As Karnataka is set to go to the polls in two months’ time, all parties have sped up their campaigns, putting out lists of candidates, holding rallies, and manifestos and even throwing political jibes at each other using history and fiction.

In February, Karnataka higher education minister C N Ashwath Narayan made a controversial statement asking the public to ‘finish off’ former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah like the 18th Century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan. In a speech, he said, “Siddaramaiah will come to the place of Tipu Sultan. Do you want Veer Savarkar or Tipu Sultan? You have to decide. You know what Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda (apparently soldiers who fought Tipu) did to Tipu Sultan. Likewise, he (Siddaramaiah) should be finished off.”

Later in March, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set to visit Mandya city, an arch was erected welcoming the Prime Minister with apparent photos of the historical figures, Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda, on either side.

Siddaramaiah tweeted the image of the viral poster and wrote, “To Welcome PM Modi, the names of fictional characters Uri Gowda-Nanje Gowda have been put up on the arch. Mandya has given unparalleled freedom fighters. It is shameful not only to Mandya, but to the entire people of Karnataka. @CMofKarnataka must Immediately intervene and take down this welcome arch.”

The same evening, BJP Karnataka leader C T Ravi wrote a Twitter thread targeting Siddaramaiah. He said that the banner with the names of Uri Gowda-Nanje Gowda had irked people like Siddaramaiah and hence he wanted it removed. He also says that these people cannot tolerate Mandya’s heroes who defeated the ‘murderous and bigoted’ Tipu Sultan. (Archive.)

On March 18, Hindustan Times carried a PTI report which said that Vrushabhadri Productions, owned by film producer-turned-politician and horticulture minister Munirathna, had applied to the Karnataka Film Chambers of Commerce to register a movie title, ‘Uri Gowda Nanje Gowda’. The minister also tweeted a poster announcing the movie, which he deleted later.

Banners & Posters Carried Photos of Maruthu Brothers

Alt News performed a keyword search and came across an article that carried the apparent photos of Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda. The photo matched the ones seen in the flex banner which was tweeted by the BJP leader.

A quick reverse image search using Google Lens suggests that the photos presented as Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda are actually popular depictions of Maruthu Pandiyar brothers, the rulers of the Sivaganga kingdom which was in Tamil Nadu. In fact, upon searching the names on Google, this particular photo with different edits appears at the top of the search result.

Interestingly, the movie poster that was tweeted by Karnataka minister and film producer Munirathna also carried the photos/popular depiction of the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers.

Who are the Maruthu Pandiyar Brothers?

According to a report by Scroll, Periya Maruthu and Chinna Maruthu were born to Mokka Palanisamy Thevar and his wife Ponatha who served the second king of the Sivaganga kingdom, Muthuvadaganatha Thevar. The report says that the exact dates of their birth are unclear, though historians claim that Periya Maruthu, or the elder Maruthu, was born in 1748 in Ramnad state. Chinna Maruthu, the younger one, was born five years later.

It adds that the popular representations of the brothers, which evolved over the two centuries following their death, depict them as tall and muscular, with fierce moustaches and eyes filled with rage. This is similar to what we see in the viral depictions that have been used across the internet.

The brothers worked in the palace as aides to the king as they developed their skills in warfare and artillery. The report by Scroll also adds that as per popular legend, they were given the title of Pandiyar after they saved the king from a wild tiger without the use of weapons. Interestingly, the report mentions that during their rule of Sivaganga, the brothers gathered support across the board to fight the British, including from those who supported Tipu Sultan in his fight against the British.

A Tamil Nadu government website has an article titled ‘Maruthu Pandiyargal’ published in 2021. According to this, when Sethupathy, the king of Ramnad, decided to give his daughter Velu Nachiyar in marriage to the King of Sivagangai, he sent his commanders, the Maruthu brothers, with his daughter Velu Nachiyar. It also says that when the British and the Nawab of Arcot plotted against Velu Nachiyar’s husband and killed him in 1772, the Maruthu brothers saved Velu Nachiyar and escorted her to safety in Hyder Ali’s Kingdom.

The two brothers issued a proclamation in 1801 against the British, which started a long bloody war. James Welsh, an English officer in the Madras Army of the East India Company wrote in the book ‘Military Reminiscences: Extracted from a journal of nearly forty years’ active service in the East Indies‘ that a large reward was advertised against one of the Muruthu brothers. Welsh also notes that after the brothers were captured, the Muruthus with their families and allies were all hanged.

Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda: Fact or fiction?

The two characters became widely known after a play, ‘Tippu Nijakanasugalu’ (Real Dreams of Tipu), written by the former director of Rangayana, Addanda Cariappa, created some controversy last year. It is unclear whether Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda even existed in history.

In November last year, the play which is supposedly based on true events, claimed that the Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan was killed by Vokkaliga chieftains Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda. The play was staged at Bhoomigeeta in Mysuru and a book was also published with the same story. Historians objected to this rewriting of history and some even demanded that the book and the play should carry the disclaimer that this is a work of fiction if it fails to substantiate its claims academically.

While N S Rangaraju, a retired professor of ancient history and archaeology at Mysore University claims that Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda were soldiers of Hyder Ali who actually saved and protected Tipu and his mother from the clutches of the Marathas, others such as Professor NV Narasimhaiah, a historian who specializes in the history of the Mysuru Kingdom, calls the two to be ‘imaginary characters’.

Moreover, historians across the board unanimously agree that Tipu Sultan was killed during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the hands of the British.

BJP Removes Names of Maruthu Brothers

After the arch with the apparent photos of Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda went viral, the BJP replaced the names of the two with that of the late Vokkaliga seer Sri Balagangadharanatha Swamiji, reported The Indian Express.

Days after announcing the film about Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda, BJP minister and producer Munirathna announced that he was not going ahead with the project as it ‘may hurt the feelings of a section’. This statement came after the state horticulture minister met with prominent Vokkaliga seer Nirmalananda Swamy at the Adichunchanagiri mutt in Mandya.

The Indian Express reported that Nirmalananda Swamy said it was “wrong to announce movies without proper research”. “Speaking about the matter without proper research is not good. If there are any mentions of such characters in scriptures, or if people of a certain time recorded them in history, it can be considered as evidence. People who do not belong to that generation are writing about it… That will not give any clarity. A lot of work needs to be done for the community and it needs to be focused upon.”

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About the Author

Kalim is a journalist with a keen interest in tech, misinformation, culture, etc