Banyan tree testimony to Rayanna’s hanging

The neatly laid road that takes you to Kasaba Nandgad from Nandgad village comes to an abrupt end near a massive banyan tree. There is nothing around but for a small shrine underneath the tree, a borewell some distance away and open fields all around.

You wait for someone to pass by and the fifth man (the oldest of the lot) confirms that Sangolli Rayanna — Karnataka’s icon of anti-imperialist rebellion in the 19th Century — was hanged from that very tree by the British. At least that is what locals have always believed.

The vandalising of the statue of Rayanna near Kempegowda Bus Station in Bengaluru may have set off protests on Saturday, but the place of his hanging does not bear a plaque to indicate its importance.

Now 12 acres of land around the tree has been acquired to build a memorial and the district administration has submitted a plan to the government. Khanapur tahsildar S.N. Naik admits there is no signboard, but promises work will begin soon at an estimated cost of Rs. 10 crore. The place as it stands today is unmarked.

Shankar Dundappa Sonolli of Sri Kranthiveera Sangolli Rayanna Abhivriddhi Samiti at Nandgad says there was a practice till recently of offering ‘bali’ (a goat or a cock offered in sacrifice) at this place in memory of the “hutatma” (martyr). “It is an old folk tradition,” says Mr. Sonolli, adding that village leaders have been persuading people “not to offer sacrifice at this holy place”.

Indeed, Rayanna’s image is closely linked to folk traditions, with ballads galore eulogising his loyalty to the princely state of Kittur and its queen Chennamma. He fought the British as part of Kittur army when they tried to annex it under the Doctrine of Lapse.

Later he built his own small band of men who fought the British through guerrilla warfare. Betrayed by a local landlord, he was caught and hanged by the British on January 26, 1831. Historians point out that his rebellion did not spring from loyalty to Kittur rulers alone, but his anger against the British taxation system that rendered farmers bankrupt.

As the government gets set to turn the place into a memorial and attract tourists, it remains to be seen if it will meticulously bring to life both the folk and historical narratives that surround Rayanna.

Samadhi, a pilgrim centre

In contrast to the place of hanging, Rayanna’s samadhi (grave) in the village of Nandgad is a pilgrim centre of sorts. It is yet another massive banyan tree that marks the grave, which is festooned with coconut offerings and tiny cradles tied by women who pray for “brave sons” like Rayanna. There is a compound around and amphitheatre adjoining it. Money has trickled in through State budgets since the time of H.D. Kumaraswamy for various works, the latest being Rs. 10 crore in Siddaramaiah’s budget.

The submerged birthplace

The village that now goes by the name of ‘Sangolli’ is not the place where Rayanna was born. The original Sangolli was submerged by the Malaprabha irrigation project and the place to which the people from there were relocated also bears the same name. A park there bears the name of Rayanna, but there is no other memorial in this village.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2021 7:14:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/banyan-tree-testimony-to-rayannas-hanging/article7440944.ece

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