9:45 am - Saturday April 13, 2024

Historical Personality

Kings And Queens of India

Keladi Chennamma

She ruled over a small state, Keladi for twentyfive years (1671-1696). but proved herself a great and heroic queen. She protected the kingdom when her husband failed his duty. And she faced the wrath of the mighty Aurangazeb, and gave shelter to Rajaram, Shivaji's son.

She was the Queen of an ancient State. She had no husband. Still she fought with the many foes around and freed the kingdom from several dangers. But soon she had to face another danger. Aurangzeb was the Moghul Emperor then. 'Alamgir' was his title. Alamgir means one who has conquered the whole world. Aurangzeb had conquered manykingdoms in North India and had turned his eyes towards the South. His thirst for expansion was not yet quenched and his vast: powerful army attacked this small State. The reason given was that the Queen had given shelter to the son of Maharaja Shivaji. But the Queen was not afraid. Nor did she feel sorry. She did not ask for pardon. She fa6ed the attack like a heroic woman. When the enemies themselves withdrew their attack and begged for a treaty, she was quite generous. This heroic Queen and noble lady was Queen Chennamma of Keladi. Chennamma ruled the kingdom of Keladi for twenty-five years. She had the complexion of a pearl, with bright eyes and a broad forehead. A long nose and curly hair adorned a face of royal dignity. The beautiful Queen was full of good qualities too. And she had the ability to kill her enemies in the battles, like Durga (the goddess of power). Beauty, valour, piety and generosity all blended in this great Queen.

'I Have Chosen My Bride'

Keladi was a kingdom in the MaInad area of Karnataka. The first King of Keladi was Chowdappa Nayaka who came to the throne in 1500. He was a great hero. In about 1645, the able King Shivappa Nayaka came to the throne. During his reign, many reforms were effected in Keladi. This King became famous as a great ruler because of his administrative reforms. Government and collection of taxes were so systematized that he came to be called 'Shistina Shivappa Nayaka' ('shistu' - meaning discipline and order and it is also known as a kind of Local Tax). His younger son Somashekhara Nayaka became the King in 1664. At that time the kingdom of Keladi stretched along the entire seacoast from Goa to Malabar. Somashekhara Nayak was a very efficient king. With a good figure, power and wealth, he also had good qualities. He was religious-minded, too. Somashekhara Nayaka did not marry for several years. He was young and a king; and was also handsome, virtuous and famous. Naturally many a king tried to make him his son-in-law. The Nayaka saw many beautiful princessesses. But he never thought of marriage. His subjects, knowing his religious mind and devotion to God, wondered whether their king would become a monk.

A Happy, Blessed Union

The king once went to the Rameshwara fair. There he saw a very pretty maid. She was Chennamma, the daughter of Siddappa Shetty of Kotepura. She was beautiful like a carefully sculptured doll. With her friends she was going to the temple; she moved with striking dignity. Somashekhara Nayaka saw her; he said to himself, 'if at all I marry, I should marry this girl.' Through his servants he learnt who she was. Next day he sent for his Chief Minister and said to him, "You have been compelling me to marry. Ye9terday when I went to the Rameshwara fair, I saw Kotepura Siddappa Shetty's daughter. If I marry at all, I will marry her. Please send for Siddappa Shetty and speak to him." The Chief Minister replied, "My Lord, so far all kings of Keladi have married only princesses of royal blood." "That may be. But I know only one way, - and that is, to do as I say. I have nothing to do with any other tradition. I will marry only this girl."

Kalavathi, A Curse

Once, during the Dasara festival, the famed dancer Kalavathi of Jambukhandi gave a performance before the royal couple. Dancing like a peacock and singing like a cuckoo, this beautiful woman won the love of Somashekhara Nayaka. The King who was pleased with her excellence in dancing, gave her much wealth. Kalavathi became the dancer of the royal court. Her mother and her foster-father, Bharame Mavuta, lived with her. The latter was a master of black magic and secret medicines Knowing that Queen Chennamma had no children, the wicked Bharame Mavuta developed an intimate friendship with Somashekhara Nayaka. Gradually the Nayaka began to live with Kalavathi herself. He became a puppet in the hands of Bharame Mavuta. He forgot his beloved darling Chennamma and stayed away from the palace. He swallowed all that Bharame Mavuta gave him as medicine and as a result became half-mad. Various diseases began to eat him up. Even the ministers and respected officers had to go to the dancer's house to discuss matters of the State. Chennamma felt very sad that the husband who once loved her so deeply never came to the palace now. She was always in tears. Once all the subjects felt happy that it was their good fortune they had such an ideal King. But now he had to thought for the kingdom. Because of the King's indifference there was chaos in the kingdom. The news of his ill-health spread all over the kingdom. The King had no children. What if he died suddenly? In such a pass, naturally, many persons began to hatch conspiracies to usurp the throne. The Sultan of Bijapur who had often been defeated by the kings of Keladi, now attacked the kingdom.

'My Lord, Come back'

The Queen was determined that the kingdom nursed and handed down by their elders should be saved from these dangers. If she remained passive, thinking she was only a woman, the kingdom wouid be lost. She put aside her pride and even stepped into the dancer's house to meet the King. Worn out by diseases, the King was a mere shadow of his old robust self. The face had lost lustre and the eyes were dull. Chennamma was greatly grieved. But she checked her sorrow and said, "My Lord, please come back to the palace. The physicians of the court will treat you. The kingdom of the great Shivappa Nayaka should not be ruined. You can adopt a worthy boy as son." She fell at his feet and begged him to return. Bharame Mavuta, the source of all evil for the kingdom, was right there. Deceived by his words, the King refused to listen to Chennamma. The Queen returned in misery. But she had no time even to weep, because the enemies had already besieged the kingdom.

Tender Hands Rule The Land

There was only one way, thought Chennamma, for the kindgom to continue and the dynasty to survive; she herself should rule the land and also hold the sword. Trusting God, the young Queen took this crushing burden on her tender shoulders. The clever and heroic Queen also took the counsel of her father Siddappa Shetty. She enlisted the help of trustworthy commanders. Delicate hands adorned with bangles now brandished the sword. Arrogant enemies thought that after all she was a woman and could be frightened. They began to threaten her. One day the Chief Minister, Thimmanna Nayaka of Kasaragod, went to her with Subnis Krishnappa and said to her, "You must adopt as son Veerabhadra Nayaka, the son of the Commander-in Chief, Bhadrappa Nayaka. It is only then that we shall support you. Or else, we will unite the people against you and crown him." The same threat was held out by another minister, Narasappayya and a senior officer, Lakshmayya. Queen Chennamma heard them all patiently. On one side, Bharame Mavuta had the King under his thumb and was eager to take over the kingdom. On another side, all the ministers and other important men were ready to bring some one whom they liked to the throne and perpetuate their own positions. The Queen could not approve of either of these developments. She had no child; so she decided that she should adopt a boy who was virtuous and would herald the welfare of the State. She choose a boy by name Basappa Nayaka. She decided to give him the proper type of training so that the kingdom survived and the people were made happy.

Troubles Come In Battalions

The Sultan of Bijapur was waiting to swallow up the kingdom of Keladi. Now he heard that the King was negligent and troubled by disease and that the State was in the hands of a woman. He was tempted. Opportunity seemed to be inviting him. He sent a representative by name Jannopant to the Queen for negotiations. Close on the heels of Jannopant the Sultan also sent a big army under the command of Muzaffar Khan. Jannopant met the Queen. Through her own spies Chennamma had already understood the trick of the Sultan. But she was not in a position to declare war on the Sultan just then. So she gave three lakh rupees to Jannopant and came to an agreement with the Sultan. Yet, the Sultan's army was marching towards Keladi. So, the Queen summoned her subjects and said to them : "My beloved heroes of the Kannada Land, you are great warriors. Today the fate of the kingdom is in your hands. Remember, victory gives us this kingdom and death gives us heaven. There is no third way. If you win, all of you will be rewarded with befitting honours." So she spoke to her people with affection. She gave them her jewels and, the gold in the royal treasury. Inspired by her heroic words, and moved by her generosity, the soldiers girded their lions to fight. After taking leave of the Queen, Jannopant went to Bharame Mavuta. Moved by the sweet words of Jannopant, Bharame Mavuta got the King murdered. The Queen heard the news. Her husband was dead! It was a shock, and grief flooded the heart of the young Queen. But she was not the woman to weep in passive sorrow. Yes, her husband was dead. But he had not died a natural death. He had been murdered. Chennamma was now like the Goddess of War, determined to avenge her husband's death. The Bijapur army besieged the fort of Bidanur. The henchmen of Bharame Mavuta gave all help to the Sultan's soldiers. The-enemy army was very big. Siddappa Shetty and the officers of the State told the Queen that, even if they fought with all valour, victory was doubtful. They advised her to leave Bidanur for the time being. The very thought of leaving Bidanur was like poison to her. But there was no other way. The throne of the kingdom, the wealth of the royal treasury and all other valuables were moved to Bhuvanagiri. The enemies pulled down the gates of the fort and entered the palace. But they could not find the Queen there. The treasury was also empty. They felt disappointed and were very angry. The fort at Bhuvanagiri, situated amidst a thick jungle, was quite secure. The chieftains of the Keladi Court and the soldiers were in Bhuvanagiri with the Queen.

'I Have Sinned Terribly'

The Chief Minister, Thimmanna Nayaka, who had, gone away from Bidanur after his differences with the Queen in the matter of the adoption, now learnt of the fall of Bidanur. He was at heart a true patriot. He was enraged that enemies had taken Bidanur. Thimmanna Nayaka came to the Bhuvanagiri palace and met the Queen. He said, "Your Highness, I am guilty of a great crime. I should not have left Bidanur after the death'of Somashekhara Nayaka. I have sinned terribly. It is very painful for me to see the Bidanur, where I was born and bred, is now in alien hands. Please accept my services again in this difficult hour." The Queen was generous. She replied, "Thimmanna Nayaka, your conduct and your words amply bear out your deep loyalty to the kingdom. Keladi now needs the assistance of all and the blessings of the Almighty for its protection. You are experienced in statecraft. We do need your help; you have served the State from the days of the great Shivappa Nayaka. The Chief Minister's office is yours, if you will accept it." Chennamma bestowed honours on him. People who had benefited from the kings of Keladi and from Chennamma in particular, arrived in thousands in Bhuvanagiri. They were ready to give up their all for Keladi and the Queen.

A Mother To The Subjects

Thimmanna Nayaka got together the chieftains and brave soldiers from all parts of Keladi and raised an army. He marched towards Bidanur. The soldiers of Bijapur, who were proud of their seizure of Bidanur were marching towards Bhuvanagirii to capture it. In the midst of the thick forest and in a narrow pass, the Sultan's soldiers fell into the hands of the heroic Kannada warriors. The men of Keladli knew the terrain quite well; they destroyed the Bijapur army and went to Bidanur. The people there were overjoyed at the arrival of the Kannada soldiers. They opened the gates wide and welcomed them. The people of Keladi, one and all, accepted Chennamma as their ruler. In 1671 Chennamma was crowned as the Queen in the fortress of Bhuvanagiri. The Queen now took over the entire adminis- tration into her hands. She honoured the chiefs and soldiers, who had helped in the fight for Bidanur, suitably with money, gold, lands and high offices. The kingdom had become worn out with chaos and misrule. The Queen brought peace and happiness to it. She again enforced the system which had been formulated by Shivappa Nayaka. She arranged forspecial temple honours and worship with great pomp to the deities of Rameshwara, Aghoreshwara and Goddess Mookambike, whose grace, she felt, had warded off all dangers. She offered diamond-studded crowns and golden lamps to these deities. The Queen also arrested both Bharame Mavuta and Jannopant who were responsible for the death of her husband, and put them to death. Those who had conspired against her and wanted to usurp the kingdom were also punished and banished from the kingdom. Queen Chennamma now ruled over the kingdom ably. She was like a goddess to the virtuous and like destruction itself to the wicked. She had an 'Agrahara' - an entire street with houses on either side - formed, and invited scholars to settle down there. It was named 'Somashekharapura'. Day and night Chennamma toiled for the welfare of the state. With the consent of her people she adopted as her son, a good boy, Basappa Nayaka by name. She expanded the army and strengthened security at the borders. After her work for the kingdom, Chennamma spent whatever leisure she had, in meditation and in acts of charity and kindness. She gave gifts of lands to Mutts and religious institutions. The Queen respected all the religions and was herself respected by everybody.

A Sheild For The Kingdom

Years before, there had been two or three wars between the kings of Mysore and the kings of Keladi. In these wars, the rulers of Mysore had been defeated. As the kings of Keladi had a long seacoast under them, they reaped considerable profits from the foreign traders, the Dutch and the English. At the time Chennamma was ruling in Keladi, the ruler in Mysore was Chikkadevaraya Wodeyar. A person by name Andhaka Venkata Nayaka also belonged to the dynasty of Keladi kings. He wrote a letter to the Mysore ruler; he said, "I should have been the King of Keladi. But Chennamma came in the way. Therefore if you will fight with her and help me to get the kingdom, I shall give half of it to you and render other help also." Chikkadevaraya was very pleased with the letter. He thought it would be quite easy to win the kingdom which was in the hands of a woman. If he did so, all the foreign trade now under Keladi would be in his hands. So he began preparations for a war. Queen Chennamma was not at all afraid that the Mysore ruler had declared war on Keladi. She remained undaunted and sent a big army under her Commander Bhadrappa Nayaka to fight the enemy. The chieftains of Sode, Sirsi and Banavasi also declared war on Keladi. But the Queen very cleverly managed to defeat them all. The Mysore army was the first to be defeated. But the next year that army defeated the Keladi force. Again when there was a war, the Queen was victorious. Several officers of the Mysore army were captured. But the Queen treated them with courtesy. She also set them free. Because of this, Chikkadevaraya developed a high regard for the Queen. The rulers of Mysore and Keladi signed a treaty of friendship. Queen Chennamma had banished some leaders who had their eyes on the throne. Now all those men, obtaining the help of other rulers, began a war with the Queen. But the able Queen defeated them. Chennamma had adopted Basappa Nayaka. He was to become the King later. So she gave personal attention to his training and education. Every morning after her bath, prayers and breakfast, she would go to the court hall. She would stay there till mid-day, and listen patiently to any of her subjects who had any difficulties. She would give them whatever help was necessary. She would discuss matters of statecraft and administration with Basappa Nayaka and her ministers and officers and give her decisions. After the midday prayers and worship, she would spend an hour giving alms. At that time monks, sanyasis, priests and the poor and the needy would all receive help.

I am The Son Of Chatrapati

"I know that, Queen. I have made bold to come here only after hearing of your valour and generosity. If your ministers agree, please give me shelter here for a short while and then help me to reach the fort of Jinji. I will never forget your kindness. If that is not possible, I shall leave this place tomorrow morning." "Prince, I shall summon the royal court this evening and discuss the matter. Whatever might happen, I will give shelter to those who ask me for it. To act according to the royal code, and to see that you reach Jinji safely, is my responsibility." "Noble Queen, the royal house of Keladi is very generous. I am astonished that, when powerful kings of big realms have refused to give me shelter, a lady should muster courage to face such a danger. I am greatful to you." So saying, Rajaram saluted her with great devotion and went to the Guest House. That evening Queen Chennamma summoned the royal court. She narrated all that had happened and asked her advisers for their opinion. Prime Minister Thimmanna Nayaka sounded a note of warning - "Your Highness, Aurangzeb's army is chasing Rajaram. It has already captured Raigadh, Panhalgadh and other forts. If Aurangzeb comes to know that Rajaram is in Keladi, it would surely mean our total ruin." Siddappa Shetty was very clear in his words to his daughter - "What the Prime Minister says is quite true. So far we have fought with the enemies around. Just now peace and order are returning to the kingdom. Fighting with Aurangzeb now is beyond our capacity." Commander Bhadrappa and Minister Narasappayya also were of the same opinion. "Gentlemen, what you say is true," said Chennamma. "I have thought about this very deeply. Until this day the kings of Keladi have always given shelter to anyone who sought it. It is my duty to keep up that tradition. Shivaji Maharaj wore himself out to save Hinduism. When his son asks for help can it be denied? The safety of the kingdom is a matter in God's hands." "I agree, mother," said Basappa Nayaka. "What you say is true. You have always taught me it is nobler to save than to kill. What can Aurangzeb do against God's blessings and- the valour of our heroes?" All the younger persons in the Court were for giving shelter to Rajaram. Inevitably all the ministers also agreed.

The Black Shadow Of The Moghul Army

"To the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb, Your letter has reached us. The people of this kingdom are ever ready to extend the hand of friendship to the Moghuls. But you have asked for something in return for your friendship. But that is impossible. Rajaram is not in this kingdom. It is of course known that he went through Keladi." By the time the Queen's letter reached Aurangzeb, the big Moghul force was near Keladi. The Queen was fully prepared for the war. The brave soldiers of Keladi were readily waiting in the path of the Moghul army. The way lay through a thick jungle. And the rainy season had set in. The Moghul soldiers who were accustomed to the dry climate of the North, found it extremely difficult to pass through the forest in the heavy downpour of theMaInad area. But obeying Aurangzeb's orders they were marching ahead under great strain. The Karnataka heroes took positions in the thick jungle and began butchering the Moghul soldiers. Prince Azamath Ara was shocked. He who had defeated many chief tains and kings had now to suffer defeat from a woman; and when he went back after that defeat, he would be beheaded. The very idea made him perspire. But his soldiers did not have the grit now to advance further, fight fiercely and raze the Keladi fort. The major part of the army had been destroyed. The forces of Keladi had captured several of the Moghul captains, a large number of horses and considerable war material. So the fight went on at a slow and uncertain pace. Prince Azamath Ara was very much troubled. By then he received a letter from Aurangzeb which said, "Rajaram is now ruling the Jinji fort. So leave Keladi at once and proceed to Jinji." This was just what Azamath Ara wanted. So the Moghuls came to an agreement with Queen Chennamma. The Queen also was glad to have this treaty. She treated the Moghul captains very generously and according to the pact released them all. Aurangzeb recognized her as an independent ruler. The Queen rewarded the soldiers and officers of her army suitably. The great honour of a decisive victory in a war with Aurangzeb thus belongs to the brave Chennamma, a heroine of Karnataka. Rajaram who had reached Jinji, wrote. A letter of gratitude to the Queen: "When kings and rulers of bigger kingdoms refused to help me, you bravely gave me shelter and helped to protect Hinduism. I can never forget this bravery and generosity of yours. May GoddessBhavani give you all happiness! I pray God that your land may be a home of happiness." The Queen thought that a difficulty which had come upon her like a mountain had melted like the fog.

An Excellent Administrator

Meanwhile Basappa Nayaka, the adopted son, had come of age. Trained by Chennamma, he was now learned in statecraft. He was courteous, virtuous and valiant. The Queen had the confidence that he could rule the kingdom well. She made over to him the major share in the administration. She then spent most of her time in the service of others. She also went on a pilgrimage and visited the Aghoreshwara. Temple at Ikkeri, the Mookambike Temple at Kollur and.the Sharadamba Temple at Shringeri. She gifted lands to the temples she visited to that worship could go on in these temples round the year. Meanwhile she also captured Hulikere near Basavapattana. The fort there was in ruins. She got it rebuilt. After Basappa Nayaka came to the throne, he renamed it. Chennagiri in honour of his mother. Queen Chennamma got a beautiful chariot made and dedicated it to the temple of Lord Neelakanteshwara of Venipura near Bidanur. She made arrangements for the Neelakanteshwara, fair to be held every year. She gave liberal gifts of land and gold to the temple of her family deity Rameshwara and Veerabhadreshwara of Keladi and also to the temple of Goddess Mookambike of Kollur, so that the worship in those temples might go on without any difficulty. The tower of the Veera- bhadreshwara Temple at Keladi was rebuilt by her and a flag-pillar was erected. She offered gifts to the temples at Kashi, Rameshwara, Shrishaila and Tirupati. She also built monasteries for the Veershaiva monks and Agraharas for Shaivas and Vaishnavas. She ruled over Keladi very ably and nobly from 1671 to 1696. Her life was a life of fame and grandeur. She was always pious and god-fearing. When she was on her death-bed, the righteous Queen called her son and said, "Basappa Nayaka, the task of protecting and developing the kingdom of Keladi founded by Chowdappa Nayaka, is now yours. Conduct yourself according to the words of our saints. Let your speech be a string of pearl3. Never should you sin, and you must live to uphold truth, kindness and righteousness. Do not waste time in bad habits. Devote your time to good deeds. Look after the people of Keladi as your children. You must share their joys and sorrows. Earn a good name, and bring fame to the royal house and to the kingdom. "Let Keladi State be the home of happiness. Let the people be satisfied and joyful. And may God bless you." The pious and virtuous woman, the brave and intelligent Queen, breathed her last in Shravana, a holy month of Hindus. Basappa Nayaka and the people of Keladi were in deep grief. Chennamma was laid to rest in the Koppalu monastery in Bidanur.

A Fountain Of Inspiration

a mere matter of feeding a person. It is a question of the kingdom's survival or otherwise." "Prince Rajaram, the Kannada people never go back on their words. They are not such cowards that they will not help those who come to them for shelter." The Queen put her trust in God and gave shelter to Rajaram. Preparations for a war began in Keladi. Aurangzeb sent his son Azamath Ara with a huge army to invade the kingdom. But by then Rajaram had safely reached the Jinji fort. The cunning Moghul Emperor on the one hand sent a big army to Keladi; and, on the other, before it could reach the kingdom, he sent a messenger to Queen Chennamma with a letter and also costly presents including diamonds and other precious stones. His letter ran thus: "To Queen Chennamma of Keladi. Between us there is no enmity. But I have heard that my great enemy Rajaram is under your protection. He must at once be given up to me. When that is done, there can be a treaty of friendship between the two kingdoms. Otherwise you will have to face the Moghul army." The shrewd Queen consulted her ministers and sent a reply as follows: Chennamma tactfully negotiated trade treaties with the Arabs and the Portuguese to carry on trade along the seacoast under her rule. It was very convenient - and also profitable - to import the various commodities her kingdom needed. She traded with the Arabs for horses so necessary for the protection of Keladi. The Arabs and the Portuguese bought the rice and the pepper grown in the MaInad areas. This enriched the kingdom. When, because of the foolishness of the king Somashekhara Nayaka, Keladi was in chaos and was encircled by enemies, Chennamma acted boldly and -wisely and in the interests of the State and the subjects. She crushed all the enemies. Other kings were all afraid of Aurangzeb and denied shelter to the great shivaji's son. But this lady of the Kannada land helped him. As a queen she was wise and able as she was brave.So she established a peaceful era in Keladi. She ruled the kingdom in such a way that the people could live without fear of the enemies, and without trouble from thieves or oppression from officers. She gave succor to the poor and respected all religions. The name of Keladi's brave Queen is written in Golden letters in the history of Karnataka and the history of India. Chennamma's life is a source of inspiration to all who love freedom and admire courage and nobility.



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