The story of Tipu Sultan is incomplete without the stories of countless characters that surrounded him. Of these characters there were many that stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the fight for a united and triumphant Mysore as well as many characters who opposed him tooth and nail in their own quest to safeguard the freedom of their lands that Mysore laid claim to. And this leads us on to another question. How do we pass judgment upon the stories of those who opposed Tipu? The Marathas, the Wodeyar family in house-arrest, the Nizam, the Ghorpades of Sandur, the Kodava Rajahs, the Raja of Travancore, the Nawabs of Savanur….and many more. Were they traitors to the ‘Indian’ cause?
But, was there even a dim idea of ‘India’ then? I believe there was. As Tipu was growing up, the Marathas had just spilt the blood of countless of their men while fighting the alien Afghan for dominion over ‘Hindustan’ on the parched earth of Panipat. Tipu would time and again write to neighbouring and farther Indian rulers soliciting assistance against the British who he would remind his addressees were in India to usurp their lands. India for him then was ‘Hindustan’ most of which including Maratha and British territory too still owed allegiance, but only in name to the Great Mogul in Delhi.
Yet, the same Tipu would also be quick in ravaging territories of his neighbours even at the slightest pretext. So, what must be understood here is that towards the end of the 18th C, the Moguls were no longer an effective binding force over the numerous states that constituted this ‘Hindustan’ and the English and to a smaller extant the French had come to be regarded as the most formidable powers in the subcontinent. These European powers that had been in India for nearly a century and a half now, had seen the collapse of all central authority and the consequent emerging of regional states with internecine strife between them. These feuding states would time and again use the military might of the Europeans powers in India against their neighbours and in the process increase the material as well as territorial powers of the Europeans.
Throughout the duration of the Mysore wars, and even earlier during the Carnatic wars which would be the curtain raiser for the former, the opponents of Haidar Ali’s as well as Tipu’s Mysore fought them to preserve their territorial integrities as well as independence like the Kodava and Travancore Rajas or like the Marathas and Nizam reacting in offense to Tipu’s refusal to kowtow to them as previous Mysore rulers had done. All of these opponents of Mysore at different periods of time used the British as allies promising them wealth as well as parts of Mysore’s territory in return for this assistance. The British for their part made sure that no Indian power grew to such an extent as to threaten British interests. For these Indian states, the Europeans were just a temporary power or at best a well armed party of merchants who could be used and later sent away. To Tipu Sultan’s credit, he was the only Indian ruler of that time who understood English intentions well and unsuccessfully tried to impress upon his contemporary kings that the English would stay to rule over them and could not be wished away unless there was Indian unity against the common enemy.
So in these circumstances if we assume that all who fought Tipu were disloyal to their land or did not have the interests of their subjects in heart, we will only be doing a grave disservice to their memory. Many among them may have been lacking in intuition and wisdom but certainly not in courage or loyalty to their people and land. One among such unheralded opponents of Tipu was Henje Nayaka, the son of a common farmer from the ancient principality of Soonda in the Canara district of Mysore. Soonda (Sonda, today) is the corrupt Kannada name of the ancient town of Sudhapura which was ruled by the Nayaka Rajas who were vassals to the Vijaynagara rulers and in all probability related to the Keladi Nayaka rulers. The town was said to have contained at one time a hundred thousand homes. Though this may very well be an exaggeration the country around the town was nonetheless well cultivated and rich. From the west, the Gangavali river and from the east, the Aganasini rivers irrigated vast areas of Areca plantations as well as verdant paddy fields. The last of the Soonda Nayaka rulers Immadi Sadasiva Raya was expelled by Hyder Ali from his dominion and escaped to Goa around 1763. After this Soonda like the other parts of Canara fell under the rule of Mysore. By this time, Bednur had fallen and the old House of Keladi was also extinguished at Hyder’s hands.
It is around this time that we first hear of Henje Nayaka who was the son of Lingappa Nayaka a farmer from the village of Kodibag , near Karwar. He was from the Komarapantha caste which comprised of farmers who also doubled as soldiers in the armies of the Keladi Nayakas as well as of Vijayanagara before it. Much of Henje Nayaka’s story is fleaned from folklore of that period as well as local oral histories called ‘Kaifiyats’. They speak of Henje Nayaka leading an army of Peasants against Tipu’s oppressive taxation of the farmers of Canara.
The theory of the revolt on account of oppressive taxation needs further questioning. Mysorean revenue regulations were far more efficient than they had been under the Raja of Soonda. The principle of land tenure was that a tenant and his heirs’ occupied land so long as they cultivated it and paid a mutually agreed rent. But if they failed to fulfill these conditions, the Government was entitled to transfer the land to other tenants. The cultivators of non irrigated lands paid a fixed money rent amounting to about one third of the crop and those of irrigated lands paid in kind about one-half of the crop. However in Canara, all rents were paid in cash. Monro, who would later play the role of the architect of the land settlement system in British India was the administrator here just after Tipu’s death says of revenue collection under Mysorean rule said – “there was no instance in which the Sircar’s share was more than one third. In many it was not one-fifth, or one-sixth, or in some cases, not one-tenth of the gross produce”. So, while Tipu’s revenue system was well organized and the farmers more comfortable than during earlier periods, the heavy handedness of certain Mysorean officers in Canara may well have led to a revolt of the peasantry there. Many of Tipu’s Amildars and Shanbogues whose responsibility it was to collect taxes from the farmers would enrich themselves at the expense of the poor ryots and pocket the excess tax collected. That Mysore could pay off the indemnity levied on it by the victorious allies after the 3rd Mysore war well in time is testament to the severe taxation that the peasantry must have faced during those turbulent years. Besides, Tipu’s practice of putting up the Mysorean bureaucracy as revenue collectors in all provinces instead of farming revenue collection out to the old established families of that area may also have pinched Henje Nayaka, who hailed from a family much allied to the earlier rulers, into assuming leadership of the local revolt.
Local accounts of the revolt of Henje Nayaka speak of his intense animosity with Mysore and his men engaging in several skirmishes against enemy forces stationed around Karwar. It was around this time that the Mysoreans got hold of two of Henje Nayaka’s sons. The story goes that Tipu threatened Henje Nayaka that his sons would be brought to harm in case he did not desist from harassing the Sarkar’s forces and till the time he submitted to Mysore, the sons of Henje Nayaka would remain as hostages in custody of the Mysoreans. These were two young men would have been as dear to Henje Nayaka as were Princes Abdul Khaliq and Muiz-ud-din to their father Tipu Sultan. These sons of Tipu had been taking hostage by the British as per the terms of the Treaty of Seringapatam after the Third Mysore war.
How did Henje Nayaka react to this development? Did he submit to Mysore fearing for the safety of his sons as many Poligars and feudal lords did to Haidar and Tipu accepting their suzerainty and sending annual Peshcush or tribute to the Mysore treasury? A clue to this can be found in the accounts of Francis Buchanan as he traversed through the recently conquered dominion of Mysore in the year 1801. After passing by Sadashivgarh, he speaks of the people who live nearby – “Much land in this vicinity has fallen into the hands of government and , owing to the deprecations of the Comarapeca robbers, has become waste. One of their chiefs, named Venja Nayaka, was the terror of the whole country, and forced even Brahmans to adopt his caste. Two of his sons were hanged by Tippoo..…”
So, now we see how Henje Nayaka responded to Tipu’s threat. No retreat, No surrender. One would be lying to oneself if one does not feel poignant thinking of that scene of the two young sons of Henje Nayaka being led out to hang for the sake of their father who would not forsake his country for the lives of his children. One can only feel the heavy heart of a father when on the morning of February 26, 1793 Tipu stood on the rampart over one of Seringapatam’s gateways watching his two sons depart as hostages to the British camp. After that day Tipu exerted himself to ensure that the indemnity due to the British from Mysore was paid well before time so that he could see the young Princes back. Henje Nayaka was also a father like Tipu Sultan and he would have faced the execution of his children with a broken and heavy heart. Could Tipu having gone through the same harrowing circumstances not spared Henje Nayaka’s children? But then, war is Hell. And maybe, the war brought out the worst in Tipu in this case, not the best.
The tide was to turn soon when Tipu fell sword in hand facing the British assault on May 4, 1799 in Seringapatam. Canara now fell to it’s British victors. Henje Nayaka got some respite now and back from hiding. Yet his reputation followed him. Buchanan continued writing about him – “…until, terrified by the firmness of Major Monro’s government, he continued obstinate in his evil practices. Soon after that gentleman’s arrival, he made his submission, and continues to behave like a good subject. I found him very ready to give me assistance in procuring supplies, and means to transport my baggage; and from the mildness of his manners, until informed by the officers of revenue, I had no idea of his disposition, which was barbarous in the extreme.”
It was common practice of the British colonists to ridicule those who did not ally with them. For as long as Tipu was alive, he was demonized and projected as a tyrant. As long as Henje Nayaka remained an obedient servant of the British he was tolerated but once he began to assert his independence he became ‘barbarous’. A clue to the reason for his ‘emerging barbarism’ may be gleaned from the profession of the individual who ‘corrected’ Buchanan’s interpretation of Henje Nayaka’s character – the Officer of Revenue. Buchanan on further discussion with him discovered that the Peasants in Canara actually now paid more rent to the British than they did to Tipu ! This he believed was on account of Monro’s care and strictness in the collection of revenue. There was according to Buchanan, no room for the ‘corrupt practices’ which in the Sultan’s government was very prevalent. These unknown or misunderstood by Monro were not corrupt practices per se but only ‘adjustments’ between the village accountants and peasants which would ensure that expected revenue collections went hand in hand with the well being of the tiller of land and also factored remission of taxes in circumstances of drought and other calamities. This merciless taxation would have perturbed Henje Nayaka a great deal and he raised the standard of revolt again. The British again tagged his community of Comarpanthis as cultivator-soldiers but from birth ‘strongly inclined to be robbers’. A people whom the Vijaynagar and Keladi kings trusted well enough to make them Lords of the region suddenly became robbers for the British. Henje Nayaka and his followers once again retired to the hills and took up the banner of revolt, this time against a new enemy, the British.
After several more skirmishes, Henje Nayaka on a fateful day in 1801 just a while after the meeting with Buchanan was tricked into an ambush by the British on the banks of the river Kali in Kodibag. He fell fighting and was 65 years old at this time. Both his foes and his friends knew him by the title Chaqmaq Jung – ‘Chaqmaq’ coming from the spark of the flint lock gun, which he was adept at handling and Jang meaning courageous in war, which he was! He had lived an eventful life seeing the glory of the Soonda Nayakas as well as it’s capitulation to Mysore. Unperturbed he took arms against Mysore and later the British in midst of this sacrificed his two sons at the altar of freedom for Soonda and lastly himself.
In my opinion the martyrdom of individuals like Henje Nayaka are no less than the martyrdom of Tipu Sultan. Though inveterate foes, the hearts of both beat for the liberty and well being of their own people and the glory of their respective motherlands.
A journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar; Francis Buchanan
History of Tipu Sultan; Mohibbul Hasan
Tipu Sultan’s Mysore – An Economic Study; M.H. Gopal
Solstice at Panipat; Uday Kulkarni
This article would not have been written had it not been for the assistance of Lakshmeesh Hegde, Historian and Writer from Sonda. Working as a faculty in History at an institution in Mangalore, he has published over 400 articles and 9 books so far and is a very good researcher. With interests varied from the History of Canara and Sonda to the Yakshagana dance form and the traditions of the Havyaka Brahmin community of Canara, he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Channabasaveshwara Temple in Ulavi, N. Canara was gifted an Elephant Bell by Henje Nayaka as an offering to the deity Channabasava to whom Henje Nayaka prayed for deliverance when caught in a large whirlwind during one of his encounters with the British. The temple still treasures this bell.