Sangolli Rayanna’s martyrdom stories continue to inspire crores of Kannadigas with every child given examples of his bravery against the British. The giant banyan tree from where Sangolli and his revolutionary associates were hanged serves as a memorial to the martyrs and kindles the spirit of patriotism among the youth.
The tree also forms an integral part of school excursions to inculcate a sense of patriotism in the little hearts. Not just a railway station in Bengaluru, every city in the state has a junction or memorial named after him.
Born on August 15, 1796, in Sangolli village of Belagavi district, Rayanna hailed from the Kuruba (shepherd) community and inherited the valour and loyalty from ancestors to the Kittur kingdom.
Folk tales describe him as a 7-foot-tall warrior who brought shivers to the hearts of his enemies, particularly the East India Company. He rose to become the commander-in-chief of the army of Kittur led by an equally heroic Rani Chennamma.
Sangolli was upset over the British policy of expansion and their treacherous ways of capturing powers from Indians. After the defeat of the Kittur Army by the British forces, he raised a guerilla force to fight the British and successfully defeated them on several occasions.
His guerrilla Army moved from place to place, setting the government offices afire. Led by Sangolli Rayanna, his force attacked the British army, plundered and looted treasuries and helped the locals.
Sangolli had become a nightmare for the British and his heroics against the British were celebrated by the local people making him a legendary figure.
The British did defeat him in an open battle, but they were never able to face his guerrilla warfare and incurred humiliating defeats. Desperate to put an end to Sangolli Rayanna, the British caught hold of his uncle Lakshmana and hatched a plan to nab the rebel.
Later, they caught Sangolli while he was taking a bath. The folk songs describe that even then Sangolli kept asking his uncle to pass on the sword, he left him on the banks of the river and handed it to the British soldiers.
The British executed Sangolli Rayanna and his revolutionary associates in public to send out a message that all the rebels would meet a similar fate. Sangolli and his comrades were hanged till death from a banyan tree in 1831.
The Gee Gee songs (ballads) in north Karnataka explain that Rani Chennamma who defeated the British in first war and then captured had full faith in her commander-in-chief Sangolli Rayanna of overthrowing the hegemony of East India Company.
Rani Chennamma died after coming to know about the capturing of Sangolli Rayanna by the British. The ballads say that she consumed a diamond ring and died in the prison.
Even today, thousands of pregnant women flock Nandagad village located 40 kilometers from Belagavi city in north Karnataka where Sangolli Rayanna’s tomb is located, to pray and seek blessings in the holy site for brave sons and daughters.
Today it figures among the pilgrimage centres. After Kodagu district, the north Karnataka districts surrounding Belagavi districts send the most number of soldiers for the Indian army in Karnataka.