The tale of the first king to be exiled by the British

The picture of the deposed Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, waiting for his exile to Burma after the 1857 rebellion continues to haunt generations of Indians.

However, 56 years before this mutiny, the King of Sivaganga Vengai Periya Udayana Devar, along with 72 others, including Duraisamy, the son of Chinna Marudu, were exiled to Penang after their defeat at the hands of the British in the Kalayarkoil war. Their valour and ordeal has been captured in a new period novel Kala Pani (Black Water) by IAS officer M. Rajendran.

“My mind was tumultuous when I imagined the conditions in which Udayana Devar was forced to live. He owned vast areas of land and was a leader of lakhs of people. How many people were around him in his last moments? How much agony he would have undergone when hardly anyone knew his greatness?” Mr. Rajendran said recalling his emotions when he stood before the cell in which the king was lodged.

The war, described as the First War of Independence by historian K. Rajaiyan in his book South Indian Rebellion, took place in the forests of Kalayarkoil for six months in 1801. The Marudu brothers, who led the war, were hanged in Tirupattur and the British decided to exile the leading figures of the war to nip in the bud any attempt to oppose the army of the East India Company.

“In a way, hanging was a better option. Living in an unknown place was torture and humiliation. The ship carrying them had a non-stop voyage of 74 days, and three persons died during the journey. Over 10 persons became deranged and ran into the island,” said Mr. Rajendran, who is the Election Commissioner of the Tamil Nadu State Co-operative Societies.

On reaching Penang, the King was separated from others and sent to Sumatra, where he was lodged in a prison at Fort Marlborough in Bengkulu city. Mosquito-borne diseases ruined his health, and he died in three months at the age of 34.

“Actually, the British had no idea about what to do with the political prisoners since it was the first time they were facing a situation like that. They wrote to the Governor in Kolkata whether they should be given any pension. Udayana Devar was granted £40 a month, £4 were sanctioned for Duraisamy and £2 each for four Poligars,” said Mr. Rajendran, who visited the prisons. He went twice to Bengkulu.

Mr. Rajendran said he wished to record the incidents because they took place during a period when the British stood in awe of the bravery of the rulers in South Tamil Nadu. “In writing the novel, I was guided by the words of Colonel James Welsh that their valour gave them united death in gibbet. History will give them united glory,” he said.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 9:28:27 AM |

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