Kodagu, popularly known as Coorg, is one of the most frequented weekend hotspots in Karnataka. This anglicized name – Coorg came into existence after the East India Company took over Kodagu in 1834.
Madikeri being the district capital and the main town is located at an altitude of 1067 meters above sea level. Often referred to as the ‘Scotland of the East’, Coorg is famous for its coffee plantation and Pandi Curry (Pandi meaning Pork in the local language).
Apart from the chicory free coffee, Coorg is also known for spices such as black pepper and cardamom. What makes Coorg unique is that it is not yet connected by rail or air. Tucked away in the scenic Western Ghats, it is 260 kms from Bangalore, 120kms from Mangalore and 120kms from Mysore. Its forests are also home to the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Nagarahole National Park, Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary and the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary.
According to the local language, Kodava means ‘blessed by Mother Kaveri’. Their Huthri festival which is celebrated during the months of November to December is unique as it marks the end of the rice planting tenure in September and commemorates the Kodava warrior tradition. The Kodavas (Coorgis) are a martial race, and hence exempt by the Indian Arms Act from possessing a license for a firearm within the district. It has produced many famous personalities in the Indian armed forces like Field Marshal Cariappa, who was one of the two Indian armed forces officers to hold the highest rank of Field Marshal, and General K. S. Thimayya who was the Chief of Army Staff.
Pandit Nehru had once aptly stated about the region, “Coorg has given great Generals to the Indian Army. It is noted for its choicest coffee and if I am permitted to add one more to these specialties, I can mention that Coorg is famous for its beautiful and comely women.”
Kodagu’s recorded history dates back to 9th and 10th century, which reveals that it was ruled by several kingdoms in southern India including Pandyas, Cholas, ending with the Hoysala rule in the 14th century, after which the Vijaynagar Empire took over.
After the defeat of the Vijaynagar kingdom by the Deccan Sultans in 1565, the Nayaks started ruling Kodagu. After the fall of the Changavas, a prince from the Ikkeri or Bednur family dressed as a Lingayat priest settled at Haleri, close to Madikeri. Gradually with time, he gained authority and power and created a base to be ruled by the Lingayat Rajas. As the Lingayats merged their power in Kodagu, they made Haleri their capital, and established the Paleri (Haleri) dynasty, which ruled the region for 200 years. It was under the Paleri dynasty that Kodagu became an independent kingdom.
Haider Ali rose to power in Mysore during the 18th century and tried to capture Kodagu. Much later his son Tipu Sultan, in an attempt to fulfill his father’s dream to seize Kodagu, held the prince Dodda Vira Rajendra of Kodagu captive. With the help of the loyal subjects of Kodava, the prince managed to escape from captivity, defeated Tipu Sultan and recovered Kodava.
From 17th to 19th century, the Wodeyars ruled over Kodagu till the British took over in 1834. Dodda Vira Rejendra Wodeyar and the East India Company signed an agreement in 1790, whereby the later would provide protection to the Kodavas from Tipu Sultan. In 1858, Colonel Fraser was appointed the first Chief Commissioner after the British government took over from the East Indian Company.
Much later, a writer of the Gazetteer of Mysore and Coorg, Lewis Rice traced the lineage up to 1834 when the East India Company overthrew the last Paleri King.
After independence, Kodagu was declared a ‘C’ State in 1952 and in 1956 Coorg was recognized as a district of Karnataka.
Kodagu is a district/region comprising four major towns – Madikeri, Virajpet, Somwarpet and Kushalnagar. All of them are within 30 odd km off each other with coffee plantations in between. Buses and taxis are best mode of transport to move around the region. Within Madikeri, the capital, auto rickshaws are ideal. Most places within town can also be covered by foot.
Tourist Traps in the City
Though there are auto rickshaws available in plenty, it is highly recommended that you bargain for a reasonable fare to your hotel or a tourist spot.
The Kodavas are not known to follow any particular religion. While they consider the Kaveri River as their godmother, the Kodavas believe in ancestor worship, which is personified in the ‘Ainemane’ or ancestral house of an Okka or family, which is believed to provide protection and a spiritual guide to the family. Each family has a special place assigned to worship their ancestors, as the Karanava i.e the spirit of the deceased ancestor of a family holds an important spiritual place in each family.
The dead ancestor of a family, the Karanava or sprit, has an important place in the spiritual life of his descendants and each family’s ancestral house has an assigned place for the worship of ancestors. Another form of ancestor worship may also involve the offering of meat and liquor to ancestors.
Their Huthri/ Puttari festival which is celebrated during the months of November to December is unique as it marks the end of the rice planting tenure in September and commemorates the Kodava warrior tradition with the festival of Kailpoud. During Puttari, fresh sheaves of paddy are cut on a full moon night and brought to the house by a male member of the family dressed in their ceremonial attire. The sheaves are bound in leaves and tied to various auspicious portions of the house like the front door and the storehouse such as the granary.
Kailpoud is an annual festival of arms that is held towards the end of the monsoon. During this festival, the Kodavas worship their weapons and hold shooting competitions ( where a coconut is tied to a tree) and other sporting events.
Their wedding ceremonies or mangalas are most unique as they are held in their ancestral homes and solemnized not by a priest, but by the elders in the family. It will be interesting to note that the bride gets to decide if she wants to continue living with her new husband. A few days after the wedding, when she visits her maternal home with the husband and if she decides to stay back, the wedding is off. Kodava marriages do not believe in the system of dowry.
At the demise of an adult family member, the news is sent to the village by a firing of two consecutive gunshots, while a birth of a boy is declared by the firing of one gunshot.
Their traditional costumes, especially for the men folk are extremely smart and gorgeous with turbans, black overcoats, sashes and jewellery, while the women wear the sari in a unique fashion unlike any other part of the country.
Shopping in Coorg is quite a different experience, its not like a regular tourist spot where you pick up decorative souvenirs. A trip to Coorg is incomplete without Chicory free coffee, honey and spices such as Cardamom and Pepper, oranges during season and home made candles. Visit the local shops in the market area selling pure ground coffee, while you relish a steaming hot cupper, pick up some coffee to take back home.
BSNL and Reliance have wide coverage in Coorg. However data cards can go for toss owing to the heights and altitudes. However, BSNL has better connectivity than Reliance
A Travel Guide Series for Yatra.com.