Thursday, July 28, 2011

South Indian Rebellion-Rajayyan-First War of Independence

Polygar War

Polygar War or Palayakarar Wars refers to the wars fought between the Polygars (Palayakarrars) of former Madurai Kingdom in Tamil Nadu, India and the British East India Company forces between March 1799 to May 1802. The British finally won after carrying out long and difficult protracted jungle campaigns against the Polygar armies and finally defeated them. Many lives were lost on both sides and the victory over Polygars made large part of territories of Tamil Nadu coming under British control enabling them to get a strong hold in India.

 First Polygar War 1799

The war between the British and Kattabomman Nayak of Panchalankurichi Palayam in the then Tirunelveli region is often classified as the First Polygar war. In 1799, a brief meeting (over pending taxes) between Kattabomman and the British ended in a bloody encounter in which the British commander of the forces was slain by the former. A price was put on Kattabomman's head prompting many Polygars to an open rebellion.
After a series of battles in the Panchalankurichi fort with additional reinforcements from Thiruchirapalli Kattabomman was defeated, but he escaped to the jungles in Pudukottai country. Here he was captured by Pudukottai Raja (after an agreement with the British) and after a summary trial Kattabomman was hanged in front of the public in order to intimidate them, near Kayattar Fort, close to the town of Kovilpatti and in front of fellow Polygars too who had been summoned to witness the execution.
Subramania Pillai, a close associate of Kattabomman Nayak, was also publicly hanged and his head was fixed on a pike at Panchalankurichi for public view. Soundra Pandian Nayak, another rebel leader, was brutally done to death by having his head smashed against a village wall. Kattabomman’s brother Oomaidurai was imprisoned in Palayankottai prison while the fort was razed to the ground and his wealth looted by the troops.

 Second Polygar War 1800-1805

Despite the suppression of the First Polygar War in 1799, rebellion broke out again in 1800. The Second war was more stealthy and covert in nature. The rebellion broke out when a band of Polygar armies bombed the British barracks in Coimbatore in 1800. The leaders were more cohesive and united with people from Kerala and Mysore taking part. The Second Polygar War marked the joining of the entire western Tamil Nadu with the Malabar and south Mysore regions (which was under British dominion after the death of Tipu Sultan). It was commandeered by the Kongu Chieftain Theeran Chinnamalai, with a vast army under him. He settled down at Odanilai and constructed a fort there to continue his fight against the British whom he defeated in battles at Cauvery in 1801, Odanilai in 1802 and Arachalur in 1804. Later, Theeran Chinnamalai left his fort to avoid cannon attack and engaged in guerrilla warfare while he was stationed at Karumalai in the Palani region. He was betrayed by his cook and captured by the British who hanged him at Sankagiri Fort on July 31, 1805.
The Other Palayakarar army initially made surprise attacks at night on the British barracks causing heavy damage but went into a full scale war after the death of Tipu Sultan. The war, often classified as guerilla warfare in nature, made it very difficult for the British troops to suppress.
The Palayakarrars were all in control of their forts, had artillery and even had a weapon manufacturing unit in Salem and Dindigul jungles. They also received clandestine training from the French in the Karur region. The confederacy of the new forces consisted of Maruthu Pandiyar Brothers of Sivaganga, Gopal Nayak of Dindigul, Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja of Malabar and Krishnappa Nayak and Dhoondaji of Mysore.
The British columns were exposed throughout the operations to constant harassing attacks; and had usually to cut their way through almost impenetrable jungles fired on from undercover on all sides. The Polygars often had artillery and resisted stubbornly and the storming of their hill-forts proved on several occasions sanguinary work.
By May 1801, it had reached the Southern provinces where Marudu Pandian, Melappan and Puttur provided the leadership. Oomathurai, the brother of Kattabomman Nayak emerged as a key leader. In February 1801, Oomathurai and two hundred men by a clever tactic took control of Panchalankurichi 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 dispatched by Marudu Pandiyan Brothers joined up with the Panchalankurichi forces.


The British finally won after a long expensive campaign that took more than a year. However, the superior British military who had recently defeated the powerful Tipu Sultan of Mysore quickly asserted itself. The British had better artillery compared to the Polygar troops who had country-made gunfire artillery, barring a few proper ones received from erstwhile Tipu Sultan's army. The war being regional in nature, the British forces could easily mobilize additional forces from other regions.
Eventually the Polygar forces based at Panchalankurichi were crushed and by the orders of the colonial government, the site of the captured Panchalankurichi Fort was ploughed up and sowed with salt and castor oil 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 Sevathaiah were beheaded at Panchalankurichi 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 British that the entire region was left in a state of terror.


The suppression of the Polygar rebellions of 1799 and 1800-1805 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 Polygar 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.

 Later day folklore

In subsequent years, a good deal of legend and folklore would develop around Dheeran Chinnamalai and his two brothers,hanged in Odanali on Aadi 18, and also around Kattabomman and the Maruthu
Pandiyar Brothers. Long after Kattabomman's execution, Kayathar, Kattabomman's place of death,
 became and remained a site of political pilgrimage
India's First War of Independence (term)
The First War of Indian Independence is a term that is sometimes used, predominantly in India to describe the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which has been described variously outside of India as "uprising", "revolt" and "mutiny".



Though the Indian Rebellion of 1857 developed into more than just a mutiny, due to the manner in which it started the name Sepoy Mutiny became the standard name for events, a convention which stuck for over 100 years. Contemporary 'anti-imperialists' viewed this term as propaganda, and pushed to characterize it as more than just the actions of a few mutinous native soldiers. Karl Marx was the first Western scholar to call the 1857 revolt a "national revolt", though he used the term "Sepoy Revolt" to describe the event.
In India, the term "First War of Independence" was first popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1909 book The History of the War of Indian Independence, which was originally written in Marathi.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, insisted on using the term "First War of Independence" to refer to the event, and the terminology was adopted by the Government of India.

 Criticism of the term

Some Punjabis have opposed the use of the term "First War of Independence" by the Government to describe the 1857 revolt. They insist that the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845–46) should be called the First War of Independence instead. In May 2007, the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal and three other MPs from Punjab protested against the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the 1857 revolt over this issue.
Some South Indian historians have also opposed the use of the term, and have unsuccessfully taken the issue to the court. These historians insist that several other anti-British uprisings in South India (such as the Vellore Mutiny) had preceded the 1857 revolt, and should be called the First War of Indian independence. In 2006, when the Indian postal department issued a postal stamp to commemorate the Vellore Mutiny of 1806, M. Karunanidhi, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, said that the move had given "due recognition" to India's "first war of independence".
Some Indian writers also insist that none of the armed uprisings against the British in India, including the 1857 uprising, should be termed as a "war of independence", since they were not national in nature, not motivated by nationalist sentiment and only involving a minority of people or soldiers.