Veerapandiya Kattabomman also known as Katta Bomman was an 18th century Indian Palaiyakkarar chieftain from Panchalankurichi and who was one of the earliest to oppose the British rule. He waged a war with the British six decades before Indian War of Independence which occurred in 1857 in Northern parts of India. After a bloody war with the British he was captured by British and hanged in 1799 CE. His fort was destroyed and his wealth looted by the British army. Today Panchalankurichi is a historically important place in the present day Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu state, India.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman was born to Jagaveera Kattabomman and Arumugathammal on January 4, 1760. He had two younger brothers Dalavai Kumarasami and Duraisingam. Veerapandiyan was fondly called ‘Karuthaiah’ (the black prince), and Dalavai Kumarasami, ‘Sevathaiah’ (the white prince). Duraisingam, a good orator, was nicknamed ‘Oomaidurai’ meaning the Mute Prince.
Azhagiya Veerapandiapuram (Otta-pidaram of today) was ruled by Jagaveera Pandiyan. He had a minister Bommu, also a brave warrior, who was known as Getti-bommulu in Telugu, after the god Sastha Ayyappan Swamy to describe his strength and fighting qualities which over a period of time, became Kattabomman in Tamil. Katta-bomman ascended the throne after Jagaveera Pandiyan, who had no issue, as Adi Kattabomman, the first of the clan of Katta-bomman.
Legend has it that during a hunting trip into the forests of Salikulam (close to Azhagiya Pandiyapuram) one of the Kattabommans watched the spectacle of a hare chasing seven hounds. Kattabomman was amazed at this miracle. Believing that the land possessed great powers that could instil courage in people, he built his fort there and named it Panchalankurichi.
On February 2, 1790, Veerapandiyan, 30, became the king of Panchalankurichi as Veera Pandia Kattabomman supposed to be the 47th ruler of the region and the 5th ruler from the Kattabomman clan and a Palya-karrar (or Polygar) of the Madurai Nayak kingdom.
After the collapse of the Vijayanagara Empire in the mid-16th century, their governors of Tamil Nadu, declared independence and established independent kingdoms. The old Pandiya country came to be governed by Naicker rulers in Madurai, who in turn divided their territories into 72 Palayams. These 72 Palayams were franchised to a Palayakarrar (Tamil word) or Polygar or Poligar (a British Term), who had to administer their territories, collect taxes, run the local judiciary, and maintain a battalion of troops for the Naicker rulers. Their function was a mixture of military governance and civil administration.
The regional/local chieftains and rulers who were earlier subordinates to the Madurai Kings became Polygars (or Palaya-karrar).
The Nayak rule in Madurai which controlled the entire West Tamil Nadu after two centuries came to an abrupt end in 1736 when Chanda Sahib of Arcot seized the Madurai throne from the last queen of Madurai in an act of treason. Chanda Sahib was later killed after the Carnatic Wars and the territory came under the Nawab of Arcot. The Palaya-karrars of the old Madurai country refused to recognize the new Muslim rulers driving the Nawab of Arcot to bankruptcy, who also indulged in lavishes like building palaces before sustaining his authority in the region.
Finally the Nawab resorted to borrowing huge sums from the British East India Company, erupting as a scandal in the British Parliament. The Nawab of Arcot finally gave the British the right to collect taxes and levies from the southern region in lieu of the money he had borrowed. The East India Company took advantage of the situation and plundered all the wealth of the people in the name of tax collection. They even leased the country in 1750’s to a savage warrior Muhammed Yusuf Khan (alias Marutha Nayagam), who killed many of the Polygars including and later got himself killed by the Arcot British forces.
Many of the Polygars submitted, only with the exception of Katta-bomman.
Kattabomman refused to pay his dues and for a long time refused to meet Jackson the Collector of the East India Company. Finally, he met Jackson at Ramalinga Vilasam, the palace of Sethupathi of Ramanathapuram. The meeting turned violent and ended in a skirmish in which the Deputy Commandant of the Company’s forces, Clarke was slain. Kattabomman and his men fought their way to freedom and safety, but Thanapathi Pillai, Kattabomman’s secretary was taken prisoner.
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