Saga of gallantry: Veeramangai Velu Nachiyar, the Queen of Sivagangai

This remarkably astute lady first rose in revolt against the British and allied forces. She was the first queen to defeat the British and recovered the lost kingdom. Let us know about this very popular and courageous queen of present-day Tamil Nadu, Velu Nachiyar.

There is no dearth of great Indian women rulers who fought against foreign invasions. Earlier, I wrote about the great Gond Queen-mother, Rani Durgavati (Reference:- Saga of gallantry: Rani Durgavati) and Mata Bhag Kaur, the female bodyguard of Guru Gobind Singh-ji Maharaj (Reference:- Saga of gallantry: Mai Bhago). Now let us know about another great lady, Veeramangai Velu Nachiyar, who defeated the British and re-conquered her husband's kingdom. Many historians give her credit of utilizing the concept of 'suicide bombing' to destroy the ammunition of the British. Let us study what this great lady did for which people still remember her although history books are more or less silent about her exploits.

Early life of Velu Nachiyar

The great lady was born on 3rd January, 1730 at Ramanathapuram in present Tamil Nadu. She was the only child of Raja Chellamuthu Sethupathy and Rani Sakandhimuthal of the Ramnad kingdom. The royal couple brought her up like a male child. She was well-trained to use different types of weapons, especially sword-fighting. She was an expert horse-rider. She learnt ancient martial arts like silambam, valari, varmakalai. The royal couple also arranged proper education of young Velu Nachiyar. She used to speak English, French and Urdu very fluently. She studies rules of war very thoroughly. At an age of sixteen, Velu Nachiyar was married to the King of Sivagangai, Muthuvaduganathar. Velu Nachiyar became the Queen of Sivagangai.

The royal couple of Sivagangai ruled for two decades undisturbed, till the danger knocked their door.

British attacked Sivagangai

Her husband and daughter died fightingIn 1772, the British invaded the kingdom of Sivangagai. The son of Nawab of Arcot joined the British invaders. Rani Velu Nachiyar received the terrible news soon after. Her husband Raja Muthuvaduganathar and her daughter Princess Gauri Nachiyar died fighting to protect Kalaiyar Koil Palace. The royal family's very trusted minister of three generations, Thandavarayan Pillai and Pandiyar brothers (another two trusted generals) were injured in the attack. British rule started at Sivagangai. Rani Velu escaped to Dindigul with another daughter.

Rani Velu Nachiyar assumed the command

Thandavarayan Pillai and Maruthu Pandiyar brothers promised the Rani that they would recapture the kingdom and ''punish'' the British and the Nawab of Arcot, who joined the British. Rani Velu Nachiyar assumed the command of her army. On the advice of Thandavarayan Pillai, she entered into an alliance with Hyder Ali, the then ruler of Mysore. Hyder Ali promised to provide her 5000 infantry and 5000 cavalry to fight the British. She regularly changed her base to confuse the British.

Rani started re-conquering her kingdom

The rejuvenated army of the Rani Velu under the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers and with the support of Syed Karki (the general sent by Hyder Ali) attacked the British force which was assisted by the treacherous Nawab of Arcot. The daring Rani and her soldiers adopted many innovative methods to destroy and confuse the British and allied forces.

Suicide attacks: First time in India

Rani Velu came to know the exact location of British ammunition storage from her intelligence. One of her female followers, Kuyili, doused herself in oil and set herself alight inside the storehouse causing a huge explosion. Rani's adopted daughter Udaiyaal detonated herself in the British barrack killing many soldiers. Later Rani Velu formed a women's army which she named after her adopted daughter.

Finally the victory came

Rani Velu Nachiyar's forces overcame one after another hurdle which came in their way and ultimately re-captured Sivagangai. The Nawab of Arcot was defeated conclusively and taken captive. Velu Nachiyar was again crowned Queen of Sivagangai.

First female ruler to revolt against the British

This remarkable and courageous lady was the first female ruler who revolted against the British and defeated them. She was an extremely popular ruler who was adored, respected and loved by her subjects. She continued ruling Sivagangai till 1790, when she handed over the reign to her daughter, Vellacci. Velu Nachiyar left the world on 25th December, 1796. We must know about this great lady warrior and pass on the information to the next generation.

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