The Iron Lady of Chitradurga!!

The Iron Lady of Chitradurga!!

13 mins 18.1K 13 mins 18.1K

As we alighted down the bus to Chitradurg, district town around 4 to 5 hours drive from Bangalore and centrally located in the state of Karnataka, we were mobbed by a bevy of flower girls most of them still dressed in their blue skirts and soiled white blouses. The strong fragrances of the garlands- Jasmine being the queen component of each of this garland, almost left us feeling tipsy. Each and every passenger alighting down from this “Big City Bangalore” bound bus was being surreptitiously screened by these damsels since they chose to please and be more forthcoming towards heavily decked women rather than their modest counterparts. They happily chose to ignore my friend and me since one wasn’t their league of customer and the other that is me with a rugged denim jacket, dressed in a pair of well worn-out cargos and a poorly draped stole that easily gave away the short crop of hair from beneath- looked more androgynous than my male accomplice. As they disappointedly walked away from us, the last passengers from the bus, my friend gave out a loud chortle. One that suggested the lack of endowment in me to represent my true being a hard core woman at heart.

As I ripped myself of the leather jacket due to the sweltering 35 degrees in this city, a very obliging sight caught my eye. A tiny boy holding the hands of a feeble, senile and almost fossilised old woman came scurrying towards me. “Amma”…she called finally establishing my gender, the boy handed me a long fragrant garland made of firecracker flowers lined with tiny green leaves that almost won me over instantly. This garland unlike the previous ones that were flashed and shoved onto our faces, was much more pleasant and didn’t stew us out of our senses. Maybe because this one was not mixed with the sweaty odour due to tirelessly standing in the smouldering heat, relentlessly waiting for a new customer from a new “big city” throughout the day. Whatever be the reason, the matron in me persuaded my sanity to buy five of these garlands worth rupees 50 each with absolutely no use whatsoever of these flower chaplets. Who knew this would lead me to a fascinating and memorable journey through the history of this tiny hamlet which was once made famous by a brave heart woman. Now that she had cracked for herself a good day at business I was under the impression that she would happily turn her back on us and go about her job. The little boy held the old woman’s hand addressing her as “ Ajjamma’s” and guided her to the closest stone where she gradually rested her curvilinear body and her head stooped down observing her quavering hands count the recent luck she had made out of me. My friend and me regarded this normal and were about to leave them two alone.

Just when we turned our backs to them, as my luck would have had it, the little one came running towards me and tugged at our shirts. Surprised as we looked back we saw him pointing at his Ajjamma’s and she too was gesturing us beckoning towards her. The first thought that rushed into my depressingly commercial brain was of not having paid her properly. We both went towards her and she talked to us in the local language with a tinge of colloquial accent suggesting we follow her if we wanted to know more about Chitradurga, its forts, its rocky terrains and also the strong and famous history that precedes it. Without the slightest ounce of fear and inhibition we both followed her with her little companion tagging behind us. Me comforting myself over the presence of my man friend and maybe he cushioned his fears against the presence of a female who knows the local dialect and definitely knows how to get herself out of trouble, in case if there is any. This lady walked us for about half a kilo meter and then took us inside a tiled and thatched house. I dare not call it a hut since it wasn’t. Although it was barely taller than me standing at 5.7” ½ …but it was still two storied.

As soon as we entered, the little one shot past from behind us and got two tumblers of cold well water that emitted the taste of earthen pot in which it was stored, accompanied by something isosceles in shape for both of us. We smelt it and licked it with the tip of our well behaved we must have looked doing that!! Thousand accolades to our so called urban cultures and our educated backgrounds. He mimed us to put it into our mouths to enjoy its flavour. It was actually nothing else but homemade jaggery…the best ones I have tasted ever. I recollected it later, my parents telling me that it is a tradition in many rural areas to offer water and jaggery to anyone who comes home. Once we popped the whole thing into our mouths, this tiny master of the house asked us to follow him to a room that had stairs and it led us up to a very spectacular thing that I had ever laid my eyes on. A shining sword with an ivory handle, hanging up the wall stole our attention. We went closer to inspect it and saw local inscriptions on it suggesting as gifted by “Madakari Nayaka”. Even before we could express our awe at possessing something as unique as this to our hosts, we saw them slouching near a huge rectangular case looking at us with anticipation. The obedient little master was wiping the case’s top off the dust suggesting it wasn’t opened in a long while. I could not stop gloating at myself for having been the lucky one to have a chance at seeing what was inside it unlike a few unfortunate ones who didn’t buy garlands from her.

She signalled us to sit next to her. By now we too were trained to become obedient spectators and were doing exactly as told. We rushed and took a spot next to her. The little one knew exactly what was to come out of it and bought a round heavy- bottomed wooden container which had a hole in the centre. Slowly the mistress of the house undid the bolts on either sides of the box and revealed what it had been holding inside. There was a long stick like thing wrapped inside a rather special orange silk cloth which looked very precious- an antithesis to the rather modest surroundings. She gently unfolded the cloth to disclose what seemed to be her most treasured possession. It was a wooden pestle with brown and grey shades on one side, turmeric and vermillion streaks on the other end and middle portion. A pestle that seemed to have been worshipped and safeguarded for long. But why on earth would anyone worship and treasure something that is used only to ground pulses and spices and something which is probably used in every other household in rural areas. Well before my readers get disappointed, let me ensure you the story revolving this pestle is nothing short of promising. A story that speaks volumes of the brave heart woman who once owned this, held this, used it and died a martyr’s death. Ajjamma had guessed the plethora of questions that we had as we exchanged apprehensive looks at each other and then at her. She giggled and nodded her head as if saying you haven’t heard and seen it all. She lifted the huge pestle towering over her head and respectfully placed in the wooden container that our little master was dutifully holding onto. She sat next to him and began narrating the journey of this very extra ordinary pestle.

During the reign of Madakari Nayaka, the city of Chitradurga was besieged by the troops of Hyder Ali. The fort of Chitradurga which guarded and housed the palace of the then king Madakari Nayak, was manned by a very vigilant and watchful keeper day and night. He knew every nook and crevice in the fort like the back of his palm. Kalanayaka, as he was addressed was a heavily built man nourished and nurtured by the love and staple food of his motherland and was also a true warrior. Tirelessly watching over the fortress to ensure the safety and peace of his Nayaka- the king and his motherland, seemed to be the sole purpose of his life. Add to it the evil intentions of Hyder Ali in mutating the monarch of Chitradurg, made him even more heedful of every crack and sound that came from the rocky terrains against the backdrop of which this fort rested. Devotedly Kalanayaka had also built his small hut in these ravines. Ajjamma believed that he did so due to his hardcore patriotism for his king and motherland, where he stayed with his wife Obbava and daughter. One day while he was watching over and guarding the fort endlessly since the wee hours of the morning till almost noon, his wife Obbava summoned him for lunch. Gesticulating another guard to take his spot while he could relieve himself for some lunch, Kalanayaka stepped down from his guarding post and went home to piping hot raagi balls and curry served on a plantain leaf.

Obbava his better half, pertinently ready to offer her life if he ever asked for it, patiently waited by her husband’s side while he lunched. Understanding that her husband might need some more water, Obbava got up, took her earthen pot and went outside to fetch some water from a nearby pond for her husband. As she walked towards the pond she saw a horrifying sight that paralysed her steps. A chance sighting of a man entering the Chitradurga fort through a hole in the rocks led to a plan by Hyder Ali to send his soldiers through that hole. Obbava saw this man sneaking in from the “Putta Bagilu”- small hole exclaimed Ajjamma, suddenly rising up erect from her seat as if she had never aged. She continued, Obbava froze at the sight of the enemy soldiers in the fortress as if they had invaded her own house. She rushed back home to inform Kalanayaka but stood back in her steps as she saw her beloved enjoying his noon meal peacefully and delectably. Her love and devotion for her master surpassed her desire to warn him of the impending danger. Her heart tugged at her and forced her to retreat back from the house without informing him of the surprise attack of the enemy. She relentlessly fought with herself thinking about how to prevent the same. She grabbed the pestle in her hand, a sole weapon that she could think of in this time of crisis and waited near the adjacent rock for the guard to show up. The first blow that hit him on his head by the pestle sent him hurtling down the rocks. Cautiously moving ahead ensuring she is not spotted by anyone else, Obavva inched closer to the small secret hole in the rocks. Straightening her back at the rock wall struggling to hide herself she waited for her next victim. One more head popping out of the hole didn’t live to see the daylights of another day since he too was smacked dead on his head. The fallout was expected since the vigorous and mighty blow was inflicted by the forceful, able bodied, rugged Obbava with her tenacious pestle. She partly lifted and dragged the body of the Mughal soldier out of sight so as to not warn his mates who might follow his path. Back to her position, Obbava continued with the bloodbath of her victims one after another all by herself with none other than the pestle to help her, which was put to less demure uses until today. After a while when she didn’t return home, Kalanayaka grew anxious and started looking for his wife around his hut. He saw the pot from a distance and walked towards it. Only to find his wife courageously and bravely putting up a strong fight with the enemy soldiers. Obbava saw him running towards her, but instead she called out to him and asked him to set off a warning hooter for the rest of the Nayaka soldiers to attack the enemy which had penetrated into the fortress. He was amazed at her quick thinking, her audacity, her grit at standing up against an army of soldiers. As an ode to this gallantry act of his beloved wife he decided to leave her alone and took back his hooter, sounding loud calls of alarm signalling his soldiers to attack the enemy.

The fight ensued for many days and as destiny would have it Hyder Ali did manage to conquer the fort many days later. Ajjamma held the pestle as if she was holding on to her dear life and said “ that Hyder did win the battle, but not on the day Avva was around. She laid her life for the safety of her king, her homeland, her devoted patriotic husband by massacring the enemy soldiers. Hyder could win the battle only after they deceitfully killed my Avva and captured my Appaji.” Her eyes welled up as she held on to the pestle, wiping off her early memories of her great grandmother and grandfather with the tip of her saree. My friend and me were too shocked and overwhelmed to move. To her we must have looked like two zombies, with eyes wide open, tears rolling down them, gawking at her and the holy pestle speechlessly. She said it was upon us whether to believe this or not but she for sure was a living part of hard flesh and bone of this great woman warrior of Chitradurga. That day Ajjamma had immortalised the heroic deeds of Obbava to us and revealed to us one of the several brave acts the fort had witnessed in its history. As we regained composure we animatedly started discussing with each other how come we were the chosen ones to have heard this heroic saga of Obbava, how we accidentally landed upon her great granddaughter and how my two hundred and fifty rupees had fetched me million times more precious than I could ever have got even if I had to part with my entire wealth. We silently and respectfully got up from our seats, taking turns we touched Ajjamma’s wrinkled feet. She had only one thing to say, please tell the world about Onnake (pestle in local language) Obbava with as much pride as your heart can hold. Undoubtedly my heart was swelling with pride for having heard in first account, the heroic and brave deeds of this warrior woman of Karnataka.

As we turned to go I had a burning desire in me to hold this historical pestle just once in my hand. I didn’t even have to ask Ajjamma, since she nodded her head and handed me the pestle. It was certainly heavier than I had ever imagined. It only reiterated the fact that if this object was lifted up and used as a weapon, then surely the arms holding it must have been very indomitable and very unyielding in nature. I justified the smear of turmeric and vermillion worshipping this god-like possession, but the brown and grey shades at the tip perplexed me, hinting at me could this be what I think it was. Dried stains of sanguine fluid of the Mughal soldiers?? Very promptly, I placed it back in her hands feeling too belittled to hold this honourable treasure. I clandestinely pulled out my digicam and took a single picture with all three stalwarts in it- little master, Ajjamma and the honorable pestle of Onnake Obbava.

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