Tipu's Savagery in Coorg

Known as Kodagu in Kannada, Coorg is a picturesque hill-country forming the Southern tip of Karnataka. It forms the border between Karnataka and Kerala, and is in many ways, the gateway to the Malabar region in Kerala. Today it is primarily known for its scenic beauty and spectacular views of thickly-forested mountain ranges, valleys, waterfalls, and sprawling coffee estates.

Although it is difficult to accurately trace the antiquity of Coorg, we have definite historical records from 9th century CE. Until the British colonization of India, Coorg had always been a principality under powerful dynasties of Karnataka like the Kadambas, Chalukyas, Gangas, Cholas, Rashtrakutas, and the Vijayanagar Empire. The Kodavas (people belonging to Kodagu) had pretty much been a warrior race for much of their existence and often lent their best warriors to fight in battles on behalf of the monarch they owed allegiance to. In fact, this martial heritage is still visible. Thousands of Kodava homes have continued to preserve guns, swords, machetes, and knives of considerable antiquity.

In the 18th century, Coorg was ruled by a descendant of the Ikkeri Nayakas of Bidanur. When Hyder Ali brutally took over Bidanur in 1763, he decided to annex Coorg as well. In 1765, he sent a considerable force to Coorg but it was easily repelled. Five years later, a succession dispute broke out in Coorg between Devappa and his uncle Lingaraj. Lingaraj sought Hyder’s help, and Hyder, the master-schemer was glad that opportunity had itself knocked on his door. He promised to help Lingaraj and marched with a considerable force and reached the capital, Madikeri (or Mercara). Devappa fled but was captured and thrown in the jail at Srirangapattana where he died. However, Hyder did not take Coorg without brutality. According to Lewin Bowring,

…on his first appearance on the [Coorg] frontier, Haidar offered a reward of five rupees for the head of every Coorg [Kodava] which was brought to him, and that 700 heads were in consequence delivered.

However, Hyder couldn’t hold Coorg for long. A serious insurrection broke out in the region and the capital Madikeri itself was besieged. However, Hyder quickly marched in with a strong force, put down the insurrection and executed every single leader who had led the rebellion. However, even this effort did not last long. Coorg erupted in rebellion yet again.

This time however, Hyder Ali decided to attack it from the South. He dispatched his army via Hunsur. The Kodava army was unable to catch the enemy’s scent until it was too late. Hyder’s forces had reached Balale near Ponnampet and laid a siege. At night, Hyder’s army launched a surprise attack and massacred about 700 Kodavas. Memory of this episode has still been preserved by the local folk legend. However, the Kodava warriors fought back heroically. The details of this battle are mentioned in an inscription at Hunsur. The inscription records how “the black-vest wearing warriors descended upon the enemy like black bees.” But then, the outnumbered Kodava soldiers were no match for Hyder Ali’s force, which proceeded to hack every Kodava, soldier and citizen alike. When he saw the dismembered head of a beautiful face, Hyder Ali ordered his army to stop the killing. Coorg finally fell into his hands in 1780 in this manner.

However, by the time Tipu assumed power, Coorg was leaderless with all its ruling princes languishing in the Srirangapattana prison. But nothing could shake the courage and the fierce spirit of independence of this proud race. In June 1783, they wrote a letter to a British agent stationed in Srirangapattana requesting protection from Tipu. The letter contained an appeal to the British to send about 6,000-7,000 men “by the way of Heggala Ghat…in the West, where I would myself join the English troops and fall upon Periyapattana, which place reduced, we could immediately march to Srirangapattana…which would soon be in our possession.”

This letter is a testimony to the foresight of the Kodavas, who had accurately estimated the kind of monster that Tipu was and foresaw the horrors that Tipu would unleash. It was signed by one Utha Nayak. To his credit, the British agent James Sibbald, quickly assessed the situation of the Kodavas. Besides, he had already been working on Coorg for some time now, and had sent a detailed report to the Supreme Government of the East India Company in May 1783 describing the immensely strategic value of Coorg. However, the East India Company Government had ignored it for the time being owing to a misplaced sense of honouring the Treaty of Mangalore. As we shall see, Sibbald’s report would later prove enormously useful to the British.

The British ignorance proved enormously tragic for the Kodavas in the interim. Indeed, Coorg experienced its worst ever fate and underwent its most humiliating period during Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan’s rule.

Buoyed by the success of the Treaty of Mangalore, Tipu marched into Coorg in 1785 and declared that they were guilty of polyandry. He cautioned them to discard the practice or face the fate of becoming Ahmadis.

Coorg Reduced to a Wasteland

In 1788, he actually implemented his threat. In a letter to the Nawab of Kurnool Runmust Khan, Tipu gloats about how gloriously he accomplished this vicious task:

…the exciters of sedition in the Coorg country, not looking to the consequences [of such conduct]… raised their heads, one and all, in tumult. Immediately on our hearing of this circumstance, we proceeded with the utmost speed, and, at once, made prisoners of forty thousand…Coorgs, who, alarmed at the approach of our victorious army, had slunk into woods, and concealed themselves in lofty mountains, inaccessible even to birds. Then carrying them away from their native country we raised them to the honor of Islam, and incorporated them with our Ahmadi corps. As these happy tidings are calculated, at once, to convey a warning to hypocrites… (Emphasis added)

There was another angle to Tipu’s unprovoked aggression against Coorg.

Among other things, Tipu was obsessed with building overseas ties through trade and diplomacy. However, the British had scuttled him at every step. The British intelligence network was unparalleled, and their tact for building strategic alliances with powerful local kings was equally unmatched. And so, Tipu decided that using the sea route was the best method to accomplish his objective. He found that the Malabar Coast was ideal for this. He hit upon a plan that would give him access to the Malabar Coast. Part of this plan was the complete conquest of Coorg, which connected Mysore to Kerala. Although Hyder Ali had already subdued Coorg, it was still only nominally a feudatory of Mysore.

Tipu marched into Coorg with a large force and launched a savage attack on the pretext of suppressing a rebellion. Indeed, there’s some grain of truth about the rebellion, and it has everything to do with a despotic officer named Zein Ul Abiddin Khan. He was Tipu’s faithful Faujdaar (commander) in Coorg. Here’s how Tipu’s arch-sycophant cum historian Mir Hussein Kirmani, describes Zein Khan:

The Faujdaar extended the hand of lust to the women of the peasantry, and compelled them to submit to his will and pleasure. In consequence of this tyrannical conduct, the whole of Kodagu advanced into a field of enmity and defiance. The people there rose up in rebellion when Tipu himself entered Kodagu through Periyapattana and Siddapur. He threw himself like a raging lion into the midst of that frightful forest…the Kodagu country…

It’s pretty clear that Tipu’s objective was to punish the oppressed Kodavas, and not to alleviate their suffering. Equally, it also served as a convenient pretext to achieve his political objective of taking control of the Malabar region.

If Hyder Ali gave a direct fight to the Kodava army, Tipu chose to launch a brutal attack on the most defenceless aspects of the Kodavas—innocent citizens, their way of life, their ancient culture, their religion, and their temples. He hit small towns and villages, often razing them to the ground or burning them down. Instead of battling the Kodava army, he targeted unarmed and innocent citizens. And he attacked, looted and destroyed temples.

Here’s Mir Hussein Kirmani again giving us a sample of Tipu’s savagery in Coorg.

The conquering Sultan now…dispatched his Amirs and Khans with large bodies of troops to punish those idolaters and reduce the whole country (Coorg) to subjection. Troops under M. Lally…Abbedin [the same tyrannical Faujdaar] and Hussein Ali were sent to Thalakaveri and Kushalpura…attacked and destroyed many towns with 8000 men, women and children taken as prisoners…collected an immense crowd like a flock of sheep or herd of bullocks…while the Sultan pitched his tents to the South of the Thalakaveri hill…giving them orders to pursue the rebels and capture their chiefs.

Already a thinly-populated country, Tipu’s brutal raid followed by large-scale prisoner-taking depopulated Coorg of its original inhabitants. However, that did not seem to bother him. Instead, being the Islamic zealot that he was, Tipu sought to Islamize it with Muslim settlements. He transported about 7,000 Muslim families belonging to the Shaikh and Sayyid sects to Coorg from elsewhere.

Omkareshwara Temple, Coorg

The intensity of Tipu’s raid was so terrifying that hundreds of temple priests fled to Mangalore along with their families. Worship came to a permanent halt in several temples. Some temples were covered with leaves in order to conceal their presence. The Maletirike Bhagavati temple at Virajpet is a good example of this. The Omkareshwara temple in Madikeri—arguably the most well-known temple in Coorg—faced mortal danger. The ruler at Madikeri realized that Tipu wouldn’t spare it and removed the existing tower (Kalasha) of the temple and replaced it with a dome so that it appeared like a mosque from afar. The Omkareshwara temple continues to retain this mosque-like appearance even to this day.

Some historians claim that he killed about 40,000 Kodavas and converted an equal number (a fact borne out by his own letter to Runmust Khan). The converted Kodavas were since known as Kodava Mapilas. Also, the fact that there were hundreds of such converted Kodavas in Tipu’s Ahmadi unit is a testimony to this historical truth. It also bears repetition that thousands of such captured Kodavas were transported to Ganjam (near Srirangapattana), forcibly converted, and made to join the Ahmadi unit.

Remnants of the savagery that Tipu inflicted upon the hapless Kodavas are visible even today.

In his raid of Napoklu near Madikeri, Tipu destroyed the temples in the surrounding villages of Betu and Kolakeri. He set fire to the house of the Biddatanda family. Forty members of this family were captured as prisoners and transported to Ganjam. After a few years, two members of this family escaped from Ganjam and returned to their hometown. One of them was a warrior named Appanna. However, the people in his hometown decided that he had now become a Mapila (Muslim), and excommunicated him. Appanna built a hut near the town-lake and spent the rest of his life there. This lake was in existence till recently, and was known as the Appannajja Lake.

To this day we find the descendants of these Kodavas, who were forcibly converted in Tipu’s time. These Kodava Mapilas till recently used to celebrate native Coorg festivals, built houses (called ain-mane) like the non-Muslim Kodavas, bore the same arms, wore the same kind of jewelry, and carried similar surnames. We have surnames like Alira, Cheeranda, Chimma Cheera (this surname is shared by non-Muslim Kodavas), Duddiyanda, Kaddadiyanda, and Kolumanda in Virajpet. In the Devanageri village, we have Muslim family names like Puliyanda and in the regions surrounding Virajpet, we have Muslim family names like Kuvalera, Italtanda, Mitaltanda, Kuppodanda, Kappanjeera. Similarly, in the Madikeri taluk, we have Kalera, Chekkera, Charmakaranda, Maniyanda, Balasojikaranda, and Mandeyanda. Intriguingly, in the Hoddur village in Madikeri taluk, there is a Muslim family with the surname of Harishchandra!

There’s also a curious contemporary fact that has a historical connection to Tipu. Even today, street dogs in Coorg are contemptuously called “Tipu,” a measure of how intensely he is reviled there.

To the Kodavas, Tipu’s bigoted dance of death in their homeland remains a wound that will never heal.

This is an extract from the author's book Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore.




Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

Indian Perspective of Truth and Beauty in Homer’s Epics is a unique work on the comparative study of the Greek Epics Iliad and Odyssey with the Indian Epics – Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Homer, who laid the foundations for the classical tradition of the West, occupies a stature similar to that occupied by the seer-poets Vālmīki and Vyāsa, who are synonymous with the Indian culture. The author...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the sixth volume of reminiscences character sketches of prominent public figures, liberals, and social workers. These remarkable personages hailing from different corners of South India are from a period that spans from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Written in Kannada in the 1970s, these memoirs go...

An Introduction to Hinduism based on Primary Sources

Authors: Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Hari Ravikumar

What is the philosophical basis for Sanātana-dharma, the ancient Indian way of life? What makes it the most inclusive and natural of all religio-philosophical systems in the world?

The Essential Sanātana-dharma serves as a handbook for anyone who wishes to grasp the...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fifth volume, episodes from the lives of traditional savants responsible for upholding the Vedic culture. These memorable characters lived a life of opulence amidst poverty— theirs  was the wealth of the soul, far beyond money and gold. These vidvāns hailed from different corners of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and lived in...

Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam represents the quintessence of Sage Bharata’s art and Bhārata, the country that gave birth to the peerless seer of the Nāṭya-veda. Padma’s erudition in various streams of Indic knowledge, mastery over many classical arts, deep understanding of the nuances of Indian culture, creative genius, and sublime vision bolstered by the vedāntic and nationalistic...

Bhārata has been a land of plenty in many ways. We have had a timeless tradition of the twofold principle of Brāhma (spirit of wisdom) and Kṣāttra (spirit of valour) nourishing and protecting this sacred land. The Hindu civilisation, rooted in Sanātana-dharma, has constantly been enriched by brāhma and safeguarded by kṣāttra.
The renowned Sanskrit poet and scholar, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R...

ಛಂದೋವಿವೇಕವು ವರ್ಣವೃತ್ತ, ಮಾತ್ರಾಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕರ್ಷಣಜಾತಿ ಎಂದು ವಿಭಕ್ತವಾದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಬಗೆಯ ಛಂದಸ್ಸುಗಳನ್ನೂ ವಿವೇಚಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಬಂಧಗಳ ಸಂಕಲನ. ಲೇಖಕರ ದೀರ್ಘಕಾಲಿಕ ಆಲೋಚನೆಯ ಸಾರವನ್ನು ಒಳಗೊಂಡ ಈ ಹೊತ್ತಗೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಛಂದಸ್ಸಿನ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯವನ್ನು ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ತೌಲನಿಕ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಅಧ್ಯಯನಗಳ ತೆಕ್ಕೆಗೆ ಬರುವ ಬರೆಹಗಳೂ ಇಲ್ಲಿವೆ. ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾರನಿಗಲ್ಲದೆ ಸಿದ್ಧಹಸ್ತನಾದ ಕವಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸ್ಫುರಿಸಬಲ್ಲ ಎಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಳಹುಗಳು ಕೃತಿಯ ಮೌಲಿಕತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿವೆ. ಈ...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...