SOMA BASU walks through a palace and fort in ruins to rediscover a tale that goes back to the era of the Marudu brothers
Ithought there was nothing to see in Varappur. But this small village of 4,000 people pushed into obscurity sits on the edge of a story brimming with historical significance — one that dates back to the period of the Marudu brothers and a zamindar named Gowri Vallava Bommai Naicker.
It is said that after Veerapandiya Kattabomman was captured by the British and hanged at Kayathar in 1799, Bommai Naicker was arrested. Around the time when the Marudu brothers, who were Kattabomman’s younger brother Oomaithurai’s companions in fight, were hanged by the British in 1801, the Varappur fort and palace were also destroyed. During the attacks 73 people were picked up randomly from the surrounding villages (of them three were from Varappur) and sent into exile.
Even though the place and its historical monuments fell into disrepair, Varappur’s tryst with valour continued. Varappur apparently derives its name from the word “Vara” which means not possible. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, Varappur remained difficult to access. In fact, the thick foliage that encircled the village in those days also became the hideout of the Marudu brothers. To enter Varappur, people had to climb up and down the four surrounding hills — Veeramalai, Pudakkal, Periamalai and Mottaimalai. Today, the village is the last boundary of the Sivaganga district with a motorable road and the hills fall under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department. I am on this road intrigued by the history the village holds and its 250-year-old palace and fort.
My source of information is Varappur’s first medical graduate, Dr. N. Sethuraman. He says Varappur would be a poorer place if not for this legacy as we stop at a roadside memorial. Known as koil korai, it is a shrine which commemorates individuals who sacrificed their lives for protecting the village and its people. The memorial is an erect stone structure installed in the woods where no cultivation is allowed. Days are marked for celebration and people come from far and near to pray at the stone structure. Varappur has about two dozen such koil korais hidden inside the forests.
We drive past shepherds grazing cattle and patches of dry farmland. On an unpaved street, not so broad, along a dried-up oorani (water tank) bordered by neem, tamarind and peepul trees are the foundations of a fort calling out from a distant past. Actually not even 10 per cent of the fort’s structure remains — a part of the foundation with some inscription stands to one side and on the other are ditches that once were probably moats. In some of the stones left over in the trench, the imprints of a cannon ball, are clearly visible.
We walk towards the palace, swarmed by villagers eager to take us around. Like any other monument of yore, this too has some beauty even though it is in ruins. The Varappur palace pines for attention. The boundary walls don’t appear to run too far as more than 50 per cent of the area is damaged, encroached upon and ignored. But what cannot be denied is the character and the rustic charm that more than makes up to the visitor.
Just at the entrance of the palace, a huge board lists the names of donors who are fighting hard to maintain it. Though much of the building is in ruins, a portion of it has been newly constructed and whitewashed to let visitors know that this was the spot where the zamindar sat to deliver judgements. While the outside walls, doors and windows have developed cracks, inside are the halls of public and private audience.
There is also a small temple where swords of different shapes and sizes are worshipped, in particular the “valari” made both in wood and iron. Varappur is known for its warriors — the valari sticks, similar to boomerangs, were used as weapons against the British and the Marudu brothers were experts in the art of throwing the valari. Many of the carvings visible on the palace walls depict different animals and birds. It is saddening that some of the bricks are being pilfered by the locals.
Old folk songs from the region also mention Varappur as a place of valour.
Varappur is 12 km from Gandharvakottai village, the head village of the 35 surrounding villages in Pudukkottai district. It is 75km from Madurai on the Madurai-Tiruchi highway. You have to take a right at Puluthipatti and drive for eight km to reach the village.