Bharat’s freedom struggle is full of tales brave women who fought against British rule. Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi is one famous queen warrior who showed her strength on the battle field. But, long before the Jhansi-queen, was the queen of Kittur (in present-day Karnataka), Rani Chennamma. She faced the British bravely to save her land and her people. She is considered as one of the first rulers who fought against the British power.
Chennamma was born on 23rd October, 1778, in a small village Kakati in present-day Belgaum district of Karnataka. She belonged to Lingayat community and was trained in horse riding, sword fighting and archery from a very young age. At the age of 15, she was married off to Raja Malasaraja belonging to the famous Desai family who ruled the kingdom of Kittur which is presently situated in Karnataka. Thus, she got the title of Kittur Rani Chennamma. The couple had a son from marriage.
Fight against the British
As her husband died and followed by the death of her only son in 1824, she adopted Shivalingappa for making him the king of Kittur. However, she was opposed by the Britishers under the pretext of Doctrine of Lapse passed by Lord Dalhousie. According to the Doctrine, adoptive children of native rulers were not allowed to be named as successor and if the native rulers did not have children of their own, their kingdom would become a territory of the British Empire. This was planned to British to gain the control over independent kingdoms in Bharat.
Kittur, in those days, came under the Dharwad province. St. John Thackeray, the in-charge of administration for the province of Dharwad notified her about the doctrine. She was asked to accept to fall under the rule of East India Company to let go off her throne. However, she was not ready to succumb to the pressure, hence she wrote a letter to Elphinstone, who was the lieutenant-governor of Bombay presidency, explaining her situation but her request was turned down blindly.
The brave queen, then rose against the evil rule of East India Company to save her kingdom and people. In the year 1824, the British sent the forces to Kittur to loot the valuables and treasures of the Kittur kingdom which then added up to 15 lakh rupees. But the queen gave a tough fight to the Britishers and won the first round of the war. The British troop of more than 20000 men and 400 guns was forced to kneel down in front of Rani Chennamma. This was a humiliating loss for them. St. John Thackeray was killed in the war. Two British officers were taken as hostages.
Rani Chennamma showed the mercy and released them with a mutual agreement with Chaplin that the war would be halted and the Kittur kingdom would be left under peace with the rule and wishes of the queen. However, British forces broke the promise, cheated Rani Chennamma and continued the war.
Kittur Rani Chennamma fought valiantly in the battle against British with the help of her trusted army general Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna until she was captured and imprisoned at the Bailuhongala Fort, where she spent the last years of her life. Sangolli Rayanna continued the guerrilla war to 1829, but in vain, until his capture. Later, the brave hero was killed and Rani’s adopted son Shivalingappa was arrested by the British.
The brave queen of Kittur, died in Bailuhongala Fort on 21st February, 1829.
The bravery of the first female freedom fighter of Bharat was overshadowed and forgotten with time. Rani Chennamma, however, lived in the folklore and her heroic deeds are celebrated in Kittur Utsav every year. On 11 September 2007, a statue of Rani Chennamma was unveiled at the Bharatiya Parliament Complex by Pratibha Patil, the first woman President of Bharat.
The uprising of 1857 is known as the symbol of resistance of Bharatiyas against the British Raj, of which Rani Lakshmi Bai was a prominent face. However, Rani Chennamma, a relatively lesser known warrior queen bravely resisted the British Raj way long before 1857.
Naman to the brave Kittur Rani Chennamma on her Jayanti (birth anniversary).
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