Chitradurga (Chitaldrug of the British) in Karnataka was governed by local chieftains long before the rise of the Vijayanagara empire. By the 1500s, it was largely dominated by Bedar (Valmiki) families who traced their origins to southern Andhra Pradesh. They gained the attention of the Vijayanagara rulers through various acts of bravery and courage. Matti Thimmanna Nayaka was appointed as the first Nayaka of Chitradurga by the Vijayanagar emperor Saluva Narasimha Raya.
After the fall of Vijayanagara in 1565, many of the Karnataka Palegars/Paleyagars declared their independence, including Chitradurga, Madura, Mysore, Keladi, Tanjore and Gingee.
Thimmanna Nayaka's son Obanna, assumed independence and took the title of Madakari (meaning: rutting elephant) Nayaka. Madakari Nayaka V (r: 1754-1779) was the last and most powerful ruler of Chitradurga.
The Madakari Dynasty of Chitradurga came to an end when Nawab Hyder Ali Khan of Mysore (r: 1759-1782) defeated Madakari Nayaka V in 1779.
Siege of Chitradurga (1777-79):
The formidable hill fort of Chitradurga has seven circular walls one behind the other. It was first attacked by Hyder Ali in 1762. Madakari Nayaka was forced to make peace with Hyder (meaning: lion) and paid a tribute of four lakh rupees (according to Wilks, six lakhs including a fine). In 1763, Madakari Nayaka joined forces with Hyder to capture Bednore (also known as Ikkeri/Keladi/Nagar) from Rani Viramma.
The Nayaka also assisted Hyder in his campaigns against Bankapur and Peshwa Madhav Rao (r: 1761-1772) at Anavatti in 1763.
However, the Nayaka eventually betrayed Hyder and allied himself with the Marathas when Madhav Rao captured Nijagal in 1770.
In 1776, Madakari Nayaka came to Hyder's aid when he besieged Gooty and captured its ruler, Murari Rao Ghorpade. However, he allowed Shivaram Bhau, the nephew of Murari Rao, to escape from Madakasira to Pune via Chitradurga.
In early 1777, when Mysore was attacked jointly by the Marathas under Parashuram Bhau and the Nizam under Ibrahim Khan Dhoonsa, the Nayaka did not assist Hyder. According to Hydernama, it was the Nayaka himself who invited the two armies to invade Mysore.
Prejudiced by the Nayaka's conduct, Hyder appointed a news writer to closely monitor him. Unwilling to accept this, the Nayaka sent his vakil to the Pune court to persuade the Marathas to undertake a campaign against Mysore. The Marathas assured him that they would send an immense army to invade Mysore and permanently relieve him from Hyder's interference.
Meanwhile, Krishnappa of Rayadurga incited Hyder to attack Chitradurga. Hyder also secured the assistance of the chief of Harapanahalli. Before launching the attack, Hyder proposed the surrender of Madakari Nayaka's capital and accept Mysore service and an annual jagir of 50,000 rupees; however, the offer was refused.
In July 1777, Hyder laid siege to the fort, that continued for three months. The Bedars valiantly defended the fort. Every Monday they would bravely venture into the trenches and return with a number of heads of Hyder's soldiers as offerings to the shrine of Kali, located within the fort.
As the siege prolonged without any success, Hyder proposed that if the Nayaka will pay thirteen lakh pagodas and promised his allegiance to him, he would forgive the latter's past conduct.
Receiving no assurance from the Marathas, the Nayaka was left with no choice but to make peace with Hyder and agree to pay the amount. He paid five lakhs and, for the rest, agreed to send his brother Parashuramappa as a hostage.
However, just as the Nayaka was about to accept the terms, news of the Marathas advancing from Pune to attack Hyder reached them. Hyder summoned the Nayaka to join forces with Mysore, who promised assistance but ultimately evaded it.
While Hyder was engaged with the Marathas, the Nayaka plundered Mysore territories, including Channagiri, Basavapattana, Santhebidanur and other places. Hyder dispatched his son Tipu to confront the Nayaka, who quickly retreated back to Chitradurga. Tipu closely pursued him and renewed the siege of the fort, eventually being joined by Hyder after successfully defeating the Marathas.
By this time, many of the Nayaka's followers and relatives had been killed or wounded. In one of the sallies, Madakari Nayaka and his brother Parashuramappa were both struck by bullets.
When the fort was about to surrender in early 1779, two detachments of Maratha forces advanced to provide relief to the Nayaka. Hyder's forces successfully routed them.
Chitradurga was finally captured by Hyder in March 1779. According to Rama Rao, 'The Musalman Jemadar of Chitradurga and other people in the chief's service who were disaffected towards him were bribed and on the plea of taking part in the Muharram festival the Musalman Jemadar came out and joined Hyder along with his followers'.
Hyder Ali appointed Shaikh Ayaz as the governor of Chitradurga. Madakari Nayaka and his family were then sent as prisoners to Srirangapatna, where they died. Hyder further sent 20,000 Bedars to Srirangapatna, and enlisted them in chela battalions.
Following the fall of Srirangapatna in May 1799, Chitradurga remained a province of Mysore under the Wodeyars.
Legend of Onake Obavva:
The Chitradurga Nayakas are an integral part of Karnataka's folklore. An example is the tale of Onake Obavva, wife of a guard of the fort.
The story goes that as Hyder's soldiers were unable to penetrate the strong fort, some of them began searching for secret passages. At this time, a soldier noticed a woman carrying curds into the fortress, passing through a small crevice in the wall. This crevice was so narrow that only a person in a kneeling position could fit through. At this time, Obavva was serving her husband his afternoon meal, who was keeping watch on the secret entrance. While collecting water from the nearby well, she heard a noise and realized the enemy was attempting to enter. She quickly ran back to her house and grabbed a pounding pestle (onake). With the pestle raised, she stood guard next to the hole. As the enemy's head appeared through the hole, she struck it with the heavy pestle. In this way she killed a large number of Hyder's soldiers. When her husband returned, he was astonished to see what his wife had accomplished. He immediately blew his horn and the garrison of Madakari Nayaka chased off the enemy.
According to Srikantaya, this incident occurred during the night. The 'Mysore State Gazetteers: Chitradurga District' states that Obavva even dragged their dead bodies through the hole and pushed them aside. Astonishingly, she had the strength to move the corpses with ease...?
After hearing the whole story, Madakari Nayaka offered Obavva rich presents, which she humbly refused, saying, "My Lord, these implacable enemies are depriving us of our country and our homes and I, through God's grace and through the strength of the salt we have eaten of Your Highness, was able to prevent them from entering the fort clandestinely. For this slight service I do not deserve presents more than what Your Highness has already conferred on us."
Firstly, it is hard to believe that Obavva's husband was the only one to guard the secret spot, and that there was no one else in the entire area, especially while the siege was in progress. Had he been a vigilant sentinel, he would have never gone to eat without placing another guard as his substitute in such a perilous situation.
Secondly, if a soldier had been struck on the head with a pestle, he would definitely scream, which will alert the rest. A fascinating detail in this account is that every soldier was incapacitated with a solitary strike to the head using a pestle. Remarkably, not one of them attempted to resist. Perhaps it was because the rival was Hyder Ali that such a story was formed and circulated. Moreover, in the imagination of some modern writers, this brave lady was killed by Hyder's soldiers during her pestle-fight. Nowadays, the hole through which Hyder's soldiers were said to have 'sneaked' is known as Onake Obavvana Kindi or Pestle Gate.
History of Mysore (1399-1799 A.D.): incorporating the latest epigraphical, literary and historical researches By C. Hayavadana Rao
M.S. Putanna – Vobavva of Chitradurga, The Indian Heroes
Jhampanna Nayak's Kaifyat of Chitaldrug Palegars By R. Rama Rao
Encyclopaedia of the Folk Culture of Karnataka: Introductory articles