1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Coorg

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COORG (an anglicized corruption of Kodagu, said to be derived from the Kanarese Kudu, “steep,” “hilly”), a province of India, administered by a commissioner, subordinate to the governor-general through the resident of Mysore, who is officially also chief commissioner of Coorg. It lies in the south of the peninsula, on the plateau of the Western Ghats, sloping inland towards Mysore. It is an attractive field of coffee cultivation, though the greater part is still under forest, but the prosperity of the industry has declined since 1891. The administrative headquarters are at Mercara (pop. 6732). Coorg is the smallest province in India, its area being only 1582 sq. m. Of this amount about 1000 sq. m. consist of ghat, reserved and other forests. Coorg was constituted a province not on account of its size, but on account of its isolation. It lies at the top of the Western Ghats, and is cut off by them from easy communication with the British districts of South Kanara and Malabar, which form its western and southern boundaries, while on its other sides it is surrounded by the native state of Mysore. It is a mountainous district, presenting throughout a series of wooded hills and deep valleys; the lowest elevations are 3000 ft. above sea-level. The loftiest peak, Tadiandamol, has an altitude of 5729 ft.; Pushpagiri, another peak, is 5626 ft. high. The principal river is the Cauvery, which rises on the eastern side of the Western Ghats, and with its tributaries drains the greater part of Coorg. Besides these there are several large streams that take their rise in Coorg. In the rainy season, which lasts during the continuance of the southwest monsoon, or from June to the end of September, the rivers flow with violence and great rapidity. In July and August the rainfall is excessive, and the month of November is often showery. The yearly rainfall may exceed 160 in.; in the dense jungle tract it reaches from 120 to 150; in the bamboo district in the west from 60 to 100 in. The climate, though humid, is on the whole healthy; it is believed to have been rendered hotter and drier by the clearing of forest land. Coorg has an average temperature of about 60° F., the extremes being 52° and 82°. The hottest season is in April and May. In the direction of Mysore the whole country is thickly wooded; but to the westward the forests are more open. The flora of the jungle includes Michelia (Chumpak), Mesua (Ironwood), Diospyros (Ebony and other species), Cedrela toona (White cedar), Chickrassia tubularis (Red cedar), Calophyllum angustifolium (Poon spar), Canarium strictum (Black Dammar tree), Artocarpus, Dipterocarpus, Garcinia, Euonymus, Cinnamomum iners, Myristica, Vaccinium, Myrtaceae, Melastomaceae, Rubus (three species), and a rose. In the undergrowth are found cardamom, areca, plantain, canes, wild pepper, tree and other ferns, and arums. In the forest of the less thickly-wooded bamboo country in the west of Coorg the trees most common are the Dalbergia latifolia (Black wood), Pterocarpus marsupium (Kino tree), Terminalia coriacea (Mutti), Lagerströmia parviflora (Benteak), Conocarpus lalifolius (Dindul), Bassia latifolia, Butea frondosa, Nauclea parviflora, and several acacias, with which, in the eastern part of the district, teak and sandalwood occur. Among the fauna may be mentioned the elephant, tiger, tiger-cat, cheetah or hunting leopard, wild dog, elk, bison, wild boar, several species of deer, hares, monkeys, the buceros and various other birds, the cobra di capello, and a few alligators. The most interesting antiquities of Coorg are the earth redoubts or war-trenches (kadangas), which are from 15 to 25 ft. high, and provided with a ditch 10 ft. deep by 8 or 10 ft. wide. Their linear extent is reckoned at between 500 and 600 m. They are mentioned in inscriptions of the 9th and 10th centuries. The exports of Coorg are mainly rice, coffee and cardamoms; and the only important manufacture is a kind of coarse blanket. Fruits of many descriptions, especially oranges, are produced in abundance, and are of excellent quality.

In 1901 the population was 180,607, showing an increase of 4.4% in the decade. Of the various tribes inhabiting Coorg, the Coorgs proper, or Kodagas, and the Yeravas, or Eravas, both special to the country, are the most numerous. The Kodagas (36,091) are a light-coloured race of unknown origin. They constitute a highland clan, free from the trammels of caste, and they have the manly bearing and independent spirit natural in men who have been from time immemorial the lords of the soil. Their religion consists of ancestor- and demon-worship, with a certain admixture of Brahman cults. The men are by tradition warriors and hunters, and while they will plough the fields and reap the rice, they leave all menial work to the women and servants. They speak Kodagu, a dialect of Hala Kannada or old Kanarese, midway between that and Malayālam. It has been asserted that the institution of polyandry was prevalent among them, according to which the brothers of a family had their wives in common. But if this institution ever existed it no longer does so. The Yeravas (14,586) are a race of an altogether inferior type, dark-skinned and thick-lipped, resembling the Australian aborigines who possibly, according to one theory, may have sprung from the same Dravidian stock (see Australia: Aborigines). Though now nominally free, they were, before the establishment of British rule, the hereditary praedial slaves of the Kodagas. Some of them live a primitive life in the jungle, but the majority earn a livelihood as coolies. They are demon-worshippers, their favourite deity being Karingali (black Kali). Their language, a dialect of Malayālam, is peculiar to them. Among the other tribes or castes special to Coorg are the Heggades (1503 in 1901), cultivators from Malabar; the Ayiri (898), who constitute the artisan caste; the Medas (584), who are basket- and mat-makers, and act as drummers at feasts; the Binepatta (98), originally wandering musicians from Malabar, now agriculturists; the Kavadi (49), cultivators from Yedenālknād; all these speak the Coorg language, wear the Coorg dress, and conform, more or less, to Coorg customs. Other tribes are not special to Coorg. Of these the Holeyas (27,000) are the most numerous. They are divided into four sections: Badagas from Mysore, Kembattis and Māringis from Malabar, Kukkas from S. Kanara. They were formerly the slaves of the Kodagas and now act as their menials. The Lingayats (8700) are rather a religious sect than a tribe. Of the Tulu (farmer) class the Gaudas (11,900), who live principally along the western boundary, are the most important; they speak Tulu and wear the Coorg dress. Other castes and tribes are the Tiyas (1500) and Nayars (1400), immigrants from Malayālam; the Vellala (1300), who are Tamils; the Mahrattas (2400) and Brahmans (1100). Of the Mussulmans the most numerous are the Moplahs (6700) and the Shaikhs (4400), both chiefly traders. Of native Christians there are upwards of 3000. The official language of Coorg, which is that spoken by 45% of the population, is Kanarese (Kannada), the Coorg language (Kodagu) coming next. The Coorg dress is very picturesque, its characteristics being a long coat (Kupasa), of dark-coloured cloth, reaching below the knees, folded across and confined at the waist by a red or blue girdle. The sleeves are cut off below the elbow, showing the arms of a white shirt. The head-dress is a red kerchief, or a peculiar large, flat turban, covering the back of the neck. The Coorg also carries a short knife, with an ivory or silver hilt, fastened with silver chains and stuck into the girdle. A large, broad-bladed waist knife, akin to the kukri of the Gurkhas, worn at the back, point upwards, was formerly a formidable weapon in hand-to-hand fighting, but is now used only for exhibitions of strength and skill on festive occasions.

The chief crops are rice and coffee. Some abandoned coffee land has been planted with tea as an experiment. The cultivation of cinchona has proved unprofitable. There is no railway. There are no colleges, but twenty-four scholarships are given to maintain Coorg students at colleges in Madras and Mysore. There are secondary schools at Mercara and Virarajendrapet.

The early accounts of Coorg are purely legendary, and it was not till the 9th and 10th centuries that its history became the subject of authentic record. At this period, according to inscriptions, the country was ruled by the Gangas of Talakād, under whom the Changalvas, kings of Changa-nād, styled later kings of Nanjarayapatna or Nanjarajapatna, held the east and part of the north of Coorg, together with the Hunsur talūk in Mysore. After the overthrow, in the 11th century, of the Ganga power by the Cholas, the Changalvas became tributary to the latter. When the Cholas in their turn were driven from the Mysore country by the Hoysalas, in the 12th century, the Changalvas held out for independence; but after a severe struggle they were subdued and became vassals of the Hoysala kings. In the 14th century, after the fall of the Hoysala rule, they passed under the supremacy of the Vijayanagar empire. During this period, at the beginning of the 16th century, Nanja Raja founded the new Changalva capital Nanjarajapatna. In 1589 Piriya Raja or Rudragana rebuilt Singapatna and renamed it Piriyapatna (Periapatam). The power of the Vijayanagar empire had, however, been broken in 1565 by the Mahommedans; in 1610 the Vijayanagar viceroy of Seringapatam was ousted by the raja of Mysore, who in 1644 captured Piriyapatna. Vira Raja, the last of the Changalva kings, fell in the defence of his capital, after putting to death his wives and children.

Coorg, however, was not absorbed in Mysore, which was hard pressed by other enemies, and a prince of the Ikkeri or Bednur family (perhaps related to the Changalvas) succeeded in bringing the whole country under his sway, his descendants continuing to be rajas of Coorg till 1834. The capital was removed in 1681 by Muddu Raja to Madikeri or Mercara. In 1770 a disputed succession led to the intervention of Hyder Ali of Mysore in favour of Linga Raja, who had fled to him for help, and whom he placed on the throne on his consenting to cede certain territories and to pay tribute. On Linga Raja’s death in 1780 Hyder Ali interned his sons, who were minors, in a fort in Mysore, and, under pretence of acting as their guardian, installed a Brahman governor at Mercara with a Mussulman garrison. In 1782, however, the Coorgs rose in rebellion and drove out the Mahommedans. Two years later Tippoo Sultan reduced the country; but the Coorgs having again rebelled in 1785 he vowed their destruction. Having secured some 70,000 of them by treachery, he drove them to Seringapatam, where he had them circumcised by force. Coorg was partitioned among Mussulman proprietors, and held down by garrisons in four forts. In 1788, however, Vira Raja (or Vira Rajendra Wodeyar), with his wife and his brothers Linga Raja and Appaji, succeeded in escaping from his captivity, at Periapatam and, placing himself at the head of a Coorg rebellion, succeeded in driving the forces of Tippoo out of the country. The British, who were about to enter on the struggle with Tippoo, now made a treaty with Vira Raja; and during the war that followed the Coorgs proved invaluable allies. By the treaty of peace Coorg, though not adjacent to the East India Company’s territories, was included in the cessions forced upon Tippoo. On the spot where he had first met the British commander, General Abercromby, the raja founded the city of Virarajendrapet.

Vira Raja, who, in consequence of his mind becoming unhinged, was guilty towards the end of his reign of hideous atrocities, died in 1809 without male heirs, leaving his favourite daughter Devammāji as rani. His brother Linga Raja, however, after acting as regent for his niece, announced in 1811 his own assumption of the government. He died in 1820, and was succeeded by his son Vira Raja, a youth of twenty, and a monster of sensuality and cruelty. Among his victims were all the members of the families of his predecessors, including Devammāji. At last, in 1832, evidence of treasonable designs on the raja’s part led to inquiries on the spot by the British resident at Mysore, as the result of which, and of the raja’s refusal to amend his ways, a British force marched into Coorg in 1834. On the 11th of April the raja was deposed by Colonel Fraser, the political agent with the force, and on the 7th of May the state was formally annexed to the East India Company’s territory. In 1852 the raja, who had been deported to Vellore, obtained leave to visit England with his favourite daughter Gauramma, to whom he wished to give a European education. On the 30th of June she was baptized, Queen Victoria being one of her sponsors; she afterwards married a British officer who, after her death in 1864, mysteriously disappeared together with their child. Vira Raja himself died in 1863, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery.

The so-called Coorg rebellion of 1837 was really a rising of the Gaudas, due to the grievance felt in having to pay taxes in money instead of in kind. A man named Virappa, who pretended to have escaped from the massacre of 1820, tried to take advantage of this to assert his claim to be raja, but the Coorgs remained loyal to the British and the attempt failed. In 1861, after the Mutiny, the loyalty of the Coorgs was rewarded by their being exempted from the Disarmament Act.

See “The Coorgs and Yeravas,” by T. H. Holland in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. lxx. part iii. No. 2 (1901); Rev. G. Richter, Castes and Tribes found in the Province of Coorg (Bangalore, 1887); Imperial Gazetteer of India (Oxford, 1908), vol. xi. s.v., where, besides an admirable account of the country and its inhabitants, the history of Coorg is dealt with in some detail.