We live in times when the Indian history books and some intellectuals praise the “piousness” of barbaric Mughal emperors such as Aurangazeb and ignore the valiant tales of Hindu heroes. Our children don’t even know the heroics of kings such as Rajendra Chola because they have been simply skimmed over. So forget about his story, even the name of Sangolli Rayanna might sound like an alien’s to most of us. Thus it becomes important to know about this brave warrior from southern India.
Born on August 15, 1798, Rayanna is regarded as one of the most valiant warriors from Karnataka, who fought till death against the villainy of the erstwhile British East India Company.
The story of Rayanna, often ignored by the Indian historians, is one of adventures, bravery and martyrdom – and it won’t be wrong to term him as one of the earliest freedom fighters from our nation.
Born in the kingdom of Kittur, Sangoli Rayanna’s valor saw him becoming the army chief of the kingdom ruled by Rani Chennamma at a tender age.
Sangoli Rayanna’s struggle against the British began during the famous Kittur rebellion in 1824, regarded by many as the first ever rebellion for freedom of India. It was the year when the British East India Company first announced the idea of the infamous Doctrine of Lapse – a law in favor of unrighteous empowerment of the British Empire that worked by annexing the princely states that was left with no natural heir to the throne.
As a result of this, the Kittur Empire – which lacked any legal heir to the throne – faced annexation. But Rani Chennamma was not ready to bow before the British. She became the first ever Indian female ruler to lead an armed rebellion against the British with Sangoli Rayanna as her army chief.
But the resistance ended with the arrest of Rani Chennamma along with other warriors participating in the revolt, including Rayanna.
Although this revolt later ended with the death of the queen, Sangoli Rayanna’s struggle against the overpowering British Empire did not end for he was adamant upon crowning the adopted son of the Rani, Shivalingappa, as the ruler of Kittur.
To this effect, he started mobilizing the locals and even started guerrilla warfare against the British with the help of his close aide and a famous Siddi warrior Gajaveera. Along with his “army”, he would move from place to place, burning government offices, plundering treasuries and disrupting British events and programs but never giving in to the traps laid by the British.
Enraged and frustrated with Rayanna’s heroics, the British confiscated most of his lands and heavily taxed whatever remained. But this failed to thwart the plans laid by Rayanna. Instead, as the army chief of Kittur, Rayanna taxed the landlords and built an army of the masses.
So strong was his army that the British could never defeat them in an open battle.
Alas, like all the stories of valiant soldiers and rulers fighting against the East India Company, Rayanna also became the target of impossible treachery. As a result of this, one of the first ever precursor of the Indian freedom movement was sent to the gallows by the British in April 1830. He was hanged to death on January 26, the next year. The little boy for whom he fought all his life was also arrested by the British.
Rayanna was executed from a Banyan tree about 4 km from Nandagad in Belgaum district, Karnataka, where he was later buried. A close associate of Rayanna later planted the sapling of a banyan tree at the site of his grave for, according to Hindu mythology, the banyan tree is immortal.
A memorial has been built at the site of his grave now – the Sangolli village. It must be remembered that unlike the normal graves, which are of 6 feet length usually, Rayanna’s grave is a massive 8 feet for his height is believed to have been over seven feet. An Ashok pillar was installed near the tree later on by the villagers.
His legend is also remembered through a temple that was built in his name. This temple houses a statue of Rayanna flanked by two wooden weights used for body building, one of which was used by Rayanna himself during his lifetime.