By Niranjan S. Patil
Raja Lakhamgauda’s son Basavaprabhu had no son, so he adopted Bharamagauda (my elder brother) as his heir in 1944, and changed his name to Lakhamgauda Basavaprabhu Sirdesai. On Basavaprabhu’s death in 1948 Lakhamgauda Basavaprabhu Sirdesai inherited the estate. My grandfather, Balasaheb Alagauda Patil, familiarly known as Annasaheb, was Raja Lakhamgauda’s brother, whose son Shankargauda Patil was our father. I am proud and privileged to have this man as my granduncle.
To recall the greatness of the man, one incident when I must have been around 6 comes vividly to mind. We were all at home when suddenly Rajasaheb walked in and said, “Come, let us go to Vantmuri.” His main object was to thank Prabhudev for all the good things he had in life and the good he was able to do. We bundled into the car which was big enough to carry all of us and here I was kneeling (!) next to the driver wanting to look at and listen to the conversation behind. Rajasaheb was very quiet on the way and as we approached the causeway, my father asked the driver to slow down. There was excitement among the villagers as they saw the car approaching and in the commotion, the darwan was summoned to break the seal on the door meant for entry on ceremonial occasions to enable our entry. Although our visit was sudden and unexpected, the villagers had changed into their ceremonial dress and thronged the palace to acknowledge Rajasaheb’s presence. Such was the love and regard that the villagers had for my granduncle.
Below I give a life sketch of this great man who was my granduncle, as published by the K.L.E. Socierty. Students of Lingaraj College may know about him. Authority, wealth and grandeur are the privileges enjoyed by a king. However, by sacrificing these, he chose to serve his subjects, protect the culture and strove to develop his country by devoting his life to these causes. Such men are one in a million!
Even Ashoka, Akbar, Vikramaditya and Krishnadevaraya, although great kings, never donated their empire for the upliftment of their subjects and development of society as did the Lingaraja dynasty. Among these samsthans, Vantmuri in Belgaum District is the hamlet that was ruled by Raja Lakhamagauda who followed this noble way of Lingaraja. Let us go back to the 15th Century in the era of the Vijayanagar Empire when the Adilshahi dynasty ruled Bijapur. During this period Prabhu Basavantrao had built a wada at Vantmuri. Raja Lakhamagauda was the 16th ruler of this samsthan, when he ascended the gadi in 1877, at the age of 13.
The great sages of Nidadoshi, Konnur and Ankalgi visited his samsthan and purified this land. Although this samsthan had a secure palace, it did not believe in keeping an armed force to protect it. Social awareness and spirituality were the ideology of this kingdom.
Raja Lakhamagauda was born on 29th July 1864 in Ammanagi village. His first name was Appasaheb and his primary education was in a Marathi school in Ammanagi. The secondary education was done partly in Kolhapur where most of the princely students studied. From Kolhapur he continued his studies in Sardar High School, Belgaum. Here, Mr.E. H. Hoogwerf, the headmaster gave special attention to Lakhamagauda. In 1882 he passed his Matriculation from Bombay University. While studying in Kolhapur, in 1880, he married Parvatidevi, the daughter of Kalyanshetty of Gokak. On July 29, 1884, he was invested with power by the British government. In 1884, his wife gave birth to a son, who was named Basavaprabhu.
Lakhamagauda was a king who lived without greed or lust. He studied law and medicine and decided to go to England for a law degree. He left for England in 1886 and was called to the Inner Temple Bar Association of legal luminaries. Here, he deepened his knowledge and heightened his compassion for humanity. The archeological splendor and natural beauty of England mesmerized him. After being called to the bar, he visited America on his way back to India. There, he saw their educational system, industry, and Art, Science & Cultural Institutes and noted its racial population. On returning o India in 1888, he was appointed first-class Judge of Vantmuri by the British Government. Highly qualified, Lakhamagauda managed his wada efficiently and renovated his palace. In the month of Shravan, he conducted Shivpuja Purana for Hindus and also celebrated Muslim festivals thus paving the way to secularism. Whenever disputes arose which could not be solved by law, he exercised moral guidelines to settle them.
Public works such as Pasi Pool Bridge over the river Ghataprabha, the road from Hattarki to
Pachapur, construction of a Guest House, Medical Shop and Primary School were taken up at his own cost for the betterment of society. During this time, the Lingayat Education Association
of the Veerashaiva community in Dharwad provided hostel facilities with boarding for their students. Raja Lakhamgouda donated Rs. 55,000 to this association in 1901. He reiterated his ideology that “Organisation is bigger than men, Society is bigger than association and Nation is bigger than society.” Social unity, including vision, value and health, the importance of the Lingayat community and its benefits to society were some of the issues of the Veerashaiva Mahasabha held in 1904 at Dharwad. This meeting was presided over by Lingaraja of Sirsangi. At this meeting Raja Lakhamgauda spoke on “Social Development” and urged the community to unearth the lost volumes of literature and study them. He presided over the Veerashaiva Mahasabha of Bagalkhot in 1904, emphasizing religious development, social awareness and spread of education in his speech. He also emphasized ways and means to improve the agricultural sector, urging the removal of inequality in society while living in unity with compassion.
In 1908, the sage Shri Kumaraswamy of Hanagalwas responsible for building the Shivayoga Temple which became known as Veerashaiva University, where he started spiritual education and social service. Raja Lakhamagauda helped this sage with generous donations. His social service and the work of electrification of this complex was recognized by the British Government and he was appointed as a Member of the Legislative Council of the Bombay Presidency for three successive terms, during the tenures of two successive Governors of Bombay Presidency.
In 1917, the Karnataka Lingayat Education Centre was started by Mr. Rudragowda of Aratala, joined by Mr. Sakhare and Mr. Mamadapur. When they visited Raja Lakhamagauda and explained their activities and plans, he donated Rs. 20,000 to the Trust. They named the Belgaum Science College after him. He also donated generously to various institutions such as the Deccan Education Society, Willingdon College Sangli, Lady Irwin College Delhi, Hostel of Free Scholarship Home Kolhapur, Belgaum Public Library and various educational institutions in Belgaum.
His beloved wife Parvati Devi expired in 1917 after a prolonged illness. Despite this sorrow, he involved himself in social service. He devoted his time entirely to the upliftment of humanity. He helped the poor and needy and became their savior. To help medical service to the poor, he donated generously to several hospitals such as the Belgaum Ayurveda College, Miraj Mission Hospital, Ghataprabha Arogyadhama and the TB Eradication Centre of the Belgaum Civil Hospital.
The British Government recognized his service towards the community and education and in 1919 conferred the order of Companion of the Indian Empire (C.I.E.) and in 1930 his title as rajah was conferred. He worked towards the publication of several books on Veerashaiva culture sponsored by the Lingayat Education Association of Dharwad. He was also the leading donor towards the construction of the office building of the Karnataka Lingayat Education Society in Belgaum.
When Rao Bahadur Aratala Rudragowda stepped down as President of the KLE Society due to advancing age, Raja Lakhamagauda became the President considering his being an able lawyer, administrator an industrious social worker. In 1929, the Dharwad High School was renamed Raja Lakhamgauda Sardesai High School. In 1922 the school grew into a Degree College and Raja Lakhamgauda donated 1 lakh towards this cause. This college was named after the great donor Lingaraja and in 1944 it’s science stream was named Raja Lakhamgauda Science Institute.
Some prominent people of this area thought there was a need for a Law College and approached Raja Lakhamgauda with this proposal. Being the only barrister in this region, he gladly donated 1 lakh to the proposed Karnataka Law Society. As a token of respect, the college was named Lakhamgauda Law College. Further, he donated generously to the Karnataka College at Dharwad, right from its inception by Aratala Rudragauda. Raja Lakhamgauda worked for the development of Education for all castes and creeds, not just the Lingayats, and donated generously for their upliftment. He was a visionary and knew that all his moral and material help was for a noble cause and would bear fruit.
Being a ruler of a princely state, he was responsible for the well-being of his subjects. He mingled freely with hem and participated in their joys and sorrows. Thus, he was loved by one and all. He used to conduct cultural programs, and gave priority to health, sports and cultural activities. He showed how important and necessary these were to society and made “Kreeda Bhawan” and “Social Club” grow rapidly by leaps and bounds in Belgaum. In commemoration, Kreeda Bhawan was named after Raja Lakhamgauda. Though he was a ruler, he did not have any ego or pride and always expressed his love and compassion for the people. He aligned himself with the British Government for the benefit of society. Although he adopted British discipline, tolerance and obedience, he never distanced himself from Indian culture.
All his services to humanity prompted the socialites to organize a felicitation ceremony in which several leaders praised and blessed him. Raja Lakhamgauda was mesmerized by the love and affection bestowed on him by these patrons. He wrote a speech for the occasion, which was read by his son Basavaprabhu. He played down himself and his deeds and said that his donations to various institutions were not important but the noble utilization of them through the selfless service by these institutions was praiseworthy. He said, “I am simply a treasurer indebted to society and just return money which belongs to them.” He believed that service to mankind was the supreme service. He devoted half his lifetime for social service and empowerment through education. In a way, men such as he are the true preachers of socialism and spirituality by actual practice. At the age of 80, he expired in 1942. In 1944, the Governor of Bombay Presidency, Sir John Colville, visited Vantmuri to unveil a bust of Raja Lakhamgauda.
Note: The palace of Vantmuri was submerged in 1978/79 when a dam was built downstream at
Hidkal. Today its remains surface at the peak of summer and the surrounding villagers visit the
Prabhu Dev Temple at Sidlal, which has somehow survived even under water!