The Wodeyars of Mysore are at once mighty and mysterious.
Mighty, because they ruled for close to 550 years from AD 1399. Mysterious, because despite their long reign and the wealth of their contributions, they occupy so little of the national imagination, quite unlike other royal families like, say, the Nizams of Hyderabad or the Scindias of Gwalior.
Result: Visitors and tourists have to mostly depend on myth, legend, hearsay, gossip, word-of-mouth and plain fiction.
It’s a vital literary blank that Vikram Sampath tries to fill with “Splendours of Royal Mysore: The Untold Story of The Wodeyars” (Rupa & Co). Bangalore-born Vikram’s interest in the Mysore kings was sparked when he was 12, thanks to the “comical portrayal” of the Wodeyars in Sanjay Khan‘s TV serial Sword of Tipu Sultan. The 800-page tome is a worthy labour of love for the 29-year-old Citibanker, who is also a student of Carnatic classical vocal music.
In this churumuri.com video (above), Vikram speaks about the book, before the main Amba Vilas palace in Mysore. Below, he throws light on little known facts about the Wodeyars.
SEVEN THINGS YOU DIDN‘T KNOW ABOUT THE WODEYARS—AND DIDN‘T KNOW WHO TO ASK
By VIKRAM SAMPATH
The Wodeyars of Mysore claim their descent from the lunar dynasty of Lord Krishna. The foundation of the dynasty in AD 1399 is attributed to one Yaduraya, son of Raja Deva of Dwaraka in present-day Gujarat. Guided by divine dispensation, they supposedly were driven by dreams to leave Dwaraka for the Mahabala mountains, cradled between the Cauvery and Kapila rivers, and worship the presiding diety, Goddess Chamundeshwari.
By the time the young Yaduraya and his brother Krishnaraya reached Mahisuru (as it was called then), catastrophe had struck the tiny principality. Its chieftain Chamaraja had died and a vile upstart Maranayaka threatened to abduct the pretty princess and usurp the kingdom. These two young men were approached by the helpless queen and after a valiant battle, the villain was killed and Yaduraya was crowned chieftain. This event in the summer of 1399 marked the birth of one of India’s longest reigning houses.
The term ‘Wodeyar‘ signified the humble beginnings of the family. It was a title bestowed on anyone who held sway over 33 villages—which is all that the early “rulers” had command over. But unlike other contemporaries who were content with their position of eminence, the Wodeyars by virtue of their characteristic valour and the benign influence of lady luck, emerged as the inheritors of the traditions of the glorious Vijayanagara empire.
In the course of the power struggle with Vijayanagara, Raja Wodeyar skirmished with the empire’s viceroy Tirumalaraya and his subsequent tiff with his wife Rani Alamelamma led to the supposed suicide of the Rani in AD 1610. She threw herself into the Cauvery with the famous three-line curse which is said to be the reason for the submergence of Talakad in sand, a whirlpool at Malingi, and the childlessness in the Wodeyar lineage.
With the kingdom coming under the spell of weak rulers, a common soldier in the Mysore army—Haidar Ali—rose in the ranks and in 1761 usurped the throne. He and his chivalrous son Tipu Sultan were among the first Indian States to offer a spirited resistance to the British East India Company. Tipu inflicted the most humiliating defeats on the British in the First and Second Anglo-Mysore Wars. But the let-down by all his principal officers and the negotiations with the British by the lingering royal family under Rani Lakshmammanni proved to be Tipu’s ultimate nemesis. He died fighting his kingdom and his honour on 4 May 1799 in the fort of Srirangapatna.
One of the biggest peasant uprisings in India took place in the Mysore kingdom in Nagar (in today’s Shimoga district). It was a first of its kind and led to a mass movement that shook the very foundations of the Mysore kingdom. The movement was ruthlessly squashed and Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was deposed by the British in 1831 and the kingdom passed under Commissioners.
Under the later Wodeyars, especially Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (called as Rajarishi or saint among kings by Mahatma Gandhi himself), Mysore witnessed tremendous economic, social and cultural progress. Mysore State had many firsts to its credit and was hailed as the model State by the founding fathers of independent India. Mysore was the first state to have a democratic system of governance. Local self-government was encouraged as far back as 1918. Mysore was also the first State to provide reservations for the weaker sections of society in government jobs.
Under the amazing Dewan quartet of Rangacharlu, Seshadri Iyer, Sir M. Visveswaraya and Mirza Ismail, industries sprung by the year. Irrigation and power received great priority. The Marihalla project across the Vedavati river, started by Iyer, created the Vani Vilasa Sagar (or Marikanave dam), which was the biggest reservoir in India at the time of completion.
The KRS dam, completed in 1931, created the biggest reservoir in Asia, second only to the Aswan dam across the Nile in Egypt. Since the outlay for the dam exceeded the state budget’s, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (then a mere teenager) and his sagacious mother Regent Queen Kempananjammanni sold costly diamonds, ornaments, gold and silver plates of the royal family in Bombay to provide seed capital for the project.
The Shivanasamudram hydroelectric project was the first of its kind in India, implemented in 1899-1900. Electricity was provided to the Kolar Gold Fields in 1902, and Bangalore became India’s first City to be electrified in 1905. The transmission line was also the first and longest one in the world then.
Mysore developed its own style of playing the veena, called the Mysore Bani. The very name of Mysore evokes memories of great vainikas like Seshanna, Subbanna, Shamanna, Venkatagiriappa and others. Veeneya bedagidhu Mysooru—a line from a popular Kannada poem describes Mysore and the splendour of the veena. Many great classical musicians like Vasudevacharya, Muttaiah Bhagavathar, Chowdaiah, Bidaram Krishnappa and others were patronised.
Mysore also developed its own distinctive style of the classical dance of Bharatanatyam. Many Banis or styles of Kittanna, Nanjangud Rajamma, Mugoor school, Jetti Thayamma school, etc, flourished. Abhinaya was the main forte this style, and was performed seated. Yakshagana was nourished by the Wodeyars and great exponents like Basappa Shastri and Parti Subba were encouraged by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. Mysore school of painting was also a distinctive one from the Tanjore style. The ganjifa cards were the characteristic Mysorean cards with elaborate paintings.
Thus, in a long and chequered history, Mysore acquired a distinct social and cultural ethos. For this, and the sound economic foundations on which the modern State of Karnataka were built, we need to give due credit to the rulers of Mysore—the Wodeyars.
Read an excerpt here: Spendours of Royal Mysore