Kodava King Lingarajendra was assisted by his trusted soldier Thathanda Subbayya on several hunting expeditions to please British officers. A famous painting, depicting the king offering Subbayya a gold bracelet, a gun and a sachet of gold coins, is still in the ancestral home of the Thathanda family

Lingarajendra was not meant to be king. However, a series of lucky breaks landed him on the throne of Kodagu in 1811.

It was a combination of luck and chicanery that propelled him from being the timid younger brother of Dodda Veerarajendra to finally usurping the kingdom of Kodagu by cleverly dislodging the eleven-year-old daughter of his brother who had been named successor to the throne. 

After the demise of Dodda Veerarajendra, Lingarajendra started asserting himself, and within a short time took complete control over his domain.

He was wise in maintaining good relationships with the powerful British who had established a strong presence in neighbouring Mysore after overthrowing Tipu Sultan. 

One of the attractions Lingarajendra offered the British officers was organising elaborate hunting expeditions in the dense forests of Kodagu, which had abundant wildlife. As a protectorate of the British, there was no external threat to his kingdom. He diligently presented two elephants every year to the East India Company as a tribute. 

Lingarajendra had a very loyal and trusted lieutenant in a young Kodava soldier called Thathanda Subbayya. Lingarajendra, though short in stature, was physically very tough. Also, he was very agile and athletic. He was an excellent horseman, a sharp shooter and an able archer. Subbayya was one of the few who could match him in marksmanship. This brought the two closer and Subbayya was Lingarajendra’s constant companion on every hunting trip of the raja. 

Thathanda Subbayya rose rapidly in the court of Lingarajendra and was promoted to the post of kariakara which was equivalent to the position of an Army Commander. In a well-documented hunting trip of Colonel Welsh and Lieutenant Williamson in March 1811, it was Thathanda Subbayya who was in charge of all the arrangements for the elaborate shikari. Colonel Welsh who later became a General was extremely pleased with the sizeable booty of trophies he collected after the hunt. He promised all support for Lingarajendra and also requested the raja for another hunting adventure during October the same year. 

After the departure of the guests, an immensely pleased Lingarajendra presented Subbayya with a gold bracelet, a gun and a sachet full of gold coins. He then announced a gift which was awarded only to very special subjects. It was to be painted in a portrait along with Lingarajendra.

This painting depicting a reverential Subbayya in front of Lingarajendra is still in existence at the ancestral home, or the aynmane of the Thathanda family in Kukloor village near Virajpet. When I visited the aynmane, the present residents allowed me to take a photograph of the painting which is placed in a recess of the wall next to the traditional hanging lamp known as thook bolucha. This is a sacred place in Kodava homes meant for offering regular obeisance to ancestors. 

Taming the tiger
All the attention that kariakara Subbayya was receiving generated great envy amongst other members in the court of the raja. They felt threatened, and feared Subbayya would soon be promoted above some of the senior officers. 

Few of his rivals waited for an opportunity to damage the reputation of Subbayya in the eyes of Lingarajendra. A few months later, Lingarajendra received an appeal from nearby villagers about a tiger that was terrorising the area and they wanted the raja to help them eliminate the beast.

Lingarajendra asked Subbayya to make all the arrangements and also set up a machaan (platform on a tree) for him to stalk the tiger. A live bait was tied in the vicinity to attract the big cat. 

Subbayya who was an expert in setting up machaans immediately got on to the job and made all the necessary arrangements for the hunt. His foes took advantage of this event to discredit Subbayya. They surreptitiously sent their men to sabotage the machaan on which Lingarajendra was to camp overnight. The ropes used to tie the machaan were cut half-way to make it weak and unsafe. 

Subbayya’s sacrifice
Lingarajendra got on to the machaan and Subbayya sat on another machaan set up atop another tree. A little after midnight, the tiger made its appearance where Lingarajendra sat waiting. There was no escape for the tiger with Lingarajendra’s accurate gunshot. 

But, with the recoil of the powerful gun, Lingarajendra’s machaan gave way as the weakened ropes snapped. It was entirely the agility of the raja that enabled him to hold on to a branch and get down using the rope ladder.

Lingarajendra was furious and wanted Subbayya to be brought to him immediately. Subbayya who heard the gun shot got down from his machaan and was walking towards where Lingarajendra camped. He met the soldiers on the way who were looking for him. The soldiers narrated what had happened. 

Subbayya who knew the raja’s explosive temper was sure he would be killed on sight. He told the soldiers that he would follow them. He then sat under a tree and shot himself in the chest with the gun that Lingarajendra had presented him months earlier. 

When Lingarajendra learnt about Subbayya having taken his own life, he was most upset. He had complete faith in Subbayya and had no intentions of harming his loyal kariakara. He vowed to investigate the incident and punish the culprits. 

Subbayya was still a bachelor and was planning to get married soon. He was a rising star among Kodavas at the time. Lingarajendra bitterly grieved Subbayya’s untimely demise. He built a memorial (in Lingayat style) in honour of his trusted kariakara in Kukloor village. This monument is well-maintained by the Thathanda family even to this day. 

Lingarajendra ruled Kodagu for nine years. The economy of Kodagu improved during his tenure and there was no threat of war. For the battle-weary citizens of Kodagu, this period of peace came as a great reprieve.

Lingarajendra, however, turned despotic during the later part of his reign. His son and the last raja of Kodagu, Chikka Veerarajendra succeeded him in 1820. In 1834, the British dethroned the unpopular Chikka Veerarajendra and Kodagu came under the direct rule of the East India Company. Chikka Veerarajendra was ingloriously exiled to Benares.

Courtesy : Deccan Herald

Author: C.P. Belliappa


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