Its festive mood in a temple in south India. Devotees are gathering inside the temple.”Boom”, a massive bomb blast.
The East India company soldiers fell on the ground petrified. Out of the cloud of dust emerged a woman. The most wanted woman in South India in the 18th century. It was Vellunachiyar, Queen of Sivagangai
Jhansi Rani is a well-known freedom fighter from India. She fought against East India company, supporting the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. Little less known is the story of Vellunachiyar and her fight against the East India company.
Her leadership was so good that her troops waited eight years without deserting her.
Vellunachiyar early life:
Vellunachiyar was born to the king of Ramanathapuram (part of modern-day Tamilnadu -South of India).
Though born as a princess, She learned all the arts of warfare and administration. She showed interest and was a quick learner mastering in languages ( Tamil, English, French, Urdu, Telugu, Kanada, and Malayalam). Learning languages helped her in future when she needed the support of French and Hyder Ali(Urdu speaking king in Mysore)
Vellunachiyar married Muthu Vaduga Natha Periya Udaiya the to be king of Sivagangai. They had a daughter, Vellaci.
Where it all started:
The East India Company helped the Nawab of Arcot to cling to his throne by waging war on Nawab rivals. The British then charged the Nawab with the cost of the war.
The Nawab borrowed money from the British merchants to pay the British army. The debt was soaring up. In a dramatic change of fortune, the Nawab gave the right to collect taxes in south India to East India Company. British who came as merchants are now the tax collectors of India.
The local rulers revolted against the British collecting tax. East India company army went all around south India, quelling one revolt after another. The rebels gathered under one umbrella called “Polygars.”
Murdering her husband:
Vellunachiyars Husband Muthu Vaduga Natha was also revolting against the British. East India company plotted to murder Muthu Vaduga Natha. They shot him in point-blank range in a temple when he was unarmed.
After the death of Vellunachiyar’s husband, Nawab of Arcot, along with East India Company, laid their eyes on the Sivaganaga territory. Nawab thought its the right time to attack with the new Queen on the throne. The combined forces of Nawab and East India Company swept into the Sivagangai kingdom. Vellunachiyar left from Sivagangai with his child. She took a pledge that she will take back Sivagangai from the British.
On her way to Dindugal, Vellunachiyar met with a girl who gave her water to quench her thirst. After a while, the British caught the girl tortured her into confessing on the direction Vellunachiyar went. The girl didn’t flinch an eye and was killed, tasting a British bullet.
Her name was “Udayaal.” In her remembrance, Vellunachiyar created an all-women army first of its kind in the world. Velunachiyar constructed a temple for Udayaal. Velunachiyar gave her a diamond necklace as a contribution to the temple.
The Fight to win back her land:
Vellunachiyar rode to see Hyder Ali. Hyder Ali impressed with her fluency in Urdu and French and declared her as his adopted daughter. Hyder Ali helped Vellunachiyar for eight years training her troops and also in financial aspects. Hyder Ali sent 12 cannons and 500 soldiers under his son Tipu Sultan command to fight for Vellunachiyar. Vellunachiyar helped Tipu Sultan to perfect his artillery skills.
After 8 years of waiting, Vellunachiyar marked Vijayadasam (day of celebration to lord Devi) as the day of the attack on the city of Sivagangai. On this occasion, people will be busy celebrating the festivals, and the British garrison will not be on high alert.
The women guard of Vellunachiyar infiltrated into the city in disguise as devotees. The plan was to demolish the ammunition stocks of the British. As the team approached the ammunition stock, they realized that it is not possible to destroy it with the weapons they had. The commander in chief “Kuyilli” applied ghee on her body, set herself on fire, and barged into the ammunition room. Making it probably the first suicide attack in the history of India.
After the attack, British troops were petrified and demoralized as they had no ammunition. They can’t defend the city. British troops surrendered, and Vellunachiyar fulfilled her vow of taking back her lost kingdom. Vellunachiyar even pardoned the East India Company officials who killer her husband. During her reign, the British were never able to get back the Sivagangai kingdom.
Life was beautiful would be the end of this story, but its Vellunachiyar story. Vellunachiyar, with the help of the French, took a ship to France in 1789 and stayed in France for three years. There is evidence that Vellunachiyar taught King Louis daughter how to use a boomerang. Vellunachiyar might have participated in the French revolution. Researchers still argue on this aspect.
Though the year 1857 (Sepoy Mutiny) considered by many as the First Indian independence movement. The reality is that the war of independence started even before that, and also with success were able to take back British occupied lands.
Highlights of Vellunachiyar:
●First Indian ruler to fight, get back and rule her kingdom
●First Indian ruler to travel to Europe.
●First Indian ruler to use an all-women army.
●First Indian ruler to have a full-fledged Guerilla warfare.
●Improvised rocketry technology