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Veerangana Jhalkari Bai – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence- 6

This is the sixth story in the series ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence’. This time it is a story of a woman warrior whose contribution to the Independence movement is not known to many of us.

This brave heroine Veerangana Jhalkari Bai, (pronounced Jhaalkaari Baai) lived in the same period and kingdom of Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. In fact, she was a look- alike of the Rani of Jhansi.

Jhalkari Bai was born in the village Bhojla, near Jhansi to a couple Sadoba Singh and Jamna Devi on 22nd November 1830. She was the only child of her parents and therefore was the apple of her parents’ eyes.

Her childhood was that of a carefree life with all her desires satisfied. However, she never was interested in the kind of games girl children would play. That was a cause of concern to her mother but her father accepted it as her nature and let her be herself. Unfortunately, that carefree life came to an end with the demise of her mother even before she was an adolescent.

Now her father decided to mould her as per her aptitude and capabilities. He started training her in martial arts including archery and sword-fighting. She also learnt horse-riding.  

Once when she had gone to the woods to collect wood, she was attacked by a leopard. She fiercely fought the leopard with the sickle, the only instrument she had and at one point the sickle slipped from her hands and fell. Jhalkari was not the one to give up easily. She fought with her bare hands and managed to kill the leopard. This was not an ordinary feat and word spread of her valour.

In another instance, one night, when the whole village had slept, people suddenly heard the cries of a man calling out frantically for help. Jhalkari could not keep quiet. Armed with a fat stick, she rushed out to find the source of the distress call. She found that dacoits had entered the house of the village headman and were threatening and beating him and his family members. With only the stick she had, she thrashed the dacoits single-handedly showing no mercy on them. The headman was so relieved and grateful and was in all praise for her bravery. Now she was the heroine of the village!

Word spread beyond the village about the courage Jhalkari had shown. This reached the ears of Puran Kori, a brave soldier who was serving in the artillery unit of the army of Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. Puran was very impressed about Jhalkari’s deeds and he told his mother that he wished to marry Jhalkari Bai. His mother was equally happy and the proposal was welcomed by all the villagers of Bhojla, who took an active part in arranging a grand wedding ceremony for their beloved Jhalkari.

Jhalkari Bai had a happy life with Puran Kori as they shared common interests of martial arts and horse-riding. Both of them were brave-hearts and daring and their wedded life was blissful.

Once, on the occasion of Gauri Puja, Jhalkari, along with the women of the village went to meet Rani Laxmi Bai to pay homage to her.

When the Rani saw Jhalkari, both of them were extremely surprised at the uncanny resemblance they bore to each other. Their appearance, height, weight, gait and way of dressing were all so similar! Rani Laxmi Bai enquired about her background.

The Rani was so impressed by Jhalkari’s fearless and frank speech and attitude. She wanted her to join the ‘Durga Dal’- the women’s regiment which Rani Laxmi Bai was creating to strengthen the army of Jhansi.  Jhalkari was overjoyed and so was her husband Puran. Jhalkari joined the regiment and was trained under the watchful eye of the Rani. The women were taught many aspects of warfare including the most difficult rifle-shooting. Jhalkari gained expertise in all that was taught. She soon grew to be a close confidante and advisor to the Rani.

Here is a little background about Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi (1828-1858). Laxmi Bai (whose maiden name was Manikarnika Tambe) grew up in the household of Peshwa Baji Rao II, and was married to Maharaja Gangadhar Newalkar of Jhansi. She was already well-versed in warfare and statecraft. The couple had a son in 1851 who died of a serious illness four months after he was born. So the Maharaja and the Rani had adopted a son (who was the child of a distant relative) soon after which the Maharaja died.

Though the adoption was done with British officers present, when the adoption papers were presented to the British they refused to accept the Rani as the Regent and her adopted son as the legal heir. They saw this as an opportunity to annex Jhansi as per the Doctrine of Lapse. According to the Doctrine of Lapse, when a ruling king did not have a natural male heir, the British annexed the properties as theirs. This included both immovable assets and movable assets such as jewels, horses, elephants, weapons etc.

If a male heir was adopted, the adoption had to be accepted by the British and it was only the personal property that an adopted heir could inherit and not the property of the state.

Hence in the case of Jhansi, the Rani was asked to leave the fort and live in the town palace with Rs.5000/- as monthly pension as her son was not recognized as her legal heir. The Rani protested against this injustice again and again sending petitions even with legal advice from British advocates from 1853 to 1856 continuously. However, all her petitions were rejected. Rani Laxmi Bai had then declared “Mera Jhansi nahi doongee” (I will not give up my Jhansi)

In May 1857 and the Sepoy Mutiny or the first war of Independence had started in Meerut. It was the first rebellion against the British by the Indian soldiers working in the British Army. Soon it spread to other places Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur and other cities like wild fire. The oppressed had now started to hit back with vengeance.

In June 1857, at Jhansi also, there was an attack by the soldiers of the British Army on the British and in the following days, about seventy British were massacred by the mutineers.

The attack was by the Indian soldiers in the British Army but the British believed that the Rani had stoked the sentiments of the soldiers thereby leading to this happening. They also knew that the Rani had declared that she would not give up Jhansi and that she was raising a separate women’s regiment in addition to strengthening the regular army. This confirmed their belief that Rani Laxmi Bai was directly responsible for whatever had happened in Jhansi.

Angered by the multiple mutinies which were sprouting out in various parts of the country, they gave the job of crushing all the revolts to General Hugh Rose. Hugh Rose was the Commander of the Central India force. He decided to attack Jhansi and capture the fort and he surrounded the fort in Jhansi on 23rd March 1858.

The army of Rani Laxmi Bai fought very valiantly but they were outnumbered and they retreated into the fort. The Rani had requested help from Tatya Tope. He was her childhood playmate and also one of the key rebels who initiated the Sepoy Mutiny. Unfortunately, the British had defeated him and his army when they were on their way to help the Rani.

Try as they might, the British could not gain entry into the fort for few days. Everybody knew that if Rani Laxmi Bai was captured, she would be mercilessly executed by the British.

It was then, that Jhalkari Bai made a daring suggestion to the Rani.

“Your highness” she said. “I have a suggestion to make”.

“Speak up Jhalkari” said Rani Laxmi Bai.

Jhalkari spoke. “If the British somehow gain entry into the fort, it is important that Your Highness should not be captured, as the fight for Jhansi should continue and Your Highness has the task of garnering more manpower and material for that. So…” She was reluctant.

“Go on…” said the Rani.

“So, I suggest that Your Highness somehow escape with the Prince while I fool the enemies by donning your attire and posing as Your Highness. I will fight the British from the front gate. They will be fooled thinking that it is the Rani who is fighting, while Your Highness will get time to escape”.

“What a bold suggestion Jhalkari!” exclaimed the Rani. “Jhansi will be eternally grateful to you. Let’s execute it right away” she said.

Immediately, they set about carrying out the plan and soon Jhalkari, dressed up in the battle attire of the queen with armour and all, was looking just like Rani Laxmi Bai.

The British, as usual were trying to break into the fort by hook or crook and there was a traitor in the form of one Dulha Ju, who was a soldier in charge of the main gate at the Jhansi Fort. Bribed with money, the traitor opened the gates for the British on 3rd April 1858. This information quickly went in and Jhalkari Bai rode to the entrance of the fort valiantly.

The army followed her with war cries “Harhar Mahadev!” and “Jai Bhavani!”. General Hugh Rose was surprised to see the ‘Rani’ come out so easily and the fighting started. In this chaos, Rani Laxmi Bai, with her son strapped behind her back rode out of another gate with a small contingent of people unnoticed by the British to a place called Kalpi.

The British kept fighting with the army led by Jhalkari for one whole day till they found late in the evening that they had been fighting with the body-double of Rani Laxmi Bai! They had been deceived. General Rose was furious. They had been cheated and Rani Laxmi Bai had escaped right under their nose.

Jhalkari was captured and she boldly declared to General Rose that she was ready to die for her Queen. But the general ordered that she be kept in a secure place for the night. She escaped and once again and in the wee hours of dawn when General Hugh Rose tried to enter the fort, she was there, ready to fight, leading her army, much to his surprise.

That was a bloody battle on the 4th of April 1858 and one of the early casualties was Puran Kori, the brave husband of Jhalkari Bai. After Jhalkari heard the news, she fought with more vengeance. That attracted the enemies and as a result of their concerted effort, she fell to their bullets and breathed her last in the service of our motherland.

Rani Laxmi Bai who had escaped due to this daring act of Jhalkari, lived for a few months more and fought bravely from Gwalior and was martyred in June 1858.

The Government of India has honoured Jhalkari Bai by issuing a Postal stamp with her image. Her statue was also unveiled in the Guru Teg Bahadur Complex in Bhopal in 2017 by the then President of India Shri Ramnath Kovind. One of the oldest women’s hospitals in Lucknow has been renamed as Veerangana Jhalkari Bai Hospital.

Jai Hind!!

Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa!

This is the chant heard all over South and other parts of India in the months of December-January when thousands of devotees observe the sacred ‘Vratha’ (vow of self-purification) to visit Sabarimala- the abode of Lord Sastha who is also referred to as Ayyappan. The celebrations culminate on the day the Sun transits from the zodiac of Sagittarius to that of Capricorn which generally is on the 14th or 15th of January.

Movies and serials have been made on the story of Lord Sastha as Manikantan – His birth, His miracles, His vanquishing the demoness Mahishi and so on. In many of them the name Ayyappan is used interchangeably for Manikantan.

However, it was not till a few years ago, I came to know that Ayyappan is different from the Manikantan or Hariharaputran mentioned in the Puranas.

I stumbled upon Shri Aravind Subramanyan’s blog https://shanmatha.blogspot.com a few years back and came to know that Ayyappan was a historical figure who is the reason for the survival of the ancient tradition of worship of the Sabarimala Sastha temple which continues today.

Shri Aravind Subramanyan has published many books on Lord Sastha of Sabarimala. The story of this historical figure of Ayyappan is the outcome of Shri Aravind’s laborious research. With his permission I narrate this story.

The worship of Lord Dharma Sastha with his consorts in our country exists from time immemorial. Manikantan or Hariharaputran is understood as an incarnation of Lord Dharma Sastha. The Puranas say that He was found and raised by a king, and later on performed arduous tasks like bringing the milk of a tigress to cure His stepmother’s ailment, curing His Guru’s mute son, slaying Mahishi and so on and finally took to Yoga at the Sabarimala. It is this temple of His which is situated at Sabarimala from the ancient times.

Now for the story of Ayyappan…

In the early tenth century, the ruling Pandya king of Madurai was persecuted by the Cholas. He escaped and fled to Kerala with his men. On reaching Pandalam, the king settled down there and established his kingdom. The ancient Shri Sastha at Sabarimala was the guardian deity of the region, and the king accepted Him as his family deity. The Pandya dynasty flourished.

Around the end of the tenth century, a dreaded dacoit by name Udayanan came with his gang from the Tamil regions beyond the borders. He started dominating the Pandalam region of Kerala.

Building fortresses on the mountains of Talappara, Injippara and Karimala in the forests of Pandalam, he became a perpetual threat to the people living in that area. The ancient temple of Sabarimala was on the route – a highway between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, along which the merchants travelled. Udayanan mercilessly plundered wealth from the travellers and killed people and the people in the area lived in constant fear.

At one point Udayanan became so arrogant that he and his gang attacked the Shri Sastha Temple at Sabarimala, ransacked it and broke the Murti of Lord Sastha into pieces. The gang also murdered the priest so that it would not be possible to conduct Poojas anymore.

The son of the priest by name Jayanthan, somehow escaped. Distressed by the gruesome murder of his father, he wanted to take revenge by killing Udayanan and his gang, and to rebuild and consecrate the Sastha temple at Sabarimala.

With this single focus, he, while wandering about the mountains in hiding, completed his education and mastered all forms of warfare. He then went to the various chieftains and kings seeking for help to kill Udayanan. Though the kings appreciated his valour, they were not forthcoming to help him as they feared the wrath of Udayanan.

Jayanthan then realized that the task needed divine intervention and went to Ponnambalamedu, where he started doing penance by meditating upon Lord Sastha.

Udayanan, meanwhile, in one of his looting expeditions happened to see the beautiful princess of the Pandya kingdom and wanted to marry her.

He sent the marriage proposal to the king, which was politely refused by the king. After all, who would want to marry off their princess to a gangster?

This refusal by the king enraged Udayanan. So, he raided the palace, and abducted the princess. He threw her into prison and gave her one month to make up her mind to marry him or face death. The soldiers of the Pandya king could not find out where the princess was hidden and also, they had no clue as to whether she was alive or dead.

One night, in the dream of the princess, Lord Sastha appeared and informed her that she would soon be rescued and He Himself would take birth as her son.

At the same time, the Lord also appeared in the dream of Jayanthan who was at Ponnambalamedu. He indicated the location of the prison and instructed Jayanthan to rescue the princess and marry her so that He could take birth as their son.

While Udayanan and his gang were traveling through the mountain routes collecting booty, Jayanthan made a lightning attack on the guards at the prison where the princess was kept and set the princess free. But since the princess was missing for more than 21 days from the palace, the royal family had considered her to be dead and performed all her last rites.

Eventually, as per the directions of Lord Sastha, Jayanthan married the princess and they settled in an inaccessible forest region (near the present Ponnambalamedu), engaging in intense penance and meditation. They earnestly prayed to Lord Dharma Sastha for a son who would be able to slay Udayanan and rebuild the Sabarimala Temple.

Soon, a child was born to them on 14-01-1095. He was named Aryan. Aryan is one of Lord Sastha’s well-known names. Aryan was trained in fields of spiritual, science and military art including warfare by his able father Jayanthan. Jayanthan’s objective was to bring up Aryan in perfect military discipline with sufficient background in spiritual matters. Aryan was exceptionally brave and intelligent for his age.

When his parents thought that the time was ripe for Aryan to be sent to his own palace, all details about his birth and up-bringing were written in a letter addressed to the king of Pandalam. Aryan was sent to his uncle’s palace with the letter.

The king was overjoyed to know that his sister was alive and such a divine looking young boy was his nephew! In fact, when the information spread, all the people were delighted by this wonderful news.

The king was greatly impressed by the military training Aryan had undergone under the tutelage of his father. He seemed to possess extra-ordinary faculties. So, the king made him a chief in his army and gave him all powers even though the boy was barely into his teens. He was given the name ‘Aryan Kerala Varman’ and addressed as ‘Ayyan’ or ‘Ayyappan’.

In spite of being in a luxurious palace amidst all worldly things, Ayyappan often sought solitude and seclusion at Sabarimala. He regularly went there and meditated, contemplating on the mission for which he had taken birth.

Once King Manivikrama Pandya of the Poonjar kingdom was attacked by Udayanan’s dacoits while he was travelling via Vandiperiyar. Suddenly, a boy of about fourteen years came riding on a wild elephant which he had tamed and chased away the dacoits and told Manivikrama to go home in peace. The boy was none other than Ayyappan who was roaming in the jungles.

The time had now come for completing Ayyappan’s life mission. So, he set about meeting the kings at Kayangulam, Ambalappuzha, Chertala, Alangad and the Pandya Kingdom.

The kings were very happy to assist Ayyappan. The king at Kayangulam offered warriors from all the ‘Kalaris’ in his region. (Kalarippayat is the martial art of Kerala and the place where it is taught is called Kalari).

Before Ayyappan left Kayangulam, news came that a pirate by name Vavar was attacking the people of the coastal areas. With the help of the minister of the Kayangulam Raja, Ayyappan defeated Vavar both in body and mind and Vavar became his disciple.

Ayyappan’s army now included Kochu Kadutha, the master swordsman, Talappara Mallan and Talappara Villan, the expert archers and of course, Vavar.

While Ayyappan was at the Kalari of Chera Mooppan at Chertala selecting warriors, the daughter of Mooppan confessed her love for Ayyappa. Ayyappan on the other hand, gave her such beautiful advice which lifted her mind from the mundane to a spiritual level.

Then with Erumeli as the centre point, the first attack against Udayanan was launched by Ayyappan but it was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Udayanan’s gang abducted Mooppan’s daughter and killed her.

Prior to the next attack, Ayyappan told his army to observe ‘Vratha’ for 56 days before entering Sastha’s Poonkavanam. They all then prayed to Kirata Sastha at Erumeli.

The army was divided into three divisions under the leadership of Kochu Kadutha, Vavar and Talappara Villan/Mallan respectively. They planned to attack Udayanan’s hideout from the North, South and East sides. Ayyappan had the central command. Ayyappan also asked the warriors to disguise themselves in tribal dresses so that they could not be easily identified by the enemy.

Right from the time Ayyappan and his entourage entered the Poonkavanam, Ayyappan’s demeanor totally changed, and he became so serene and blissful. He did not touch any weapon but merely led the army.

Soon the armies raided the hide-outs at Injippara, Karimala and Udumpara and very soon Udayanan was slain by Kochu Kadutha at Karimala Kotta.

With his mission accomplished, Ayyappan led the army to the temple which had been pillaged by Udayanan. He told his men to deposit their arms under a big banyan tree there, as carrying weapons to a place of worship is sacrilege.

After leaving their weapons they went to the temple where Ayyappan’s father Jayanthan was ready with a new ‘Murti’ for installation.

The broken temple had to be renovated for the new deity to be installed. Ayyappan stayed back in the forest engrossed in deep meditation till the renovation of the temple was completed and made ready for re-installation of the new deity and consecration.

On the first day of the month of Makaram (mid-Jan) when the Sun moved from the zodiac of Dhanus to that of Makara, the re-installation of the idol and re-consecration of the Sabarimala temple was ceremoniously conducted by Ayyappan.

Soon after the ceremony was over, a holy flame was seen at Ponnambalamedu and no one saw the Prince Arya Kerala Varman – Ayyappan thereafter.

It was then, that they realized that their beloved Arya Kerala Varman – Ayyappan, who had been their lovable, gentle, merciful prince was none other than the incarnation of Lord Sri Dharma Sastha!

Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa!!

Shri V.O.Chidambaram Pillai – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 5

Pleased to present the one hundred and fiftieth story in my blog!

Dear readers, this has been possible due to your continuous encouragement. Seeking your wishes for this journey to continue!

As it is the hundred and fiftieth story, I am narrating the story of a freedom fighter who was born 150 years ago.

In the series of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence’ this is the fifth story, and it is the story of “Kappalotiya Tamizhan” (‘Tamilian who sailed a ship’) known more popularly as Shri V.O. Chidambaram Pillai or just VOC.

V.O Chidambaram Pillai (VOC) was born on September 5, 1872 in the village of Ottapidaram in Tuticorin district to Shri. Olaganathan and Smt. Paramayee Ammal.

His father was a practising advocate and came from a family of lawyers, well known in the society, and was well off too. VOC had many siblings. 

In his childhood, VOC learnt Tamil and English well and listened to many stories including epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata from his grandparents.

After school education, VOC worked as a clerk in the Taluk office at Kovilpatti. His father desired him to study law. Fulfilling his father’s ambition, he studied law at Tiruchirappalli and became a criminal lawyer and started practising at Ottapidaram Sub-Magistrate’s office.

Having strong moral values, he was very choosy in selecting his cases. After some time, to help him gain more exposure, his father sent him to Tuticorin to practise.

In 1893, VOC happened to hear the speeches of Shri Bal Gangadhar Tilak and was drawn to the ideology of Shri Tilak. He started believing that Independence could be got only through rebellion and violent means. This revolutionary spirit made him jump into the Independence movement and he joined the Indian National Congress.

At Tuticorin, he became thick friends with the poet-patriot Shri Subramanya Bharathi, who also shared the same ideology.

Tuticorin, in Tamil Nadu, is an ancient maritime port from the 7th century CE. It had been constantly attracting marine adventurers from all over the world from olden times including the colonizers –  Portuguese, Dutch and the British, in that order. In VOC’s time the port was under the British control.

At that time the British India Steamship Navigation Company (BISNC – established in 1856) was a large navigation company run by the British which had many passenger and cargo vessels. Their vessels sailed between Tuticorin and Colombo. This was one of the busiest routes for traders and BISNC was monopolizing the shipping services.

Once, when Subramanya Bharathi wrote a poem extolling the pride of Bharat and envisioning our country to have a large fleet of ships among other things, VOC was inspired to put it to action. He decided to challenge the monopoly of the British in the shipping services.

He registered a company called Swadeshi Steamship Navigation Company (SSNC) in October 1906. He raised capital of Rs.10,00,000/- for the company by personally touring to Bombay, Calcutta (as they were known then) and even Sri Lanka, selling the shares at Rs.25 each. He was very particular that no share should be held by the British. He had declared to his family that he would come home only with the ships, otherwise, he would drown himself in the sea.

During this time, his young son passed away due to illness and his wife was nearing her full term pregnancy. But nothing could deter VOC, in pursuing his mission.

VOC succeeded in purchasing his first ship SS Galea, from France, with the help of Shri Aurobindo Ghosh and Shri Tilak. It had a flag with “Vande Mataram” written on it and could carry 1300 passengers and about 40000 bags of cargo. It arrived at Tuticorin port in 1907. Soon another ship SS Lawoe was also purchased and SSNC started its operations in full swing.

There was stiff competition to the BISNC by the SSNC which led to a price war. When that failed, BISNC started offering freebies like umbrellas to the travelers. However due to the nationalist sentiment, mainly stirred up by the fiery speeches of VOC, people preferred to travel by the ships of SSNC.

Now the British resorted to mean tactics. SSNC was not given anchoring place in the port, or clearance for the schedule of arrival and departure of the vessels. They delayed the customs and medical clearance for passengers thus creating maximum hardship for passengers of SSNC.

Meanwhile in 1907, the Congress party split into two factions, the moderates and the extremists. The moderates believed in peaceful protest against British while the extremists believed in violence. Prominent among the extremists were Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh and VOC. Taking advantage of the split, the British tried all their methods to clamp down the extremists using the slightest excuse.

The British had set up cotton mills in various parts of India from 1851 and by 1900 there were over two hundred operational mills. One of them was Coral Mills at Tuticorin which employed Indians as workers but the working conditions were most inhuman. There was no lunch break, no weekly off, no medical leave, no fixed working hours, caning was the mode of punishment and so on. In short, the workers were treated worse than animals.

This came to the notice of VOC and just during that time, he got acquainted with Shri Subramanya Siva, who was another revolutionary and freedom fighter.

Siva, travelling all over the Madras Presidency spreading the spirit of patriotism through his motivational speeches had now come to Tuticorin. VOC immediately struck a chord with Siva. He entertained Siva in his house. They addressed the mill workers on 23rd Feb 1908 urging them to strike work as a protest against the British. The strike started on Feb 27, 1908, and more than 500 workers took part in the strike.

This shocked the British administration and they brought in loads of policemen from Tirunelveli. VOC and his friends collected money and food and helped the labourers’ families during the strike. There were public meetings every day addressed by VOC and Siva which fanned the flames of ‘Desh Bhakthi’ so much, that the local grocers stopped selling to the British. Barbers refused to shave the British or anyone supporting them.

Six days into the massive strike, Mr. Ash, the deputy collector with additional charge of Tuticorin, sent word to VOC to come and meet him in person. (The same Ash was shot dead by freedom fighter Vanchinathan later)

Knowing the brutal mentality of the British, friends of VOC advised him not to go alone, to meet Mr. Ash.  So, VOC took with him an advocate T.R. Mahadeva Iyer. This meeting was on 3rd March 1908 where VOC justified the strike pointing to the inhuman conditions under which the workers had to work.

VOC has recorded in his autobiography that Mr. Ash had intimidated him with police action.

Four days after the meeting, the Management of the Coral Mills called the workers for a compromise and an agreement was reached to increase the wages by 50%, give lunch break, weekly holiday, reduced working hours, etc. This was probably the first organized strike in the industrial sector in Asia which had a favourable result for the workers.

This news spread to other mills run by British and troubles started for the British.

Now the British made up their mind that VOC should be removed from the national scene and were waiting for an opportune moment.

At that time, Bipin Chandra Pal who was in jail, was released from prison and VOC and Subramanya Siva had planned a rally at Tirunelveli to celebrate his release. Mr. Winch, a British official met VOC and Siva and asked them to cancel the celebrations. They refused. This was on 11th March 1908. On 12th of March 1908, both VOC and Siva were arrested.

The news of their arrest sparked wild rage right from Tuticorin to even parts of Kerala. Riots broke out. From the mill workers (who had resumed duty earlier) to shopkeepers to sanitary workers everybody stopped work. Educational institutions were closed. Police stations and post offices were set to fire. Everything came to a standstill. A huge number of people took to the streets in spite of being prohibited. Police forces were brought in from other parts of the state and the policemen were attacked with stones by the public. In this large-scale violence four people died.

VOC was charged with sedition for speaking against the British and giving shelter to Subramanya Siva. The punishment given was two life sentences (for the above two ‘crimes’) amounting to an imprisonment of twenty plus twenty years. VOC was thirty-six years old then! What a disproportionate punishment it was!

Siva was given ten years’ rigorous imprisonment.

VOC’s brother, unable to bear the shock of this judgement became mentally unstable and remained so till he died in 1943.

The judgement was widely condemned even by some British officials and certain British newspapers.

VOC appealed to the High Court against the sentence and later on it was reduced to four years’ imprisonment and six years in exile. VOC’s licence to practise law was cancelled.  

VOC spent two and half years in Coimbatore Jail and two years in Cannanore Jail in inhuman conditions. In Coimbatore jail, he was yoked to the oil press instead of oxen and made to go round and round in the hot sun. VOC took it all in his stride and said that he regarded the oil press as the chariot of Bharat Mata and he considered circumambulating her while going round and round! Such passion for the motherland! He came to be called “Sekku Izhutha Semmal” which in Tamil means ‘the great soul who pulled the oil press’.

This rigorous work was very detrimental to his health. Siva was also compelled to work in such conditions that resulted in his getting afflicted with leprosy.

When VOC came out of jail in December 1912, his greatest shock was that the Swadeshi Steamship Navigation Company had been liquidated by the majority stakeholders in 1911 and both the ships sold off – one to the British themselves. VOC was devastated and openly stated that he would have been happier to break the ships and throw them in the sea instead of selling it to the British.

VOC was not allowed to go to his hometown. Therefore, went to Madras where he set up a provision store and later on a kerosene store and both failed to take off. The Indian population in South Africa had sent some amount through Gandhiji to be given to VOC as financial help. The money (Rs.347 and paise 12) reached VOC in 1916 after a protracted correspondence with Gandhiji.

In 1920, VOC’s lawyer’s licence was restored by Judge E H Wallace. He went to Kovilpatti and later to Tuticorin to practise but he could not earn enough to make ends meet. In 1929 he took to writing and publishing Tamil literature. He wrote a commentary for Tirukkural and other books including some translations. He also got the ‘Tholkappiam’ the oldest treatise on Tamil grammar printed.

All these years VOC had been quitting from and joining back the Congress intermittently. He was not able to come to terms with the Ahimsa and non-violence methods for Independence, which had become dominant with Gandhiji on the scene.

Finally, Shri VOC passed away on 18th November 1936 at the Congress office of Tuticorin. Bharat Mata had lost a very special son of hers, the rare son who had the capacity to ignite the flame of patriotism in everyone who came into contact with him!!

Jai Hind!!

Nilamber and Pitamber -The heroic brothers from Jharkhand – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 4

Here is the fourth story in the series of “Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence”.

This a story of two brothers from the present-day Jharkhand who fought against the British.

Siblings fighting for the common cause of independence was not rare in Bharat. Prominent siblings among the early freedom fighters were the Marudhu brothers from present Tamil Nadu, Chinna Marudhu and Periya Marudhu, who were hanged together by the British. Dheeran Chinnamalai, who gave up his life for the cause of independence was also hanged along with his two brothers who were with him always in his struggles. (The story can be read here)

This story is also about one such set of brothers namely, Nilamber and Pitamber who belonged to a tribal community of the present-day Jharkhand. This is a story which I read very recently and want to share it with you all.

In the early 19th century, there lived a person by name Chemu Singh in the village of Chemo-Senya in Palamau district in Chhota Nagpur area of Jharkhand. He belonged to the Kharwar tribe who had farming as their occupation, but he was a ‘Jagirdar’.

The ‘Jagirdari’ system was started by the Mughal kings in which, a person was made in charge of a particular tract of land to manage the revenue and tax collection. He was called Jagirdar. He did not own the land but had to manage the people cultivating it and collect the taxes. A portion of the collection was given to him as salary. The balance amount was deposited into the treasury. This system continued even after the decline of the Mughal kingdom through the time of the British East India Company till it was abolished by the Indian Government in 1951.

Coming back to the story, Chemu Singh was a kind-hearted person. Therefore, when he collected taxes, he was very considerate and many times collected less revenue taking into account the adversities faced by the farmers. Naturally he had to face the ire of the British Officers who admonished him every time the revenue collected by him was less.

Chemu Singh was married and soon he was blessed with a baby boy Nilamber. Chemu loved his son very much. As Nilamber grew up to be a young boy, he learnt martial arts like archery, sword-fighting and also agriculture. He always accompanied his father when he went to remit the collections to the British officials. Many a time, he saw his father being demeaned and insulted by the officials and he could not bear to witness it. Sometimes the officials threatened his father with removing the ‘jagirs’ under him which meant his father would lose his income. Nilamber often asked his father why he should not fight back. His father could not, somehow, gather the courage to fight back.

In the course of time, Nilamber had a younger brother Pitamber. Nilamber loved his younger sibling very much. In a couple of years, misfortune struck the family and Chemu Singh fell seriously ill. After a few days, he passed away. Pitamber was still a toddler and the death of Chemu Singh came as a big blow to Nilamber and his mother.

Now Nilamber took up agriculture to earn a livelihood. He also took upon himself the responsibility of bringing up Pitamber. He took Pitamber along when he went for work and also taught Pitamber archery, sword fighting and other martial arts which he had learnt himself.

In 1857, the revolt of the Indian soldiers (Sepoy Mutiny) had started against the British at Meerut and the effect had started spreading elsewhere in the country.

Pitamber happened to visit Ranchi at that time and witnessed the soldiers of the Ramgarh Battalion fighting the British.

Subsequently, he also visited Chatra where he witnessed the fight between the British soldiers and the natives. He came to know that this revolt was led by Thakur Viswanath Shahdeo who was ruling the Barkaghar estate and Pandey Ganpat Rai, a chieftain of Lohardaga district.

Pitamber understood that the country had started revolting for her independence. He was greatly inspired by what he saw and rushed back to his village to tell his elder brother. Nilamber was equally inspired and agreed with Pitamber that the time was ripe to jump into this movement for freedom from the shackles of the British East India Company.

Accordingly, the brothers rallied all young men of the various tribes namely Kharwar, Chero and Bhogta clans and gave a call for unity in attacking the foreigners. They announced that they were now ‘independent’ and made it clear that they were no longer under the rule of the British or by anyone who was paying allegiance to the British.

So, on 21st October 1857, a group of about 500 men under the leadership of Nilamber and Pitamber launched their attack on the properties of a local Zamindar by name Raghubir Dayal, of Chainpur. This Zamindar was very loyal to the British and this was the reason for their attack. They knew that this would send a message to the British.

Next another group went to Lesliganj and literally shooed away the British officials using swords and sticks.

The British had never thought in their wildest dreams that a tribal population would ever rise against them and therefore, caught unawares, they were jolted. The acting Commissioner, named Lieutenant Graham, brought about fifty soldiers to fight the them but they were effortlessly driven away and Graham had to hide in the bungalow of the Zamindar Raghubir Dayal!

The army of Nilamber and Pitamber went in hot pursuit and surrounded the bungalow making it difficult for the Lieutenant and his men to come out. The higher officials of the British came to know of this and sent about four hundred soldiers under Major Cotter to assist Lieutenant Graham.

All the soldiers had guns and Nilamber and Pitamber along with their men were outnumbered and had to flee. The British chased them and after a few days caught hold of Devi Baksh who was also fighting along with the brothers.

They tortured Devi Baksh in the hope of getting information on Nilamber and Pitamber’s whereabouts but Devi Baksh would not budge. The tribal men started living in the jungles and attacking property of people who supported the British. Now Lieutenant Graham brought six hundred more men but had no luck in catching Nilamber, Pitamber and the others.

The British were so desperate to finish off the brothers that now they sought help from the Madras Regiment and Ramgarh Cavalry.

With their help, the Commissioner Mr. Dalton decided to go himself to capture the brothers. He started out in the middle of January of 1858 and reached a village near Palamu. There he was met by Lieutenant Graham who informed that the tribal men had taken shelter in the fort at Palamu.

The twin forts at Palamu are still a tourist attraction. They were built by a Chero king Medini Rai in the 17th century. The Chero kings were a powerful clan who ruled this area before the Moghuls attempted to rule this place. The forts were very well built and very strong. The forts had escape ways through tunnels.

On 21st January 1858, Mr. Dalton himself marched to the fort with all these soldiers and ordered firing on the fort. The soldiers were much more in number than Nilamber and Pitamber’s men put together and so the men inside the fort had to flee. As locals, they knew the forts well. So they fled through the secret tunnels into the thick cover of the forests.

The British waited for some time for them to come out but later realized that they had fled through the secret exits. Furious, they tried chasing them. There were about two thousand soldiers targeting Nilamber and Pitamber and their group. However, try as they might, they could not catch them. Mr. Dalton suspected that they would have gone to their village Chemo and led his troops there. He reached there by the middle of February 1858.

On not being able to find Nilamber and Pitamber, an angry Dalton ordered the whole village to be destroyed. The British soldiers targeted the households of the tribals and seized all their cattle and grains and the lands so that neither them nor their families would be able to survive, were they to return to the village from their hiding place.

The British never gave up their search for the brothers and finally in 1859, Nilamber and Pitamber were caught through a covert operation.

The British were jubilant. And as was their practice with anyone who raised their voice for independence, the British hanged Nilamber and Pitamber on 28th March 1859 at Lesliganj.

The voices of the two sons of Jharkhand were silenced, but not before they kindled the thirst for independence in many, many others in this country.

Jharkhand has the Nilamber Pitamber University in honour of these heroic brothers. The area of ‘Daltonganj’ has been renamed as ‘Medininagar’ in honour of the King Medini Rai.

It is time the stories of such heroes occupied the main pages of our history books.

Jai Hind!!

Saraswathi Rajamani – The youngest Indian woman spy – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 3

Namaste! Here is the third story in the series of ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence.

This bit of history which I came across very recently, left me with a great feeling of sadness – sadness, as the brave-heart in question had been very much alive till four years ago, but lived in ignominy and destitution for most part of her life, as many other heroes and heroines of the Indian Independence movement have. This is something we can never forgive ourselves for.

The lady of the story is the first and youngest woman spy of India – Saraswathi Rajamani.

Born in 1927 at Rangoon, Rajamani, as she was named at birth, was the daughter of a very rich businessman who belonged to Tiruchirappalli. Her father Ramanathan, had like many others migrated to Rangoon in Burma. At the time when India was struggling for independence, Burma, the present- day Myanmar was hustling and bustling with lot of business opportunities. This prompted many Indians to go to Rangoon (now Yangon) and operate from there.

Rajamani’s father was one such businessman who migrated and settled in Rangoon. He was in the mining business and owned gold and tungsten mines and so one can imagine what a rich family Rajamani’s was.

Burma used to be a part of “Akhand Bharat” in ancient days till it became a British Colony in 1824. Therefore, the Burmese had a lot of goodwill for Indians and that was also one of the reasons for Indians settling there. Rajamani’s family, though at Rangoon, held Bharat Mata dear to their hearts and Rajamani’s father often used to donate large sums of money for the cause of the freedom movement.

The whole family were devoted to Gandhiji’s ideals.

When Rajamani was ten years old, Gandhiji visited Rangoon and visited Rajamani’s family (since her father used to contribute large sums for the cause of Independence). The whole family were welcoming Gandhiji in the porch of their house but little Rajamani was missing.

Gandhiji also joined them to search for her and as he walked into the huge garden at the back of their mansion, he saw the little girl hold a toy gun in her hand, practising to aim at a target. When he asked why she was practising shooting, she said, without battling an eyelid “To shoot the British of course!”

A shocked Gandhiji stopped the child and advised her against being violent. He told her that violence was not the way to gain independence.

Though Rajamani temporarily put the gun behind her, she asked herself, “How does one deal with a robber if one’s house is looted? British are looting my country and so I will treat them just as one treats the robbers in one’s house”. And as Gandhiji went back into the house, she resumed her shooting practice. For her, clearly, non-violence was not the way to independence.

When Rajamani was a year or two older, she started keeping track of the Independence movement by reading the newspapers regularly and listening to the news on the radio. Not many owned a radio or could afford newspapers, and these were the perks she enjoyed being born in a rich, liberal family. And slowly, Rajamani came to know about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. His ideology of fighting back, with arms and giving the British a taste of their own medicine resonated very much with her ideas. His fiery speeches aroused the patriotic fervor in her.

She started collecting all photos of Netaji which appeared in the newspapers along with articles on him. She made notes whenever she heard his speeches on the radio. She yearned to be a part of Netaji’s movement.

Soon Netaji made a visit to Rangoon in January 1944 appealing to the Indian community living there for the cause of Indian National Army (INA) for which he needed volunteers and money. There was a camp set up where people could go and donate money. Many people including Rajamani’s father gave huge donations.

However, the person collecting the funds had the greatest shock of his life when a young Rajamani gave him a velvet bag containing gold, diamond and jade bangles and necklaces and earrings which could easily be worth lakhs in those days. The fund collector took down her name and address.

Rajamani attended school that day and, in the evening, when she went home, she had a pleasant shock. Her father was conversing with none other than Netaji over a cup of tea. Netaji, who had been apprised of Rajamani’s donation of jewels, had come to return it to her father as he thought she had given it away naively, without his permission.

The moment her father mentioned this to Rajamani, she became furious and pushed the bag towards Netaji and said, “These are my jewels and I do not need to ask my father’s permission to give these and I will not accept what has been given away once”.  Rajamani’s father was also smiling as if to acknowledge what she was saying.

Netaji tried his level best to convince her, especially since her father had also given lot of money in donation and finally Rajamani put forth one condition. “If you should let me join the INA, I will take these back”

Netaji smiled. “Yes, I will let you,” said he. “Lakshmi (meaning wealth) comes and goes but when Saraswathi (wisdom) comes to a person she stays put with them. That Saraswathi is with you and has bestowed you with so much wisdom. So, I will call you Saraswathi Rajamani”. And from then, the name Saraswathi stuck to her.

Saraswathi initially joined the INA as a nurse. The second world war was raging and the British (part of Allies) had taken a stance against Japanese (part of Axis powers) and were destroying Japanese properties and men everywhere. Saraswathi was given training and was fully into nursing wounded soldiers. But she was not satisfied. She wanted to be on the field and enjoy the thrill of risking her life every single moment.

One day, as she was staring out of the window, she saw something unusual. Some civilians were going over secretly to a British soldier and information was being exchanged for money.

Saraswathi felt weird about these clandestine exchanges. It occurred to her that something was not right surely. She went straight to Netaji who was at the base camp five kilometers away in Rangoon and reported what she saw. Netaji got the matter investigated and found that it was indeed true, and the British were being informed of the Japanese movements enabling them to attack the Japanese.

Now Netaji, realising her shrewdness and acumen, wanted Saraswathi and four of her friends to become spies for the INA. The girls who were barely sixteen were excited, though their parents were not, since this was an extremely dangerous job.

The girls were inducted into the Rani Jhansi Regiment headed by Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan (Sehgal) and were given rigorous military training including, running, climbing and other physical exercises. They were also trained in using different kinds of guns. They were sent to Maymyo, about 700 kms from Rangoon.

Their hair was trimmed to a boy-cut. Dressed up like boys and in disguise, they posed as helpers or errand boys and were sent to the houses of the British officers and the military camps. Rajamani named herself ‘Mani’ on this mission.

They went about doing jobs of cleaning their houses and the gardens, polishing shoes, removing garbage, laundry and such odd jobs. However, their eyes and ears were always alert as to what was being spoken or discussed by the officers. Whenever they intercepted valuable information, they passed it on through the informants to Netaji. They had to be extremely careful in their mission to not get caught. They had also been coached that in the event of being caught, the individual who was caught should shoot and the others should escape in the confusion.

We can well imagine the minds of the anxious parents of the girls who would not have been even aware where the girls were!!

One day however, unfortunately, Saraswathi’s friend Durga got caught by the British. She was thrown into the jail. Saraswathi came to know of it but contrary to the instruction to escape, she was determined to set her friend free. She went into the prison in a Burmese attire with the straw cap and all, along with a Burmese servant pretending to clean the prison. As the jailor went to chat with another jailor carelessly leaving the key behind, Saraswathi mixed a bit of opium in his drinking water and opened the door of the prison and both of them escaped. They started running and this was discovered after some lag (due to the opium water). The jailors gave them a hot chase.

The girls ran and ran as fast as they could, panting for breath and at one point one jailor shot at them. Saraswathi fell down with the bullet in her right leg. But they could not afford to be caught. With great difficulty Saraswathi pulled herself up and ran. Fortunately, there was a densely wooded area nearby and Durga climbed a tree and lugged Saraswathi up on a safe branch. The military training, they had undergone, helped them a lot.

The gun-shot wound was bleeding, and the girls were thirsty and hungry, but the men were soon below the trees looking for them. They searched for a long time and then left. They came for the girls on the following two days also and all this while both the girls were huddled up on the tree braving hunger, thirst and cold. Saraswathi’s leg was totally numb, and she felt that her leg was gone forever.

The third day, the jailors gave up and both the girls climbed down carefully and an injured and drained-out Saraswathi, with the help of Durga, made their way to the main road and caught a van to Rangoon. After an eight to ten-hour arduous journey, they reached the INA camp and met Netaji. Saraswathi was given immediate treatment but the delay in treatment left a limp in her right leg for her entire life which she treated as a symbol of honour.

Netaji was very extremely pleased and delighted with her bravery and awarded Saraswathi the rank of Lieutenant in the Rani Jhansi regiment. He also gave her an appreciation letter where he addressed her as the ‘first Indian woman spy’. The Japanese emperor also presented Saraswathi a medal and a cash award in recognition of her bravery.

The World War II came to an end in 1945 after the disastrous nuclear bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Netaji disbanded the INA and the volunteers went back to their families.

Netaji himself is said to have been killed in an air crash some days later.

Saraswathi and her family donated all of their property and came back to India in 1957. But Saraswathi did not get her freedom-fighter pension. She moved to Chennai and after persistent efforts started getting pension from 1971 almost twenty-five years after independence. From being one of the richest Indians at one time, the family had become paupers and life was tough. No recognition, penury, no family and not even a house to call her own. Such was Saraswathi’s condition.

In 2005, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Ms. J. Jayalalithaa, came to know of her through a news article. She immediately granted a small apartment in Royapettah along with an aid of Rupees five lakhs which Saraswathi accepted albeit with reluctance as she was only used to giving things and never had sought anything. Her financial condition was so pathetic that she had to accept the help.

It is said that she used to collect scraps of cloth from nearby tailors and stitch them into garments and donate to orphanages. Also during the Tsunami of 2004, she donated her pension, to the Chief Minister’s relief fund. She also donated her INA memorabilia to Netaji’s museum in Kolkata in 2008.

Saraswathi lived in the apartment surrounded only by the photos of Netaji on every wall. Though battered by age and ill-health, people who have interviewed Saraswathi say that the mention of Netaji’s name fired her up and she spoke voraciously in spite of having had three heart attacks. Saraswathi died in January 2018 of a massive heart attack.

Her story has been made into a short film in the series ‘Adrishya – True stories of Indian spies’

And I am indeed proud to narrate her story on this platform.

RANI NAIKI DEVI OF GUJARAT – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 2

Namaste. Here is the second story in the series of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. The country is in the midst of celebrating the Shaaradiya Navaratri where the Mother Goddess is venerated for nine days. On the tenth day the Goddess gains victory over the terrible demon Mahishasura single-handedly.

Hence I am bringing you the story of an indomitable woman, one of the lesser known queens of India who fearlessly fought an invader. The invader ran away and came back again through another route some years later. It is a pity that we only know the story of the invader who won over another Indian king at a later date, but not the story of his initial defeat.

The invader was none other than Mohammed Ghori and the queen who chased him away was Rani Naiki Devi, the Chalukyan queen of Gujarat.

Naiki Devi was the daughter of the Kadamba king of Goa Mahamandaleshwar Parmadi.

Naiki Devi was trained by her father in all the ‘manly’ skills of horse-riding, archery, combat and weapon-wielding which she mastered in no time and excelled in.

When she came of marriageable age, she married the Solanki ruler of Gujarat, Raja Ajaypal. The Solankis were also known by the name Chalukyas of Gujarat. The kingdom of the Solankis comprised of parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan and their capital was Anahilwada Patan.

Unfortunately, within four years of his ascension to the throne, Raja Ajaypal, died in 1175 AD. Their son Mularaja was a child at that time. As per the tradition of their kingdom, Mularaja was instated as the king and Rani Naiki Devi, the Regent who ruled the kingdom on her son’s behalf. The Rani was ruling from Anihilwada Patan which was one of the largest fortified cities of the world back then. The famed Rani Ki Vav is situated there and was also built by the Chalukyas.

Now, about Mohamed Ghori. In 1173 AD, the young Ghurid prince Mohammed Shahabuddin Ghori captured the city of Ghazni in Afghanistan from the Turks who had earlier captured it from the Ghaznavids. The Ghurids were initially vassals of the Ghaznavids and later on toppled them. Ghori, along with his elder brother used the city of Ghazni as a base for his conquests and campaigns.

Gradually their attention turned to Bharat which had already been famed for her riches and prosperity. The Ghaznavid king Mahmud of Ghazni had already plundered the country and looted the riches to the highest possible extent.

Mohamed Ghori decided to enter Bharat through the Gomal pass in 1176 AD. This pass is situated between present day Afghanistan and Pakistan. After entering with his huge army, he attacked the forts at Multan and Uch, both of which are present day Pakistan.

After a period of about two years, in 1178 AD, he decided to attack the kingdoms of South Rajputana (present day Rajasthan with some areas of Madhya Pradesh) and Gujarat and he started eyeing Anihilwada Patan since he came to know that it was being actually ruled by a lady with an infant son. Ghori was sure that the battle against a woman would be a cakewalk for him not knowing that the result would be disastrous for him!

Rani Naiki Devi got information from her spies that Mohamed Ghori was advancing towards Anihilwada with the intention to capture her kingdom.

The Rani was undaunted on hearing this news and set about taking steps to counter Ghori and his army. She came to know that Mohamed Ghori had a very large army to which hers was no match at all.

Naiki Devi then sent word seeking support to the nearby kingdoms like the Chandelas, the Bhatis, the Parmars and the Chouhans (whose leader was King Prithviraj Chouhan) and a few other kingdoms as well.

Sadly, she did not receive any response from them except from few of the Chalukyan feudatories. Naiki Devi realized that even if all of their forces were put together, they would be of no match to the forces of Ghori. So she had to think of some other way to defeat the invader.

Being trained in all matters of politics, warfare and statecraft, Naiki Devi decided on a solid plan. And that was to fight the war in a terrain which was totally unfamiliar to the invaders and which would help to annihilate them totally.

She consulted the kings of the Chalukya feudatories who had offered help, namely Kelhanadeva, Kirtipala and Dharavarsha and decided the war strategy. Rani Naiki Devi chose a place near village Kasaradha on the foothills of Mount Abu for the battle. This was a rugged terrain familiar for the locals but totally alien for the Ghori army.

Mohamed Ghori’s army had to come via the narrow hill passes of Gadharghatta near Mount Abu. The news was that his army had already started moving towards Kasaradha. Ghori’s army had well-built horses with excellent stamina and hordes of soldiers.

 Meanwhile Mohamed Ghori sent a messenger informing Naiki Devi that he would not touch Gujarat if Naiki Devi would surrender with her son and also deposit all the gold of her kingdom along with all the womenfolk.

Naiki Devi pretended to agree to the request. Upon hearing this from his messenger, Ghori was overjoyed. He never thought that he would never have to even lift a finger to conquer this kingdom which had abundant riches.

As Ghori’s army came out of the pass to the open ground at Kasaradha, Ghori waited for the queen to come and surrender. He heard the sound of a galloping horse and saw that a lady was riding a horse from afar and approaching him. She had her son tied to her lap.

Ghori was overjoyed but within few minutes the galloping sound became like that of pounding rain. And there were armed soldiers all over the place surrounding his army, to his right, left and centre. Rani Naiki Devi was leading them.

When he turned around he also found soldiers behind his army from inside the pass. Ghori’s army was totally trapped and caught unaware. Then there suddenly appeared what were like mounds of steel, huge and mighty armoured elephants with soldiers armed riding them. The Rani was fighting fiercely and her sword was swiftly tasting the blood of the Ghurid soldiers. Ghori’s men were falling like a pack of cards, either slain by Rani Naiki and the forces of her allies, or trampled by the huge elephants which were moving about like mighty mountains.

Ghori’s men who tried running back through the pass were attacked by Rani Naiki’s soldiers who were hiding in the pass and the army was terribly routed. The extent of damage has been mentioned by Firishta, a Persian historian as well as Minhaj-I-Siraj in their chronicles. This is also written by Badauni, a sixteenth century historian who traces the Islamic rule in India right from the invasions of Ghori till the reign of Akbar.

Ghori, with the remnant soldiers literally ran away from the scene. They retreated to Ghazni escaping from Rani Naiki Devi’s soldiers with great difficulty.

The attack of Rani Naiki Devi was so fierce that Mohamed Ghori did not dare to attack Bharat for the next decade. The next time in 1191 also, Ghori chose to avoid the earlier route and instead to come in through the vulnerable Punjab route via the Khyber Pass. He was once again defeated by Prithiviraj Chouhan and only in 1192, could he defeat King Prithviraj Chouhan.

Rani Naiki Devi’s bravery has been recorded by the court poets of Gujarat and also by a 14th century Jain scholar Merutunga in his works. This battle was called Battle of Kasaradha.

Rani Naiki Devi was yet another jewel on the crown of Bharat!

Dheeran Chinnamalai – Celebrating seventy- five years of Independence -1

Bharat, is celebrating its seventy fifth year of Independence this year– Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

On this occasion it is my pleasure to narrate the stories of Indian brave-hearts, freedom fighters and precious gems among the general public who have given their whole life for a specific cause and inspired millions of people.

As my contribution to Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, I plan to narrate a story every month for one year beginning this August, on one such inspirational character.

Pleased to begin the series with the story of Dheeran Chinnamalai – a warrior from Kongunadu, who was one of the first to rebel against the British, much before the revolt of 1857.

Prior to independence, present day Tamil Nadu comprised of various regions like Kongunadu, Thondainadu, Pandiyanadu, Cholanadu and so on. The area covering Nilgiris, Coimbatore, Erode and some part of Dharmapuri was called Kongunadu.

Dheeran Chinnamalai was born in this Kongunadu in Melapalayam near Erode in in April 1756 CE to Rathinaswamy Gounder and Periyatha. He was the second of the six siblings. He was named Teerthagiri Sakkarai Manradiyar. His elder brother and the youngest brother took up farming and managing the family’s large tracts of land. His sister was married at the appropriate age.

Teerthagiri, however was much interested in learning martial arts, horse riding, archery and warfare. With his other two brothers following suit, they took upon them the task of protecting their territory consisting of many villages from dacoits, robbers and infiltrators and solving disputes through Panchayats. They also trained the local youth in the villages in horse riding and wielding the sword and archery. Since they protected a territory known as ‘Palayam’ in Tamil, they were called ‘Palayakkarars’. Other notable Palayakkarars were Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Marudhu brothers of whom Teerthagiri was a contemporary.

(The Marudhu brothers were associated with yet another brave queen Rani Velu Nachiyar whose story I have already written in my blog. You can click here to read it)

Coming back to our story, the area of Kongunadu, was under the reign of Hyder Ali of Mysore. Once Teerthagiri and his brothers came to know that Mohammed Ali, a Diwan (minister) from Mysore was collecting taxes using unfair methods, from the people of their villages. This infuriated Teerthagiri.

He and his brothers confronted the minister at a place between two mountains Sivan Malai and Senni Malai. The minister was shocked at being accosted thus. The men then pounced on the minister and snatched the money bag from him.

“We will give back the money to the villagers!” said Teerthagiri. “If your king asks for the money, tell him that a ‘Chinna Malai’ (small mountain) between Senni Malai and Sivan Malai took away the money.” He laughed aloud at the thought of referring to himself as ‘Chinna Malai’.

The angry minister retorted, “Don’t play with the king His Highness Hyder Ali Saab! You will soon face the consequences!”

“King? What king?” chuckled Teerthagiri. “Go and tell him that we people from Kongunadu can rule ourselves quite well. We don’t need a king from Mysore to rule over us!”

The startled minister had to beat a hasty retreat. Teerthagiri distributed the money back to those from whom it was collected. The villagers were overjoyed and started to address Teerthagiri as ‘Chinnamalai’ and the name stuck. Because of his heroic deeds he was addressed as ‘Dheeran Chinnamalai’.

Hyder Ali’s minister returned to Mysore seething with anger and humiliation. He arranged for a battalion of soldiers to be sent to attack Chinnamalai.  Chinnamalai and his men met them and defeated them at the banks of the Noyyal river. This was despite the fact that Chinnamalai had very less men with him.

This was the first time Chinnamalai was actually fighting an armed contingent, and in a way, his first battle. Now, he realized that he would have to fight with a bigger contingent of Hyder Ali any time. In preparation for the same, Chinnamalai and his brothers recruited lot of young men and started training them in warfare methods, archery etc. He had the full support of the villagers and his elder brother and his wife gladly played host to the crowds which thronged to their place on account of these activities.

Chinnamalai was nothing short of a king except that he was not specifically crowned as one. However, there was no retort from Hyder Ali for the defeat by Chinnamalai. Hyder was busy fighting the British and other enemies of his. The heroic deed of Chinnamalai though, was now known everywhere including in the Mysore state.

In 1782 CE, Hyder Ali died and he was succeeded by his son Tipu Sultan. Tipu was totally against the British and had frequent clashes with them. Tipu had heard about the bravery of Chinnamalai and sent messengers to request Chinnamalai to join his side in fighting against the British. The British had humiliated Tipu in the third Anglo Mysore war to a very great extent that Tipu was making big plans to avenge his humiliation.

Though Chinnamalai had reservations in joining Tipu Sultan, for the greater good of liberating our land from the clutches of the British, he agreed and went along with his army, his brothers and their trusted lieutenants Karuppan and Velappan. This army was called the Kongu regiment and Dheeran Chinnamalai was the chief. This regiment was of great support to Tipu Sultan. Tipu Sultan was taking the help of the French and the French were supporting Tipu and also trained his warriors. This training benefited the Kongu regiment.

However, in the Fourth Anglo Mysore war in 1799 CE, Tipu Sultan was killed. British also captured Chinnamalai’s lieutenant, Velappan. Velappan promised the British that he would work for them as their agent.

Chinnamalai and his men returned to Kongu and in a place called Oda Nilai, Chinnamalai built a fort and resumed his training activities knowing fully well that there would be wars with the British in future and he had to be prepared. He started manufacturing arms also. The British came to know of this and could not digest the fact that an individual was doing all this activity independently.

This was the period of the Second Polygar war between the Palayakkarars and the British. ‘Polygar’ was a crude pronunciation of the word ‘Palayakkarar’ by the British.  After Veerapandiya Kattabomman (who was also a Palayakkarar) was hanged to death on Oct 16,1799 by the British, his brother Oomathurai, the Marudhu Brothers, Pazhassi Raja of Malabar had together formed a grand alliance covertly and there was a joint uprising against the British. Arms were being manufactured in secret factories including in Oda Nilai. The Palayakkarars and their men were also receiving clandestine training from the French.

The British barracks at Coimbatore were being attacked. But the British could not travel there easily and had to pass through thick jungles under cover, because of the presence of Dheeran Chinnamalai and his army in the Kongu region. He was a thorn in their flesh. And he was not even a crowned king! They could simply not digest his audacity.

They sent word to him to sign a pact with them and promised him favours. But Chinnamalai would not budge to give up freedom for anything in return. So now, the British sent a contingent of soldiers in 1801 CE under Colonel Maxwell to attack Chinnamalai. Chinnamalai had advance information and defeated them on the same banks of Noyyal as he had done with the soldiers of Mysore earlier.

The British sent soldiers once again in 1802 CE and yet again they miserably failed. They waited and waited and again in 1804 CE, they sent General George Harris who had actively taken part in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore war. This time they had information that Chinnamalai with all his people would be visiting a local temple at Arachalur for the festivities. The plan was that George Harris would go and occupy the fort when no one was there and then attack when Chinnamalai and his people came back from the temple.

When General Harris came, the fort appeared unoccupied. But suddenly, Chinnamalai rode from the inside of the fort in lightning speed, and threw hand grenades at the surprised Harris and his men. There was utter chaos as the horses ran hither-thither neighing aloud, throwing their riders off their backs. Harris had to retreat hurriedly.

The adamant British, however, would not give up. And this time they sent a huge army with cannons also to attack the fort.

Yet again, General Harris got a shock as he found the fort completely empty. It seemed abandoned. He went inside and as he was looking around, he found a pair of sandals. Interestingly one sandal was split open with a chit sticking out. As the curious Harris picked it up, it contained a message and to his shock, he found that it was a message from Velappan (whom the British had captured in the Mysore war) informing Chinnamalai of the plan of Harris.

Velappan had actually been informing Chinnamalai every time by sending pairs of new sandals in which chits were hidden. That was how Chinnamalai was always prepared when attacked.

Harris was furious and shot Velappan dead. In his anger, with the cannons he had, he completely destroyed the fort, razing it to the ground. The act of inadvertently leaving the sandal at the fort had cost Chinnamalai the life of his friend Velappan.

Chinnamalai, now with his brothers went into hiding in the forest in an area known as Karumalai. Their lieutenant Karuppan, was stationed at Melapalayam to keep them informed of what the British were up to. Chinnamalai and his brothers went about in disguise into the nearby villages during the day and went into hiding in the forest, at night.

In the village they met a person Nallappan who seemed to be very hospitable. Nallappan was a cook by profession and he volunteered to provide dinner for the brothers every day at his place. The offer was accepted by Chinnamalai and his brothers and they regularly dined there at night.

Nallappan was actually a snake in the grass and was greedy for wealth and was exactly the type of person British would use for carrying out their malicious intentions. Nallappan, lured by the British, allowed them to dig a trench from afar right up to the inside of his house. And one night when Chinnamalai and his brothers were having dinner in a relaxed mood, the British soldiers came inside through the trench.

Chinnamalai and his brothers, totally caught unawares, were outnumbered. Quickly understanding the role of Nallappan in this drama, Chinnamalai strangulated him to death then and there. The British arrested him along with his brothers and took them to a prison at Sankagiri near Salem. Karuppan who was hiding at Melapalayam also surrendered. The British talked to Chinnamalai asking him to accept their supremacy and pay taxes to them in which case he would be set free and pardoned. Chinnamalai flatly refused the offer. So arrangements were made to hang the four of them from a tamarind tree which was on top of the Sankagiri fort. This was in 1805 CE.

On the day of hanging Chinnamalai and his brothers told the executioners to move away. They then took the ropes themselves and thrust their necks into the nooses and jumped from the fort, hanging themselves in the process.

Four brave-hearts were wiped out from Bharat, the land which they considered more precious than their own mothers. Brave-hearts, who lived as per the saying, “Janani Janmabhumishcha Swargadapi Gariyasi” meaning mother and motherland are dearer than even heaven.

Maharani Durgavathi of Gond – The fearless warrior

The festival of Navaratri has begun and Devi Shakti is being propitiated as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi for nine days and nights. Prayers are offered to her, seeking power, wealth and knowledge. The story of the origin of Navaratri is already available here and you may click to read the same.

This time, I thought it apt to narrate the story of a powerful, valiant, wealthy and intelligent queen who ruled in Bharat in the 16th century and how she bravely fought with the Moghul invaders and chose death to defeat at the hands of the Moghuls. She is none other than Maharani Durgavathi – who is also referred to as Rana Chandi – meaning, as fierce as Durga in battlefield.  

Durgavathi was born on October 5, 1524 to the Chandela Rajput king Keerat Rai. Keerat Rai was ruling the Bundelkhand region from Kalinjar in present Madhya Pradesh. Theirs was the dynasty of Raja Vidyadhara who had repulsed Mohamed Ghazni twice in the 11th century. Durgavathi grew up listening to such tales of valour and bravery which naturally kindled the spirit of bravery in her.

Durgavathi had lost her mother at an early age and so her father took extra efforts in bringing her up without any shortcoming. She displayed a natural affinity to weaponry, riding and allied activities at a very early age and was ably trained by her father in martial arts and warfare. It is said that once a lone lion had strayed into the city and was terrorising the people and when none of the warriors could either tame or kill it, Durgavathi went alone with her weapons, found and killed the lion single-handedly leaving everyone awestruck.

At the age of 18, Durgavathi married the prince Dalpat Sah of Garha Mandla kingdom of Gondwana. Dalpat Sah’s father Sangram Sah was famous for having conquered vast territories upto the Narmada valley. Dalpat Sah who was his eldest son, was an equally famous warrior who had checked the entry of the Mughals to the southern part of Bharat. This alliance due to the wedding of Rani Durgavathi, between the Gond and Chandela rulers, helped the Chandela king in killing Sher Shah Suri (the Afghan king who had started the Suri dynasty in India). This was at Kalinjar in 1545 CE.

Durgavathi and Dalpat Sah had a son Vir Narayan in 1545 and when the child was five years old, Dalpat Sah died suddenly leaving behind a distraught Durgavathi. But being a courageous woman, she gathered herself and since Vir Narayan was only five years old, she ruled the kingdom on his behalf in a very efficient manner. She was valiant, intelligent and beautiful. Ably assisted by her ministers Adhar Kayastha and Man Thakur, she ruled very efficiently.  She was an extremely astute ruler and so she shifted her capital from Singaurgarh Fort to Chauragarh Fort which was 290 kilometres away near Panchmarhi of Madhya Pradesh. Chauragarh fort was at a strategic position in the Satpura range and from here she ruled her kingdom. Maharani Durgavathi kept expanding her territories and earning a lot of wealth.

The wealth was used by the Maharani to patronise educational institutions and scholars and encourage art and architecture (which was no surprise, as the Chandela Dynasty in which she was born had built the temples at Khajuraho).  She had many tanks and reservoirs built in her kingdom, of which Ranital near Jabalpur is well known. Efficient water management all through the year led to abundance through agriculture which led to overall prosperity. The Rani took very good care of her subjects. It is said that she also maintained a fairly big army with 20000 cavalry, 1000 elephants and numerous foot soldiers and she took good care of them all like a mother and so all of them were ready to give up their life for her sake.

The news of a kingdom flourishing with happiness and prosperity under the leadership of a Hindu queen was bound to raise eyebrows and the surrounding kingdoms with Islamic leadership were keenly waiting for an opportunity to attack the kingdom of Gondwana.  The last Sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur launched an attack on Rani Durgavathi first in 1556 CE.  Malwa was bordering the territory of Gondwana. His army faced a crushing defeat at the hands of Maharani Durgavathi that he never dared to attack again.

However Akbar defeated Baz Bahadur in 1562 and drove him out of Malwa and therefore now the Mughals had touched the border of Gondwana. The other neighbour of Gondwana namely Rewa had already been attacked and occupied by another Subedar of Akbar by name Khwaja Abdal Majid Asaf Khan. Asaf Khan was enamoured by the prosperity and wealth of the neighbouring Gondwana and after taking permission from Akbar attacked the kingdom of Maharani Durgavathi in June 1564.

The Maharani came to know of the attack. Though her minister Adhar Kayastha was reluctant on their fighting back and pointed out that the Mughal army was much larger in size with better weapons it did not deter the Maharani in any way. “It is better to die with valour than to surrender with disgrace” said she and went to fight the battle from Narrai near Jabalpur. Since she knew the terrain of her kingdom very well she chose this place strategically. Narrai was located between a hilly range on one side and the Narmada and Gaur Rivers on another. Though her army did not possess modern weapons like that of the enemy, the Maharani and her commandant Arjun Das, along with their army fought very valiantly. Arjun Das was killed in the battle and Maharani took the lead and led her army to victory, successfully driving away Asaf Khan and his men.

Elated with the victory, Maharani was keen to continue the war through the night so that the enemy could be totally annihilated. But her counsellors advised her to the contrary and this proved to be a big mistake. That one night was enough for Asaf Khan to smuggle in heavier weapons and artillery.  The war started the next day with the Maharani riding on her elephant Sarman accompanied by her son, Prince Vir Narayan. The prince who was a teenager by now fought mercilessly and made the Moghuls retreat three times. But finally he was wounded seriously. Seeing that her son was very badly injured, the Maharani told him to ride back to Chauragarh fort and he left the battlefield.

Now it was the Maharani alone leading her army. It is understood that Asaf Khan wanted to capture the Maharani alive and despite her valiant fight, she was wounded with an arrow through her jaw near the ear and one on her neck and she lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness she realised that it was imminent that she would be defeated. Her mahout advised her to leave the battlefield but she was sure she would be captured alive. She preferred death to surrender and immediately stabbed herself with her dagger and gave up her life. She was forty years old when she died.

Asaf Khan chased Vir Narayan who put up brave and stiff resistance from inside the Chauragarh fort for a few days but Asaf Khan finally managed to kill him. However, before Asaf Khan could enter the fort and seize the ladies, all the ladies committed ‘Jauhar’ (Voluntarily giving up the life by falling into fire) inside the fort. The priceless treasures found by Asaf Khan in Chauragarh was an evidence of the prosperity of Maharani Durgavathi’s kingdom. These facts are recorded in history by Akbar’s historian Abul Fazl.

Maharani Durgavathi’s fame still lives on and her martyrdom day is celebrated as ‘Balidan Diwas’. The Jabalpur University has been named after her and let us all be proud to have had such a queen, a daughter of Bharat who was a real ‘Shakthi’.

Wishing all of you a very Happy Navarathri!!

Eri Kaatha Ramar

Dear Readers, it has been quite some time from my previous story on Lingodbhava. This time I am sharing a story about an ancient temple near Chennai at a place called Madhurantakam.

For those who know about this place, the mention of Madhurantakam will immediately remind one of the temple of Sri Kodanda Rama and he is known as “Eri Kaatha Ramar” (E in Eri to be pronounced as ‘A’ in ‘ace’ and ‘ri’ as in river). Eri means lake or water reservoir in Tamizh and this Rama is said to have protected the town from inundation due to flooding of the reservoir. This reservoir is indeed huge – it is two thousand four hundred acres in area today! Could have been larger two centuries ago.

Madhurantakam is about one hundred kilometres from Chennai and this temple of Rama is more than a thousand years old. It is believed that the Cholas patronized this town and temple. It is possible that the water reservoir was constructed by them since they were well known for their excellent administration and interest in creating agricultural prosperity.

It is in this temple the great Vaishnavite saint Sri Ramanujacharya was initiated by his teacher Periya Nambigal.

Ma Seetha is known by the name ‘Janakavalli Thaayar” in this temple and she has a separate shrine in this temple. The story of today is of this shrine.

In the years 1795-1799, Madhurantakam came under the jurisdiction of the British Collector Colonel Lionel Blaze. During the monsoon season, the reservoir near the temple used to get filled up and sometimes would breach causing great flooding of the city. It had happened a couple of times and the Colonel had had a terrible time arranging to repair the breach braving the torrential rain and this time, he wanted to be extra cautious and decided to camp at Madhurantakam during the rainy season.

While staying there, he happened to visit the temple of Sri Kodanda Rama. He was received with honours by the priest and was shown around the temple, when he noticed that granite stones were stacked in a corner in the temple compound.

Looking enquiringly at the priest he exclaimed, “What are those stones kept for? They could be used for raising the bund of the reservoir.”

The priest said “Sir, we have planned to build a temple for Seetha Matha and those stones are for that.  Due to paucity of funds we have not started the construction”.

The Colonel looked at the priest with scorn and said, “Funds for building a temple? What is the need for a separate temple for your Goddess? There is need of fund for more compelling things like repairing the bunds of the reservoir. Or will your Rama prevent the bunds from being breached?”

His voice was full with contempt, seeming to mock the faith of the believers.

“Yes Sir, if one has steadfast belief in Rama and offer sincere prayers, he will surely prevent the bunds from being breached” the priest replied in a soft but firm voice. Colonel Lionel Blaze observed the priest but did not say anything.

That night it started raining. Within a short while it started pouring heavily accompanied by deafening thunder and flashes of lightning. It was becoming stronger by the minute and it was as if the water was falling in sheets. Colonel Lionel Blaze had set up his camp with a team of people in a makeshift tent, a little farther from the banks of the reservoir to monitor the situation. They were supposed to check for breaches in the bund every now and then and had kept sand bags ready in case the bunds were breached. But considering the size of the tank, it was going to be an extremely difficult task if there was a breach.

The night was advancing and there was no respite from the rain. The Colonel was worried and he had been going out of his tent every now and then, assessing the situation. The terrible thunder and lightning was also continuing and the members of the Colonel’s team were also going out with him and assessing the intensity of the rain and the level of water on the ground.

It was past midnight. Now, the Colonel went out once again with a few people from his team. The moment he went out there was a streak of lightning so bright, and there was this miraculous sight! Colonel Lionel Blaze could see the figures of two young men walking along the banks of the reservoir. They who were looking majestic and had the gait of lions. Both had bows in their right hand and a quiver full of arrows strung to their shoulders. The Colonel had goosebumps. The lightning flashed once again and he saw them again. There was a radiant glow around them and the Colonel could not take his eyes off them. Then, the rain suddenly stopped all of a sudden and the men vanished.

The Colonel then turned around to his team only to find that they were totally unaware of what the Colonel saw.

The Colonel was filled with deep bliss and slept peacefully. He realised that he had seen Lord Sree Rama and Lakshmana in person.

The day dawned with a bright sun and the Colonel whose anxiety had vanished went to the temple. He told the priests and people what he had witnessed and to the joy of all present undertook the building of the shrine of Janakavalli Thaayaar.

This incident is recorded in the temple in an edict and can be seen even this day.

Thus Lord Kodanda Rama earned the name of “Eri Kaatha Ramar”

Veera Mangai Velu Nachiyar – The first woman to rise against the British rule in India.

“Entaro Mahanubhavulu, antariki vandanamu” sang the poet saint Thyagaraja meaning, “Salutations to the many great people of the world”.

So many great people have lived and gone in this beautiful country Bharat. Some of them we know about and some of them we do not know.

Amongst the many freedom fighters who fought to end the British rule in India there have been many untold stories of exceptional valour, in our history books.

It is indeed sad that these brave hearts have not been showcased in the history taught in our schools.

This time, I am attempting to narrate a story of one such brave heart, in fact, the first woman to wage a battle against the British. “Velu Nachiyar” was her name and she lived between 1730 and 1796.

Before I come to the story, a brief introduction on the political situation in those days for the benefit of the youngsters reading this story.

India was a conglomeration of many provinces and kingdoms, ruled by kings or chieftains, in those days before Independence. The area in and around the present Ramanathapuram district was ruled by the chieftains who had the title of ‘Sethupathi’.

Similarly another kingdom which was ruled by Chieftains was called Sivaganga which is now a district in Tamil Nadu. Sivaganga kingdom was founded by Sasivarna Periya Oodaya Thevar in 1730.

These Chieftains were originally working for the Nayak Kings of Madurai and when the King’s rule weakened, these Chieftains became the rulers of the provinces under their control.

Velu Nachiyar was born on January 3,  1730 to Sellamuthu Vijaya Reghunatha Sethupati (who was king of Ramnathapuram from 1747 till 1762). She was the only child of her parents.

Being born in a royal family, Velu was a natural warrior and was trained in horse riding, martial arts, archery, and in using the Valari, a dreaded weapon made of iron, which was a boomerang used widely in war. She was also taught the rules of war and various strategies used in war. Velu was also taught six languages apart from her mother tongue Tamil, namely, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, English, French and Urdu. She mastered all of them and was fluent in all.

It is really interesting to note that the female child as a heir was treated as equal to a male heir and trained in everything a male heir would have been trained in!

Growing up to be a bold young lady, Velu was married to Muthuvaduganatha Thevar, the son of the Chieftain of Sivaganga, Sasivarna Periya Oodaya Thevar at the age of sixteen. Four years after her marriage, Muthuvaduganatha Thevar became ruler of Sivaganga after his father’s demise and Velu became Rani Velu Nachiyar (Queen Velu Nachiyar).

With the able guidance of his educated wife who took a very great interest in tax reforms and development of waterways and other infrastructure, things were going on very well for the Muthuvaduganatha Thevar and the Kingdom.

Kalayar Kovil was an important town in the Sivaganga province and it had a beautiful temple and Fort.

With the British aspiring to gain more control in South India, they were teaming up with the local kings and playing them against each other and were taking advantage of the situation by grabbing the territory so won. The reasons for waging war were frivolous.

 In one such instance, in 1772, the British, led by General Joseph Smith and Colonel Abraham Bonjour colluding with the then Arcot Nawab attacked Kalaiyarkovil. Muthuvaduganathar, who was present there with his another wife Gowri Nachiyar was taken unawares and was killed treacherously in the most gruesome manner. So many civilians were massacred and the temple was ransacked and plundered. There was looting and arson everywhere and the beautiful town turned into a graveyard with hundreds of bodies strewn around in no time.

During that time, Rani Velu Nachiyar had gone to a nearby place Kollangudi with her young daughter Vellachi. As soon as she came to know of this ghastly attack, the Rani rushed to Kalayarkovil fort only to witness how inhuman this incident had been. It was heart wrenching. The King, Queen, men, women and children had been slaughtered alike without distinction. The temple had been plundered by the British and the Nawab’s soldiers. It is said that  they looted about 50000 pagodas from there. (The pagoda was the unit of currency in use in those days and was made of gold or semi gold).

Rani Velu Nachiyar was devastated at the sight of the destruction. It was sheer fate that saved her, her daughter, the Minister Thandavaraya Pillai and the Marudu brothers who were well known warriors, who served her loyally. They had all been to Kollangudi and escaped the massacre.

The Rani, though overcome with grief at the gruesome incident, had to make up her mind fast. Either she could immolate herself on the pyre of her husband as a ‘faithful wife’ or she could take revenge and wreak havoc on the British the same way they had done to her.

It is said that the Rani took the inspiration from the legendary Kannagi who brought destruction to the city of Madurai over the injustice that was meted out to her husband. She spoke her mind to the minister Thandavaraya Pillai who had been her like a father figure to her. He was her late father in law’s minister too and he concurred with her idea that the British should be taught a lesson. But the time was not ripe yet for the mission. So on his advice, the Rani sought asylum with her daughter in a place called Virupachi near Dindigul which was ruled by one Gopala Nayakkar who was also against the British. The Marudu brothers would live in the outskirts of Sivaganga, in the woods to be the Rani’s informants and to create trouble for the Nawab whenever possible.

In the meanwhile, General Joseph, who came to know about the valorous wife of the slain king wanted to make sure that she was also murdered. He went in search of her to Kollangudi and came to know from his spies that one particular young woman knew the whereabouts of the Rani Velu Nachiyar. He zeroed in on the woman and questioned her repeatedly. Despite the mental torture inflicted by the General, the woman would simply not give away the whereabouts of the Rani. As a result the lady was inhumanly cut up with a sword in the most ghastly manner by the General. 

Rani Velu heard of the incident and was deeply saddened. She performed the last rites of this valiant young woman at Virupachi. It is said that in her later days, the Rani named her army “Udaiyal Padai” in memory of this young woman.

In the safe haven of Virupachi, Rani Velu was planning her next strategy. She badly needed an ally and forces to go against the British. With the consultation of her Minister, they decided that approaching Hyder Ali, the de facto ruler of Mysore would be the best thing to do. Hyder Ali was a strong force to reckon with as he was also dead against the British rule. Secondly, allying with a Muslim king would prevent the Nawab of Arcot from offering assistance to the British.

In the meanwhile, Sivaganga had been renamed Hussain Nagar by the Arcot Nawab and his son Ameer- ul- Umara was ruling there as the Nawab’s representative.

Rani Velu initiated the correspondence to Hyder Ali seeking military assistance and a letter was sent to him. It was planned to meet Hyder Ali in person also.

Unfortunately, Rani’s minister Thandavaraya Pillai passed away and so the meeting did not materialise. However, shortly thereafter, Hyder Ali made a visit to Dindigul and Rani Velu met him and conversed with him in chaste Urdu.

It is said that Hyder Ali was greatly impressed by the tenacity of this lady and more wonderstruck in the way she spoke flawless Urdu. Both being against the British rule, they discussed the problems created by the British at length and on how to quell the British.

Hyder Ali sanctioned the Rani a princely sum to maintain herself at the Fort and raise an army. He also gave instructions to one Syed Karki to make her stay in the Dindigul Fort as comfortable as should be for a queen and treat her like a queen.

Since Rani Velu Nachiyar was a devotee of the Mother Goddess, he also facilitated her daily worship at temple of Goddess Rajarajeswari within the Fort premises.

Rani Velu Nachiyar started raising a Women Military Regiment and was the trainer herself for her recruits.

The army was given rigorous physical training and was also trained in guerrilla warfare under the careful eye of the Rani.  The army had women captains and spies as any other army in the world would have. One of the Captains was Kuyili, who was a close confidante of the Queen.

 In addition to this army, the Rani also got 5000 cavalry and 5000 infantry from Hyder Ali to assist her when she would launch the attack to restore Sivaganga.

In 1780, the army of women, along with Rani Velu Nachiyar headed towards Sivaganga in disguise.         

 The British also suspected that something was to happen in Sivaganga, but could not get to know clearly what would happen. In anticipation of any attack they had stored lot of ammunition in the arsenal near the Rajarajeswari temple within the Sivaganga Fort.

Kuyili came to know of this. The Rani was apprised of the situation and they had to decide quickly on their strategy.

It was the day before Vijayadasami (during Navaratri) in the month of October. The temple in the fort premises being that of the mother Goddess, it was the usual practice of hundreds of ladies to come for worship in the temple from far and near and were allowed freely into the fort.

The whole army, carrying baskets of fruits and flowers and oil and ghee for worship entered the fort. What the British soldiers and the Nawab’s men did not know was the baskets had weapons like the deadly Valari concealed in them. They were easily hoodwinked.

It was twilight and the sun had almost set. Kuyili went inside the temple and drenched herself with the oil and ghee. In a swift move, carrying a lighted wick, she dashed into the arsenal where the ammunition was kept, lit herself and threw her burning self on the ammunition.

The huge blast that followed, shook the entire town and the hearts of the British alike. It was unthinkable and probably the first suicide bombing in history. Kuyili had become a human bomb and sacrificed herself for her province.

In the meanwhile the cavalry and infantry had entered the town and in the panic that followed, lot of the Nawab’s men and the Britishers met the same fate in the hands of the women’s army, as Rani Velu’s people met eight years ago. The Nawab was captured alive and his flag brought down and the flag of the Rani hoisted.

The province was rid of the British and the Nawab’s men and the Rani was crowned Queen of Sivaganga.

She ruled the province for ten years thereafter with the able assistance of the Marudu Brothers and in 1790, handed over the administration to her daughter Vellachi.

It is said that as a thanksgiving gesture to Hyder Ali, Rani Velu Nachiyar built a mosque at the place called Sarugani near Sivaganga. She also maintained friendly relations with Tipu Sultan, son of Hyder Ali, after the passing away of Hyder Ali in 1782.

Rani Velu Nachiyar passed away on December 25, 1796 suffering from a heart ailment.

She is remembered in her Tamil Nadu as the “Veera Mangai”, meaning, the daring woman.  

The Government of India has honoured her by releasing a postage stamp in December 2008 and the Tamil Nadu Government has built a Memorial for her in 2014 at Sivaganga.

It is a matter of immense pride that Rani Velu Nachiyar was the first lady to rise up against the British rule in India!

Today is Rani Velu Nachiyar’s 289th birth anniversary.

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