Monday, July 13, 2015

ಪುರಾಣಮಿತ್ಯೇವ ಸಾಧು ಕಿಂಚಿತ್ - ೨

Veera Rajendra (called Veera Rajendra Wodeyaru in Kannada), known also as 'Chikka Veera Rajendra' and immortalised in the eponymous Masti Venkatesha Iyengar novel, ruled the kingdom of Kodagu between 1820 and 1834, when he was deposed by the British and then moved around like a relic that can neither be used nor disposed of. Between 1826 and 1833, he sent a series of letters to James Archibald Casamajor, the British Resident of Mysore (until 1835) and then Travancore. Casamajor was reportedly one of many people who advised Chikka Veera Rajendra to tone down his cruelty and wanton ways and not pester his subjects or his cousin, Devammaji, and her husband, Chennabasava. The king was after Devammaji and her husband because of money: his uncle and Devammaji's father, Dodda Veera Rajendra, had deposited around 3 lakh rupees and 180000 gold pagodas with the East India Company as a form of investment for his daughter's future. Chikka Veera Rajendra had a counterpoint to this arrangement: he thought the money and gold should be his and he reportedly pestered Devammaji over this point. After news of this and other misdeeds of the king and his minister, Kunta Basava, got around, the British got involved (as usual) and sent missives to the king. But alas, Casamajor's entreaties were to no avail. Devammaji and her husband were killed by the young king and his minister.

Some of the letters that went back and forth between Kodagu ('Coorg') and Casamajor were in a collection excitingly marked 'Documents awaiting identification'. The folder containing the letters wore proudly the appearance of dull officialdom:


It wouldn't be surprising if this was from the time Kodagu and the East India Company were pen pals. Inside the folder lay a multitude of letters of this nature (please click on them for a higher resolution):





Absolutely beautifully written letters that proved to be almost impossible to read. Very decorative script often tends to obscure crucial words or alphabets and that can lead to a complete loss of sense and meaning. This is what happens with a large number of these documents. A sense of what they are can be gleaned from words and sentences whose meanings can be snatched with some difficulty.

The letters begin with an address in Persian/Farsi (an after-effect of the Hyder and Tipu invasions, presumably) and Casamajor is addressed as 'Saheb Vaiz Baksh Vaizer' and so on and so forth and also entitled 'Casamajor Sahib Bahadur'. Then Chikka Veera Rajendra displays his generosity with Persian words over a couple of lines with something that looks like 'RizJaanibE Veera Rajendra Wodeyaravaru rajasthana sallambaadaz....mulaaqaat bOzahat ....marahood (?) ....' until he, or the letter writer, seems to give up and begin to get to the rest of the letter. The date of the letters are mentioned both according to the Hindu calendar (using the Shalivahana Saka method) and the Gregorian calendar, but the Hindu calendar only mentions the name of the samvatsara and not the actual year itself. For instance, one letter says it's the Virodhi samvatsara but doesn't take the trouble of attaching any year number to it. And the writing's a bit weird too. It uses vowels where consonants should be, consonants where vowels would suffice, no deergha where one is required and so on. With the net result that such an important official communication looks rather like the homework assignment of a new student of Kannada who doesn't really pay attention in class. For instance:

'...ವಿರೋಧಿ ಸಂವತ್ಸರದ ಮಾರ್ಗಶಿರ ಬ(ಹುಳ?) ೮ ಶುಕ್ರವಾರದವರೆಗೆ ನಾಉ ಕ್ಷೆಮದಲ್ಲಿ ಯಿದ್ದೆವೆ. ಪರಂಪರ ಮಾಯೆಯವರ ಖೈರಿಯತ್ತಿನ ವಾರ್ತೆಯಂನು ಪದೇಪದೇ ಲಿಖಿತಾರ್ಥದಿಂದ ಸೂಚಿಸುತ್ತಿರುವಂತೆ ಮಾಡಿಸಬೇಕು'

Again, as mentioned before, many thanks are owed to the great people who simplified and standardised the Kannada script.

Some pictures of the letters are in this album. If you can read the letters, please send me the text by comment or email.

Even though he was apparently a tyrant and a man given to vice, it tends to be a bit saddening reading these letters sent repeatedly by the last king of Kodagu, especially in light of what happened to him afterwards. He was kept in Benares by the East India Company and paid an annual allowance. He then went to England to plead for his kingdom back, which naturally did not happen. And he died in London after losing a legal battle for the money Dodda Veera Rajendra had deposited with the East India Company. The man who had always addressed himself with the royal plural pronoun died a singularly sad man.

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