Chikka Veerarajendra, the last king of Coorg (Kodagu), was 34-years-old when he was evicted from the throne by the East India Company. He was ignominiously exiled first to Vellore, and then permanently at Benares. On 24 April 1834, the Raja along with his thirteen wives, and an entourage of other women and servants, exited Madikeri Fort, through the elephant-gate, for the last time. The Raja rode out on an elephant, and later switched over to a horse.
The tearful women were carried in 70 palanquins. The Political Agent of the British, Col James S. Fraser, sardonically ordered a 21-gun salute to the deposed Raja as his subjects watched the spectacle with mixed emotions. The Raja added to the tragicomedy by asking his palace band to play the happy tune ‘The British Grenadiers’ in a desperate bid to woo sympathy of his detractors. He hoped that the British would allow him to return to his kingdom after a brief exile.
Not all subjects were unhappy though. As the palanquins bearers struggled with their load, some snide remarks were heard. Someone in the crowd shouted that the wives of the Raja were pregnant making the task of the poor palanquin bearers difficult! However, the reason was different. The British had confiscated the Raja’s wealth and permitted him to carry Rs. 10,000 for his way expenses, in addition to an annual pension of Rs. 60,000. The day before his banishment, Chikka Veerarajendra instructed his wives and other women to hide as much of their jewellery, gold and other valuables in their undergarments. This was the reason the palanquin bearers struggled with the load.
Captain T.D. Carpenter was appointed as the Governor-General’s agent to keep an eye on the deposed ruler and his family. He accompanied the entourage with his troops all the way to Vellore and Benares. Of Chikka Veerarajendra’s thirteen wives, three were principal consorts or Pattada Ranis. They were: Gangammaji, Devammaji (Kunjeri Mukkatira), and Nanjammaji.
The other ten were minor wives. They were: Rajeevamma, Kalamma, Gowramma-I, Kongetira Kaveramma, Parvathiamma, Gowramma-II, Subbamma, Janakamma, Subhadramma and Mudduveeramma. During their sojourn in Vellore, Nanjamma, one of his Pattada Ranis, died. At the time of leaving his kingdom, the Raja had a six-year-old son named Chithrashekara born to Gowramma-II.
At the first camp near Harangi, quite a few of the weary palanquin bearers abandoned the entourage and disappeared in the middle of the night. In desperation, the Raja and his wives buried some of the valuables in the privacy of their tents to lighten the burden, and hoped to return one day to recover the treasure. They repeated this at various spots en route where they camped. Couple of the Raja’s supporters who were following him got wind of this. Days later, they returned to the sites and helped themselves to some of the treasure. Soon this news reached Col Fraser who threatened to take stern action against the fortune hunters. Most of them surrendered part of the valuables to the British for which they received Rs. 1,000 as reward! In spite of this, the Raja and his wives were able to smuggle out substantial portion of their personal treasure.
Chikka Veerarajendra and his remaining twelve wives reached Benares in early 1837 after an arduous journey. They were under virtual house arrest in a large haveli, which the British disdainfully named as ‘Coorg Nest’. By 1852, the Raja had four daughters and five sons. His favourite Pattada Rani Devammaji sadly died soon after childbirth in 1841. Her daughter, named Gowramma, acquired international fame as ‘Princess Victoria Gowramma of Coorg’, after Chikka Veerarajendra took her to London as an eleven-year-old in 1852. On embracing Christianity in the presence of Queen Victoria, Gowramma got ‘Victoria’ prefixed to her name by the Queen who took the Indian princess under her wings as her goddaughter; and that’s a long story…
Chikka Veerarajendra took his youngest wife Mudduveeramma and a concubine named Siddaveeramma with him to England in 1852. They spent 7 years with the Raja in London. The duo returned to Benares after Chikka Veerarajendra’s death in 1859.
On hearing the death of their husband, two of the Raja’s wives in Benares took their own lives by consuming an overdose of opium. Two more tried to starve themselves to death but were prevented by the British authorities.
Chikka Veerarajendra’s mortal remains were temporarily interred in Kensal Green Cemetery in London. His body was shipped to India in 1861. He was buried in the Jungama in Benares in accordance with the Lingayat tradition.
Paintings of some of the Ranis of Chikka Veerarajendra, reproduced here, were by court painters, Gangojirao and his son Pirojirao. Well-known Russian artist at the time, Alexey Soltykoff, who visited India in 1841 and 1844, sketched Subhadramma, Gangamma and Mudduveeramma. At Nalaknad Palace in south Coorg, one of the rooms has wall-paintings of three of the Raja’s wives.