Queen Victoria’s reign marked the massive expansion of British rule, also big political and socio-economic changes in the United Kingdom. After East India Company was dissolved, the control was taken over by the British and she was proclaimed as the Empress of India in 1876.
Eight months later, the first Delhi Durbar took place with pomp to mark the occasion. The rule exerted racist colonial power over India, however, she had a soft corner for three Indians in her court: Victoria Gowramma of Coorg, Maharaja Duleep Singh of Punjab, and Abdul Karim, who was sent by East India Company to serve the queen but went on to became her confidant.
Eleven-year-old Gowramma had reached England in March 1852 along with her father, Chikka Veerarajendra, the ousted last ruler of Coorg. Duleep Singh was 16 when he reached England. Both received western education and adopted Christianity. Both youngsters were regular invitees to royal events and socialised with the royal children. Queen Victoria who had stood sponsor to Gowramma and announced herself as Godmother, even gave ‘Victoria’ to the Indian royal. Queen and Prince Albert tried to bring about an alliance between two Indian royals who had converted to Christianity, which in turn could have popularised the religion in the British territories. How the history of the continent would have been shaped had that marriage taken place?
Unlike the Maharajas of Punjab, the Coorg royals’ legacy is not well known. An alluring hill station in the Western Ghats, rich in its natural beauty and history. The pristine land bears the footprints of its mysterious inhabitants as some of the pre-historic stone structures dating back over 3,000 years have been found here. Its documented history details the advent of Lingayat rulers, who accorded the region a royal patronage before the British took over and remained there, till India became independent.
The fascinating tales of Rajas, Sahibs and freedom fighters of the region come alive in the eponymous book written by C.P. Belliappa. The land of brave Kodavas was out to have a separate identity in independent India, and did have it till 1956, when it was merged with Karnataka. Beliappa has extensively researched and written about the land and its people. In his latest offering, he carries on with the tales of the region, the enticing story of Gowramma, her father Veerarajendra and his 13 wives, well-known British persons including Sir Mark Cubbon - after whom the iconic park is named in Bengaluru (His statue was shifted several times, finally arriving in the eponymous park), author’s own great great great grandfather, Dewan Chepudira Ponnappa- dewan during Veerarajandra’s regime. One of Ponnappa’s great-great grandsons C.M. Poonacha (author’s father) was elected as chief minister of Coorg, also served as former railway minister and governor. Dewan Ponnappa’s great-great-granddaughter’s son K.S. Thimayya was the third Chief of Army Staff of India.
The book has three parts: the first one chronicles the history of Coorg; second, details the life of Gowramma and about further links the author established with the descendants of Veerarajandra, since the publication of his earlier book – Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg. The third part is devoted to events that took place during the freedom struggle and other political developments, including the merger of Coorg with Karnataka.
The book is rich in anecdotes and research shines through its pages. Belliappa had done a great service by thoroughly investigating the story of Gowramma about not much was known. The succinctly written book makes for an engrossing reading and it will fascinate history buffs. Do read this book before you head to Coorg for a vacation, it will be an enriching journey.
Coorg Stories and Essays
Author: C.P. Belliappa
Price: Rs 395