Veerapandiya Kattabomman: Tamil Chieftain Who Opposed British Rule, Defeated Them Twice and Hanged at 39
The Indian Independence Movement happened in bits and parts across the country many years before the 1857 Uprising. These movements every now and then indeed terrorized the British. They feared that if such movements gain momentum and the chieftains and people get united for the cause, their ‘rule and loot a rich India’ strategy would fail. They curbed these movements in every possible way – killing, destroying sites, hanging the freedom fighters so that Indians who thought about an uprising took a lesson. But this barbaric policy of the British did not deter the spirits of the true sons and daughters of the soil. It is but an irony that many an Indian also sided with the British, helping them arrest the freedom fighters and were rewarded. Had they also fought for the freedom of our motherland, we would have attained freedom much before 1947. And the bigger irony at present is that such anti-India forces are still breeding, harming our motherland culturally, socially, politically, and economically.
Our History textbooks are filled with the glories of our invaders. The contribution of many freedom fighters from across the country has not found a place in these books. How do we know about the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters by our soil? How do we draw inspiration from their brave, valorous, and patriotic endeavors? Here is a saga of a brave Tamil chieftain Veerapandiya Kattabomman, one of the earliest freedom fighters, who opposed British rule. He refused to pay taxes, fought against them, until he was hanged at the age of 39. He embraced death, but did not give in to the demands of the British. As aforementioned, his friends helped the British arrest him. Otherwise History of that region of India would have been different!
Veerapandiya Kattabomman was born on January 3, 1760 to Jagaveera Kattabomman and Aarumugathammal, a Nayakkar family at Panchalankurichi of present Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu.
Lineage and Legacy of Veerapandiya Kattabomman
The downfall of the Vijaynagara Empire in Tamil Nadu saw the rise of governors of the kingdom declaring independence and establishing independent kingdoms. The Nayakkars ruled the Pandya region. They divided their territories into 72 palayams or regions. They appointed a palaiyakkarar, the feudal title for a class of territorial administrative and military governors, for each palayam. The palaiyakkarars were entrusted with the role to administer their respective territories, collect taxes, run the local judiciary, and maintain an army for the Nayakkar rulers. Veerapandiya Kattabomman’s ancestor was a minister in the court of Jagaveera Pandyan, a Pandyan desendent. As the king was issueless, he declared Kattabomman as his successor. On February 2, 1790, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, aged 30 became the chieftain of Panchalankurichi palayam.
Events Leading to British Supremacy of Nayakkar Kingdom
After the death of Nayakkar king of Madurai, Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha in 1731, his queen Meenakshi ascended the throne. Chanda Sahib, the Mughal Empire’s Sepoy and Divan of the Carnatic betrayed Queen Meenakshi and seized the throne for himself. He was also a vassal to the Nawab of Arcot. The Nayakkar kingdom with all the 72 palayams thus came under the control of the Nawab after Chanda Sahib was beheaded in a mutiny in Tanjore. But the chieftains of the 72 palayams refused to recognise the Nawab as their king. They stopped paying taxes. Meanwhile, the Nawab faced bankruptcy and borrowed a huge sum from the British. Not able to return his dues, he ceded the right to collect taxes and levies from 72 palayams to the British.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman Did Not Submit to British Supremacy
Eventually by the 1790s, the British mercilessly looted the wealth Tamil Nadu in the name of tax and other levies. All chieftains of the 72 palayams except Veerapandiya Kattabomman gave in to the demand and savagery of the British. Veerapandiya Kattabomman did not submit to British supremacy.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman Killed British Deputy Commandant Clarke and other British Soldiers
Veerapandiya Kattabomman did not pay any tax to the British despite repeat orders. Months passed by. The British then entrusted the Collector of the region Jackson to sort the issue. Jackson ordered Kattabomman to meet him but the Tamil chieftain refused. Finally, under repeat requests, Veerapandiya Kattabomman agreed to meet him but at the same time determined not to give in to the enemy’s demand. The venue of the meeting was Ramalinga Vilasam, the palace of Sethupathi of Ramanathapuram.
The British treacherously planned to capture the Tamil chieftain at Ramalinga Vilasam so that they could set an example for other possible defaulters. As Veerapandiya Kattabomman was resolute in his decision of not submitting to British supremacy, the meeting ended in a combat. Kattabomman killed Clarke, the Deputy Commandant of the British. In the process of getting himself and his men to safety, he killed several British soldiers. Kattabomman’s aide, Thanapathi Pillai was captured and taken prisoner.
Lousington’s Attempt to Meet Veerapandiya Kattabomman
Following the failure of Jackson to sort the issue of Panchalankurichi palayam and his inability to capture Veerapandiya Kattabomman, the British sacked him. They appointed Lousington as the new Collector of Tirunelveli. It was the year 1799. Lousington wrote a letter to Kattabomman, expressing his desire to meet him. The Tamil chieftain agreed on one condition – whatever was robbed from him at Ramalinga Vilasam in Ramanathapuram should be restored to him first. This was unacceptable to Lousington.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman Defeated Combined Forces of British
Ettayapuram is the neighboring palayam of Panchalankurichi, Veerapandiya’s principality. Lousington bribed its palaiyakkarar to wage war against Veerapandiya. The palaiyakkarar, who was in a dispute with Veerapandiya, accepted the bribe. Lousington sent in British troops to strengthen Ettayapuram’s forces. The combined forces attacked Panchalankurichi. The valorous Veerapandiya Kattabomman and his army easily defeated them.
Thereafter, the British army under the commandment of Major Bannerman, stationed themselves at all the four entrances of Panchalankurichi fort with a motive to attack. Veerapandiya Kattabomman and his forces reciprocated with a daring attack on the southern entrance. They killed the British troops stationed there including their commander Lieutenant Collins. They also destroyed their weaponry. Unable to withstand the sudden heavy loss, the rest of the British troops withdrew to Palayamkottai.
The Treacherous Capture of Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Barbarism of British
The British forces were far more superior in weaponry, ammunition, and troops. Veerapandiya and his army did fight bravely and defeated them. But he knew that the British forces would come back with bigger reinforcements and heavy artillery and the small fort of Panchalankurichi would not be able to survive a barrage from their heavy cannons. With an objective to seek help from neighboring palaiyakkarars and arrange a huge army, Veerapandiya Kattabomman with his aides left the fort that night.
The British were able to capture 17 close aides of Veerapandiya including Thanapathi Pillai. They beheaded Thanapathi Pillai, perched his head on a bamboo pole, and displayed it at Panchalankurichi to create terror amongst the Indians. They executed the rest of the 16 prisoners openly to demoralize the sentiments of the freedom fighters. The British were able to capture Soundarapandian Nayakkar, also an associate of Veerapandiya. They exceeded all limits of barbarism in their treatment of Soundarapandian Nayakkar. They brutally killed him by smashing his head repeatedly against a village wall until the inner contents of his brains spattered all over it.
A big reward to the one who could help the British in arresting Veerapandiya Kattabomman was announced. The Tamil chieftain moved from place to place in hiding until he reached the Thirukalambur forests close to Pudukkottai. The palaiyakkarar of Pudukkottai instead of helping his fellow Indian sided with the British and helped them capture him. After trial, the British hanged Veerapandiya Kattabomman unceremoniously on a tamarind tree. It was 16 October 1799. He was then aged only 39. The fort of Panchalankurichi was razed to the ground and all of his wealth was looted by the British.
My India My Glory salutes Veerapandiya Kattabomman! Jai Hind!
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