Between 1001 and 1500 CE, Karnataka, Vijayanagara

Gersoppa – The Legend of the Pepper Queen

Introduction – Nagarbastikere, in Gersoppa town, has reduced to a small village now but it was  a flourishing town in the past. It was booming with  trade, agriculture and religious practices. It is located on the bank of the river Sharavati. The village can be reached via the river route from Honnavar or via a narrow road from Gersoppa town navigating through thick jungles. On one side of the bank is the present village and on another side is the old deserted part with its historical remains.

Historical Remains at Gersoppa

Gersoppa is situated in Honnavar taluk of Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka. It is famous for the Jog Falls which are also known as Gersoppa Falls. Though these falls are situated at a considerable distance from the Gersoppa town, however in earlier times this was the nearest town therefore the falls were named after it. Earlier, people used to travel to Gersoppa to visit these falls, however with new convenient routes in place, the town has lost its appeal to the visitors.

Gersoppa is variously known as Nagire, Gerasappa and Gerusoppa in its inscriptions. In literature and legends, it is known as Kshemapura and Bhallatakipura. The name Gerusoppa seems to be derived from Geeru (Semecarpus anacardium Linn) and soppu (meant leaf in Kannada). Geeru is a native of India and is known as Bhallatak in Hindi and Agnimukh in Sanskrit. It appears that this region had many trees of this kind which led to the name, Gerusoppa.

The earlier history of Gersoppa is obscure. It might have existed as a small settlement from earlier times however no importance was attached to it. Fourteenth century CE onward,  the town started finding its references in historical writings and travelogues. This change supposedly started after the advent of the Portuguese at the western coast of India. The Portuguese historians and travelers wrote a lot on the Indian geography, agricultural produce and political relations. A lot of research has already gone into the Indian and Portuguese relations of those times.

Historical Remains

One of the earliest reference of Gersoppa is found in the writings of Tome Pires, a Portuguese pharmacist from Lisbon. Pires visited India in 1511 and from here he went to visit many other South Asian countries. His work, Suma Oriental que trata do Mar Roxo até aos Chins, is a landmark book on the Asian sea trade. Pires mentions that the seaports from Honnavar and Mirjan to Anjadiva belonged to the king of Gersoppa. The king of Gersoppa was an important man, with many mounted men, up to three thousand. Gersoppa stretched five leagues up the Honnavar river. This Honnavar river was thickly populated and navigational for ships.

Once the Portuguese discovered the sea-route to India, their initial years were spent to mark their monopoly on the spice trade between India and the west. To achieve this monopoly, the Portuguese took the route to capture the major seaports on the western coast. This included the seaports of Karnataka as that of Honnavar, Bhatkal and others. They attempted to secure all the exportable pepper from Karnataka region. They successfully entered into treaties with the local chiefs of Bhatkal and Gersoppa. This disallowed these chiefs to get involve in pepper trade with other than the Portuguese.

Shastri tells that the kingdom of Gersoppa played an important role in the Portuguese capture of Goa which later became their base. Though the earlier relations between these two were not cordial however with time the relations got better. This change happened during the tenure of vice-royalty of Dom Francisco de Almeida (1505-09), though not without a clash. Various Portuguese historians provide different accounts of these clashes, however the theme of all were the same that the Portuguese were able to gain the control over these ports.

Manual de Faria e Sousa writes that Nuno da Cunha, the Portuguese governor from 1528 to1538, sent Goncalo Vaz Coutinho to Honnavar where a ship belonging to Suleiman, king of Sofala, an enemy of the Portuguese, was suspected to be aiding the queen of Gersoppa who was not constant with regards to the terms of peace which she had agreed to with the Portuguese. The queen told Coutinho that the Suleiman’s ship was in her port against her wish as she could not drive it away and she would be happy if the Portuguese could capture it.

Coutinho attacked the ship and in the battle ensued, he lost 15 out of 80 men he brought with him including his son, Diogo. The enemy ship slipped away as the queen was suspected to have aided the enemy. Coutinho was not happy with the presents the queen sent for the wounded. But the queen justified herself and offered the terms of peace a new which were acceptable and sworn. The queen also agreed to allow some Portuguese to come and observe how she labored to expel the Turks from her ports.

Luis de Ataide, the Portuguese viceroy from 1568 to 1571, wanted to punish the chiefs of Barkur and Gersoppa as they fail to furnish the tributes for five to six years. On the beginning of December 1569, Ataide sailed from Goa with a large fleet of 113 ships and 300 soldiers. He reached the Honnavar river in few days and went up the river towards the fortress built by the Gersoppa chief. The Portuguese captured the fortress without much troubles and renamed it after St. Catharina.

Antonio Pinto Pereyra gives a different account of this event. He tells that Ataide started from Goa on 12th November 1569 with more than 130 sails, of which 70 were warships. There were more than 2,500 Portuguese soldiers in the fleet. On reaching Honnavar, 2100 to 2200 men landed. The fortress of Honnavar appeared to be impregnable. It was hard indeed to reach it owing to the height of the hill. It was well defended by 400 to 500 soldiers. The city, which was rich and had beautiful edifices, but deserted by its occupants, was sacked and reduced to ashes by the Portuguese.

The Portuguese encamped near the fortress and bombarded incessantly for four days until November 24. At last the garrison led by Kantappa Naik surrendered losing all hopes. There was very little to plunder inside the fortress. On the feast of St Catharina, November 25, 1569, a mass was held in the fortress.

The queen of Gersoppa to whom Honnavar belonged was asked to pay the annual tributes thereafter and also to give pepper every year, sufficient for a ship-load, at the rate of 22 and ½ pardaus a khandi. The queen refused these terms, which made Ataide to proceed to Basrur to take that place. The queen ultimately refused to accept the conditions.

In the beginning of 1570, Ataide had to send an urgent strong fleet to Honnavar as he heard that the queen of Gersoppa was planning to attack the Portuguese fortress at Honnavar. She plotted to administer to the Portuguese soldiers the fruit of a plant known as datura, mixing it with their food. The fruit was known to have the power of causing loss of memory to the one who ate it. However she did not succeed in her plot as the people trusted with this plan were discovered and hanged.

The queen being instigated by the Adil Shah of Bijapur to wage war against the Portuguese in Honnavar. The Portuguese were able to defend the fortress against the combined army of Adil Shah, Nizam Shah and Zamorin. Another attempt from Adil Shah and the queen was made in July 1571, with a combined army of 5,000, including 3,000 that of the queen. However the Portuguese defeated this combined army and the queen lost many of her forces and fled leaving behind all her canons.

Panoramic View during Monsoons

Italian traveler Pietro Della Valle visited Gersoppa in 1623 CE.  Valle left an interesting account of the town and his journey to it from Honnavar. He gave proper attention to the town and its environs and we find that one full chapter of his book is dedicated to the Queen of Gersoppa. He tells that this place was sometimes a famous city, metropolis of the province and seat of a queen, in which state, as likewise in many others upon the coast of India, to this day a woman frequently had the sovereignty.

Valle mentions that the journey from Honnavar to Gersoppa was one of the most delightful one that he ever took. He further tells that because of the abundance of pepper in this region, the queen of the region was called as Reyna da Pimenta, that is Queen of Pepper, by the Portuguese. For the convenience of the readers, abstract from his book is provided below.

“The last queen of Garsopa fell in love with a mean man and a stranger, into whose power she resigned herself, together with her whole kingdom. In which act, setting aside her choosing a lover of base blood, upon which account she was hated and blamed by Indians (who are most rigorous observers of nobility and maintainers of the dignity of their ancestors in all points) as to giving herself up as prey to her lover, she committed no fault against her honor; for in these countries it is lawful for such queens to choose to themselves lovers or husbands, one or more, according as they please.”

“But this man who was so favored by the Queen of Garsopa, having though as ignoble as his blood, instead of corresponding with gratitude to the Queen’s courtesy, designed to rebel against her and take the kingdom from her, which design for a while he executed, having in process of time gained the affection of most of her most eminent vassals. The Queen, seeing herself oppressed by the traitor, had recourse to the Portuguese, offering them her whole state on condition they would free her from imminent ruins. But the Portuguese, according as they had always in India done but their friends (whereby they have been many times the ruins of others and themselves too) did not succor her till it was too late and then very coldly.”

“On the other side the traitor (as his ill fate or rather God’s just anger, would have it) called to his assistance against the Queen and the Portuguese his neighbor Venkatappa Nayaka, now master of those countries. Venkatappa Nayaka, taking advantage of the occasion, entered suddenly into the kingdom of Gersoppa with great diligence and force, so that, shortly becoming master of the whole country and the city royal, and having driven out the Portuguese who came to defend it, he took the queen prisoner and carried her to his own court; where being kept although honorably, she ended her days in an honorable prison.”

“But the traitor underwent the punishment of his crime, for Venkatapa Nayaka caused him to be slain, and for more secure keeping that state in his power, caused the city and royal palace of Garsopa to be destroyed, so that at this day that lately flourishing city is become nothing but a wood, tress being already grown above the ruins of the houses, and the place scarcely inhabited by the four cottages of peasants.”

“The three leagues of journey from Honnavar to Garsopa was told as the most delightful passage that Vella ever had. The river of Garsopa, for a natural thing without any artificial ornaments of buildings, or the like, is the goodliest river that I ever beheld. Our boats, being large, could not go to the ordinary landing place at Garsopa, because the river, which is discharged into the sea with one stream, is there divided into many, which fall from several springs upon some neighboring hills, so that the water is but little. Wherefore we landed at some distance from Garsopa, which stands on the south bank of the river and walked the rest of the way on foot, and our goods were carried upon the men’s shoulders whom we had hired for that purpose. At length we lodged not within the compass of Garsopa, which was somewhat within land, but near it upon the river, in a place covered with a roof amongst certain tress, where many are wont to lodge, and where the pepper is weighed and contracted for when the Portuguese come to fetch it: for this is the country where the greatest plenty of pepper grows; for which reason the Queen of Garsopa was wont to be called by the Portugues, Reyna da Pimenta, that is Queen of Pepper. The river is called by the Portuguese the River of Garsopa, but by the Indians in their own language one branch is termed Ambu Nadi and other Sara Nadi.”

The Scottish physician, Francis Buchanan, was assigned to carry out survey of South India in the start of the nineteenth century CE on the behest of the then Indian government. He started his survey in 1800 CE in the Mysore state. Gersoppa finds a minor passing reference in the survey of Buchanan. He mentions that Gersoppa was a district including all the lands on the south side of the Honnavar lake, and part of those on north. The chief town, of the same name, stood at the extremity of the lake on its south side. This is now in ruins, and ought to be distinguished from a fort of the same name above the ghats, which is laid down by Major Rennell.

Gersoppa was a small principality being ruled through its local chiefs. It would have been under the Saluva dynasty who were ruling over Honnavar and Bhatkal ports. Though the earliest Portuguese encounters might have been with the male kings of Gersoppa, however the scene changed very soon as the Gersoppa found its female heirs. It is told that in Saluva-Tuluva dynasties, the ruler or a noble was succeeded by his sister’s son or “aliyasantana”, a custom that prevailed in Kerala and Tuluva or south Kanara.

Among the queens of Gersoppa, if there were many, mention should be made of Chennabhairadevi, the last queen of Gersoppa. Jyotsna Kamat assigns her rule from 1552-1606 CE. If this is correct then this rule of about fifty-four years would be one among the longest rule of an Indian ruler in the entire history of India. This long rule is an evidence in itself of her bravery and statesmanship. As per the inscriptions, Chennabhairadevi was ruling over Haiva, Tuluva and Konkana, which roughly comprised north and south Karnataka along the coastal line. The queen was ruling as a subordinate of the great Vijayanagara empire.

Chennabhairadevi was always at threat from the aggressive Portuguese who wanted to control her area to gain over the booming spice trade. Gersoppa region was very rich in pepper which was in great demand in the west. The Portuguese were not able to gain the control over Gersoppa as evident from their historians. They did gain Honnavar however the queen of Gersoppa successfully resisted their advance to Gersoppa. She also declined to accept any levy or taxes to be paid to the Portuguese.

The queen was not only at threat from the foreigners, but the Indian principalities of Bilgi and Keladi also wanted to gain the control of Gersoppa. Pietro Della Valle mentions a story where the queen fell for a ignoble man who treacherously ousted the queen. However he was not able to rule for long, Keladi king Hiriya Venkatappa Nayaka soon attacked Gersoppa and slain the traitor. He imprisoned the queen, however kept her in an honorable prison. The queen died in the prison at last.

After the fall of the Vijayanagara empire, Keladi Nayakas asserted their independence and gained the control of Gersoppa. These Nayakas ruled a significant area covering the Western Ghats, Malnad,  Malabar etc. In 1763 CE, Hyder Ali defeated the Nayakas absorbing their principalities into the Mysore Kingdom. With the defeat of Tipu Sultan in the hands of the British, Gersoppa became a part of the large British empire in India.

In 1845, Captain Newbold describes the village as a pleasant one with around fifty houses in total. He also mentions about its historical remain as he saw ancient town, mounds, enclosures, wells and five-six Jain temples. He tells that to reach this town, one has to cross the river from a lower level to a higher one by means of a ferry.

Inscriptions:

  1. On a first inscription stone by the side of Vardhamana-basti near Nagarageri-basti in Gersoppe – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – dated Saka 1300, corresponding 1378 CE – This seems to record some grant made by Honnapasetti, brother of Nambisetti to whose family belonged Ramakka, mother of Yojanasetti and wife of Ramana. Ramana is said to be the son of Somana-dandanayaka, and brother of Kamanna-dandanayaka. Somadandanayaka, was one of the generals under Basavadevarasa, ruling in Chandrapura in the west coast, and belonged to the kshatriya family of Banavasi during the reign of Haivya-bhupala, king of Gersoppe.
  2. On a second inscription stone by the side of Vardhmana-basti near Nagarageri-basti in Gersoppe – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – dated Saka 1314, corresponding 1392 CE – This records the death of Ramaka, wife of Yojanasetti. Ramaka is said to have built a chaityalaya of Anantatirtha in Gersoppe. Her genealogy is provided. This also records death of Manikasetti, father of Ramaka however his dates are not provided or verifiable.
  3. On the first inscription stone set up in front of Jvalamukhi temple near Nagarageri-basti in Gersoppe – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – dated Saka 1323, corresponding 1401 CE – This records death of Mangarasa, chief of Nagirapura and son-in-law of King Haivya-raya.
  4. On a stone standing on the site of a Jain basti close by Nagaragiri in Gersoppe – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – dated Saka 134, corresponding 1421 CE – This record grants a plot of land by Padmannarasa for the service of god Parshvanatha and for the repairs of the temple for the peace of his departed mother Tangaladevi. Provision for the worship of god Parshvanatha is stated to have been made by Padmannarasa, his elder sister Jakkaladevi and the donor’s father Havinnarasa. Padmannarasa was the husband of Tangaledevi who is said to be the sister of Kallarasa of Irundur, the son of the elder sister of Tammarasa, chief of Iravundur, who is said to be the son-in-law of Ajja king of Kuntalanadu. Ajja king is said to be the contemporary of Sangabhupala (Sangama) who is said to be the son of king Amba. King Amba is said to be the son of king Sanga (or Sangana) who is said to be the son of Ambiraya and his wife Minikadevi and descendant of King Kesava, son of Tangaladevi, a relation of Mangabhupa. Kesava is also said to have married Mabalarasi, sister of Haivan, and daughter of Manga. Manga is said to have married Jakkabarasi, daughter of Haivana and Honnabarasi.
  5. On a third inscription stone by the side of Vardhmana-basti near Nagarageri-basti in Gersoppe – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – This is a memorial stone set up to commemorate the death of Santaladevi, daughter of Bommanasetti known also as Bommarasa and queen of Haivanarasa. Haivanarasa is said to be the son of Mangaraja who was the son of Kamaraja and Maliyabbarasi. Hariharanrupla is said to be another son of Kamaraja. Maliyabbarasi is said to be the daughter of King Honna of Gersoppe. The inscription records that the above Santaladevi or Santakkarasa whose mother was Bommakka, daughter of Arasappodeya died uttering the name of Jina at the time of death.
  6. On a stone setup in the vacant site belonging to Tirumaladeva temple near Nagargeri in Gersoppe – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – refers to the reign of Chennabhairadevi Amma – dated Saka 1520, corresponding 1598 CE – This records the construction of a temple in Gersoppe, the consecration of God Tiruvengala or Tirumala in it, and grant of some land for the service of the same god by Tammappa-senabova, son of Saluva Senabova and the grandson of Karnika Mallarasa of Kasyapagotra and Rigveda on the date specified. Queen Chennabhairadevi Amma is said to be ruling over Haive, Tulu, Konkana and other places.
  7. On the back of the inscription in Kade-basti near Nagaragiti-basti in Gersoppe – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – This merely gives the names of some plots of land in connection with some grant. The name Arekara Sivadevaya of Magodase occuring at the end of the inscription is probably that of the donor.
  8. On the pedestal of god Mudejina close to Nagarageri-basti in Gersoppe – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – This image is caused to be made by Ajana, son of Kallapa-sreshthi and Mabamba. Kallapa-sreshthi, being son of Ojana, under instructions of Devachandrasuri, disciple of Lalitakirti of Desi-gana and Gana soka-vali.
  9. On a stone set up near Sulekere by the side of the road from Gerasoppa – The Report of the Mysore Archaeological Department for the year 1928 – refers to the reign of The Vijayanagara king Devaraya – date is not verifiable – This records the consecration of God Ketesvara by Kallapa and Ketapa and the grant of a wet field for the food offering and other services of the same god.

Monuments – The ancient quarter of the village has ruins of small Jain temples strewn around a small area. There is also a well survived Jain temple of the Vijayanagara period.

Vardhamana Basti

Vardhamana Basadi – This is the first monument when you approach the historical site. This ruined temple is a simple structure consisting of a sanctum and circumambulation (pradakshina) path around it, both enclosed within a mandapa. It would not be easy to assert whether this mandapa was covered with a roof or was open as it is now. The low rising walls of the mandapa signifies for the latter option. There are the remains of another mandapa standing opposite the entrance to the temple. Only the platform of it now remains.

Mahavira Image

A black stone image of Mahavira in sitting posture is placed inside the sanctum. The earliest reference of this temple is found in an inscription of 1378 CE, which seems to record a grant by Honnappa Setti who belongs to Chandrapur under Gersoppa Chiefs. Another inscription of 1392 CE records the death of Ramakka, wife of one Yojana setti, who is stated to have built a chaityalaya of Anantatirtha at Gersoppa. An another inscription records the death of Shantaladevi daughter of Bommarasa and queen of Haivarasa.

Neminatha Basti

Neminatha Basadi – This small temple is very similar to other Jain temples at site. It has a garbhagrha, with circumambulation path (pradakshina) around it. It is very interesting that all the Jain temples here are built in sandhara style. A sandhara temple allows a pradakshinapath around the sanctum. Remains of pillar bases outside the temple suggest that there was a mandapa supporting a roof in the past. There is a black stone image of a tirthankar inside the sanctum, it may be representing Neminatha but I am not very sure of it.

Parshvanatha Basti

Parshvanatha Basadi – The temple assignable to the beginning of the 14th century CE, has a garbhagriha, an antarala and a pillared hall. The garbhagriha is surrounded by the pradhakshinapatha. The pillared hall or mukhamandapa is supported by four pillars. On elevation, the exteriro wall of the temple is plain. A domical roof lies on top of the temple and there is no sikhara.

Virabhadra Temple

Virabhadra Temple – This is the only temple at the site which is not associated to Jains. This temple, built in later Chalukya style, has been renovated in later times. It is built of laterite stones. On plan, it consistes of a garbhagrha, navaranga and ardha-mandapa. Lattice windows on navaranga allows the sunlight inside the garbhagrha. The ardha-mandapa was built on slightly raised platform, approachable via a staircase. Opposite the temple is a Nandi-mandapa.

The temple has not survived in its entirety, however its various elements can be seen in various stages of ruins. It is also possible that this temple may have been constructed on a site where a Jain temple might have been in existence. If this is the case, then it appears that the Jain temple was in complete ruins which allows the new builders to construct a non-Jain temple above it. This is evident as other Jain temple in near vicinity do not show damage in human hands.

Chaturmukha Basti

Chaturmukha Basadi – This is the best survived monument at the site. It is built in grey granite and in chaturasa style. A chaturasa style constitutes entrances on its four cardinal directions, all opening into a hall leading to the sanctum of the temple. Looking at the architectural style, the temple can be safely assigned to the Vijayanagara period.

Side section

On all the four entrances, dvarpalas are present on either side of the entrance door. They are very similar in design and execution. Each one carry a snake entwined club in one hand, and a snake in another hand. They all wear a high crown, heavy sandals, yajnopavita and various jewels on the other parts of their body. Remains of the pillars in front of these entrances suggests that these would be supporting a covered roof in the past which has not survived the toll of the time.

Entrance flanked with dvarpalas

Jagati (platform)

The jagati (platform) of the temple is raised above the ground. It has friezes of animal motifs, swans, lions and elephants. Niches around the external walls are now empty. The niches are topped with temple towers in beautiful execution. The sanctum of this temple has four images, facing the four entrances. These four images represent different Jain tirthankar.

Dvarpalas

How to Reach: Gersoppa town is located on the Bangalore-Honnavar highway (NH206). It is about 33 km from Honnavar and about 60 km from Sagar. To reach the historical remains at Gersoppa, you can get down at the Gersoppa bus stop either on the Bangalore-Honnavar highway or on the Honnavar-Gersoppa road. If you get down at the latter bust stop, then you need not cross the river. Locals can help you to reach the remains. Food is available at Gersoppa town. No food is available at the historical remains spot.

References:

  1. Travels of Pietro Della Valle in India: From the Old English Translation of 1664. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108013543
  2. Shastri, B S (2000). Goa-Kanara Portuguese Relations, 1498-1763. Xavier Institute of Historical Research. ISBN 8170228484
  3. The Suma Oriental of Tome Pires. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 8120605357
  4. Cousens, Henry (1926). The Chalukyan Architecture of the Kanarese Districts. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi

Web References:

  1. Jyotsana Kamat on the queen of Gersoppa (retrieved on 29/11/2015, http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/itihas/gersoppa_queen.htm)
  • Kiran Naik

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    Kiran.

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  • joshi s r

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