Dewan Purnaiah: A visionary and statesman

MYSORE: Dewan Purnaiah has a unique place among the Dewans of the erstwhile Mysore kingdom. He was widely respected throughout the state and served under three kings. He was also a towering st

Published: 26th March 2012 04:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 09:44 PM   |  A+A-


Wellesly Bridge constructed by Dewan Purnaiah (inset) across river Cauvery in Srirangapatna| S Udayshankar

MYSORE: Dewan Purnaiah has a unique place among the Dewans of the erstwhile Mysore kingdom. He was widely respected throughout the state and served under three kings. He was also a towering statesman with many great achievements.

Well known both as an administrator and reformer in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he laid the foundation for the modern Mysore state. He was a great visionary who brought reforms in administration, judiciary, revenue mobilisation and promoted irrigation activities.

He also focused on providing infrastructure like roads, bridges and aqueduct in the kingdom. Dewan Purnaiah worked under Hyder Ali, his son Tipu Sultan in Srirangaptna and later with Mysore kings.

Born into a poor family hailing from Coimbatore district in 1746, Purnaiah started working as a clerk at Srirangapatna and rose to the post of Dewan. He impressed Hyder Ali with his great memory.

He was known for keeping accurate accounts as well. He was also involved in military campaigns in the Anglo- Mysore wars.

He averted a war of succession immediately after Hyder Ali’s death in 1782 when he kept the former’s death a top secret till Tipu returned with his brother from a coastal campaign. Later, he served Tipu Sultan for 17 years.

The period saw fourth Anglo-Mysore war in which Tipu was killed and the British took over Mysore. As the British were advancing towards Srirangapatna, Tipu Sultan entrusted his eldest son Fateh Hyder to Dewan Purnaiah’s care and custody with a standing army on May 4, 1799, the day he was killed by the British in the war field.

Sathyanarayana, a tourist guide and researcher, said, Purnaiah, known to be loyal to his masters, championed that Fateh Hyder was the successor of Tipu Sultan. He did not favour the Wadiyar kings. He was against the displacement of the ruling family. However, things did not go as he wanted.

As Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, a four-year-old boy, was crowned as the king, Purnaiah was again named as Dewan in view of his integrity, maturity, experience and knowledge.

As the Dewan for a over decade, he reorganised the revenue administration, cut down wasteful expenditure, brought in proper judicial administration, and military reforms. He oversaw the construction of many tanks, channels across the state and was instrumental in constructing a wooden palace for the king.

When the king turned 16, he handed over the reins to him and retired in 1811.

He died in 1812.


Dewan Purnaiah used his administrative skills to put an end to dacoity near Ramanagaram (then Close Pet) on public proceeding towards Bangalore.

He set up a small revenue village named after Sir Barley Close, the first resident of Mysore to prevent dacoity cases.

He also posted police personnel and ensured that the people are provided security and moved without fear of dacoits


Dewan Purnaiah was the mind behind construction of the wooden Palace for the Mysore Wadiyars after the capital was shifted to Mysore from Srirangapatna.

The wooden palace lasted for nearly hundred years. It was reduced to ashes in a fire accident in the early part of 1900s and the Wadiyars constructed the present Amba Vilas Palace in its place.

He also constructed dam at Sagarkatte across river Lakshmana Thirtha with a 23-mile channel for augmenting water to Mysore Palace through the Purnaiah canal.

The stone bridge constructed across river Cauvery between Srirangapatna and Kirangur was dedicated to Governor General Wellesly which also connected Bangalore and Srirangapatna.

He was keen to provide drinking water to civilians during the war and planned an aqueduct through which water flowed into ponds in Srirangapatna town during war and provided water to irrigation activities.

The Maharajas, impressed with his dedicated service and commitment, gifted him Yelandur taluk.

However, barring a narrow bylane named after Purnaiah and a chowltry in Mysore nothing is left to educate public on contribution of this great statesman.

Tourist guide Sathyanaraya said the district administration and the State Archives Department should hold programmes to educate younger generation about Purnaiah’s services.

He said that there are many structures like Krishnamurthy bungalow which is named after his grandson who also served as Dewan and implemented the first power project to KFG and Bangalore.


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