‘History is nothing but what the mainstream people want us to know from the past.’
Do you know about India’s first struggle for freedom from the British? Many would have said it’s the revolt of 1857. Because that’s what we are taught.
But that is not the truth.
Do you know that there was a queen who got back her kingdom from the British, by winning a battle?
The British were able to capture it again only after her death.
Do you know there was her commander in chief, who turned out to be the first suicide bomber in history?
All these happened in 1780, 77 years before the so-called first freedom struggle took place.
Here’s the story of Kuyili, the brave commander in chief of Velu Nachiyar, the queen of Sivagangai.
Kuyili was born to Periyamuthan and Raku, who were field workers. She belonged to the scheduled community. Her mother was a courageous woman. She lost her life in an attempt to save the fields from a wild bull. After her death, Kuyili and her father moved near Sivagangai. Kuyili’s father, Periyamuthan worked as a cobbler.
At this point in time, Muthuvaduganatha Periya Udaiya Thevar, the king of Sivagangai, was killed by the British. His wife and Sivagangai’s queen Velu Nachiyar, escaped with her daughter and was hiding from the British.
Periyamuthan was Velu Nachiyar’s spy and hence he and Kuyili were allowed to meet the queen without any restrictions. This brought Kuyili close to the queen.
Kuyili’s bond with Velu Nachiyar
Kuyili had saved the queen’s life on many occasions, which found a special place for her in the queen’s heart.
When an intruder tried to murder the queen, Kuyili saved her and she was badly injured. Seeing this, the queen immediately bandaged her using a piece of her saree.
Kuyili came to know that her own Silambam teacher was the British spy against the queen. She ended his life. Knowing this, the queen appointed Kuyili as her personal bodyguard.
After kuyili became the queen’s bodyguard, the British forced her to reveal Velu Nachiyar’s plans but she did not yield. As a result, the British tortured her community people. Impressed by her resistance, Velu Nachiyar appointed her as the commander in chief of the women’s army.
The war and the sacrifice
During this period, Velu Nachiyar formed alliances with the Marudhu brothers and Hyder Ali and waged a war to regain her kingdom. Though their army was well trained, they faced a downfall because of the advanced weapons the British used.
Knowing that the strength of the British lied in their weapons, Kuyili devised a plan. She came to know that women were allowed to enter the Sivagangai fort (which was then with the British) and since it was the 10th day of Navaratri, women were entering the fort in huge numbers to celebrate the Vijayadasami festival. Kuyili made her army dress as civilians and had the weapons hidden in the flower and fruit baskets. They entered the fort unnoticed by the British army and attacked the British while they least expected. The British had no other way than to fight this battle. Making use of this disarray, Kuyili acted out her next plan. Knowing their weapon storage area, Kuyili poured oil and ghee all over her, went to the storage area, and set herself on fire, destroying all weapons. Eventually the British lost the war and Velu Nachiyar regained her kingdom.
The government of Tamilnadu has erected a memorial for Kuyili at Sivagangai.
The brilliance, bravery, and sacrifice of Kuyili helped the people of Sivagangai restore their identity. Though her sacrifice is lesser recognized, Kuyili has played an important role in shaping Indian history.
Three things cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth
– Gautama Buddha