Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Locals: The unknown, unsung heroes

History is as much about anonymous contributions as the more trumpeted ones. Who did those monks living high up on the hills of Pavuralakonda, Bavikonda, and Thotlakonda depend on for food and labor? There must have been a thriving village or two down by the sea whose residents fed the monks and worked at the monastery, but we know nothing about them.

Who were those weavers and craftsmen whose products the Europeans valued enough to cross miles of ocean to take back to their land and whose labor they tried to harness? We hear that the cloth produced in and around Vizag was highly valued, but who made it? And did these craftsmen form guilds and unions as did their more organized counterparts in the south? And did they ever sail to the Andamans and further east to Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Phillipines?

And who was this person only identified as a “native artist” who filled Patrick Russel’s publications with the most detailed and beautiful sketches of fishes and serpents that won the scientist his fame in England? We’ll probably never know.

Vizag's staple: Sketch of the king fish (Vanjaram) by an unknown "native" artist for Patrick Russel's book, "Descriptions and figures of two hundred fishes; collected at Vizagapatam on the Coast of the Coromandel." 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Where the Dutch buried their dead

Late last year, I visited Kummaripalem (Bheemili), where, in a green plot among palm trees and weeds, the Dutch had buried their dead between 1661 and 1720. 
The Madras District Gazetteer of 1907 mentions 13 graves and all of them seem to have survived the century since it was written.
The pictures below show 2 gravestones…

…and the 13th one taken from higher up on the steps leading down from the road to the cemetery.

I could not read the inscriptions on many, and the oldest grave I could find was from 1663.

This cemetery is not as well-known as the one on the beach, which was a later addition and is better-maintained.

References Francis W., Madras District Gazetteer, Vizagapatam, (Madras, Government Press: 1907)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tiger ‘rebellions’ in the hills

Print of a tiger hunt from Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (1878)

In the mid- to late 1800s tigers and humans waged a war in the hills of Vizagapatam district, and, as elsewhere in the country, the tigers gave way to humans, due in large part to the firearms supplied by the British. 

Government reports from the period talk about the menace caused by man-eaters to small-holding farmers in Paderu, Jeypore, Padua and other places in the Eastern Ghats surrounding Vizag.  The local people aptly called these attacks tiger fituris (tiger rebellions).

The solution hit upon by the British administration was to increase the reward for a tiger’s skin from Rs. 35 to Rs. 100. This led to an increase in the number of shikaris out to get the tigers, man-eating or otherwise, and between 1863 and 1866 rewards were distributed for 85 tigers, 365 cheetahs and panthers, 72 bears and 61 hyenas.

Caulfield's travails

This, however, did not appear to have stopped fatal attacks by the animals, for, in 1873, we hear of the Madras Government appointing one Captain Caulfield, Superintendent of Police at Coimbatore, to hunt down man-eating tigers in Vizagapatam district.  He left Madras on Christmas Eve of that year and arrived in the district three days later.  By the 6th of January, 1874, he had set off for the hills in pursuit of man-eaters, talking to the locals, buying bait, and figuring out the tigers’ haunts. From his diary entries it appears the three principal methods to kill a tiger were trapping, poisoning (by injecting strychnine into the bait), and shooting. 

The hunt was not easy. The quarry was cunning, and even after five days of tracking a man-eater, Caulfield could not catch sight of it. Instead, one night, he was assailed by a cheetah out to eat his dog, while he was asleep in his tent. Caulfield’s group was finally forced to give up and go back to Madras after all the servants were laid down by a bout of the virulent jungle fever – what is today known as cerebral malaria.


Turner’s plea

Ten years later, in 1884, H.G. Turner, the agent and collector of Vizagapatam made a passionate plea to Madras to take urgent measures to save the people of these hills from the tigers. He reports 40 deaths in four months in Paderu, Nandapur, Padua and Sujankota and 35 in 12 months in the circles of Lamsinghi police station. “The panic that exists here is terrible. People will not go out of their houses after dark. They are obliged to form large parties to go to market; villages are deserted; cultivation is pursued under the greatest difficulty and in constant trepidation. This morning I was shown a deserted village, abandoned on account of the tiger terror,” he says and recounts incidents of people being lifted by the dreaded beasts.

“Recently a man and his wife were ploughing a field near this abandoned village, when a tiger attacked the man in the middle of the day. He hit him with a bill hook, and the tiger turned on the woman and carried her off before his eyes. On the road I was shown two spots where the tiger carried off two men in one day. 

"Yesterday I was shown a place where a tiger sprang upon a constable, knocked him down, and mauled him so severely that he died the next day. The constable was one of a guard who were escorting about 100 people home from market. Three days ago a village munsif came to see me, with the story that a tiger got into his yard, in the middle of the village, and seized his wife, and although he beat it off, the poor woman died the next day.”

The Vizagapatam gazetteer says, “Between June 1881 and March 1883, 133 persons were killed in the Nandapuram and Padwa taluks alone.”

Villages were abandoned and people stopped tilling their fields for fear of being carried away by tigers even in broad daylight. There was a real fear that the hill tracts would soon become depopulated. The year Turner sent this report, the government distributed a number of old police carbines among the hill people to help them deal with the tigers. 

Wholesale slaughter
The gazetteer reports, “The most famous tiger of recent times was the Tentulakunti man-eater in the south of Naurangpur, which was credited with killing 200 persons before it was at length slain by Mr. H.D. Taylor, ICS, then in charge of Jeypore estate during the Maharajah’s minority.”

But he adds that this distribution of firearms along with the increase in prize money for animals led to a wholesale slaughter of wild animals in the district, with deer and bison being the most common prey.  Finally game rules had to be enforced in the district to save the wildlife that still survived.

Today we find no bison and cheetah in this region, and it was with surprise that I heard my father, who once worked in Koraput of Jeypore district, tell me that, though rare, tigers were sighted in the wilder portions of the hills, (and sometimes the not so wild portions such as railway station platforms), even as late as the 1960s and 1970s. 

1.    W. Francis, The Madras District Gazetteers: Vizagapatam, (Madras, 1907), pp. 22-23.

2. John O’Brien, Destruction of Wild Animals in Vizagapatam, The British Library: India Office Records,October 26, 2012,

3.      D.F. Carmichael, Manual of the District of Vizagapatam in the Presidency of Madras (Madras, 1869), pp. 51-52.

4.      Indian Memory Project, “77, The forest ranger of Jeypore, Orissa,”

5.      5. The man-eater’s jaws: Six villages in India devastated by tigers in broad day, Watkins Express sourced from London Times, October 16, 1884.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Then and now: View from Ross Hill

Sea in the background and a channel of water in the foreground – When I saw the postcard (picture above) on the Internet, I was sure I could take the exact same picture of today’s view from Ross Hill, but was surprised at how much the place had changed. I had to do a lot of guesswork, but I think I got it almost right, except for the altitude (picture below). The channel of clear water in the first picture is now no more than a clogged drain. I’d love to know which of the old buildings in the first picture have survived. I can vaguely make out a few red roofs in the new picture and assume they’re pretty old.

Monday, October 15, 2012

In context: The Northern Circars

In reading about Vizag during the British rule, one frequently comes across the term Northern Circars. It’s a good idea to get more familiar with these Circars: Vizag’s history is intimately connected with their evolution.

The Northern Circars are a 78,000 square kilometre strip of coastal land that encompassed areas of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, consisted of Chicacole, Rajahmundry, Ellore, Kondapalli, and Guntur.

They were originally part of the Vijayanagara Empire until the battle of Tallikota (1565), in which the Bahmani sultanate routed the Vijayanagara rulers, effectively ending the latter’s kingdom. The Circars became part of the Bahmani Sultanate and remained so for more than a century.  In 1687 they were occupied by Aurangazeb.

In 1724, Asaf Jah, the governor of Hyderabad (Golkonda), under which the five Circars were ruled, declared independence from the Mughal empire.  He claimed the title of Nizam-ul-Mulk and became the Subahdar of the Deccan.

Rise of the Vizianagaram rajahs

The Vizagapatam district was part of the Chicacole Circar and was long known as the Kasimkota division. After the Golkonda Sultanate took over, the chief local officer was the faujdar of Chicacole, who was in charge of Ganjam and Vizagapatam regions. The first faujdar was Sher Muhammad Khan (1652-84), who governed through the local chiefs or zamindars.  Among these various zamindars, the Vizianagaram rajahs grew in power gradually and started playing a significant part in the politics of the region.

The English and French had several factories in this region and struggled for commercial control of the region.  After the death of Nizam-ul-Mulk, the English and the French took sides in succession disputes. Eventually Salabat Jung, Nizam-ul-Mulk’s son, supported by the French, became the Nizam and ceded four of the five Northern Circars– Elllore, Kondapalli, Rajamundury and Chicacole–to the French in 1753.

English supremacy

But in 1759 the success of the combined forces of the Vizianagaram rajahs and the English established English supremacy in the Circars; in 1765 Robert Clive obtained the Northern Circars from the Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam, by way of inam or free gift subject to an annual payment.  Though the Nizam contested the validity of Shah Alam’s inam, the British, through a combination of force and diplomacy, obtained the Nizam’s acknowledgment of their right to the region and in 1823, the British bought the rights over the Circars from the Nizam.

Since the establishment of the company's government the whole province was divided and placed under two subordinate councils of which the larger was that of Vizagapatam, which was nearly "centrical to all the circars". About the middle of the I7th century a factory was established at Vizagapatam where, on the cession of the Circars, the chief-in-council was appointed.

Too attractive to resist

No one valued the Northern Circars more than the British, or rather, the Europeans. For landlocked Hindu and Muslim kingdoms, the thin strip of coastal territory was too far-flung and too wild to be brought under proper control. Tribal chieftains, hill zamindars, and local self-styled landlords made use of the sturdy, malaria-ridden barrier of the Eastern Ghats to keep central rulers away from the circars and run their own show.

However, the Nizam of Golconda as well as the emperors of the disintegrating Mughal empire dangled the carrot of the Northern Circars to get what they wanted from the British and the French.  Whenever they wanted British or French help in the form of troops or money, the Mughals and the Nizams would promise the Europeans more concessions in or control over the Northern Circars. And the Europeans always took the bait; for the sea-faring traders, the long strip of sea-coast was too attractive to resist. 

M.S.R. Anjaneyulu, Vizagapatam District, 1769-1834: A History of the Relations Between the Zamindars and the East India Company, Andhra University, 1982

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Arthur Cotton: A fruitful sojourn in Vizag

Sir Arthur Cotton, who gained fame and admiration throughout South India by reining in the powerful rivers of the region and is said to have been responsible for the bright green hue that is so integral a feature of the Konaseema region, lived in Vizag for a couple of years (1843-44) to recover from the ‘jungle fever’ that haunted him throughout his stay in the tropics.

His was a genius that could not stay idle even in illness. While nowhere on the scale of the ambitious projects on the Kaveri and the Godavari, Sir Arthur’s work in Vizag was not mean by any measure. He developed the groynes in the sea, which helped break the waves and control erosion. He redesigned and rebuilt St. John’s Church and drew plans for a port in the city.

The family lived in a house among the dilapidated barracks on Dolphin’s Nose, with just one neighbor – the Chaplain – who had built himself a house on the hill. From what Elizabeth Hope, Sir Arthur’s daughter writes in her biography of her father, the view seemed to have compensated for the loneliness of their living quarters: “My mother says of the experience of that time – ‘The view from the Dolphin’s Nose was very fine. The hill rose abruptly from the sea, and the great depth, looked down upon from the top, was sometimes awe-inspiring. Hawks and other large birds of prey above wheeled ceaselessly in circles, uttering their wild, weird cry.”

Hope, Elizabeth, Lady; Digby William, General Sir Arthur Cotton, R.E.K.C.S.I, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1900

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A church for the Uplands

In the early 1800s, Waltair Uplands was the preferred place of residence for the British population, at least those of them who were elevated enough on the government ladder to deserve one of the pretty white-washed bungalows that dotted the hilly places all along the coast. The devout among these fortunate people, however, faced a problem. The only church for Europeans was located in the Old Town, four or five miles away from the Uplands, a not inconsiderable distance in those days.

Though it was easy enough to come up with the idea of building a new church in the Uplands, funds for churches were not easy to come by at the time, as the British East India Company left religion alone as a matter of policy and rarely paid up for churches, orphanages, chaplains or such other religious paraphernalia.

The chaplain of Vizagapatam, Vincent Shortland, raised the money from the congregation; in fact it was the congregation that paid for the furniture and most repairs over the next several years. Captain J.H. Bell of the Madras Engineers designed and supervised the construction of the building, which could house 150 people. The church -- named after St. Paul -- was completed in 1838 and consecrated by one Bishop Spencer.

Apart from the addition of a belfry in 1863 and the rebuilding of the same structure after it was destroyed in a cyclone in 1872, on the opposite side of the original one, the church has survived until today almost unaltered.