshed. At the death of the Emperor Aurangzeb, in 1707, it reached its final expansion. It had no power to preserve its vitality. It was a loose mass, ready for any strong hand to break it into pieces. Its spoils were fought over by Afghans, Jats, Sikhs, revolting viceroys, rebellious governors, and military adventurers at large. The Marhattas were the strongest force. They poured down from the mountains on the western coast, and carried desolation before them. They spared neither sex nor age, and the terror of their name was felt by every native of the country from Bombay to Calcutta.'

'Almost all traces of the Marhatta rulers have passed away. In Gwalior, Indore, and Baroda the only scions of this once great power now remain. They rule by native princes with only the semblance of authority, but are closely watched by English Residents, and are harmless. Never did a power which had arisen to such great possessions, or had achieved such memorable victories, and presented such able chiefs, decline and die with so few traces of moral greatness. Their one great aim was conquest, plunder, and the Mogul thrones. Not one Marhatta ruler can be found who possessed those high moral qualities which took pleasure in educating, refining, and making happy the people. One has only to see the condition of India—a poor suffering prisoner in the hands of a bloodthirsty army of freebooters, to measure both the timeliness and the beneficence of the English coming.'

There is a British Raj narrative that Hindu nationalistic leaders from present day Maharashtra state (some of whom actively worked with the Indian National Congress towards eviction of British from India) promoted Shivaji as a pan-India, pan-Hindu hero, hiding his shortcomings. This was apparently done to stir nationalist feelings among Hindus.

FE Penny in his book, 'Southern India' (1914), which has paintings by Lady Lawly writes 'The career of Shivaji was full of adventure. He threw off allegiance to the Moghul, quarrelled with the Moghul's generals, and became a law unto himself, a freebooter, like so many of the chiefs and naicks of that period. The Hindus have of recent years exalted him into a patriotic hero because he shook off the yoke of the Muhammadans ; but at the time this was not the view taken by those who suffered from the raids of his marauding horsemen. For some time Mysore remained in an unsettled state, without a ruler strong enough to take a definite lead and deliver the people from the bands of robbers whose presence paralysed agriculture and trade.'

It is unclear if the concept of pan-Hindu unity existed during the times of Shivaji. It is also unclear if he actually was a fore bearer of such an idea, given the suffering of non-Maratha Hindus like Kannadigas under his administration. And given the contemporary sources that showcase the general disdain Maratha soldiers had for all people (including Hindus) in other kingdoms as well as their lack of empathy for fellow Hindu Kingdoms and Kings including the Mysore Hindu Wodeyars, the Maratha Kingdom probably had nothing to with pan-Hindu unity. The Hindutva nationalistic narrative tells us that Shivaji was brought up on a diet of stories of Hindu nationalistic kings. Did any one tell him if and why his father Shahji, together with Randaulah Khan, Bijapur General at Sira attack a fellow Hindu King Kanthiraya of the Wodeyar Dynasty at Srirangapatna. And that the Kannadiga king actually beat them back? (Imperial Gazetteer, vol.18, p177, 1908). And just a few years after Shivaji's death, during the rule of Hindu King Chikkadevaraya Wodeyar, Maratha Empire soldiers enroute to their territory in Ginjee attacked Srirangapatna in 1696. The pillagers were defeated by this Kannadiga king, who is credited with expanding the Mysore Kingdom and building or reviving numerous Hindu temples across his kingdom most of which survive even today. Interestingly Chikkadevaraya was a contemporary of Aurangazeb and had an alliance with his military general based at Sira, Kasim Khan. That said, should today's moral standards be applied to someone who ruled 300 - 400 years ago? Can we not see Shivaji (and also the Moghuls) as plain rulers who happened to be at a particular place in a particular time in history? Yes, Shivaji is worthy of being worshipped as a hero by some but to most people in Mysore kingdom in 18th century (present day Karnataka), the empire he left behind was an incurable curse. 

The popular Yoga Narasimha Swamy Temple at Devarayanadurga Hill near Tumakuru City in Karnataka, was built by Chikkadevaraya Wodeyar. He was a contemporary of Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb and had an alliance with his military general, Kasim Khan who was based at Sira town. (c) Ameen Ahmed Tumakuru  

Indian history is a big, ugly world. Almost all rulers and social groups served their own whims and fancies. And almost all of them murdered political opponents and pillaged civilian populations for that was the tool of mass punishment then (as it is now). Invasions, looting and burning down of religious places were motivated by the desire for power and political gains and rulers hardly cared for the religious affiliations of the affected. Ashoka, Babur, Aurangazeb, Shivaji, Tipu, you name them and they have committed excesses on civilians - both people of their own faith as well as the others. To fight and die over what happened centuries ago will only take any country centuries back. To move forward societies need to learn from history not to repeat the mistakes what historical figures committed. But do we live in a perfect world? Your guess is as good as mine.

You may also like to read this:

The Kannadiga victims of Maratha Empire invasions

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

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