Lingarajendra, the penultimate Raja of Coorg, secured the throne for himself after cleverly ousting his minor niece Devammaji in 1811. Dodda Veerarajendra had named his daughter Devammaji to succeed him and had requested the East India Company to execute his Will. But Lingarajendra manipulated the British with his machinations. He soon named his 9-year-old son, Chikka Veerarajendra, as his heir-apparent.
In March 1811 he received a letter from Arthur H. Cole, the British Resident at Mysore. He opened the letter with trepidation. Lingarajendra’s greatest preoccupation was not to in any way upset the British. To his relief the contents of the letter turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to please the white man. The letter was an introduction to Colonel James Welsh (later a General) and his assistant Lieutenant Williamson. Both the officers were keen on hunting. Having heard about the abundance wild-game in Coorg, they wanted a shikar organised for them. Lingarajendra himself was a crack shot and shikar was his favourite pastime.
Lingarajendra instructed his staff to get the guesthouse in Madikeri all spruced up and ready. A cook, well versed in preparing European dishes, was told to stock provisions necessary to cater to the needs of the guests. Lingarajendra deputed one of his able army commanders and an excellent shikari, Kariakara Thathanda Subbayya, to oversee the arrangements for the hunt.
The two British officers were the first to visit Coorg after Lingarajendra ascended the throne. He was anxious to make a lasting impression on his guests. Colonel Welsh and Lieutenant Williamson reached Madikeri in palanquins provided by Lingarajendra. The Raja greeted them personally at the entrance to the palace. They were amused to see Lingarajendra in a British Major General’s uniform. His son, and heir-apparent, was in a General’s uniform!
Lingarajendra told his guests about a wild elephant that was on a rampage in a village close by and that he wanted to eliminate the beast. The British officers were excited at the opportunity to witness such a spectacular event. Lingarajendra sat on the neck of his well-trained elephant as the mahut. The British offices sat on the back of the same elephant. Thathanda Subbayya was in the forest with an advance party of hunters. On a cue from the Raja, the forest reverberated to the sound of hundreds of drums. The rouge elephant was chased towards where Lingarajendra and his visitors sat on a machan (platform) built atop a tree. Lingarajendra had explained to his guests that the best way to bring down an elephant is to shoot it at the temple. The terrified elephant charged towards the tree where the Raja and his guests sat. Williamson fired as instructed by the Raja. The elephant fell trumpeting. It was a magnificent behemoth with huge tusks. Williamson was elated at the trophy he bagged.
Subbayya arranged a hearty lunch in a tent pitched in the middle of the forest. The menu included roasted wild boar, tasty pullow, and mildly spiced curries. They continued their shikar for a couple of days. It was an experience and adventure the guests would never forget. They took back a cartload of trophies.
Subbayya had made all the arrangements with clockwork precision. Colonel Welsh was so impressed that he planned a visit to Coorg during October the same year for another hunting expedition.
Lingarajendra summoned Subbayya to his court after the guests departed. Subbayya’s role was crucial in pleasing the British. Lingarajendra was sure they would convey this to other British officers. In the open court the Raja praised Subbayya for his yeoman service and presented him a gold bracelet, a gun, and a sachet full of gold coins. In addition, a painting was commissioned with Kariakara Thathanda Subbayya standing respectfully paying obeisance to Lingarajendra. To be included in a painting with the Raja was one of the highest honours any subject could aspire.
Subbayya becoming a favourite of Lingarajendra caused a great deal of envy amongst his peers. They realized that within a year Subbayya could be promoted as a Sarva Kariakara (commander-in-chief). And in another couple of years he would occupy the coveted position of a Dewan. These disgruntled men waited for an opportunity to discredit Subbayya in the eyes of the Raja.
An opportunity presented itself within six months of the visit of the British officers. Farmers from Horoor village made a representation to the Raja to eliminate a tiger, which was lifting their livestock. Lingarajendra assured to help the villagers and instructed the Kariakaras present in the court to fix a date and arrange for the hunt. The following day the Kariakaras came to the Raja with the suggestion that since Thathanda Subbayya was an expert in getting machans built, and in organising other activities in the forest, Subbayya should be entrusted with this task. Lingarajendra agreed and Subbayya was told to go ahead with the preparations.
Subbayya was only too happy to undertake this task. In earlier years, Kariakaras could display their valour in the battlefield. However, after Tipu Sultan was eliminated, there were no more threats of battles. Now it was hunting where one could demonstrate their courage and impress the Raja. Subbayya built a machan using bamboo and cane. He used strong ropes to secure the machan. A loose platform could be dangerous as it could creak and alert the prey. Even more crucial, it could affect the accuracy of the gunshot. After Subbayya was satisfied with the arrangements, he informed Lingarajendra that the hunt could take place the following night. The tiger was active in the vicinity of Horoor village.
Subbayya’s adversaries had made their plans to sabotage the arrangements. They secretly sent their men to partially cut and weaken the ropes used to fasten the machan.
Lingarajendra sat on the machan in wait for the tiger. It was a full moon night and the raja was prepared for a long wait. His guns were loaded and ready. Live bait for the tiger was tied nearby. A little before midnight the tiger made its appearance. Lingarajendra knelt and shot the tiger dead with a single shot. With the recoil of the powerful gun, the weakened machan gave way. It lurched and Lingarajendra was about to fall from the treetop. Lingarajendra’s agility saved him as he clung to a branch and managed to climb down using the rope ladder. The Raja was furious. ‘Who built this machan? Bring the rascal immediately.’
Subbayya’s adversaries sidled up to Lingarajendra and whispered, ‘Maharaja, ever since you praised him, Subbayya has become very arrogant. Instead of preparing the machan himself, he delegated the job to his servants.’
Subbayya was on another treetop a little away. Hunters told him about the incident and that the Raja was furious. Lingarajendra’s vicious temperament was well-known. Subbayya inferred this was the handiwork of his enemies, but: how was he to convince the Raja?
Subbayya instructed the men to move on. He sat under a tree in the middle of the forest and pointed to his chest the barrel of the very gun presented to him by Lingarajendra,. When the hunters heard the report of the gun they rushed back to find Subbayya lying in a pool of blood. They carried his body to Lingarajendra and explained the chain of events. Lingarajendra was most upset. He had no intensions of harming Subbayya on whom he had the greatest of confidence. He bitterly mourned the loss of one of his trusted and efficient army commanders. He vowed to punish the guilty.
Lingarajendra had an ornate tomb built in memory of Subbayya in his village Kukloor near Virajpet. Subbayya was a bachelor. He had planned on building a house in Kukloor before taking a wife. Subbayya’s brother Poovanna was summoned to the palace and the family was granted land and funds to cultivate paddy. The painting of Lingarajendra with Subbayya bowing to him remains a prized possession of the Thathanda family.