1760 - 1799
Kattabomman Statute inside Kattabomman
"..Collector Jackson singled out Kattabomman Nayak of
Panchalamkurichi as the main leader of the rebellion.
That came to be known as the First Poligari War was
declared on 5 September 1799. Although Kattabomman
managed to escape from the field of battle, he was
captured a month later in Pudukottai. After a summary
trial, he was sentenced to death by Major Bannerman,
Commander of the East India Company troops.
He was publicly hanged near Kayattar Fort, close to the
town of Tirunelveli, in front of fellow poligars who had
been summoned to witness the execution..."
N. Rajendran on Veerapandiya Kattabomman and the
early challenges to British Rule
in National Movement in Tamil Nadu, 1905-1914
- Agitational Politics and State Coercion
"...Kattabomman faced the last moments of
his life in a way becoming
of a rebel leader. Major John Bannerman writes to
the Madras Government, 17 October, 1799, thus: 'it may
not be amiss here to observe that the manner and
behaviour of the Poligar during the whole time of his
being before those who were assembled yesterday at the
examination, which took place were undaunted and
supercilious. He frequently eyed the
(Poligar of Ettayapuram), who had been so active in
attempting to secure his person, and the poligar of
Shevighergy with an appearance of indignant contempt and
when he went out to be executed, he walked with a firm
and daring air and cast looks of sullen contempt on the
poligars to his right and left as he passed. It was
reported to me that in his way to the place of execution
he expressed some anxiety for his brother
(Kumaraswamy Nayak) alone: and said, when he reached the
foot of the Tree on which he was hanged, that he then
regretted having left his fort, in the defence of which
it would have been better for him to have died'. Major John Bannerman, 17 October 1799, letter to Madras
Government, R. C , Vol 98, pp: 2877-2884"
quoted by K.Rajayyan in History of Madurai (1736
- 1801) at p.355
Legends from the South:Veerapandiya Kattabomman
The Sanmar Group
for freedom from the British, saw the emergence of many patriots who
fought, made sacrifices and even lost their lives defending the
country. Exhibiting great courage, Tamils were among those who sowed
the seeds for the freedom movement. One such pioneer was
Eighteen kilometres north west of Tirunelveli lies the hamlet of
Panchalankurichi, a place of historical significance. The chieftains
ruling Panchalankurichi put up stiff resistance against the British
East India Company, between 1798 and 1801.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman was a fearless chieftain who refused to bow
down to the demands of the British for agricultural tax on native
land, a brave warrior who laid down his life for his motherland. The
fight he launched in Panchalankurichi has been hailed as the
inspiration behind the first battle of independence of 1857, which
the British called the Sepoy Mutiny.
Azhagiya Veerapandiapuram (Ottapidaram of today) was ruled by
Jagaveera Pandiyan. He had a minister Bommu who had migrated from
Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu who was a brave warrior. He was known
as Gettibommu in Telugu to describe his strength and fighting
qualities. This, over a period of time, became Kattabomman in Tamil.
Kattabomman ascended the throne after Jagaveera Pandiyan, who had no
issue, and later came to be known as Adi Kattabomman, the first of
the clan of Kattabomman.
Legend has it that during a hunting trip into the forests of
Salikulam (close to Azhagiya Pandiyapuram) Kattabomman watched the
spectacle of a hare chasing seven hounds. Kattabomman was amazed at
this miracle. Believing that the land possessed great powers that
could instil courage in people, he built his fort there and named it
Born in this clan of Adi Kattabomman was Veerapandiyan on January 3,
1760 – the 47th king of Panchalankurichi – to Jagaveera Kattabomman
and Arumugathammal. He had two younger brothers Dalavai Kumarasami
and Duraisingam. Veerapandiyan was fondly called ‘Karuthaiah’ (the
black prince), and Dalavai Kumarasami, ‘Sivathaiah’ (the white
prince). Duraisingam, a good orator, earned the sobriquet ‘Oomaidurai’,
which actually meant the very opposite – the dumb prince.
On February 2, 1790, Veerapandiyan, thirty, became the king of
Panchalankurichi. The Nawab of Arcot who had borrowed huge sums of
money from the East India Company gave them the right to collect
taxes and levies from the southern region in lieu of the money he
had borrowed. The East India Company took advantage of the situation
and plundered all the wealth of the people in the name of tax
collection. All the ‘poligars’ paid taxes except Veerapandiyan.
Kattabomman refused to pay his dues and for a long time refused to
meet Jackson the Collector of the East India Company. Finally, he
met Jackson at ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’, the palace of Sethupathi of
Ramanathapuram. The meeting ended in a skirmish in which the Deputy
Commandant of the Company’s forces, Clarke was slain. Kattabomman
and his men fought their way to freedom and safety, but Thanapathi
Pillai, Kattabomman’s secretary was taken prisoner.
The Commission of Enquiry that went into the incident fixed the
blame on Jackson and relieved him of his post, thinking the
Company’s plan to take over the entire country gradually could be
marred by Jackson’s fight with Veerapandiya Kattabomman. The new
Collector of Tirunelveli wrote to Kattabomman calling him for a
meeting on 16th March, 1799. Kattabomman wrote back citing the
extreme drought conditions for the delay in the payment of dues and
also demanded that all that was robbed off him at Ramanathapuram be
restored to him. The Collector wanted the ruling house of
Sethupathis to prevent Kattabomman from aligning himself with the
enemies of the Company and decided to attack Kattabomman.
Kattabomman refused to meet the Collector and a fight broke out.
Under Major Bannerman, the army stood at all the four entrances of
Panchalankurichi’s fort. At the southern end, Lieutenant Collins was
on the attack. When the fort’s southern doors opened, he was killed
by Kattabomman’s warriors.
After suffering heavy losses, the English decided to wait for
reinforcements from Palayamkottai. Sensing that his fort could not
survive a barrage from heavy cannons, Kattabomman left the fort that
A price was set on Kattabomman’s head. Thanapathi Pillai and 16
others were taken prisoners. Thanapathi Pillai was executed and his
head perched on a bamboo pole was displayed at Panchalankurichi.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman stayed at Kolarpatti at Rajagopala
Naicker’s house where the forces surrounded the house.
Kattabomman and his aides fled from there and took refuge in the
Thirukalambur forests close to Pudukkottai. Bannerman ordered the
ruler of Pudukkottai to arrest Kattabomman. Accordingly, Kattabomman
was captured and on October 16, 1799 the case was taken up (nearly
three weeks after his arrest near Pudukkottai). After a summary
trial, Kattabomman was hanged unceremoniously on a tamarind tree.
The fort of Panchalankurichi was razed to the ground and all of
Kattabomman’s wealth was looted by the English soldiers.
A fort constructed by the Tamil Nadu Government at Panchalankurichi
in 1972 stands as a monument to this great hero from the south who
played a pivotal role in the freedom movement of our country. "
Veerapandiya Kattabomman & the Poligar rebellion
- N.Rajendran in
National Movement in Tamil Nadu, 1905-1914,
Agitational Politics and State Coercion
In Tamil Nadu, as in other parts of India, the earliest expressions of
opposition to British rule took the form of localised rebellions and uprisings. Chief
among these was the revolt of the palayakkarargal (poligars) against the East India
Company in 1799.
The poligari system had evolved with the extension of Vijayanagar rule
into Tamil Nadu. Each poligar was the holder of a territory or palayam (usually consisting
of a few villages), granted to him in return for military service and tribute.
Where circumstances allowed, the poligars naturally tended to place
less emphasis on performing their duties and more on enhancing their own powers. Given
their numerical strength, extensive resources, local influence and independent attitude,
the poligars came to constitute a powerful force in the political system of south India.
They regarded themselves as independent, sovereign authorities within their respective
palayams, arguing that their lands had been handed down to them across a span of sixty
generations Such claims of course were to be brushed aside by the East India Company...
The East India Company, eager for revenue, opposed the manner and scale in which the
poligars collected taxes from the people. The issue of taxationmore specifically,
who was to collect it, the traditional rulers or the rapacious new collectors from
overseas lay at the root of the subsequent uprising. As one British Collector noted:
I again repeated that. . . unless the poligar were deprived of his power, and my
recommendations went to the fullest extent of the measure, the Company's investment would
be materially checked, the weavers residing in the Panchalamkurichi palayam would be
stripped off their property, and the largest part of the advances made to them by the
commercial resident exposed to considerable danger.
...The early struggle between the poligars of south and East India Company, although
essentially a battle over tax collection, had a strong political dimension. The English
treated the poligars, perceived as a rival power, as their inveterate enemies, allowing
their hostility full expression in their accounts...
When in 1799 the poligars of Tirunelveli District rose in open rebellion, the East
India Company took all possible measures to check the spread of the uprising. A detachment
of Company troops was speedily deployed against the Tirunelveli poligars, while dire
warnings were issued to poligars in other parts of the south not to join the rebellion.
The Company, which regarded the poligars as the 'scourge of the country', determined to
deprive the ringleaders of their palayats and punish them in an exemplary fashion.
Collector Jackson singled out Kattabomma Nayak of Panchalamkurichi as the main
leader of the rebellion. That came to be known as the First Poligari War was declared on 5
September 1799. Although Kattabomman managed to escape from the field of battle, he was
captured a month later in Pudukottai. After a summary trial, he was sentenced to death by
Major Bannerman, Commander of the East India Company troops. He was publicly hanged near
Kayattar Fort, close to the town of Tirunelveli, in front of fellow poligars who had been
summoned to witness the execution.
Subramania Pillai, a close associate of Kattabomma Nayak, was also publicly hanged and
his head was fixed on a pike at Panchalamkurichi. Soundra Pandian Nayak, another rebel
leader, was brutally done to death by having his brains dashed against a village wall.
Despite the exemplary repression of 1799, however, rebellion broke out again in 1800, this
time in a more cohesive and united manner. Although the 1800-1801 rebellion was to be
categorised in British records as the Second Poligari War, it assumed a much broader
character than its predecessor. It was directed by a confederacy consisting of Marudu
Pandian of Sivaganga, Gopala Nayak of Dindugal, Kerala Verma of Malabar and Krishnappa
Nayak and Dhoondaji of Mysore. The insurrection, which broke out in Coimbatore in June
1800, soon spread to Ramanathapuram and Madurai. By May 1801, it had reached the northern
provinces, where Marudu Pandian, Melappan and Puttur provided the leadership. Oomathurai,
the brother of Kattabomma Nayak, emerged as a key leader. In February 1801, Oomathurai and
two hundred men by a clever stratagem took control of Panchalamkuriclli Fort, in which
Oomathurai's relatives were imprisoned.
Its fort now re-occupied and reconstructed by rebel forces Panchalamkurichi became the
nerve centre of the uprising. British dismay was boundless. As one eyewitness put it,
' . . . to our utter astonishment, we discovered that the walls, which had been
entirely levelled, were now rebuilt, and fully manned by about fifteen hundred poligars.'
Three thousand armed men of Madurai and Ramanathapuram, despatched by Marudu Pandian,
joined up with the Panchalamkurichi forces. However, British military superiority having
just destroyed the far more formidable challenge posed by Tipu Sultan in Mysore, quickly
asserted itself. The poligar forces based at Panchalamkurichi were crushed and, by the
orders of the colonial government, the site of the captured fort was ploughed up and sowed
with castor oil and salt so that it should never again be inhabited.
The colonial forces quickly overpowered the remaining insurgents. The Marudu
brothers and their sons were put to death, while Oomathurai and Sevatiah were beheaded at
Panchalamkurichi on 16 November, 1801. Seventy-three of the principal rebels were
sentenced to perpetual banishment. So savage and extensive was the death and destruction
wrought by the English that the entire region was left in a state of terror.
The suppression of the poligar rebellions of 1799 and 1800-1801 resulted in the
liquidation of the influence of the chieftains. Under the terms of the Carnatic Treaty (31
July, 1801), the British assumed direct control over Tamil Nadu. The poligari system,
which had flourished for two and a half centuries, came to a violent end and the Company
introduced a zamindari settlement in its place.
While it is obviously premature and misleading to attach the term 'nationalist' to the
struggle of the poligars, or to portray it as some kind of mass movement, the uprising
does appear to have attracted some popular support. In subsequent years, a good deal of
legend and folklore would develop around Kattabomman and the Marudu brothers. Long after
Kattabomman's execution, Kayattar, his place of death, remained a place of political
pilgrimage. In his Tinnevelly Gazetteer of 1917, H. R. Pate notes the presence in Kayattar
of 'a great pile of stones of all sizes, which represents the accumulated offerings by
wayfarers of the past hundred years'. Folk songs recalling the heroism of the poligar
leaders remain alive in Tamil Nadu to this day..."