Gunda Jois: The historian who re-connected with Karnataka’s glorious Keladi dynasty

Jois struggled to update his research on Keladi, his obsession, helping researchers as a main source of Keladi history across the country.

ByKestur Vasuki

Published Jun 06, 2024 | 11:00 AM Updated Jun 06, 2024 | 11:00 AM

Gunda Jois (Wikipedia)

Gunda Jois, who dared to explore a tiny but influential Keladi dynasty as a historian, is no more. At 94, he was still passionate about studying this small dynasty nestled in the Malenadu region of Karnataka.

His exploration of the Keladi dynasty made him a scholar of repute. His death has left a void in the field of fundamental historical research.

Gunda Jois, who earned his nickname, Keladi Gunda Jois, is the pioneer historian who brought the entire history of the Keladi Dynasty into mainstream society and has left an indelible mark.

Keladi Gunda Jois, known for his research on the rule of the Keladi dynasty (1499 to 1763) and for collecting historical manuscripts related to the dynasty, died on 2 June in his native town, Sagara, in Karnataka.

The Keladi inscriptions

Jois’s study of the Keladi dynasty on palm leaf inscriptions has made him one of the state’s most renowned and valuable historians. During his seven decades of yeomen research on this little but powerful dynasty, he produced 30 historical books and 250 research papers, which brought many medieval kings to their feet.

Jois is known for his epigraphic knowledge and has given a new dimension to the concept of research. As an Indologist, Jois dedicated his life to studying palm leaf inscriptions and the small dynasties of Karnataka. Besides the Keladi dynasty, Jois has done fundamental benchmark research on Veerashaiva and some Jain manuscripts.

Keladi is a small town in the Shimoga district of Karnataka. It is the first capital of the Keladi Dynasty, which ruled between 1499 and 1763. After the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire, some of its chieftains declared independence. One such provincial polity was Keladi, which later flourished into an empire holding the key to the maritime trade of rice, spices, and other indigenous goods, controlling practically all navigable parts on the western coast from Kerala to Karwar. Keladi rulers were also patrons of art and culture.

Many important scholarly and literary works were produced during their regime. Spanning over two and a half centuries, the Keladi dynasty rulers fought even to defeat the Mughal army, which was supposed to capture Raja Ram, son of the Maratha ruler Shivaji, who had taken shelter in Keladi. Keladi produced famous rulers like Shivappa Nayaka and Venkatappa Nayaka and formidable queens Chennammaji and Veerammaji.

Keladi Museum

Jois put all his research resources under one roof. The Keladi Museum is a treasure trove of documentation of manuscripts and historical artefacts of this great dynasty. Jois established this museum in 1960 which is now part of the Kuvempu University since 2005. Many manuscripts, sculptures, paintings, historical documents, and artefacts are displayed at the museum.

The museum has paintings made of organic pigments, some of which depict British rule in India and even the Bhagavad Gita. Jois has collected many arms and ammunition from the Keladi dynasty, which are on display. He also has an enviable collection of coins, copper plates, manuscripts, and other artefacts reminiscent of the Keladi dynasty.

Today, the museum at Keladi is a symbol of his contribution to the field of historical research. It records a dynasty that ruled for over two and a half centuries. This is the only one of its kind in Karnataka, with thousands of palm-leaf manuscripts giving day-to-day records of the Keladi dynasty.

Until his last breath, Jois struggled to update his research on Keladi, his obsession, which has helped thousands of researchers as a main source of Keladi history across the country. His research articles and books are the most preferred reliable reference material for history and anthropology students. This museum set up by Jois has considerable significance to historians and researchers. Jois explored the Keladi Dynasty which is today a pathway to an essential part of the history of Karnataka.

Tigalari dialect

It is interesting to find that Jois has contributed to exploring the Tigalari dialect, a unique language spoken by the Havyaka Brahmins of the region. Many historians say Keladi Gunda Jois popularised the ‘Tigalari’ script across India. He published his findings based on evidence in stone inscriptions, palm-leaf manuscripts, and early research work by scholars like Prof B L Rice.

Keladi Gunda Jois has left behind a precious historical legacy for the future. A dedicated researcher and himself an encyclopaedia of the Keladi dynasty, Gunda Jois’s work links the past with the present. His son Venkatesh Jois is the museum’s curator and continues to preserve his father’s legacy, Gunda Jois. Many in academic circles feel Jois was not properly recognised for his monumental work on the Keladi Dynasty.

Considering his contributions to the field of history, Gunda Jois has been honoured with many awards, including the Rajyotsava Award by the Government of Karnataka and an honorary doctorate. He has published many books based on his research.

(Kestur Vasuki is a senior journalist, documentary filmmaker and political commentator. Views are personal.)