A walk about Virajpet in Coorg throws up interesting tales

I was lost in Virajpet looking for an address. The quaint town in Coorg was a welcome break en route to Madikeri. Traditionally-dressed Kodava women were shopping in the vegetable markets, and the main street was bursting with traffic.

I looked around and saw houses with tiled sloping roofs transformed into eateries and retail outlets. I stopped by the auto stand and asked for Telugu Street, but was met with puzzled glances.

I walked around the main street, lost in the old world charm, when a Kodava came to my assistance.

“You are standing in Telugu Street Madam; go a bit further and you may find Bengali Street, but no one refers to the streets by these names now.” We had coffee at a local eatery as Ponappa, a retired Army man, provided a glimpse of Virajpet's history.

The great escape

Our story starts in the middle of the 18{+t}{+h} Century when Madikeri, the capital of Coorg, ruled by the Haleri kings, was invaded by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. The young Haleri prince, Dodda Veerarajendra, and his brothers were virtually held prisoners, while the father-son duo was busy fighting the British.

The story goes that Dodda Veerarajendra finally escaped from Tipu's prison and regained his kingdom. The British sensed an ally in the Haleri king and decided to support him in the war against Tipu.

It was in this scenario that Virajpet, barely 30 km from Madikeri, was founded by Dodda Veerarajendra.

As kings have a penchant for naming places after them, this town too was called Veerarajendrapette.

Ironically, it was established as a settlement to celebrate the relationship forged by the Haleri kings with the British. Ironic, because it was the British who finally deposed the Haleri dynasty later.

Virajpet belonged to Veerarajendra, who built a fort here with a palace, and a pond for his cavalry. Although the remnants of this can be seen even now, Virajpet is largely reminiscent of the Colonial era.

The landmarks today are the St Anne's church, built initially during Veerarajendra's reign and the clock tower, established in the 20{+t}{+h} Century to commemorate the coronation of King George V.

I quiz Ponappa about Telugu Street, and he smiles. “When Veerarajendra built the town, many Kodavas were imprisoned by Tipu, and so he invited people from neighbouring kingdoms to come over.

There were several communities living here — the Christians, Moplas, Tamilians, Jains and Telugus, among others.”

Cosmopolitan town

Adds Ponnappa: “Virajpet is what you would have then called a cosmopolitan town. For instance, the Bengali Street was filled with those who came down here after the British defeated the Nawab of Bengal in another battle.”

I finally manage to find my destination, and Ponappa takes leave. It's amazing how stories bring strangers together!

Keywords: VirajpetCoorg