June 18, 2024

“The lack of unity and friendship amongst you, has led you to blame each other among yourselves. You are incapable of understanding the intrigues of the Europeans where by you have handed over the country to the aliens. In all the regions now ruled by these abominable, our people are living in utter poverty…. Even if one lives for one thousand years, his death is certain. Therefore, every one living in different poligars must come together like a warrior to throw the foreign yoke…”

These are the extracts from a poster, known as Jambu Dwipa Prakatanam (Proclamation in English) which shook the East India Company (henceforth called Company), alien rulers who surreptitiously entered as traders hiding the evil intentions of gaining the political power in due course. To know the what, when, where, why, who of the poster herein is the little history of Southern India.

Grim Gloomy Scenario

The Europeans themselves had recorded that there existed a simple but effective three tier system of polity and administration within built checks and balances.

At the apex level, kingdom or princely states, poligars (paalayakaar or Zamindaar in native language) at the intermediary level and the village panchayats at the third or base level. Palayams were created during the rule of Vijayanagar empire. They sub divided their empire into 72 palayams (probably comparable to modern day taluks or districts) for better administration.

By and large, the institutions of administration remained sound and the rights of the inhabitants were left inviolate. In spite of the internal conflicts, the country seemed prosperous.

This scenario was turned upside down by the Company over the course surreptitiously in the beginning and blatantly particularly after decisive victory of French forces at Wandiwash (Vandavasi in Tamizh) and Tiruchirapalli.

Aggressiveness and brutality went up further after the three Carnatic wars.

How they tackled the revolting kings and poligars by enticement, deceit, lending at high rates of interest and buy forcefully their lands when they could not repay the debts. (Reader is right if he or she recalls the machinations of modern-day China to expand their areas of influence)

At the village level, agriculture, industries, trade and arts were systematically destroyed due to political instability, lack of patronage from the kings and poligars, high taxes, usurious interest rates, restrictions on movement, arson and looting instigated by aliens and their local agents, and above all the failure of monsoon particularly in and around Vellore, Madurai, Ramanathapuram etc.

Significance of Sivagangai

Here in, a special mention of the Sivagangai kingdom which occupied a prominent place in the freedom struggle of our country at various stages. Sivagangai town lies in Madurai – Ramanathapuram road 45 kms from Madurai and around 75 kms from Ramanathapuram. A prosperous kingdom ruled by Sasivarna Periya Odaya Thevar till around was succeeded by his brother Muthu Vaduganatha Periya Odaya Thevar. He refused to pay the taxes to the Company. Thus, infuriated Company along with the troops of Nawab of Arcot, waged a battle led by Lt. Col. Ben Jour in 1772 where in Muthu Vaduga Nathar was shot dead. His wife Velu Nachiar went into exile for 8 years. All these years Marudhu Pandiya Brothers displayed exemplary loyalty to and assisted Velu Nachiar in rebuilding the army. They successfully reclaimed Sivagangai fort and Velu Nachiar ascended the throne once again. Her political acumen, valour and ability to collaborate with like-minded forces in the fight against the Company rule are to be remembered forever. When she also passed away, after several twists and turns, power was entrusted to Marudhu brothers as they had earned the confidence of the ruling family as well as the common citizens of the kingdom.

Marudhu brothers did not fail to meet their expectations. Several historical records and folklores bear testimony to their good governance based on Dharma. They are aptly called as Rama – Lakshmana to work in unison to uphold the noble values rendering services in protection of the territory. They were pious (Shiva Bhaktas), gentle with the people, firm and stern with the enemies. They continued with the policy of non-obedience to the Company Rule.

Marudhu Brothers shrewdly stitched together a pact among poligars of Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Thanjavur, Panchalankurichi (lead role played by legendary Veera Pandia Kattabomman) and Sivagiri. They all caused a series of surprise attacks during 1798- 1800 when the Company’s forces were pre-occupied with quelling the unrest in Mysore region. These attacks fetched rebel forces arms and ammunitions. They also recovered food grains to distribute to the suffering people. After the hanging of Veera Pandia Kattabomman, Marudhu Brothers gave refuge to Kumaraswamy Naicker (aka Oomaithurai) the younger brother of Kattabomman and kept the flame of struggle alive.

The Proclamation

It was at that time; Marudhu Brothers took their struggle to a new height by releasing a Proclamation known as Jambu Dwipa Prakatanam. On June 16, 1801, the younger Marudhu (Chinna Marudhu), posted at the Tiruchirapalli Fort and Sri Rangam temple walls a poster which exhorted all sections of the society, including Muslims, to come together to rebel against the oppressive European rulers.

Citing the example, the Nawab of Arcot our princely states by compromising with East India Company rulers, had not only lost their territory but also pushed their people into penury of unmentionable proportion. Therefore, the proclamation clearly advises everyone to do away with evil minded lowly aliens by all means. It also cautions our own men not to cooperate with aliens and if found to be supporting the aliens they would also meet the fate of the Europeans.

What is so special?

Generally, it was charged against the poligars and native kings that they could not look beyond their nose, meaning their protest was limited to the four corners of their territory and the tax earnings. Jambu Dwipa Proclamation which clearly establishes Marudhu brothers’ understanding of the then prevailing situation, causes of such a misery and the road map for the action ahead to get out of the afflicting malady. What is to be noted is that Marudhu brothers have genuinely expressed their empathy with the common man. It underscores the need for the unity. It talks for the liberation of the entire Southern Peninsula. It is indeed a grand vision statement for a long and sustained freedom struggle.

Though various poligars had come together under local level alliances, such as Tirunelvi/Dindigul/Ramnad leagues or Coimbatore Chief with Kannada rulers so on and so forth, those initiatives gained further fillip with the active support and particularly after Jambu Dwipa Proclamation. Period of 1801-1806 saw frequent and consistent upheavals from the southern coastal towns of Ramnad to the western coast Dharwad and moved closer to Scindia’s territory (present day Madhya Pradesh). These struggles continued ceaselessly even after Marudhu brothers surrendered to avoid the blast of Shiva temple towers at Kalayarkoil. They were hanged in public view similar to Kattabomman. The relatives of Marudhu brothers and all who associated themselves in the rebellions were hunted, butchered, maimed and sent across the oceans up to Malaysia.

That is why many historians quoting eminent Prof. K. Rajayya regard the rebellions during 1800-1801 as the First War of Independence, which occurred half a century before 1857.

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