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CHENNAMMA (1778-1829)

Chennamma was, and was one of the first Indian rulers to take up arms against the British. . Like Lakshmibai of Jhansi (q.v.) she too received training in sword-fighting and horsemanship at an early age. She was born at Kakati, a small village near Belgaum, and was married to Malla Sarja, lord of the fiefdom of Kittur in what is now Karnataka Chennamma’s stepson Shivaling Rudra Sarja ascended the throne, but died with no natural heir in 1824. The British under the Doctrine of Lapse refused to recognise their adopted son as the rightful claimant.

The Chief Agent of Dharwar, Thackeray, slighted the royal family by appointing two sardars or local lords as rulers. Chennamma got her own sardars to back her and appealed to the Governor against Thackeray’s behaviour. Thackeray went on the offensive and positioned guns before the gates of Kittur, ordering her to surrender or be breached. Chennamma had fortified the kingdom in secret and also enlisted the help of her neighbours; now her men swooped down on the British guns and cut down the gunners, carrying off the artillery inside the kingdom. They also captured a number of British soldiers from the camp. Inside Kittur the Rani treated her prisoners with courtesy and consideration, and released them on assurance that her kingdom would go (now Mumbai), ordered the storming of Kittur. On 30 November the British attacked with 200 guns. It took them 24 hours to breach the defences, with heavy losses on both sides. Finally the Rani was forced to surrender on 4 December. Chennamma and the senior queen were detained at Baihongal, where she died four years later.

Her story became the stuff of legend. In 1962, B. Ramakrishnaiah Panthulu made a Kannada language film, Kittur Chennamma, based on her. There is a Statue of Kitturu Chennamma in Bangalore .
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