Indian Struggle for freedom started long back much before what we are thinking. Many native leaders started their struggle against the British and one such are the above! Marudhu Pandiyar brothers.

Here is a brief account:

On October 24, 1801, two middle-aged brothers were publicly hanged to death at the Tirupputhur fort of southern Tamil Nadu. The fact that the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers were the rulers of Sivaganga kingdom did not invoke any ceremony during the execution. Every one of their fellow rebels, their commanders and servants, their sons and even their young grandsons were hanged alongside them, supposedly from palmyra trees around the fort.

With those mass executions, the British East India Company and its allies successfully put an end to a fierce rebellion by the Southern kingdoms of India – a revolt that is little remembered, and barely finds mention in history textbooks.

More than 50 years before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers had led a concerted struggle against the oppressive practices of the British. On June 16, 1801, months before their death, the brothers issued a proclamation of independence from the Tiruchi fort, calling for people of all castes and communities to unite their fight against European domination.

“An all-Indian concept inspired the proclamation, for it not only made a direct appeal to the entire country but expressed an anxiety that if the political malady persisted, India would fall under alien rule,” wrote K Rajayyan, author of the book South Indian Rebellion: The First War of Independence 1800-1801.

Turbulent beginnings

Popular representations of the brothers, evolved over the two centuries following their death, depict them as tall and muscular, with fierce moustaches and eyes filled with rage. In almost all of them, they are turbaned and brandishing swords. Every year till date, in Kalayarkoil temple of Sivaganga district where their mortal remains were buried, a guru pooja is conducted on their death anniversary, in memory of their valour.

Periya Maruthu and Chinna Maruthu were born to Mokka Palanisamy Thevar and his wife Ponatha, who served the second king of Sivaganga kingdom, Muthuvadaganatha Thevar. Though the exact dates are still unclear, historians claim that Periya Maruthu, or the Big Maruthu, was born in 1748 in Ramnad state. Chinna Maruthu, or the younger Maruthu, was five years younger.

As children, the brothers worked in the palace as aides to the king, while they developed their skill in warfare and artillery alongside. Legend has it that the brothers even saved the king from a wild tiger, without the use of weapons, thereby gaining his favour. He then bestowed upon them the title of Pandiyar.

But their time in the palace was to soon come to an end. While the brothers were in their early 20s, the Nawab of Arcot, who claimed overlordship over the Southern kingdoms, sent officials from the East India Company to collect taxes from the rulers. When the king refused after long negotiations, he and the queen were killed at their palace one night.

The same night, the Maruthu brothers fled the kingdom along with the first queen Vedanachiyar, and received sanctuary in the neighbouring kingdom of Virupakshi, ruled by Gopal Nayak. Here they stayed for seven years. This was where the brothers trained in warfare. But the queen was not one to accept defeat so easily. Through those seven years, she gathered allies among the Southern kingdoms. Through careful strategic placement of troops, Vedanachiyar’s forces led by the Maruthu brothers took over Sivagangai again. Periya Maruthu was then appointed as commander of the army and Chinna Maruthu was the chief minister.


Let us pay our revered respects to these great warriors on this holy day!

Remembering the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers, the leaders of the South Indian Rebellion of 1801

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