Veerapandiya Kattabomman


Dheeran Chinnamalai

Veerapandiya Kattabomman (Tamil: வீரபாண்டிய கட்டபொம்மன்) (Telugu : వీరపాండియా కట్టబ్రహ్మన్న) also known as Katta Bomman was an 18th century Indian Palaiyakkarar chieftain from Panchalankurichi and who was one of the earliest to oppose the British rule. He waged a war with the British six decades before Indian War of Independence which occurred in 1857 in Northern parts of India. After a bloody war with the British he was captured by British and hanged in 1799 CE. His fort was destroyed and his wealth looted by the British army. Today Panchalankurichi is a historically important place in the present day Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu state, India.

Early life


Veerapandiya Kattabomman was born to Jagaveera Kattabomman and Arumugathammal on January 4, 1760. He had two younger brothers Dalavai Kumarasami and Duraisingam. Veerapandiyan was fondly called ‘Karuthaiah’ (the black prince), and Dalavai Kumarasami, ‘Sevathaiah’ (the white prince). Duraisingam, a good orator, was nicknamed ‘Oomaidurai’ meaning the Mute Prince.

Ancestors


Azhagiya Veerapandiapuram (Otta-pidaram of today) was ruled by Jagaveera Pandiyan. He had a minister Bommu, also a brave warrior, who was known as Getti-bommulu in Telugu, after the god Sastha Ayyappan Swamy to describe his strength and fighting qualities which over a period of time, became Kattabomman in Tamil. Katta-bomman ascended the throne after Jagaveera Pandiyan, who had no issue, as Adi Kattabomman, the first of the clan of Katta-bomman.

Panchalankurichi


Legend has it that during a hunting trip into the forests of Salikulam (close to Azhagiya Pandiyapuram) one of the Kattabommans 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 Panchalankurichi.

On February 2, 1790, Veerapandiyan, 30, became the king of Panchalankurichi as Veera Pandia Kattabomman supposed to be the 47th ruler of the region and the 5th ruler from the Kattabomman clan and a Palya-karrar (or Polygar) of the Madurai Nayak kingdom.

Role of Palayakkarars


After the collapse of the Vijayanagara Empire in the mid-16th century, their governors of Tamil Nadu, declared independence and established independent kingdoms. The old Pandiya country came to be governed by Naicker rulers in Madurai, who in turn divided their territories into 72 Palayams. These 72 Palayams were franchised to a Palayakarrar (Tamil word) or Polygar or Poligar (a British Term), who had to administer their territories, collect taxes, run the local judiciary, and maintain a battalion of troops for the Naicker rulers. Their function was a mixture of military governance and civil administration.

The regional/local chieftains and rulers who were earlier subordinates to the Madurai Kings became Polygars (or Palaya-karrar).

Origins of Dispute


The Nayak rule in Madurai which controlled the entire West Tamil Nadu after two centuries came to an abrupt end in 1736 when Chanda Sahib of Arcot seized the Madurai throne from the last queen of Madurai in an act of treason. Chanda Sahib was later killed after the Carnatic Wars and the territory came under the Nawab of Arcot. The Palaya-karrars of the old Madurai country refused to recognize the new Muslim rulers driving the Nawab of Arcot to bankruptcy, who also indulged in lavishes like building palaces before sustaining his authority in the region.

Finally the Nawab resorted to borrowing huge sums from the British East India Company, erupting as a scandal in the British Parliament. The Nawab of Arcot finally gave the British 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. They even leased the country in 1750’s to a savage warrior Muhammed Yusuf Khan (alias Marutha Nayagam), who killed many of the Polygars including and later got himself killed by the Arcot British forces.

Many of the Polygars submitted, only with the exception of Katta-bomman.

Events


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 turned violent and 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 16 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.

The British also instigated his long time feuding neighbor Ettayapuram Poligar to make provocative wars over Kattabomman on their long pending territorial disputes.

War


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, Kattabomman and his forces audaciously attacked the corps stationed at the back of his fort, and slew their commander Lt. Collins.

The British after suffering heavy losses, decided to wait for reinforcements and heavy artillery from Palayamkottai. Sensing that his fort could not survive a barrage from heavy cannons, Kattabomman left the fort that night.

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 to demoralise the resisters. Soundra Pandian Nayak, another rebel leader, was brutally done to death by having his brains dashed against a village wall.

Capture and Sentence


Veerapandiya Kattabomman hid in so many places including thirumayam, virachilai and finally 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 Pudu-k-kottai. Bannerman ordered the Raja 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 in Kayathar (near Thirunelveli).

Some of the other noteworthy persons who were hanged along with Kattabomman were Veeraghechayan Naicker, Dali Ethalappa Naicker and Palayakarrars of Kaadalkudi, Nagalapuram Puthur, Vripachy, Sivagangai, to death by hanging on charges of treason.

Aftermath


The Fort of Panchalankurichi was razed to the ground and all of Kattabomman’s wealth was looted by the English soldiers. Few years later, after the second Polygar war, the site of the captured fort was ploughed up and sowed with castor oil and salt so that it should never again be inhabited by the orders of the colonial government.

Legend and folklore


In subsequent years, a good deal of legend and folklore developed around Kattabomman and the Marudu Brothers. Kayatharu, where Kattabomman was executed has remained a place of political pilgrimage.

In his Tinnevelly Gazetteer of 1917, H. R. Pate notes the presence, in Kayatharu, 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..."

The popular Tamil slang for a traitor or committing treason is Ettapa or Ettapan, courtesy the Ettayapuram Polygar whom the British later conferred the title of Raja. But it is disputed that Ettapan committed treason Kattabomman was arrested by King of Pudukottai. The Campa Cola ground in Chennai belongs/belonged to Ettappan family. Lately there is cry that unfair portrayal of Ettappan in the film Kattabomman in which actor Sivaji Ganesan gave a great performance, is the main cause for this. It seems that Ma.Po.Si(Ma.Po.Sivanyanam) who wrote the dialogues for the film had some misunderstanding with the Ettappan family.

Honor and Monuments


Kattabomman became thus the pivot of the emerging feeling of Tamil nationhood. His story is celebrated in many legends and epic poetry in Tamil. Kattabomman is today recognised by the government as one of the earliest independence fighters opposing the British and has been hailed as the inspiration behind the first battle of independence of 1857, which the British called the Sepoy Mutiny.

* In 1974, the Government of Tamil Nadu constructed a new Memorial fort. The Memorial Hall has beautiful paintings on the walls depicting the heroic deeds of the saga which gives a good idea about the history of the period. A cemetery of British soldiers are also seen near the fort.
* The remnants of the old fort are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
* At Kayathar, near Tirunelveli on the present day NH7, the place where he was hanged, there is another memorial for Kattabomman.
* To commemorate the bicentenary on 16 October 1999 of Kattabomman’s hanging, the Government of India brought out a postal stamp in his honour.
* India's premier communication nerve centre of the Indian Navy, at Vijayanarayanam, about 40 km from here, is named as INS Kattabomman.
* Till recently (1999) the state transport buses of Kanniyakumari and Thirunelveli Districts were named Kattabomman Transport Corporation.
* Veerapandia Kattabomman Panpattu Kazhagam (Veerapandia Kattabomman Cultural association) is an organisation named in his honour.
* The district administration celebrates `Veerapandia Kattabomman festival' at Panchalankurichi on his anniversaries.

Movie


Much of the modern currency of the legend comes from the 1959 motion picture starring Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan in lead role portraying the life of Veerapandiya Kattabomman. The Movie was directed by B.R. Panthulu, which in turn earned the Actor many international awards, and is one movie the Thespian is most remembered for his 45 years in filmdom, hitting his peak in the film Veerapandya Kattabomman...