Going back to the ancient Indian treatises or Puranas, the land of initial settlement was called Krodadesa which later became Kodavu. It is also said that Kodagu is derived from the word Kodava. ‘Kod’ means ‘give’ and ‘avva’ means ‘mother’, with the reference being to Mother Cauvery, one of the seven sacred rivers of India, the fountain of life and sustenance in this land.
The last king, Chikka Veerarajendra, was a despot who lost the support of his people. Things came to such a pass that the same warriors who propped up the Haleri Raja dynasty were instrumental in bringing it to an end. In 1834, a Coorg general called Apparanda Bopanna, whose forefathers had gallantly repelled the British, invited the British forces under Col. Fraser into the kingdom, and escorted them to the fort at Mercara (Madikeri).
What followed was a period of peace and prosperity. The British brought in coffee cultivation on a large scale and left behind a legacy of a colonial lifestyle that is still followed. The Coorg qualities of shooting straight from the shoulder, both literally and figuratively, found favour with the British. Coorgis were encouraged to join the British Indian Army.
After Independence in 1947, Coorg remained a Part ‘C’ State till 1956 when it was merged with the State of Karnataka. But the brief imperial rule left behind a legacy that is the source of Kodagu’s identity and income – the cultivation of coffee and spices.
Coffee, Spices, & much more
Fondly referred to as the ‘Coffee Cup of India’, this is one sobriquet that Coorg wears with an almost possessive air. After all, some of the world’s best coffee is grown here, and the slopes are redolent with the aroma of fine Arabicas and Robustas.
This heartland of Indian coffee is renowned for its ‘monsoon-fed coffee’, shade-grown under giant Rosewood, Wild Fig and Jackfruit trees. While nurturing and instilling the beans with exotic flavour and aroma, these fruit laden trees are a unique eco-system by themselves providing home to thousands of birds and animals including the Great Indian Pied Hornbill and the Giant Malabar Squirrel.
Come February, the air is filled with the heavy fragrance of snow-white coffee blossoms, heralding the onset of the coffee season. In November, the plants are dotted with ripe red coffee cherries. And throughout the year, it is the beverage of choice for natives and tourists, alike.
The first estate in Coorg was established in 1854 by an Englishman by the name John Fowler. The first British superintendent, Captain Le Hardy took a deep interest in the prosperity of the land and soon nearly every family in Coorg had started growing the brew that refreshed the world.
While coffee was the cup that cheered, the hills of Coorg were the supply depot for the famous spice coast of Malabar. Pepper, Cloves, Cardamom, Kokum (Garcinia cambogia), Cinchona, and other stars of the fabled ‘spice route’ are residents of these hills. Coorg Pepper is simply considered the world’s best and since ancient times, traders have landed on the neighbouring Malabar Coast of Kerala to pick up loads of this black treasure. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Chinese then carried it to different parts of the world.
Pepper abounds here, and is grown along with the coffee. The pepper vines are allowed to climb around the towering shade trees, creating ‘green pillars’ that look like they support the sky.
The Kodavas have a distinct ethnic identity they have zealously safeguarded over the centuries. They have their own unique language, customs and traditions.
The names of Kodava people are characteristic and include a clan name. The clan is central to Kodava culture and families trace their lineage through clans. Marriage within a clan is discouraged.
Kodavas have many cultural differences from the other communities in southern India. Though they are Hindu, Kodavas do not accept Brahmin priests, preferring that ceremonies are conducted by their own elders. The elders of the community help in organising the ceremonies. The importance of the fire god found in most of the Hindu rituals is usually absent in Kodava culture. Usage of slokas and vedic chants is also not strictly followed.
Easily one of the most martial cultures in the country, these are a people who ritually worship their guns and swords. Interestingly, till a few decades ago, the birth of a male child was marked with a gun shot, announcing to the world the arrival of a warrior. And when the child was named, he was fed the preserved meat of the tiger, in the belief that he would one day grow up to fight like one.
If a culture could have a set objective, for Coorg it would definitely be the creation of fierce fighters. There is this element about Coorg, a certain rugged frontier spirit even to this day. Natives have the spirit that motivate them to join the armed forces, the police, the forest department…wherever there is adventure to be found.
The exotic and differently-distinct Kodava cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian. Their signature dish is the unusual Pandi or pork curry served with Kadumbuttu or rice dumplings. Succulent Koli or chicken curry, Nool Puttu or rice noodles and Bembla or bamboo shoot curry are other quaint Kodava dishes.
Every Coorg ritual – naming ceremony, marriage, or a house warming, and even many festivals have a strong martial element. At weddings today, thick banana stems are chopped with a short Coorg sword to indicate that the groom’s party has fought and taken as many lives for the bride’s hand. A symbolic throwback to the days when men fought for the women they loved. Handsome folks, colourful traditional costumes, feasting, dancing and good humour make Coorg weddings a highly enjoyable spectacle. You will find that women are respected deeply in Coorg’s liberal society and that chivalry is still fully alive.
The harvest festival is called Puthari or ‘new rice’, when the first stalks of rice are cut, gun shots are fired into the night sky in joyous abandon. As for the festival of weapons, it offers Coorgis a chance to hone their marksmanship by shooting a coconut fixed high up on a towering tree. This was also the season when Coorgis would once gather and go off into the forest, to hunt the tiger and the boar. For reasons of conservation, all hunting is now banned.
Kodagu is a district of Karnataka State in Southern India. It is also known by its anglicised name of Coorg. It occupies about 4,100 square kilometers of land in the Western Ghats of Southwest Karnataka. As of 2001, the population was 5,48,561, with some 13.74% of the population residing in the district’s urban centers.
Kodagu’s capital is Madikeri. The district is bordered by the Dakshina Kannada District to the Northwest, the Hassan District to the North, the Mysore District to the East, the Kannur District of Kerala State to the Southwest, and the Wayanad District of Kerala to the South.
Kodagu is on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats. It is a hilly district with the lowest elevation in the district at 900 meters (2,900 ft) above sea-level. The highest peak, Tadiandamol, rises to 1,750 meters (5,700 ft), with Pushpagiri, the second highest, at 1,715 meters (5,600 ft).
The main river in Kodagu is the River Cauvery that begins at Talakaveri, located on the eastern side of the Western Ghats, and, with its tributaries, drains the greater part of Kodagu. In the rainy season, particularly during the southwest monsoons from June to the end of September, the currents are rapid and violent. In July and August, rainfall is intense, and there are often rain showers into November. Yearly rainfall may exceed 4,000 millimeters (160 in) in some areas. In dense jungle tracts, rainfall reaches 3,000 to 3,800 millimeters (120 to 150 in) and 1,500 to 2,500 millimeters (60 to 100 in) in the Bamboo District to the west.
Kodagu has an average temperature of 15°C (59°F), ranging from 13 to 35°C (55 to 95°F), with the highest temperatures occurring in April and May.
The principal town, and District Capital, is Madikeri, or Mercara, with a population of around 30,000. Other significant towns include Virajpet (Viraranjendrapet) and Somwarpet. The district is divided into the three administrative Talukas (Divisions) of Madikeri, Virajpet and Somwarpet.
The hardy and charming people who inhabit these lands are known as the Kodavas, and are renowned for their distinguished martial history. The earliest references to the Kodavas are found in Tamil Sangam literature dating back to the 2nd century AD. The origin of the Kodava people remains a mystery and there are a number of interesting theories that add to the romance and mystery of the region.
While the Coorgs or Kodavas are the majority race, there were many other groups that contributed to the melting pot. The second largest community of Coorg are the Gowdas. In the days of the Kodava kings, they supported agricultural activity, and turned into stealthy scouts in times of war. They lived near the border in order to sight the enemy and provide an advance warning. Today, they still tend to live close to the borders and are a prosperous farming community.
The short-statured Yeravas and Kurubas laboured in the fields, and later in the coffee estates. Some of these tribals are employed by the forest department today, their keen knowledge of the forest and its animals help in curbing poaching and forest product smuggling.
The natives were not traditional businessmen, and this encouraged traders from outside Coorg to migrate here. The industrious Moplahs from neighbouring Kerala, and a few families of traditional business communities from other parts of South India moved in to form the backbone of trade and commerce.
The first Christians were Konkanis from the Mangalore coast, including many who were freed from Tipu Sultan’s captivity, after his defeat. They came to Coorg at the invitation of the king, to help rebuild the kingdom shattered by war. In more recent times, Christians from Kerala too have settled here as plantation owners and traders.
Many other communities and cultures go into making the intriguing mosaic that is Coorg, among them Lingayats, Tulus, Male Kudiyas, Medas, Siddis from Africa (now called Kapalas) and the Poleyas.
Coorg is known to many as the land of tranquil forests and hills, weekend retreats, coffee plantations, and home to the only community in India that’s allowed to carry a gun without a permit.
Just as wonderful as all that is the food from the region. If you’ve ever been to a Kodava wedding, their love for food and drink is on abundant display. Unlike many Indian communities, the Coorg people will happily serve you alcohol and non-vegetarian food at their weddings, especially their famous Pandi Curry or pork in a spicy and sour gravy made from Kachampuli, a black vinegar made from the black Kokum fruit.
Rice has always grown in plenty in Coorg, so it’s not surprising that rice in many forms is the foundation of most Coorg meals. Breakfast can be Akki Rotti (a chapatti-like pancake made from cooked rice and rice flour). Or perhaps you’d care for a range of Puttu, steamed rice dishes such as Nooputtu (rice threads similar to the Kerala Idiyappam), Paaputtu (a mix of steamed broken rice, coconut and sugar). To accompany these, you can have the famous Coorg honey or hearty curries not usually found elsewhere such as pumpkin curry, bamboo shoot curry, or a curry made from wild mushrooms.
Lunch and dinner too has rice as the base, and there’s usually at least one non-vegetarian dish to accompany it, usually chicken, mutton, or the much-loved pork. Coconut is a common ingredient in many of the tangy and spicy Coorg curries, ground with onions, garlic and spices such as chillies, cumin, pepper, etc. with Kachampuli providing the fruity tartness. As accompaniments, you will find chutneys made from dried or smoked meat and fish, or pickles made from tender bamboo, gooseberries, and mushrooms.
But vegetarians need not lose heart. Unique to Coorg are dishes like Kaad Maange curry, made from wild mango that’s got a more peppery tart flavour than regular mangoes. Also try the Chekke curry made from raw jackfruit, Kemb curry made from the colocasia plant.
Places of interest
Madikeri or Mercara is a place including a terrain of Coorg that inspired the British to occupy this area for over 100 years and they called it a Scotland of India.The people living in Coorg are known as Kodavas . The main crops grown in the Coorg is the coffee, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper etc. The main dishes of Kodavas include the Akki Roti ( rice roti ), kadubu and the special Pork curry. Hutarri and Kylepoth is the main festivals of Kodavas. The Huttari Dance and Bolak-aat are dance forms in Kodagu. Bolak-aat dance is performed by kodava men in back of an oil lamp in an open field.
Raja’s Seat (The king’s seat)
It is a seasonal garden of flowers and artificial fountains. It is one of the most important tourist spot in Madikeri of Coorg District. It is also known as a sunset point where kings of Kodagu who used to watch the setting sun and spend time with their queens here. It has a pleasant spectacle of refreshing layers of greenery, Chain of high and low – rise mountains attired with mist.
Abbey Falls is also called ABBE Jalaphatha in kannada. It is in Kodagu in the western ghats in Karnataka. The river is a part of the early reaches of the river Kaveri. Flow is much higher during the monsoon season. The waterfall is located between private coffee plantations with stocky coffee bushes and spice estates with trees entwined with pepper vines.
This temple is the most famous temple in Coorg where the Lingarajendra II, the ruler of Kodagu in the early 1800’s who killed an innocent Brahmin. The reason for killing is not clear. This temple is built in Islamic style, the dome and minarets towering over the tiled roofs of the city. Inside temple is simple, with the shrine holding the main lingam surrounded by one corridor. There are plenty of fish in the pond, which are a huge attraction for childrens.
Madikeri Fort was first founded by Mudduraja in the second half of the 17th century. He also built a palace inside the fort and thus it is known as a “palace of Madikeri “ Coorg. There is a museum inside the fort where one can watch british era and a huge portrait of Kodagu’s eminent personality Field Marshal Cariappa. It was eventually rebuilt in granite by Tipu Sultan who named the site as Jaffarabad.
Gaddige (Raja’s tomb )
Gaddige also known as Raja’s Tomb located in one of the beautiful hill station of Karnataka, Madikeri, Coorg. It was built in Muhammadan style with tombs at the center and turrets at the corners. Nandi figures are carved on top of the corners. Lord Shiva is placed and worshipped inside the tomb since the king was Hindu. This is one of the most fascinating fact because most of the tombs belong to Muslim kings and dynasties.
Bhagamandala & Talacauvery
Bhagamandala and Talacauvery is located in the brahmagiri hills of Coorg namely Bhagamandala. It is one of the holy place where river kaveri took its birth. Many people take a bath in this river to resolve their issues. This place has a big temple and also has a pleasant spectacle of refreshing layers of greenery and thick forests.
Dubare is known for its elephant camp, a forest camp on the banks of the river Kaveri in the district of kodagu, Karnataka. It is an important base for the Karnataka Forest Department’s (KFD)’s elephants. There are opportunities for trekking, elephant rides, fishing, and river rafting. These activities are hosted by jungle lodges and resorts.
It is one of the best trekking point in the hill station of Coorg. You will fall in love with the greenery that will envelop you from all sides during the trek. This point can be visited by jeep safari only.
Kaveri Nisargadhama is an island formed by river Kaveri near Kushalnagar in the district of Kodagu, Karnataka. It is a 64 acre island, with lush foliage of thick bamboo groves, sandalwood, and teak trees. The island is accessible through a hanging rope bridge. There are deers, rabbits, peacocks, and children playground as well as an Orchidarium.
Bylakuppe – Tibetan Monastery
The Tibetan Monastry or the Tibet Camp as locally called is located in Kushalnagar town towards Mysore Road. This Tibetan settlement is the second largest Tibetan settlement outside Tibet. There are over 7,000 monks and students at the Tibetan monastery.