A warrior queen whose legend remains unheard, unknown…
As the nation moves closer to the historic landmark of 75 years of Independence, we need to be ever grateful to the sacrifices, struggles and the indomitable spirit of our freedom fighters and draw inspiration from their life stories. There are many great men and women who remained unsung and their tales of valor and sacrifice did not get due recognition.
Beginning here, I would like to write in a series of posts about the lesser-known women freedom fighters and their invaluable contribution in freeing India from foreign yoke. I feel that every Indian, particularly the younger generation, should read their life stories. Their inspiring tales should become part of our history textbooks.
Rani Velu Nachiyar
The brave Kuyili told her plan-
“Vijayadashami is just a few days away. Women from the nearby villages will be visiting the temple. We can mingle among them and get inside the fort.”
Queen Velu Nachiyar looked towards the fort… her eyes swelled with revenge. Not many years ago, this fort belonged to her. She was the Queen of Sivaganga, her husband Muthu Vaduganatha Thevar used to rule from there.
But one day… in the year 1772…the armies of the East India Company’s and Nawab of Arcot swept down to Sivaganga. King Thevar was martyred while defending his kingdom and Sivaganga was captured by the British. Rani Velu escaped into forests with her infant daughter.
And after eight arduous years, the Queen came back to take her revenge and free her beloved Shivganga from the clutches of the oppressors.
Rani Velu Nachiyar was the only child of the King of Ramnathpuram. So, she was brought up like a prince. From early childhood, she was trained in martial arts, horse riding, archery, silambam (stick fight). A brilliant student, she had good command over several languages such as Tamil, English, French and Urdu.
After the martyrdom of her husband and the loss of Sivaganga, she remained in the forests of Dindigul for a long time and began to build her army with the help of Mysore’s ruler, Hyder Ali.
She created an army of young women and named it after Udiyal, a brave woman who had saved her life while escaping from Sivaganga. She trained these women in different types of warfare. Around the same time, her confidant, Marudu Brothers started raising an army amongst the loyalists in the region.
With this army, Rani Velu gradually started re-conquering Sivaganga province and ultimately reached its fort, where the English were holed up.
It was not easy to capture the fort. Rani Velu did not have the siege equipment to breach the fort.
This was the moment when the brave commander of ‘Udiyal army’- Kuyili came forward.
Kuyili along with a few other women soldiers entered the fort disguised as rural women on the pretext of performing puja. Once inside, they waited for the right moment and unleashed their deadly swords. The British were stunned by this sudden attack. Within no time, these fearless women warriors succeeded in killing the guards and opening the gate of the fort.
This was the moment Rani Velu Nachiyar was waiting for. Her army entered the fort with lightning speed and a fierce battle ensued.
It is said that meanwhile Kuyili noticed the British ammunition store nearby. Without a moment’s delay, she poured the ghee kept in the temple over her body and set herself on fire. Then with a sword in hand, she charged towards the ammunition depot, slashed the sepoys guarding its gate and jumped into it. With an explosion, the ammunition store went into flames. This is probably the first incident of giving such self-sacrifice in defence of the one’s motherland.
The British finally succumbed and Rani Velu had finally freed her kingdom in the year 1780, many decades before the First War of Independence.
Rani Velu Nachiyar, is perhaps, the first Indian queen, who had defeated the British and won back her kingdom.
She was the first ‘Rani of Jhansi’ of India. Every Indian should take inspiration from her life. Her inspiring story should be included in school syllabus and textbooks.
(As written by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu in his Facebook post)