1801 – Thirupathur Massacre – one of the most brutal and inhuman episodes in the history of Bharat is but known only to a few. In the month of October 1801, five hundred and fifty warriors offered their lives in the altar of their motherland. They were hanged from the gallows made of palmyra trunks. Their leaders Chinna Maruthu and Periya Maruthu, revered by the countrymen as Maruthu Pandiyars were tortured to death. They were imprisoned in a lion’s cage. After inflicting stabs with the sword, they were hanged to death on 24th October. Periya Maruthu’s head was chopped off and kept for display in front of the Kalayar Temple, miles away from Thirupathur. The English made sure that no male heirs of the family is left out except a young boy of fifteen years. Four months later in the month of February 1802 he was deported to Prince of Wales Island also known as the Penang Island along with other slaves from Tirunelveli.
The prime targets of the 1801 Thirupathur Massacre were the Maruthu Pandiya Brothers, the Chieftains of the Sivagangai Seemai ruled by Queen Velu Nachiyar. Born and brought up in a modest family in Virudhunagar, Maruthu Brothers rose to the position of commanders in the army of Muthu Vaduganatha Periyaudaya Thevar, the ruler of Sivagangai Samasthanam because of their skills as warriors. Later they proved themselves as competent administrators and philanthropists.
In 1772 Britishers murdered the king when he came to Kalayar temple unarmed for the darshan. Maruthu Pandiyar Brothers assisted Queen Velu Nachiyar in the escapade into the Virupakshi forests in Dindigul. The grooves in the forests became their headquarters from where they successfully established diplomatic relations with Hyderali of Mysore and also the surrounding Palayams and mustered their forces to fight against the English East India Company and the Nawab of Arcot. In the war that was fought between 1778-79, the British forces succumbed to the might of the Maruthu Brothers. Velu Nachiyar was restored to power in 1780.
The next two decades were the golden period in the history of Sivagangai seemai. After the demise of Queen Velu Nachiyar in 1796, Maruthu Pandiyars stood as the pillar of support to the inheritor of the throne, Queen Vellachi. Temples were given generous grants. Water tanks and ponds were renovated. In the meanwhile, they were also successful in garnering forces against the British. The Palayakarars of the South namely Veera Pandiya Kattabomman, his brother Oomaithurai, Pazhasi Raja, Deeran Chinnamalai and many others came together against the East India Company. The Jampu Theevu Prakadanam read out by Chinna Maruthu on June 16, 1801 was a call for unity among the Indians to fight against the common enemy – the Europeans. The months that followed witnessed the fierce fight between the forces led by the English and the Palayakarars.
Maruthu Brothers and their men were indomitable. The indigenous guerrilla warfare techniques of using a boomerang weapon called Valari, tunnel making and mountaineering, finding directions with the help of birds, setting traps and self-disappearing magic tricks gave them an upper hand. After a series of defeats, the English resorted to treachery. Twenty-five cannons were placed around the Kalayar Swarna Kaleeshwarar Temple and it was announced that the twin raja gopurams of the temple constructed by the Maruthu Brothers will be destroyed if they failed to surrender. To Maruthu Pandiyars, Swadharma was more important than their lives. To protect the temple and the raja gopuram, they surrendered to the British along with their men.
What followed was an unparalleled massacre in History where no ‘yudha dharma or needhi’ was followed. The soldiers and the men of the immediate and extended families of Maruthu Pandiyars were brutally executed in the fort of Thirupathur. Even though the official records state the casualty as five hundred and fifty, it is believed that the actual figure crosses three thousand. For three days, these dead bodies were left untouched but were the food for the vultures.
Kalayar Temple was looted and the Britishers stole gold worth 50,000 pagodas. They imposed a ban on all indigenous weapons including Valari. The forests around the temple were cleared. Tinnevelly – the present-day Tirunelveli also became one of the prominent slave trading centres of the Britishers where thousands of men and women were deployed to the plantations in the British colonies.
Thanks to the Kummis – the folk-dance form and folk songs, Maruthu Brothers have served as the source of inspiration to the generations unlike many unsung heroes of our land who were pushed to obscurity by the colonial historians. To date the people in and around Sivagangai observe 27th October as Guru Pooja Day, to pay homage to their ancestors whose disfigured and leftover mortal remains were cremated after three days of the massacre. Even though the Britishers and the anglophile historians of post-Independent India took all the possible measures to suppress the mighty heritage of valour and devotion to our motherland and its culture, the legacy left by them is indelible and inescapable.