A community dance performance is on. The members of the troupe belong to all age groups, ranging from three years to fifty or sixty. In horizontal and vertical lines, they are dancing to the tune of a folk song of a brave young man who with a round tilak on his forehead marched on a white horse, leading the Palayakarar (Polygars).
The kongu region is famous for its soothing dialect and the same region has catered to the valour of Deeran Chinnamalai and his men.
The Robinhood of the Kongunadu region (covering Coimbatore, Erode, Karur belt of West Tamilnadu), Theerthagiri Sarkarai Goundar with his men trained in warfare stood against the power structures (Hyder Ali at first, followed by the Britishers) by looting the men who were on their way back after collecting the taxes. The songs tell us that he asked Diwan Mohammed Ali, the tax collector of Hyder Ali to convey the message that
“In between Sennimalai and Sivanmalai there reigns Chinnamalai”
And this earned him the name, Dheeran Chinnamalai and the resonance of this announcement still throbs in the hearts of the millions of the Kongu region.
To fight against the common enemy, Chinnamalai joined hands with Tipu Sultan. After the death of the latter in 1799 in the fourth Anglo-Mysore War, he continued to be a threat for the Britishers, preventing them from establishing their control over the South of Tamilnadu. The Britishers who were basking in the glory of their victories against the rulers all over the country, were but helpless before the army of Dheeran Chinnamalai who is said to have won all wars he fought.
He formed an alliance against the British that included the local rulers as well as the Maratha Kings and Pazhassi Raja. Even after the Marudhu Pandiyar Brothers and Veera Pandiya Kattabomman who were part of the Polygar war were caught by treachery by the Britishers and executed, Dheeran Chinnamalai remained a threat for the British soldiers through his guerilla war tactics. They were defeated consequently by his forces in the battles held in the banks of the river Cauvery, the plain lands between Sivanmalai and Chennimalai and Arachalur.
There is a widespread belief that Britishers wiped out the history of Chinnamalai from the documents as those episodes were too embarrassing for them – accepting their defeat in the hands of a local chieftain. Tales tell us that Lieutenant Maxwell was killed by Chinnamalai and his head was placed in a thambalam (copper plate) and was gifted to the Britishers, whereas the documents are silent on the death of Maxwell.
Britishers repeated their act of treachery here too. With the help of Deeran Chinnamalai’s cook, Nallappan, they managed to capture him in the year 1805 from the Odanilai fort, established by him. Deeran Chinnamalai was hanged in the fort of Sankagiri on July 31, as he refused to oblige the British force and the Odanilai fort was brought to the ground by them.
The dance forms like Oyilattam and Kummi hail the son of the soil, who has acquired the stature of a demi-god. As the Bard of Avon has sung, ‘So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this and this gives life to thee’, our Dheeran Chinnamalai. These songs should travel beyond the Kongu region traversing the boundaries of class and caste; that they have the power to inspire millions to stand united for the cause of the Nation. A day would dawn where our children will be reading the ballads of our national heroes through their textbooks instead of Lochinvar and his feats.