IN SCHOOL

Winding the clock back, anti-colonial wise

Kittur ChennammaPhotos: V. Ganesan(Right) A movie poster of Shivaji Ganesan portraying Veerapandiya KattabommanA cover of the Bengali novel Anandamath by Bankim Chandra ChatterjeeDheeran Chinnamalai

Kittur ChennammaPhotos: V. Ganesan(Right) A movie poster of Shivaji Ganesan portraying Veerapandiya KattabommanA cover of the Bengali novel Anandamath by Bankim Chandra ChatterjeeDheeran Chinnamalai  

Have you heard of the time when the fakirs and the sanyasis got together to revolt? Or when Rani Velu Nachiyar from Sivagangai in Tamil Nadu rose against the British much before Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi and even formed her own women’s army called ‘Udaiyaal’? These resounding notes of dissent and defiance erupted much before the well-known Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, and south India was the fountainhead of many of these.

At the exhibition, ‘1857 and before- revolts and uprisings’, held at the Vennirul Art Gallery, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Chennai the clock was wound back to the times of uprisings led by those such as Veerapandiya Kattabomman in Tamil Nadu and Kittur Chennamma from Karnataka among many others.

Kausalya Santhanam, curator of the exhibition that packed in these little nuggets from history says that south India had a very important role to play, but not many knew about the uprisings that broke out before 1857. The century preceding the great revolt was marked by many rebellions, sacrifices and acts of valour against the British, the exhibition notes. G. Balaji sourced the photographs.

Among the many outbreaks in the south were those led by Gopal Nayak at Palani, Marudu Pandiya in Sivagangai, Mallappen in Ramnad, Mappila Vaniyan in Tirunelveli and also by the famed Veerapandiya Kattabomman. Rebellions also broke out in Malabar, and Belgaum, among other places.

Polygar wars

One such story is of Dheeran Chinnamalai, a Kongu chieftain who had a crucial role to play in the Polygar Wars that were fought between former Polygars or Chieftains against British East India Company forces. Kongunadu comprised parts of modern-day districts of Coimbatore, Nilgiris, Erode and Salem among other places. Dheeran Chinnamalai was part of the alliance that included the Marudu Brothers from Sivagangai, Krishnappa Nayak and Dhoondaji of Mysore and Pazhassi Raja of Malabar, Kerala during the second Polygar war. A 1000-strong army under Chinnamalai was trained in modern warfare along with Tipu Sultan’s forces in Mysore. They helped Tipu in his war against the British and had a crucial role in victories at Chitheswaram, Mazahavalli and Srirangapatana, the exhibition noted.

The Polygar rebellions of 1799 and 1800-1805, itself were suppressed by the British, leading to a fall in the chieftains’ influence.

Oppressive

The exhibition also chronicles the revolts of Velu Thampi in Travancore, the Sambalpur outbreaks of Orissa, the Raju Revolt and the Palakonda outbreaks in Andhra Pradesh and the Vellore Mutiny among others. These it notes, were the result of continued British interference in the internal affairs of the states as well as their oppressive land revenue policies. The Mapilla Uprising and Wahabi Movement also find a mention, other than revolts by tribals that played a prominent role. These included the Bhils, Santhals, Hos, Khasis, Mundas and the Singpos among others. There were around 70 such movements across the country.

Popular culture

These fiery acts of resistance have also duly inspired literature and cinema. While, actor Sivaji Ganesan’s iconic portrayal of Kattabomman, still lingers in popular imagination, the Bengali novel ‘Anandamath’ by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee talks about the Sanyasi Rebellion which also was adapted into a film. The second half of the exhibition — where visuals were primarily drawn from the book, ‘The History of Indian Mutiny’ by Charles Ball — walks us through the great revolt of 1857 and the events that unfolded as a result of it. Earlier this month a seminar on ‘Popular uprisings in India with special reference to Tamil Nadu (1750-1857)’ was also organised. The exhibition is on till January 30.



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