Friday, 11 July 2014

The forgotten palace of Kodagu

The grey ominous clouds sound a final warning and large droplets descend from the sky splashing on the brown dirt of the school playground. The characteristic smell of the land when its thirst is quenched by the rain on a warm summer day is complimented by the fragrance of coffee plants lined along the washed paved road. Beautiful houses straddle this road; the courtyard a canvas for hundreds of blooming red flowers and towering trees with hanging branches. Colourful pictures adorn the walls of the school – today is Sunday and a blanket of silence wraps this remote corner of the Western Ghats. Beside the school, behind a parapet wall, stands an aloof wooden structure topped with a sloping brick roof; its appearance is shabby yet it retains an unusual air of nobility. A creaky wooden door leads to the courtyard of the one storied Nalaknad aramane (house) where a sense of gloom and despair is palpable. This modest palace was the last refuge of Chikka Veerarajendra, the last king of Kodagu, before he was deposed by the British in April 1834. It was here that the Haleri Dynasty of Kodagu, established by Veera Raja in the 16th century, breathed its last and faded into the dense jungles and lofty mountains of the Ghats.

The palace sits in the shadow of the highest peak of Coorg, Tadiandamol which rises to the clear blue sky and is kept company by equally impressive lesser peaks dotting the landscape. The mountain looks over the plains of Mysore, with its paddy fields and the meandering Cauvery, to the east and glances towards the distant sea-shore to the west. The journey to the summit begins at the aforementioned school from where one must follow a paved road threading the coffee plantations to the edge of the forest. A mud track continues from here and climbs steadily along the mountain face; it bounds over small streams and dives deep into the jungle and then re-appears on the open slope offering unadulterated views of the heavily wooded foothills. It darts across the mountain face and emerges into a wide clearing looking up to the towering peaks. To the left the top of Tadiandamol is faintly visible through a misty veil, to the right rows and rows of mountain ranges fade into the distance. The path then swerves left and climbs along the spur till it reaches a thickly wooded and steep section; the summit is another half an hour climb from here. After a hard day’s work toiling up the mountain the vista from the top is tonic to the tired lungs and heart. The wind howls lending wings to the fog which runs amok on the lofty ridges and swoops down the parched brown hills reining in the unbearable heat of the mid-day sun.

Back at the palace an eerie silence grips the decaying walls, wooden pillars and perforated windows. In the courtyard a forlorn pavilion narrates the stories of King Dodda Veerarajendra and his beloved Queen Mahadevamma. It remembers the capture of the King by Tipu Sultan and his subsequent escape from the prison in Periyapatna; it remembers the coronation of the King, the accompanied revelry and the aroma of feasts. It also recollects the final years of the King shattered by the death of his Queen – a bitter and inconsolable man. A fading mural spanning a wall on the ground floor depicts Dodda Veerarajendra seated on an elephant surrounded by spirited Kodavas. The ceiling of the courtroom on the first floor is intricately painted with flowers and the patterns carved on the woodwork are impressive. A secret stairway leads to a couple of dark rooms in the basement designed as a hideout in the event of a raid on the palace. The lonely corridors of the house evoke a feeling of nostalgia for the glorious history of Kodagu and its people. The tales of courage of the Kodavas, the roar of the tigers in the jungles, the worship of weapons during the Kailpodh Festival and the songs about the monsoon and planting rice reverberate in these empty halls. These halls are mute witnesses to the last days of Chikka Veerarajendra, a somewhat unpopular and unfair ruler feared for his cruelty. In April 1834, the British had marched into Kodagu and had captured the Madikeri Fort; they had then summoned the King to surrender in Madikeri thus ending the era of the Haleri Kings who had ruled this region for more than 200 years.
In the olden times the Kodavas were considered to be reputed huntsmen - bow and arrows were placed in the hands of a new born in the hope that the child grows up to be a fine warrior; this martial tradition has been kept alive by numerous decorated officers who have served in the Indian Army. Today Kodagu is known for its sprawling coffee plantations, pleasant climate, warm hospitable people and a vibrant culture. The days of conflict have been forgotten and the neglected aramane in Nalaknad is an added attraction for people trekking to Tadiandamol but even so it never disappoints curious travelers searching for the past – the lost legends of Kings and Queens buried in the dark jungles.

Deeptangan Pant

1 comment:

Anvi Gupta said...

Great blog post, I enjoyed reading it. This place has a really interesting architecture. I have been to Karnataka but have never heard about this place. It looks really beautiful. I would surely visit it during my next Karnataka trip.