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Sunday, September 1, 2019

remembering freedom fighter Puli Thevar


The piece of history that we did not reach much in our schools .. .. in 1731, the last of Nayaka Kings, Vijayaranga Chokkanatha died without issue and was succeeded by his Queen Meenakshi who adopted a son as heir to the throne.  Rebels however set up Vangaru Thirumalai, the father of the boy she adopted.  As the dispute became bigger, Nawab of Arcot sent an army in 1734 under the command of his son Safdar Ali and relation Chanda Saheb to seize any opportunity  that might offer for getting possession ot Trichinopoly.  Chandasahen after offering an oath that he would do nothing to Queen’s deteriment was admitted with a body of troops into the city whereupon, he treasoned in usurping the Govt.  ~  that was the true colour of Chanda sahib !

In History of Travancore, a  few battles between the Travancore Kings and the British at Kalakkadu are recorded. Joannes de Lannoy, the only son of Eustachius De Lannoy, was killed in battle of Kalakkad on 14 Sept 1765. Eustache BenoĆ®t de Lannoy was a French-born naval commander of the Dutch East India Company, who was sent by the company to help establish a trading post at Colachel, but was defeated at the Battle of Colachel by the Travancore army under Maharaja Marthanda Varma in 1741, and subsequently became a valiant and successful commander of the same foreign army that had defeated him.

Kalakkad is a Panchayat town in Tirunelveli district.  The town is centered on the
Sathya Vageeswarar Temple.  Calakkadu was a scene of frequent struggles during  1750s ~ but have we ever read anything on this place in our History books ? – in schools ??  -   there were battles of : Nelkattumseval, Kalakkadu, siege of Srivilliputhur, Tirunelveli, Settur, Vasudevanallur and more !

Indian history was written by the British and distorted by Red orientation.  We have read a lot in schools about the  Battle of Plassey  in which  British East India Company scored a decisive victory over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies on 23 June 1757.  Robert Clive bribed Mir Jafar, the commander in chief of the Nawab's army, and also promised him to make him Nawab of Bengal. He defeated the Nawab at Plassey in 1757 and captured Calcutta.   Major-General Stringer Lawrence first Commander-in-Chief, seems to have entered the army in 1727 and served in Gibraltar and Flanders, subsequently taking part in the Battle of Culloden. In 1748, with the rank of major and the reputation of an experienced soldier, he came down to India to command the East India Company's troops. He successfully foiled an attempted surprise by Dupleix's French troops at Cuddalore, but was captured by a French cavalry patrol at Ariancopang (modern Ariankuppam).  He was kept prisoner by the French until the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.  He fought as a senior officer under Robert Clive !  In 1757 he served in the operations against Wandiwash.

We read in our books ‘the uprising of 1857’ not as a National movement, not as a freedom struggle but as sepoy mutiny, an uprising by a group of soldiers.  Perhaps sons of cow belt soil would remember the movie  - Mangal Pandey - The Rising (The Rising - Ballad Of Mangal Pandey)  and the hero of the movie.   .. .. .. he was not the first man though, and Uprising – the National struggle of 1857 was not the first fight against British East India Company.  Down under, we have read about the exploit of Poligars (Nayakars) – the name and exploits became legendary more because of the 1959 tamil film “Veerapandiya Kattabomman”  written by Sakthi T. K. Krishnasamy and directed by B. R. Panthulu. Everybody aspiring to become an actor would try to repeat those immortal dialogues uttered by Sivaji Ganesan.  

There have been many rulers in this part of land, around the 15th  century it was Pandyan dynasty, then Nayakas,  as the Vijayanagara Telugus were called. Madura was fortified Nayakas; the constitution of the Polygars, ancestors of  present Zemindars of Tinnevelly and Madura, is assigned by tradition to Visvanatha Nayaka, and was by far the most important political event of the time.  There were Maravars and Thevars who fought for freedom.  On this day 304 years ago (1st Sept 1715) was born “Puli thevar”.  Nelkattum Seval was the headquarters of Puli thevar, the first Chieftain in India to resist the British. Nelkatum seval is chiefly memorable as having been in the eighteenth century strong hold of the redoubtable Puli Thevar, who figured for many years as a leader against the troops of the Nawab and the company. “Nelkattum Serval” literally translates to “Rice tribute paying place”, but after its ruler Puli Thevan’s successful attempts, the name changed to nel kattan serval (“place which would not pay rice as tax)



Pulithevan is regarded as the first ruler in Indian history, who sowed the seed, by his gallant resistance, to expel from his nature land even before the 1806 revolt of Vellore and Sepoy mutiny in 1857.  Puli thevar was an illustrious ruler in the chequered history of Palayakarars.    As Puli Thevar refused the British demand for the payment of fief as an acceptance of their lordship over him, they launched an attack on Thevar. Puli Thevar’s informant in the British camp, the interpreter of Heron, sent him news that the British were short on supplies and did not have much heavy artillery. Hearing this Thevar decided to hold the British attack further. There were so many battles involving Pulithevan and the ones read at the start of the post were the battles fought by him. 

Understanding fully well that the British would not back down and would come back to attack his people again, Puli Thevar sent one of his generals to Travancore to win over the support of Maharaja Marathanda Varma who was the regent of Travancore. The general managed to convince His Majesty to support the Poligar confederacy lead by Puli Thevar and returned back with 4000 troops.  The name Puli in Tamil means a Tiger, and this brave devotee of Mahadeva was one who lived to his name. Unmatched in skill of warfare, understanding of politics and full of fire this man was born to be a rebel. Not a rebel without cause, rather a rebel against Adharma.

In contrast, Yusuf Khan was employed as commander of East India Company’s native troops in which capacity, he showed ability and zeal to the satisfaction of European superiors, that at the recommendation of Genl Lawrence, then C-in-C, the Govt on 25th Mar 1754 conferred upon him a regular commission and presented him a gold medal for doing them favours.  This Khan Yusuf Khan aka Marudhanayagam battled Puli Thevar, the Poligar.  First he and East India Co convinced Raja of Travancore to make alliance with Nawab and work against Puli thevar.  He captured some of Puli’s forts however, in 1760 suffered a humiliating defeat against the thevar.  According to legends and folk songs – Yusuf khan’s forces were driven from Nelkattumseval to the outskirts of Madurai.  He retreated and returned with more troops and inflicted severe casualties on Poligars.  ~ and the actor is bent upon glorifying this character by the film, the trailer of which was attended by Queen Victoria and the loans that were taken by some accounts sank one reputed Chit fund company. Forget those people, let us salture Pulithevan and innumerable martyrs who fought for our freedom.

                        Today we remember this fighter and salute those innumerable warriors but for whom, we would not be enjoying the fruits of freedom

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
1st Sept 2019.

Pic credit : twitter image.


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