Turn the pages of history

EDIFICE OF VALOUR The memorial at Panchalankurichi PHOTO: A. SHAIK MOHIDEEN

EDIFICE OF VALOUR The memorial at Panchalankurichi PHOTO: A. SHAIK MOHIDEEN  

Memories of Veerapandiya Kattabomman remain alive, says SOMA BASU

I am driving down the NH7 (Madurai-Tirunelveli Road). Not the right time to set out on a Road Less Travelled because though it is noon, the sky is overcast. Still, if you are the type who never felt history lessons were a drag, then Panchalankurichi is the place for you. From the highway, a right turn at Kayathar takes you to a nondescript village, but one of historic significance in Tirunelveli district. My car bumps across the track at the level crossing near the Kadambur railway station. The deserted platform presents an eerie picture.

Soon, I am on what I believe is the narrowest road I've ever traversed, a stretch riddled with potholes.

The next 15 km turns out to be a bone-rattling ride. Past Ottudanapatti, I see barren fields.

The area is littered with plastic waste. A small board announces — Pasuvandanani village. There are posters of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose everywhere. A chorus emanates from a nearby adult literacy class.

I stop at the gate of a monument, the ruins of a 17th Century fort said to have been built by Veerapandiya Kattabomman. Just as I step out of the car, the skies open. I hastily purchase a ticket and enter the gates.

Legend has it that while hunting in the forests of Salikulam, Kattabomman saw an amazing spectacle of a hare chasing seven hounds! Believing that the land possessed the power to instil courage in people, Kattabomman, who became king at the age of 30, built a fort here 300 years ago and named it Panchalankurichi.

It was from here that he raised his voice against the British in the 17th Century.

Enter the memorial hall constructed by the State Government in 1974. The beautiful paintings on the walls tell inspiring tales of the heroic deeds of the Panchalankurichi chieftains. While the fort was razed to the ground by the British to teach Kattabomman a lesson, what is left of it is now under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Near it is located the Sri Devi Jakammal Temple, believed to be the family deity of Kattabomman. There is also a cemetery for British soldiers.

The ruined fort makes me travel back in time. I imagine how it must have once bustled with activity, uniformed soldiers marching up and down. What a battle must have raged from the ramparts which are now nothing but rubble!

There are days when the place gets noisy with busloads of school children arriving from neighbouring districts for a history class outdoors. The monument is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

It would be ideal to combine a trip to Panchalankurichi with a visit to Ottapidaram, 13 km away. It is the birthplace of another son of the soil, V. O. Chidambaram.

Also, 24 km from Tirunelveli, on the NH7 Madurai Road near Kayathar, is the spot where Kattabomman was hanged from a tamarind tree in October 1799.

A monument has been built in Kattabomman's memory by thespian Sivaji Ganesan. Further on the Thoothukudi Road, about 34 km away, is Ettaiyapuram, the birth place of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati.

The poet's house was converted into a memorial - Bharathiar Mani Mandapam - in 1945. The tiny village came into prominence after Mahatma Gandhi inaugurated the mandapam.

All these places can be accessed either from the Kovilpatti-Tuticorin Road or the NH7 and can be covered in a day's trip.

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