While we all pride ourselves by knowing just a sliver of Indian history, notably of the brave Jhansi ki Rani, most are mistaken and are quick to coin her as the first queen to revolt against the British. That honour goes to Rani Velu Nachiyar of Sivaganga, whose name is unfortunately alien to the average Indian.
Known affectionately to Tamils as “Veeramangai” (brave woman), she fought the British as early as 1780. She was not only the first queen to revolt, but also earned the title of the first Indian ruler to emerge victorious against the British. If that weren’t sufficient, you’d be pleased to know that she also devised the earliest known suicide bombing in history. Yet, she hasn’t earned the respect of the leftists in India to include her in the national history syllabus, even in Tamil Nadu, I might add.
Being the only child to the King of the Ramnad kingdom herself, she was married off to the king of Sivagangai in 1746, fully equipped with the knowledge of martial arts (mainly Silambatam and Valarie), horse riding and military strategy. Her fluency in French, English and Urdu proved advantageous to her in the years to come, which is ironic as Tamilians then were clearly much more open to learning other languages (I am a Tamilian myself).
The turning point in her life finally arrived in 1772, when the British troops marched into Sivagangai in with the son of the Nawab of Arcot. This was followed by the ‘Kalaiyar Koil War’, which didn’t even spare the innocent women and children of Sivagangai. Her husband, the king, was ruthlessly killed and she managed to flee with her daughter to a town in Dindigul under the care of a freedom fighter named Gopala Nayakar, with the help of the Maruthu Brothers. For 8 years she waited patiently, building an army and winning the trust of powerful leaders, until she was introduced to Hyder Ali of Mysore.
He was so impressed with her Urdu and her exhilarating courage, that he forged an alliance with her, pledging to support her to reclaim her throne. She was then housed in the Dindugal fort where she was treated as a Queen in addition to a monthly allowance of 400 pounds. Hyder Ali provided her with 5000 infantry and cavalry each to lead her revolt. In 1780, she brilliantly plotted a successful coup that banished the British off Sivaganga. Understanding that the feeling ‘Azadi’ had been steeped in her people’s hearts, she got a bunch of loyal warriors who gathered intelligence on where the British kept their ammunition. A woman named Kuyili (sometimes regarded her adopted daughter) then valiantly doused herself in ghee and set herself on fire and jumped into the pile of ammunition, destroying the last line of defense of the British.
Rani Nachiyar then reigned for another astonishing decade before giving up the throne in favour of her daughter. Out of gratitude to Hyder Ali, she built a mosque at Saragani as a tribute to the soldiers who fought for her. She then died in 1796 at the age of 66 of a sickness, leaving the world as the epitome of valour and courage. Her sheer determination to win at all costs and loyalty to her motherland is one quality that ought to be taught to every Indian. After all, do our lives really mean anything, if we pompously forget the heroes who gave us this life?
- Mane, K. (2018, June 22). Velu Nachiyar (Veeramangai) Biography: Life History of the Queen of Sivaganga. Retrieved from https://learn.culturalindia.net/velu-nachiyar.html
- S, L. P. (2018, August 28). Velu Nachiyar & Kuyili: The Women Who Took Down The British 85 Yrs Before 1857! Retrieved from https://www.thebetterindia.com/157316/news-india-independence-women-fighters-british-raj/