Salute to Rani Chennamma of Princely State Kittur: Presently Part of Karnataka State

 For the independence of the country from the British rulers, from time to time, many people fought and sacrificed their lives. Unfortunately, in the school history books, a few family's names are highlighted as if, for them, India got her independence. In this article, I am presenting the case of Rani Chennamma, who bravely fought against British rule, but her great sacrifice was not highlighted in our history books across the country. 

Indians will not forget the valour of Queen/Rani Chennamma.  She was born on October 23, 1778, in Kakati village in the present Belagavi district of Karnataka in the Lingayat community and received training in horse riding, sword fighting, and archery from a young age. At the age of 15, her marriage was performed with King/Raja Mallasarja of the Desai family, who ruled the princely state until 1816.  Chennamma's husband died in 1816, leaving her with a son and a state full of volatility. Later on, in 1824, her son died. Rani Chennamma was left with the State of Kittur and the great task of maintaining its independence from the British. Following the death of her husband and son, Rani Chennamma adopted Shivalingappa in 1824 and made him heir to the throne. This irked the East India Company, who ordered Shivalingappa's expulsion. The State of Kittur came under the administration of the Dharwad collectorate in charge of St John Thackeray, of which Mr. Chaplain was the Commissioner; both of them did not recognise the new ruler and notified Kittur to accept British control. Because Lord Dalhousie the Governor General of India, introduced a policy called ‘The Doctrine of Lapse’   to annex the independent Indian States from 1848 in case the ruler of an independent princely state died childless. In 1823, Rani Chennamma sent a letter to Mountstuart Elphinstone, Lieutenant-Governor of the Bombay province, pleading her case, but the request was turned down, and war broke out. Rani Chennamma retaliated and killed a British official to protect and safeguard her homeland. She was trained in martial arts and military tactics and was a formidable leader. She led her army into battle, using guerrilla warfare tactics to surprise the British forces. The war lasted several days, but ultimately, the British could succeed due to their superior firepower. In the first war, during October 1824, British forces lost heavily, and St John Thackeray, collector and political agent, was killed in the war.  Two British officers, Sir Walter Elliot and Mr Stevenson, were also taken as hostages. Rani Chennamma released them with an understanding with the Chaplain that the war would be terminated, but the Commissioner Chaplain continued the war with more forces. During the second war, the sub-collector of Solapur, Munro, nephew of Thomas Munro, was killed. Rani Chennamma fought fiercely with the aid of her deputy, Sangolli Rayanna, but was ultimately captured and imprisoned at Bailhongal Fort, where she died on February 21, 1829, due to her health condition. Despite her capture and imprisonment in Bailhongal Fort (Belagavi, Karnataka), Rani Chennamma’s spirit remained unbroken.

 She became a symbol of courage and defiance. In 2007, the Indian Government honoured her by issuing a postage stamp. It is pertinent to mention that many Kannada folk songs  (Lavanis)  are recited that fondly remember Rani Chennamma as a protector and guardian. 

Regarding 'Lavani', it may be mentioned that it is a vibrant and expressive folk song with its roots in the cultural heritage of Maharashtra but has also found a place in certain parts of Karnataka. The word 'Lavani' is derived from the Marathi term “Lavanya,” which means beauty.

My salute to such a great Rani. She was a genius Rani endowed with much prowess, and her bravery is a source of inspiration irrespective of gender.

Prof Shankar Chatterjee, Hyderabad

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  1. "The article titled 'Salute to Rani Chennamma of Princely State Kittur,' written by Dr. Shankar Chatterjee, Professor (retd.), NIRD, Hyderabad, and published in Eduindex News on May 16, 2024, vividly honors Rani Chennamma's heroic and largely unrecognized struggle against British colonial rule. It sheds light on her remarkable courage and the significant sacrifices she made for India's independence."
    B S Hiremath, Senior Consultant, office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka Bengaluru