The words Kodava (the indigenous people, language and culture) and Kodagu (the land) come from the same root word ‘Koda’ of unknown meaning. Some claim it means ‘hills’, others say it means ‘west’ but both relate to the Western Ghats’ location. Kodagu is called Kodava Naad in the native Kodava language. The community members were called Kodava by the other natives and Coorgs by the British. They are ethnically and culturally distinct people. For centuries, the Kodavas have lived in Kodagu cultivating paddy fields, maintaining cattle herds and carrying arms during war.

History of Kodavas

Puranic association

The Hindu Puranas (Kaveri Purana of Skanda Purana) claim that Chandra Varma, a Chandravanshi Kshatriya (lunar dynasty warrior) and son of Emperor of Matsya Desha, was the ancestor of this ‘fierce’ race, the Kodavas. An ardent devotee of Goddess Parvati, he had gone on pilgrimage to several holy places all over India. Chandra Varma had a privy army who escorted him on his campaigns until he came into Kodagu(Coorg). Coorg, the source of the River Kaveri, was uninhabited jungle land when he arrived to settle here. Thereafter he became the first Raja of the Coorg principality. He had 11 sons, the eldest among them was Devakantha who later succeeded him as Raja. They were married to the daughters of the Raja of Vidarbha. These sons and their descendants cultivated and populated the land of Kodagu, they came to be called the Kodava race.[9]

Rajas

Early Rajas

The Kadamba ruled North Karnataka along with Goa and parts of Maharashtra while the Gangas ruled South Karnataka and parts of Andhra and Tamil Nadu prior to 1000AD. The regions of Hassan, Kodagu (Coorg), Tulunad and Waynad were ruled between them. Later the cholas entered Karnataka to rule, but it was short lived. The Hoysalas succeeded them and ruled Southern Karnataka (including Tulunad and Coorg) and parts of Tamil Nadu. In the aftermath of the Delhi Sultanate invasion of South India (around 1319) the Vijaynagara Hindu Empire arose to rule South India until their downfall in the 16th century.

Haleri Rajas

From around 1600 until 1834 the Haleri Rajas ruled over Coorg. Under the Paleri (Haleri) dynasty Kodagu attained a status as an independent kingdom. When Linga Raja I died, Hyder Ali imprisoned the royal family and took direct control of Kodagu. This enraged the Kodavas and they started heckling the Muslim garrison in Madikeri. In 1782 the Kodavas took power back from Hyder Ali.

In the same year, Hyder Ali died and his son Tippu Sultan started his ambitious expansion of the Mysore kingdom. In 1784, Tippu attacked Kodagu, while returning from Mangalore to Srirangapattana, his capital city.[10]

Tippu never could continuously hold power in Kodagu 7 lost on multiple occasions. As soon as he turned his back on Kodagu, the Kodavas revolted and took power back from the Muslim rulers. Tippu returned to reclaim control for a short period though he found the Kodavas very hostile.

Portrait of Mooda Maji, daughter of Dodda Vira Rajendra

In 1788, Dodda Vira Rajendra, who had been taken prisoner, escaped and defeated Tippu and recovered his kingdom. In 1790 Dodda Vira Rajendra signed a treaty with the British, who promised to protect his kingdom against Tippu’s onslaught. In 1792 Kodagu became independent of Mysore once again. Eventually, the Kodavas backed the British troops and Tippu fell in the year 1799. In addition to the kings’ samadhis (tombs), samadhis were built for the Diwans. Samadhis were built for army chief Biddanda Bopu, who was the commander-in-chief for the army of Dodda Vira Rajendra, and his son Biddanda Somaiah. On the samadhi of Biddanda Bopu, there is a plate carved in Kannada praising him for his bravery shown in the wars fought against Tipu Sultan.[11]

British Raj

Coorg War

In 1834 the last of the Haleri Rajas Chikka Vira Raja fell out of favour with the British who then intervened by invading Kodagu. A short but bloody campaign occurred in which a number of British men and officers were killed. Near Somwarpet where the Coorgs were led by Mathanda Appachu the resistance was most furious. But this Coorg campaign came to a quick end when the Raja sent his Diwan Apparanda Bopu to surrender to the British and lead them from Kushalnagar into Madikeri. Thereafter Kodagu was annexed by the British and the Raja was exiled.[12] Apparanda Bopu and Cheppudira Ponnappa were retained as the Dewans of Coorg.[11]

Freedom Struggle

The so-called Coorg rebellion of 1837 actually occurred in Sulya which was separated from Coorg Province in 1834 and attached to South Canara district of Madras Province. Led by Guddemane Appaiah Gowda and others it was not due to Gowdas alone nor opposed by all Kodavas, this was a ‘divide-and-rule’ propaganda of the British Raj. “A large number of people from Coorg settled in Lower Coorg also participated in the revolt…There are no reliable sources which prove such a bitter hatred among the Coorgs and the Gowdas of Sullia.” In fact, Kodavas from Nalkunadu led by Subedar Mandira Uthaiah (Nalknadu Uttu) actively participated in the revolt.[13]

During British rule, Coorgs entered politics, government service, medicine, education, and law. Under British protection, Kodagu became a State with nominal independence (Coorg State).[14] The British recognised the exceptional martial abilities of the Kodavas and used them in their army.[15] Many Kodavas fought in the two World Wars. They earned a reputation as able commanders and brave fighters both under the British rule as well as post independent India in all wings of defence. Eventually, famous sons of Kodagu became prominent members of the armed forces of India. General K.S. Thimayya DSO and Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa OBE are among the notables along with many other top officers .Dewan Bahadur Ketolira Chengappa was the last Chief Commissioner of Coorg in 1947. In 1950 Coorg was recognised as one of 27 different states of the Indian Union but in 1956 the state of Coorg was merged into Mysore (now Karnataka).[6][15]

There were many freedom fighters among the Kodavas as well, like Iynanda P. Kariappa, who was a leader of the INC and was sent to Delhi Jail by the British, he later on became the first MLA of Coorg State, and was also the District board President. Pandyanda Belliappa (Kodagu’s Gandhi), Kollimada C. Carumbaiah, C.M. Poonacha, Chekkera Monnaiah, Mallengada Chengappa, Ajjikuttira Chinnappa, Ponnimada Machaiah, Kalengada Chinnappa, Chokira Madappa, Pandikanda Madappa, Kotera Accavva, Balyatanda Muddavva, Mukkatira Bojamma, Machimanda Medakka, Appanderanda Kalamma and others. It is noteworthy that there was an army of freedom fighters from the Kodava community such as Puliyanda Subbaiah from Maggula village