| NARASARAJA, WRESTLER KING OF MYSORE
By Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy
Wrestling, a martial sport of India has a hoary antiquity going back to almost the beginning of our history. Our epics Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas portray wrestling in all its glory. Bhima is considered to be the greatest wrestler of Indian tradition. His fight against Jarasandha has been graphically described in Mahabharata. Hanuman was not only a great wrestler but was also elevated to the level of the God of Wrestling and all the wrestling institutions (garadi) have an idol or a portrait of Hanuman to whom worship is offered.
Many kings of Karnataka were proficient in wrestling and many of them had assumed the titles ‘malla’ connected with wrestling. Hundreds of hero-stones have been found in Karnataka which depict the sculptures of wrestlers in action. Perhaps the Vijayanagara kings made it a great sport by including it in Dasara festival daily.
The graphic description of wrestling competitions of the Vijayanagara period make an interesting reading. The Mysore Wadiyars being the cultural successors of Vijayanagara rulers were also the great patrons of this art. Even now wrestling competitions are held in Mysore city at Doddakere (Sahukar Channaiah Akhada).
Many ancient kings have claimed themselves to be great wrestlers but we do not know their real exploits. Perhaps most of them had ornamental titles. But there was an exception to this in the Wadiyar dynasty and that was Ranadhira Kanthirava Narasaraja Wadiyar I (1638-59). He was not a weak king as his predecessor Raja Wadiyar II. As soon as he came to the throne he eliminated Dalavoy Vikramaraya and assumed full powers.
It is said that at the temple town of Trichy an arrogant wrestler had hung his underwear (Chaddi) at the entrance of the fort and everybody had to walk under this underwear in great humiliation. Even the Madurai Nayaka was helpless in this matter. Some people who went from Mysore on a pilgrimage to Trichy found this as highly insulting and construed this as an affront to the Kannadigas by a Tamil wrestler and informed this to King Narasaraja.
He went to Trichy incognito and tore off the underwear. This created a great furore and the Trichy wrestler fought against Narasaraja but was defeated and killed in the wrestling. People of Trichy including the king heaved a sigh of relief. But before they could honour him, King Narasaraja returned to Mysore. This made him a Jagajatti (world class wrestler).
Three wrestlers together
Three jealous wrestlers of Tamil Nadu came to Srirangapatna and threw a challenge to Narasaraja; “If you are a great wrestler, you have to fight against all the three of us together”. Narasaraja accepted the offer and to the pleasant surprise of everyone, Narasaraja crushed the two wrestlers by his two arms and the third fellow between his thighs. This incident confirmed that he was a great wrestler.
Some mischievous people out of jealousy wanted to insult Narasaraja. A male wrestler was dressed up like a woman wrestler and she challenged Nara-saraja. The king’s spies brought the news that it was not a woman but a man in the guise of a wo-man. Narasaraja accepted the challenge to the dismay of the spectators. He did not fight but simply removed her (his) dress and lo ! There stood a man with just a loin-cloth. People cheered the King Narasaraja for this clever feat.
We should not be under the impression that the King was whiling away his time in wrestling. He defeated many kings including the Mughals, Bijapur Sultan, Marathas, Madurai Nayakas and many Palegars and extended the Mysore kingdom upto Tamil Nadu.
Tirumala revolted against Narasaraja and the Mysore King had a novel idea of punishing the enemy. He ordered that nose of the enemy soldiers be chopped off as a punishment. This was resorted to faithfully and this war became famous as a war of noses.
He took special steps to augment the resources of his kingdom and gold coins flowed in huge quantities. These coins amounted to nine crores (navakoti) and he assumed the title ‘Navakoti Narayana’. He declared independence from the Vijayanagar rulers and to commemorate this great event, he opened a mint. For the first time coins of Mysore Wadiyars came to be minted. These gold coins of Narasaraja were called Kanthiraya hanas. They contained on one side various gods and goddesses and his name Kantirava in Kannada on the other side. He also strengthened the Fort of Srirangapatna and built a temple of Narasimha there.
He got a stone sculpture of himself prepared and placed it in this temple as a mark of devotion to the deity. It is said that his father had a mistress by name Bangarudoddi, and Narasaraja built a canal near Srirangapatna and named it Bagarudoddi nala. He was also a patron of literature, and the work ‘Narasaraja Vijaya’ written by Govinda Vaidya is an important work of this period. Though Kantirava Narasaraja Wadiyar had ten wives, he had only one son who predeceased his father. Some scholars feel that he had no sons at all.
Thus Ranadhira Kantirava Narasaraja Wadiyar was a powerful, popular and colourful Maharaja of Mysore Wadiyar dynasty. A large number of folk songs and stories have been woven around him and thus he had become a legend by his wrestling prowess. Such kings are really rare.