Sivagangai, a small town with an area of around ten kilometres is brimming with joy and pride for the day January 3, 2022, marks the 292nd birth anniversary of Veeramangai (Brave Young Lady) Rani Velunachiyar.
Along with other brave hearts who fought against the British in the series of wars termed the Polygar wars, Queen Velunachiyar too was cast into oblivion by the historians of the country. As part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the whole nation is paying tributes to the unsung heroes of the land and thus Velunachiyar’s birthday today has caught the attention of everyone with the Prime Minister of the country and other leading personalities paying tributes to the indomitable spirit of Veeramangai, who in fact is the first Queen to build up strong resistance against the British and successful in restoring her lost kingdom.
Princess Velu Nachiyar was born in the year 1730 to King Chellamuthu Vijayaragunatha Sethupathy and Queen Sakandhimuthathal in the kingdom of Ramnad. She was a trained warrior who had unparalleled skills in archery, horse riding, handling weapons like Valari and Silambam and several martial arts. A brilliant student, she was also proficient in many languages including French, English and Urdu. It is said that Britishers were astounded when she proclaimed in all these languages that her kingdom will never pay tax to the English East India Company. She married Muthu Vaduganatha Peruyavudaya Thevar of Sivagangai Seemai in 1746.
Muthu Vaduganathar ascended the throne of Sivagangai in 1750 and his reign was a golden era in the history of the land. He refused to accept the supremacy of Nawab of Arcot who was in alliance with the British East India Company. This resulted in a series of battles and the combined power of ECI and Nawab were met with defeats one after another. The latter resorted to treachery as usual and landed an attack on the Kalayar temple when the king came for darshan unarmed on June 25, 1772, and Muthu Vaduganathar attained veergathi. The responsibility of protecting the country amidst the turmoil was vested upon Velu Nachiyar and she ascended the throne as ‘Gowri Vallabha Rani Velu Nachiyar’.
The next seven years witnessed Rani Velu Nachiyar devising plans in exile in the forest ranges around Virupatchi near Dindigul against the Nawab and EIC. Along with her daughter who was only two years old during the death of her husband, Rani shifted her base between various forts around Virupatchi and strengthened her army by developing strategic relations with the Mysore King of Hyder Ali to fight against the British forces. The two Maruthu Pandiyar Brothers were the strong pillars of support to her in this mission.
In the Tamil month of Aippasi (second half of October), 1780 all was set for the final battle against the British. Her army marched from Dindigul to Sivagangai. It is said that there was a women-only regiment that was named after Udayal, a little peasant girl who was beheaded by the English men for refusing to give information about Velu Nachiyar during her period of exile.
A suicide attack was devised to destroy the arsenal of East India Company. It was the festive season of Navarathri and Vijayadasami. The women soldiers with weapons concealed entered the fort disguising themselves as the participants of the Raja Rajeshwari Devi pooja in the temple located inside the Sivagangai fort. Kuyili, the commander, with oil and ghee applied all over her body, jumped into the arsenal and set fire to it. This is considered the first suicide attack recorded in history.
The battle that followed saw the victory of Queen Velu Nachiyar and the army of East India Company led by Brigadier General Joseph Smith was defeated. Sivagangai Seemai which by then was named Hussein Nagar was captured back from the British and Velu Nachiyar restored herself to power in 1780. After serving her land for a decade, she transferred the power to her daughter Vellachi in 1790. Veeramangai Velu Nachiyar left for heavenly abode after six years on December 25, 1796.
Veeramangai Velu Nachiyar belongs to the clan of warrior Queens of our land who with their might, power and brilliance stood against their enemies that included the Mughals and the British. The life stories of these great warrior souls can teach us greater lessons than any other text on women’s empowerment.