Kittur Chennamma

Kittur Chennamma (23 October 1778 – 2 February 1829)[1] was an Indian freedom fighter and Rani of the Kittur, a former princely state in Karnataka. She led an armed force against the British East India Company in 1824 in defiance of the doctrine of lapse in an attempt to maintain Indian control over the region, but was defeated in the third war and died imprisoned. The one of the first female rulers to rebel against British rule, she has become a folk hero in Karnataka and symbol of the independence movement in India.

Kittur Rani Chennamma was born on 23 October 1778, in Kakati, a small village in the present Belagavi District of Karnataka, India. She belonged to the Lingayat community and received training in horse riding, sword fighting and archery from a young age.

Chennamma’s husband died in 1824, leaving her with a son and a state full of volatility. This was followed by her son’s death in 1824. Rani Chennamma was left with the state of Kittur and an uphill task to save it from the British. Following the death of her husband and son, Rani Chennamma adopted Shivalingappa in the year 1824 and made him the heir to the throne. This irked the East India Company, who ordered Shivalingappa’s expulsion, on the pretext of the Doctrine of Lapse. This doctrine was based on the idea that in case the ruler of an independent state died childless, the right of ruling the State reverted or ‘lapsed’ to the sovereign. The state of Kittur came under the administration of Dharwad collectorate in charge of St John Thackeray of which Mr. Chaplin was the commissioner, both of whom did not recognize the new ruler and regent and notified Kittur to accept the British regime.

Rani Chennamma sent a letter to Mountstuart Elphinstone, Lieutenant-Governor of the Bombay Presidency pleading her cause, but the request was turned down, and war broke out.[2] The British tried to confiscate the treasure and jewels of Kittur, valued at around 1.5 million rupees.[3] They attacked with a force of 20,797 men and 437 guns, mainly from the third troop of Madras Native Horse Artillery.[4]

In the first round of war, during October 1824, British forces lost heavily and St John Thackeray, collector and political agent,[5] was killed in the war.[2] Amatur Balappa, a lieutenant of Chennamma, was mainly responsible for his killing and losses to British forces.[6] Two British officers, Sir Walter Elliot and Mr. Stevenson[5] were also taken as hostages.[2] Rani Chennamma released them with an understanding with Chaplin that the war would be terminated but Chaplin continued the war with more forces.[2] During the second assault, Subcollector of Solapur, Mr. Munro, nephew of Thomas Munro was killed.[5] Rani Chennamma fought fiercely with the aid of her lieutenant, Sangolli Rayanna, but was ultimately captured and imprisoned at Bailhongal Fort, where she died on 2 February 1829.[2] Chennamma was also helped by her lieutenant Gurusiddappa in the war against British.[7]

Sangolli Rayanna continued the guerrilla war to 1829, in vain, until his capture.[2] He wanted to install the adopted boy Shivalingappa as the ruler of Kittur, but Sangolli Rayanna was caught and hanged. Shivalingappa was arrested by the British.[2] Chennamma's legacy and first victory are still commemorated in Kittur, during the Kittur Utsava will be held between 22–24 Oct every year. The three-day festivities will include sports, cultural programs, and lectures by resource persons on the kingdom of Rani Channamma.

On 11 September 2007 a statue of Rani Chennamma was unveiled at the Indian Parliament Complex by Pratibha Patil, the first woman President of India.[8] On the occasion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Lok Sabha Speaker Somanath Chatarjee, BJP leader L. K. Advani, Karnataka Chief Minister H. D. Kumaraswamy and others were present, marking the importance of the function.[9] The statue was donated by Kittur Rani Chennamma Memorial Committee and sculpted by Vijay Gaur.[9]

There are also statues commemorating her at Bangalore, Belgaum and Kittur.[10]

Rani Chennamma's samadhi or burial place is in Bailhongal taluk, but is in neglected state with poor maintenance and the place is surrounded by a small park maintained by Government agencies.[10]

Around 11 families are identified as the descendants of Kittur Rani Chennamma. They reside at Kittur and Khanapur in Belagavi district and Gadhinglaj in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra.[11]