Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Surpur: It's history and legacy

Colonel Philip Meadows Taylor
Indian history is very rich, varied and hoary. In other parts of the world a historical monument, say, 1000 years old becomes an eighth wonder of the world. But, not so in India, where a 2000 or 2500 year old site is taken in our stride for granted. In Karnataka we find pre-historic sites of megalithic age going back to 1500 B.C. Some of these sites are found in Vibhuthihalli (Shahapur taluk) and Hunasagi, Yadgir district. Near Surpur, a skirmish which was a part of India’s first war of independence took place in 1858. So, Surpur has been a witness to historical incidents from 1500 B.C. to the present day. 

When one goes through the annals of Surpur history after the fall of Vijayanagar Empire between 1656 to 1858 A.D., I was reminded of the famous cartoon character of Asterix and Obelix who lived in a small region of France called Gaul during the reign of Julius Ceaser. He had conquered Europe including Great Britain, Asia and Africa. But throughout the reign of Julius Caesar, Gaul refused to surrender to the will of the Roman Emperor. Gaul remained fiercely independent, rebellious and defiant of Roman ambitions of conquest. Similarly, Surpur, a tiny postage stamp state defied the mighty Mughal ruler – Emperor Aurangzeb who ruled most of North, Central, Western & Eastern India along with defying the Maratha’s and Nizam’s army. Surpur remained independent, rebellious and a thorn in the flesh of Aurangzeb. His great dream of conquering South India and becoming a true Alamgir remained unfulfilled, because of the tiny state of Surpur and the Shia state of Bijapur. The guerrilla warfare expert Chatrapati Shivaji through his conquests of North West India and his empire extended up to Tanjore in South India gave sleepless nights to Emperor Aurangzeb.
Surpur royal family  member

The historical importance of Sannati near Yadgir situated on the left bank of river Bhima was first recognised as a Buddhist site by Kapartal Krishna Rao in the year 1954. Earlier it was an important Shakti place of worship dedicated to Goddess Chandralamba. The roof of the Kali temple in Chandralamba temple complex collapsed damaging the idol. The temple committee decided to install a new statue in its place. But the base of the statute held a surprise to the archaeologists. It was discovered to be a new Ashokan Edict discovered in Karnataka going back to 2300 years and later three more edicts were discovered. The mounds which we were close to Ramamandala site proved a veritable goldmine. At present the excavation of most of the stupa has been done. We are informed that an earthquake in 3rd century A.D. brought about its ruin. What is most interesting is that the only known pictorial depiction of emperor Ashoka (274 – 232 B.C.) has been discovered here and he is mentioned here by name in the edict. One is sure that the stupa definitely contains the relics of Gautama Buddha. 

The remains of the excavation site at Kanaganahalli can be dated to between 1st century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. The Shatavahana rulers Simuka and Pulamavi are immortalised by their portraits depicted at Kanaganahalli.

It is situated 15 kms from Shahpur taluk headquarters and close to Sannati. One can find 20 temples of Rashtrakuta period on the right bank of Bhima river. The famous temples are Sujnyaneshvara, Nannaiah and Nagaiah temples. The Pushkarni at Sujnyaneshvara temple has narrative panels of Panchatantra.

Pushkarini at Sawayambu Someshwara temple
It was a famous trading centre from 9th to 12th century. The mighty Emperor Vikramaditya VI (1076 – 1127 A.D.) belonging to Kalyani Chalukya built the temple of Sawayambu Someshwara which has an important inscription giving the genealogy of the King. The historians have discovered 24 important inscriptions in this village. There are also some Jaina basadis. This was a university town during this period.

Wagangera Fort:
This is an important ancient fort near Surpur, which witnessed the last battle of Aurangzeb in his 87th year. The famous historian Jadunath Sircar in his book “A Short History of Aurangzeb” writes

In July Maratha activity near Wagingera forced the Emperor to detach Tarbiyat Khan to that region to punish them. Pidia Berad (Beda) in alliance with Hindu Rao, gained Penukonda”      
                                      -Jadunath Sarkar      
Palace at Surpur
Aurangzeb could not take the fort easily. He laid siege to the fort (8 February – 27 April 1705) and fought a continuous battle for three months. At the end, when he entered the fort, he found an empty ghost town. The brave berards (bedas) and the citizens had been evacuated from the fort. The dispirited emperor decided to go back to Ahmednagar. He has given a firman (pictured) to the rulers of Surpur admiring their courage and valour. This can still be seen in palace archives. At Devapur, where he halted during the return journey (May – Oct, 1705) he captured the Devapur fort. However, a severe illness seized him and he died a year later at Ahmednagar on 20 January 1706.

Philip Meadows Taylor
As tourists, we visited the old palace and the new palace at Surpur. The present Maharaja of Surpur was kind enough to show us the crown jewels and the hereditary swords of the royal family. The new palace was built by Philip Meadows Taylor. This fortune hunter came to India from England and finally lived in Surpur for 9 eventful years. He was a representative of the East India Company. His multi-faceted genius includes great achievements in the following fields – Archaeology, Geology, Agriculture, Public Administration & Revenue and also fiction writing. He also groomed the young prince Venkatappa Nayak, who met a tragic end at Secunderabad. Whether it was a murder or a suicide is still debated? His role in the first war of Independence remains on the records. 

This is how Meadows Taylor describes the confrontation between the Surpur army and the East India Army –

“Col. Hughes arrived early on the morning of the 8th and he captain Wyndham, with their united troops, drove the Beydurs and others from the hills into the town with severe loss. Unfortunately Captain Newberry, Madras Cavalry, in a charge against a body of Rohillas and his subaltern Lieutenant Stewart badly wounded”.

Even today, visitors can see the graves of Capt. Newbury and Lt. Stewart in this field. This
Taylor Manzil
gives a lie to the commonly held belief that there was no uprising in Karnataka in 1858. The words of the Meadows Taylor on the Bedas is definitely a great tribute –

“As a body the Shorapoor Beydurs had been free from crime. They were not dishonest, and there was no pretty thieving or roguery among them; they used to say they were too proud for that sort of thing”
      (Autobiography – “My Story” by Meadows Taylor)

Bonal Lake
Taylor built the first schooner in India for the Prince Venkatappa Nayak. He also built a spacious bungalow on the hill, which is even today called as Taylor Manzil. According to historians, in mid 19th century, he built the first Tennis court here in South India. The other places of interest to the tourists are the Bonal lake and Sri Venugopalaswamy Temple.

One unforgettable information we collected from Sri Bhaskar Rao Mudbole was the Kohinoor diamond was discovered in a village called Kollur, in Shahapur taluk, Yadgir district on the banks of the river Krishna by the mine owner – Mir jumla in 1556. At the time the diamond weighed 756 carats and it was as big as an egg. Now, this precious diamond is in the British crown at London tower. Karnataka state has so much to offer to a curious tourist. So these places are highly recommended for prospective tourists.

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