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.

You may also like to read this:

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

The Kannadiga victims of Maratha Empire invasions 


(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