The decline of Vijaynagara saw the emergence of several independent smaller states in the South of India. The one that would emerge most powerful among them was Mysore. Mysore’s history contains several characters, prominent among them being Kantheerava Wodeyar, Chikkadevaraja Woderayar, Nanjaraja, Haidar Ali, Tipu Sultan, Diwan Purnayya and Mummadi Krishnarajendra Wodeyar. Unfortunately, history has been rather unkind to one personality in Mysore’s history, Maharani Lakshammanni (1742 – 1810 A.D.), the dowager Queen of Krishna Raja Wodeyar II (Immadi), without whose guiding hand, the narrative of that turbulent era she lived in would have been different.
It was during Immadi Krishnaraj Wodeyar’s period that Mysore had successfully transformed itself from a Kingdom with suzerainity over a handful of villages to one that encompassed territory stretching from the coast of Honnavara to the coast of Calicut. The individual who was primarily responsible for the feat would prove to be Immadi’s nemesis later on – the Sarvadhikari of Mysore – Haidar Ali Khan ‘Bahadur’. Immadi, twice married already was married to Lakshmammani, daughter of Katti Goplaraje Urs, scion of the prominent ‘Bettada Kote’ line of the Mysore Royal family and someone who had distinguished himself in Mysore’s Trichnopoly affairs as a Killedar.
It was during Haidar Ali’s campaign in Malabar in 1766 that Krishnaraja Wodeyar II died in Srirangapatana. Soon after the death of Immadi Krishnaraja, his elder son Nanjaraja Wodeyar ascended the throne. Nanjaraja passed away at the young age of 22 years, rumored to have been poisoned at the hands of Sarvadhikari Haidar Ali, who was beginning to see a streak of independence in the young King. Bettada Chararajendra Wodeyar occupied the throne at Haidar’s pleasure after this and he died in the year 1776
By this time the old Dowager Queen Devajjammani had passed away and Rani Lakshmammani, her daughter in law, the new Maharani was the new Dowager Queen. It was at this momentous time in Mysore’s history without a King that she for the first time exerted her will and made it known to Haidar Ali that the successor should be the nearest lawful heir. It was however, Haidar’s desire that his own choice should prevail. He was determined to see a pliable King on the throne to suit his own purposes
To fulfill this end, Haidar set aside the Maharani’s choices and in a theatrical spectacle installed a young boy of three years, Chamaraja on the throne of Mysore. He would be called Khasa Chamaraja Wodeyar, the word ‘Khasa’ being legitimate. This incident marked the completed ascendancy of Haidar Ali over the Royal family and it made Maharani Lakshmammanni determined to restore the sovereignty of the Wodeyars over Mysore at all costs.
Around this time, the British were rapidly gaining an ascendancy over Indian affairs. They had gained the Diwani of Bengal and held all the other Indian Princely powers in thrall. Already having subverted the powers of the Nizam and the Arcot Nawabs as well as independent states like Tanjore and Madurai, Haidar Ali was the only thorn for them in the South. Keeping this in mind, Maharani Lakshmammanni decided to actively court the British to her side in this power struggle.
For some time the British had an idea of uprooting the ‘usurpation’ of Haidar and assisiting in the restoration to power of the Mysore Royal Family who had constantly been sending feelers on this objective to them. As early as 1767, when Charles Bourchier was Governor, he was inclined to support the Hindu Dynasty ‘provided the King’s family will exert themselves and contribute all in their power to shake off Hyder Naigue’s yoke’. After Haidar had overruled the Maharani’s choice of successor the Mysore throne, she deputed her Pradhan or Chief Minister, Tirumala Rao, to Lord Pigot, then Governor of Madras on a secret mission. Tirumala Rao hailed from a respected Sri Vaishnava Ayyangar family in Mysore that traced it’s descent from Govindachari, the hereditary guru of the Vijaynagara kings. Tirumala Rao had earlier been in the service of the state, even under Haidar’s government as a writer in the Finance department as well as in the Department of Posts and Police. He had a while ago fled to Tanjore, a Maratha prinicipality under Tulsaji who governed with British protection, apprehending persecution on account of his closeness to the Mysore Royal family. As Lord Pigot was superceded by George Stratton at Madras and unable to meet him, Tirumala Rao returned to Tanjore and was there introduced to Mr. John Sullivan, British Political resident at Tanjore. This contact helped him in good stead for the next six years as the Mysore Royalist’s de facto Ambassador in residence at Tanjore.
Haidar and his son Tipu Sultan’s aggressive and successful First and Second Mysore wars had made the British restive and seeking out new approaches in trying to bring Mysore to it’s knees. Knowing this well, Maharani Lakshmammanni addressed a letter to Lord Macartney, Governor of Madras (1781-1785) offering “ ‘to pay one crore or ten millions of Arcot Rupees for the expense of the camp, and grant to the company a Jaghir to the amount of fifteen lakhs per annum, and thirty six lakhs more annually for the payment of the Company’s troops to defend the Kingdom’, if his Lordship would condescend to comply with her agent’s request and help to restore the Kingdom to those to whom it rightfully belonged to.” The result of all this and further correspondence was a treaty known as ‘The Rana Treaty for the Restoration of the Hindoo Dynasty of Mysore’ signed by Mr. Sullivan and Tirumala Rao and further authenticated by the Rev. Schwartz who was an old Mysore Missionary Hand. The treaty was further ratified by the Government of Madras on 27 November, 1782. The uniqueness of this treaty was a clause that said ‘If the Company failed to reduce ‘Hyder Naig’ and were obliged to make peace with him, the Company would take over the protection of the loyalists and reimburse them of the money advanced to them’. So the treaty was one wherein the Rani looked for the restoration of the hereditary right of her House and the British looked for the accompanying pecuniary benefits.
Already in September, 1782 as the ‘Rana Treaty’ negotiations were progressing, the British dispatched an army under the command of Colonel Lang started to proceed towards Coimbatore. In March, 1793 this army accompanied by Tirumala Rao arrived at Karur which was carried after a gallant struggle on both sides after about 10 days. Finally the Hindu Colors of Mysore were hoisted on the ramparts of this frontier post of Coimbatore. Colonel Fullerton decided to proceed towards Srirangapatana through Satyamangalam during the absence of Tipu in the capital. His march was very successful with him managing to take several of Tipu’s forts as well as reduce refractory Palegars who were raiding Company territory. Around this time, the English army was advised by the company to suspend the war that seemed to be going successfully for them after which Tipu concluded peace with the British at Mangalore which he was at that time besieging. Much of these events coincided with the period around and just after the death of Haidar Ali.
During the early part of Tipu’s siege of Mangalore, the loyalists made an attempt to do away with Tipu and reinstate the Royal Family with important members of the plot occupying senior positions in the new court. Primary among the plotters were members of the Sri Vaishnava Ayyangar community who during the Wodeyar and also Haidar’s time contributed a large share of the administrative cadre. The dispossessed Palegars of Mysore, many of whom along with their retainers were placed under house arrest in Srirangapatna, some elements of The army both Hindu as well as Muslim, British prisoners of war as well as British promise to come to the aid of the royalists played a large part in the formulation of the plot. But the plot failed even before it took off. Tipu’s retribution was swift as well as merciless. The royalists were arrested one after the other and put to death in several barbaric ways. 700 members of Tirumala Rao’s family were put to death in Srirangapatna. Contemporary references to the plot make no mention of the Rani’s role in it. However it is hard to believe that such a large plot involving very important personnel of Tipu’s inner circle would have been carried out without the knowledge as well as encouragement of the Rani.
This failure only hardened the Rani and Tirumala Rao’s heart and they went full steam ahead trying to subvert the Muslim influence in Mysore. As Tipu was making plans to attack the British in the Carnatic and in Malabar, the agents of Rani, Tirumala Rao and his brother Narayana Rao camped at Tanjore and then at Coimbatore provided the information to British about the plans and arrangements made by Tipu against the English. Thirumala Rao made frequent visits to Madras and kept the British alert about the movements the Tipu. The Rani had by now established a very good diplomatic relationship with Campbell, the British Governor of Madras. Around 1790, the Governor of Madras sent a force under General Meadows accompanied by the agents of Rani towards Karoor, after capturing which, captured Vijayamangalam and Dharapuram too. Dindigul also fell the British arms. On hearing this, Tipu left Coimbatore and retreated to Srirangapatana with his army. This led to a situation where Governor General Lord Cornwallis laid siege to Srirangapatana in 1792, with his allies. Tipu sued for peace. General Meadows who had all along the course of the war was against the conclusion of war and wanted to capture the fort and restore the old royal family. Cornwallis was however adamant that Tipu only be disarmed but left alone after giving up half his territory, paying a huge indemnity and offering his sons as hostages so that the power of the Nizam and Marathas could be kept in check. This caused utter disappointment to the Rani and her agents.
After the reverses in the 3rd Mysore war, Tipu intensified his diplomatic over reach with the French as well as other large powers as the Turks and the Afghans. All this information was being conveyed to the British in Madras as well as Calcutta by trusted agents of the Rani who were employed in several departments in Tipu’s state.
In 1796 Khasa Chamarajendra Wodeyar, the nominal king of Mysore died. But Tipu never showed any interest to install successor from the royal family on the throne. This act of negligence of Tipu was deeply resented by the royalists and enhanced their sympathy towards Rani. Even Haidar for all his overbearing attitude towards the Royals always made sure that at least a pretense of loyalty to the Wodeyars was kept up. Tipu had by this time discarded this thin veil of pretense too. This decision would cost him a Kingdom.
The arrival of The Earl of Mornington, Richard Wellesley and Tipu’s continuous and open overtures to the French only hastened the urge of the British to finish him once and for all. Finally on that fateful day on the 4th of May1799, Tipu arose from his lunch after having propitiated Rani Lakshmammanni’s family deity Sri Ranga and rode out into battle sword in hand. By the evening his lifeless body would lie in his palace as Srirangapatna was being sacked by the victorious British and it’s allies.
Thus ended the brief but tumultuous Muslim interregnum in the affairs of Mysore. On the 8th of June, 1799 Wellesley wrote to the Commissioners- ‘I authorize you to place the Rajah formally upon the Musnad, and to appoint, in the Rajah’s name, Purnaiah to be his Dewan.’ On the 30th June, 1799 the 5 year old boy King Krishnaraja, Khasa Chamarajendra’s son was placed on the throne of Mysore. He would be aided in his duties by Maharani Lakshmammanni who would be his Guardian. A life time of sacrifice and dogged determination had paid off for the Queen Mother.
In the end, we see a woman who came out as a widow from the seclusion of a Harem and took upon herself the mantle of delivering Mysore from the grip of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, both usurpers of her family right. She was practical as well as shrewd. She knew how to mould people into instruments of her will. She was persistent in her efforts, courageous enough not to escape from Mysore, thereby deserting her people even under the hardest of circumstances.
A calumny often held against her is that she teamed up with the British and that in the end she deprived her trusted lieutenant and lifelong servant Tirumala Rao from the Diwani of Mysore. It was imperative to ally with the British against Tipu as only they were in a position to oppose him militarily. That being said, the ‘Rana Treaty’ she helped draft was a balanced treaty which ensured that Mysore retained it’s revenue and administrative powers even at the cost of paying for British expenses incurred in the war. Her treatment of Tirumala Rao was something that she could not control as the decision of conferring the Diwani on Purnaiah was Lord Wellesley’s which turned out after all to be a very prudent decision. It must not be forgotten that until the end, Maharani Lakshmammanni was grateful to Tirumala Rao and often took his name with affection. The letter to Wellesley from the Maharani on 25th June, 1799 even after her hearing of Purnaiah’s Diwani, where she reminds the English of her promise to award Tirumala Rao the hereditary Diwani and 10 percent of revenues of the state are a testimony to this fact. That being said, one cannot but grieve over the ill luck that fate meted out on such a son of Mysore as Tirumala Rao.
Her notable qualities of devotion to her subjects, loyalty to the throne of Mysore, piety and charity were among the reasons why Tipu Sultan in-spite of knowing about her repeated attempts at dethroning him was unable to bring her to any physical harm as he was aware of the enormous respect she commanded among the people of Mysore.
As I noted at the beginning of this paper, Maharani Lakshmammanni’s name is often forgotten when speaking about the notable personalities of Mysore. They who are guilty of this omission are guilty of forgetting history itself
- History of Mysore, Vol III, C. Hayavadana Rao
- Tiger of Mysore, Denys Forrest
- Maharani Lakshmammanni and her relations with Tipu Sultan, Dr. M. Susheela Urs
- The Mysore Pradhans, M.A. Narayana Iyengar, M.A. Sreenivasachar
- History of Tipu Sultan, Mohibbul Hasan
- The problem of writing a proper History and the forgotten chapter in the History of Mysore, Dr. M.A. Jayashree, Sri M.A. Narasimhan
This biographical note was presented by me on December 25, 2015 at the National Conference of Bharteeya Itihasa Sankalana Yojane in Mysore , where the Seminar focus was upon ‘Indian Women through the Ages’. I am of the opinion that Mysore or even the South of India has not seen a Woman abler than Maharani Lakshmammanni in the past 200 odd years of History.