McKENZIE, COLIN, 1753-1821


Colonel Colin McKenzie (ಕಾಲಿನ್ ಮೆಕೆಂಜಿ) is a revered name in the fields of manuscriptology, folklore and epigraphy in India at large and Karnataka in particular. His pioneering work in the latter part of the eighteenth century has stood the test of time and many a page in the marginalised history of Karnataka would have become extinct but for his un tiring efforts.

McKenzie was born in the Louie island of Scotland in 1753. He came to India in 1783 as a Cadet of Engineers on the Madras Establishment of the East India Company. He took a keen interest in the study of ancient mathematics and Oriental languages. He retired from service as the Surveyor General of India . He worked in south India between 1796 and 1811. The tasks assigned to him were surveying, map making and collecting information that were useful for the administrators. However, his passions and commitment went way beyond his duties and he pursued his goals with a missionary zeal. He collected a large number of manuscripts, coins, inscriptions, maps etc., bearing on the literature, religion, history, manners and customs of the people not only from different parts of India but also from Ceylon and Java.

He toured extensively in Karnataka after the acquisition of the erstwhile Mysore state by the East India Company, following the defeat of Tipu Sultan.

McKenzie was primarily interested in collecting information and artifacts from the places that he visited during the course of his duty. He sought the assistance of local scholars who were proficient in the regional languages and would act as a contact between the officer and the common people. He did not mind spending from his personal resources for the expenses incurred in appointing these scholars. Among the Kannada scholars harnessed for this work, he makes a particular mention of one Kavelly Venkataborayya.

The entire body of manuscripts and other material collected by McKenzie are called ‘Mackenzie Collection’ and they are distributed among Madras, Calcutta and the Commonwealth Library in London . They included statues and coins. The part that was sent to Madras was stored in the Government Oriental Manuscript Library, Madras . Later on many of them were distributed to Andhrapradesh and Karnataka.

The total collection of McKenzie is truly monumental. They include 6218 coins, 106 statues made of copper, silver, bronze and gold, many copper inscriptions, 2630 drawings, 69 maps and many curios such as weights, beads, rings et al. However the major constituents of the collection are copies of about 8000 inscriptions and manuscripts collected from thirteen languages.

A large percentage of the items collected by McKenzie are of particular interest to Karnataka.

‘Kaifiyaths’ which are also known as ‘bakhairs’ and ‘naamas’ are local tracts, collected in small towns and villages. Sometimes they were collected from local sources and in other cases McKenzie went in search of knowledgeable persons and got the ‘Kaifiyaths’ written. These writings are invaluable sources of information, which do not constitute official history. G.Varadaraja Rao lists ninety nine kaifiyaths dealing with places such as Ajjampura, Arikuthara, Kampli, Kollur, Gokarna, Gerusoppe, daroji, Nagara, Banavasi, Nagamangala, Shirasi etc. These tracts are very helpful in tracing the local history. There are about nineteen kaifiyaths dealing with the history and customs of various castes and tribes. They include communities like Konkani, Korama, Banjara, Banajiga, Mannu Vadda and Halepaika. There are a few tracts relating to the history of temples and religious institutions. These tracts are quite often repositories of local systems of knowledge.

Kaifiyaths are veritable mines of information about historical events, local customs and description of every day events. They are of immense help in reconstructing the life styles of a bygone era.

A study of these manuscripts from a linguistic point of view yield information about the changing patterns in morphology, syntax and vocabulary.

McKenzie collection includes manuscripts of literary texts as well. He has classified them according to the religion of the authors.

Of course McKenzie had neither the time nor inclination to study and evaluate the material collected by him. He devoted a huge chunk of his personal time, energy and money for work which was not mandatory. Kannada speaking communities should be thankful to him for his singular service.



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