We are very familiar with our struggle for freedom and all about the leaders who made the dream of freedom a reality. Among all the stories of struggle and bravery of the few leaders, we overlook the importance of a majority of other martyrs who lived and were killed for the country. Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna was a freedom fighter from Karnataka, whose valiant fight was not recognized as much as it deserved.
Krantiveera is a Kannada word used to describe Sangolli Rayanna, an army chief of the Kittur Kingdom that was then ruled by the heroic queen Kittur Rani Chennamma. Krantiveera means “Legendary Warrior” and there couldn’t be a better description than this for a Hero such as Sangolli Rayanna. He was one of the prominent leaders who fought the British East India Company until his last breath.
Early Life of Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna
Rayanna was born on 15th of August 1798 in a village called Sangolli in the district of Ganeshawadi and Bailuhongala. Thus he got the name Sangolli as it was usual to have one’s native place’s name prefixed to their name. He was a warrior of the Kuruba Tribe and later he became the chief of the army of Kittur Rani Chennamma who played a prominent role in the battle against British East India Company.
He was told to be an eminent chief and his training yielded Kittur Rani Chennamma’s army to be one of the strongest. Thus the British had to put up a good fight to bring them down. He, like many other valiant heroes who fought for the country, was captured and hanged to death at a very young age. Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna was 33 when he was executed by the British.
Heroic Fight with the British East India Company
Sangolli Rayanna initially started his fight with the British for his queen Kittur Chennamma who wanted her adopted son Shivalingappa on the throne, since the king of Kittur had passed away and it was ruled by the King’s widow with no heir. However the British wanted to annex the kingdom following their infamous rule “Doctrine of Lapse” according to which a kingdom with no heir will fall under British rule and the rulers were not allowed to hand over their kingdom to an adopted heir as well.
Thus the British wanted the Kittur Kingdom to themselves by forcing the rule on Indian kings. As the British noticed that the queen Chennamma and her subjects were not yielding to their pressure they were planning to take over the city under their rule forcibly. Kittur Chennamma was adamant as to not let her kingdom fall under the greedy rule of the British and wanted her adopted son Shivalingappa to be the king’s heir to take over the throne.
The British tried to claim the throne and the war of freedom started thereby. Sangolli Rayanna’s efficiently trained army was ready to take over the British soldiers to save their land from being enslaved. Sangolli Rayanna fought valiantly in the front row until they lost the war and their brave queen was captured. Once they lost the war Rayanna went into hiding, taking Shivalingappa along with him and fought for his queen and his land.
The British started capturing each of the lands that belonged to the kingdom of Kittur and the land they were not able to capture were levied with heavy taxes. The British were also recurring losses continuously due to various revolutionary movements conducted under the leadership of Sangolli Rayanna whose willpower was not shattered and was ready to pounce like a hungry lion even during his hiding.
Sangolli Rayanna was a nightmare for the Zamindars and the rich who exploited the poor partnering with the British. He used to loot money and riches from the misers and Zamindars and give it to the poor. The British government had a very strong resistance from Rayanna and his well-trained army. He befriended a Siddi warrior Gajaveera, who was known to be his close aide and confidant. Sangolli Rayanna and Gajaveera often ensured to create chaos and destruction, in any event, conducted or led by the British.
Sangolli Rayanna was one of the first freedom fighters who used guerilla warfare against the British. He was captured by the British in 1824 rebellion and was released later. Sangolli Rayanna started strengthening his forces and recruiting local people and used their expertise and the local knowledge to his advantage. He vandalized British government offices and looted treasuries. He turned into a big menace to the British to such an extent that they started plotting elaborate ways to capture Sangolli Rayanna.
Since they couldn’t capture him directly they tried treacherous ways by befriending his uncle Lakshmanraya and captured him by creating a trap through a false ruse. They imprisoned him at the Bailuhongala Prison and hanged him to death on a banyan tree at Nandagad on 26th January 1831. His last words are very famous and often included in the ballads sung in the villages of North Karnataka. He said, ”I may die now but I will soon take birth again and come back to fight for my kingdom and the people until it is free from the clutches of British.”
It is said that his friend, later on, planted a banyan tree sapling as a symbol of the immortality of this brave warrior. Rayanna’s tomb, unlike the normal tombs, is of 8 feet, since the stories are that he was over 7 feet tall. A statue of Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna has been installed near his tombstone and the villagers also installed Ashoka Pillar as a symbol of respect for his martyrdom.
Even though Rayanna’s struggle and sacrifice to the nation were exemplary he started to be noted in recent times. A statue was installed near Bangalore Railway Station which is the main railway station in the city. It was also renamed as ‘Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna Railway Station’ in 2015.
Many ballads are sung and folklore is said about the heroic deeds of Rayanna and many other freedom fighters who fought t death for their nation.
In 2012, a film was directed by Naganna starring one of the superstars of Kannada Darshan Thogudeepa, Nikita Thukral and Jayaprada in the lead roles. The subject of the movie was Sangolli Rayanna’s life history. And it was named ‘Kraantiveera Sangolli Rayanna’.
A Hero who still resides in the Heart of many:
Sangolli Rayanna became a martyr and inspiration to the next generation. He was respected for his undying love for his kingdom and his faithfulness to his queen. His valiance and determination have created such an impact that to this day women in the village follow a custom where they tie cradles to the banyan tree planted by his friend and wish for a son as brave and good-hearted as Rayanna.
In modern times when we are forgetting the value of freedom let us not forget the valiant people who gave their lives to help us enjoy what we have today. When we remember legends like Gandhiji, Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose etc. Let us not forget that there were many other warriors who started their efforts much earlier. Even though their efforts did not succeed it built a strong foundation for the leaders of the next generation.
A building without a strong foundation is bound to crumble. So let us take few moments to get to know the sacrifices of freedom fighters like Sangolli Rayanna, Kittur Rani Chennamma, Bharatiyar, AKG, Rani Gaidinliu and many many other leaders who fought valiantly along with all the other renowned leaders.