BELAGAVI: Nagaraj Ishaprabhu Desai could have been just a farmer, albeit one who lived in an 800-year-old house with a history of being an administrative and military centre and a legacy of fighting the British. However, he chose not to keep this history confined to his family, and threw open the Chachadi Wade to the curious so that they could get a glimpse of the past.
The Chachadi Wade in Saudatti taluk is a minor fort built with stones and wood during the 12th century by Kartyaveera II, a ruler of the Ratta dynasty in the Belagavi region. Impressed with his commandant Veerappa Nayaka who killed a black panther, the ruler gifted him 30 villages. Veerappa Nayaka came to Saudatti in 1126 AD and divided the villages among his seven children, who settled in Belavadi, Ingalagi, Tallur, Gontmar, Mutwad, Chachadi and Rudrapur.
Although Belagavi district is dotted with wades, the one at Chachadi is one of the few that remain intact. Spread over five acres, the Chachadi wade is protected by two walls and the village by a third, earning it the moniker “Mooru Suttina Kote”, meaning, the fort with three walls. Under one of the two watchtowers, the Desai family – Veerappa Nayaka’s descendants -- ran a granary. The other watchtower has temples to the Hindu trinity -- Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. The watchtowers doubled as armouries, and the Desai family supplied arms to Babasaheb of Naragund, who fought against the British.
The British learned of this and decided to raid it. But the Desais who got wind of the plan, destroyed the ammunition before the British could lay their hands on it. While all this is in the distant past, the life of Sardar Rao Bahadur Veerabhadrappa Gunappa Desai (1885-1969), Nagaraj’s grandfather, is part of a more recent history. British interference had eroded much of the Desai family’s power, and Veerabhadrappa faced hardship in the early years of his life.
Due to his own difficulties in obtaining an education, and influenced by the ideas of his time, Veerabhadrappa strove to educate the children of his village. Having travelled to Sangli and Sawantwadi in present-day Maharashtra, he was influenced by Mahatma Phule, and used four acres of his land to set up a school in 1904. In 1912, he started a school for girls. He also set up an agriculture school on three acres, and donated Rs 3,000 to establish the Karnataka College, probably the first in the state. He also redesigned the village’s water supply system, which is still in use.
“I feel very lucky to be carrying forward the great legacy and rich heritage of my ancestors, but it is not an easy job,” Nagaraj told The New Sunday Express. With funding from the Union Ministry of Culture, he and his brother set up the Sardar Veerabhadrappa Gunappa Desai Foundation two years ago through which the family runs a museum and conducts activities free of cost for farmers, villagers, and students. “We will not be able to do this on a big scale, but I have a lot of respect for the past. Although we cannot enjoy the royalty that our ancestors got, society respects us,” he says.
The wade and the Desai family history has been of great interest to history buffs, researchers, tourists and locals. As a historian, Professor Smita Surebankar has visited the wade with her students and fellow historians. “Chachadi has witnessed many historical events. It is a home of history. The splendid architectural monument and conservation of socio-religious traditions and culture has enriched the culture of Belagavi,” she says.
A treasure house
At the centre is the main building, in front of which, was the chumni room where lamps to light up the entire village were kept. To the left, was a court hall, and in the backyard, a Jain basadi. At the second gate were cattle sheds and stables for elephants and horses, now converted into a museum displaying over 1,000 articles, including weapons, utensils, agricultural implements, music instruments, pottery, and documents.