Popularly known as the first queen to fight against the British, Velu Nachiyar was the queen of the Sivaganga estate of Tamil Nadu. She was considered an idol by her people and was successful in her stance against the British.
She was born in 1730 to King Sellamutthu Vijayaragunatha Sethupathy and Queen Sakandhi Muthathal of Ramanathapuram. She was their only daughter. She was taught the martial art form Silambam, famous in Tamil Nadu. She also learnt the techniques of warfare and horse riding. She was well-versed in academic subjects and fluent in Urdu, English, and French.
At a young age of 16, Velu Nachiyar married Muthu Vadhuganatha Periyaudaiya Thevar, the second king of Sivaganga. But unfortunately, fate had other things in store for the queen. In 1772, Nawab of Arcot planned on usurping the smaller south kingdoms and made an alliance with the British. He started imposing taxes and sent British officers to collect the taxes. When the king refused, they started a brutal war with him.
At Kalayar Koli, Sivaganga the king was killed ruthlessly and Nawab of Arcot took over Sivaganga. The nawab with the help of the EIC (East India Company) soldiers looted Sivaganga. He took away 50,000 gold coins and killed hundreds of people. Commander joseph smith along with his army attacked the Sivaganga fort.
Velu Nachiyar with her infant Vellachi and some ministers escaped the region. But she was determined to take revenge. She took refuge in Virupakshi and in Dindigul for a few years where she planned her fiery comeback. She also met several women and formed an army called ‘Udaiyaal’ and trained them in warfare. It is said that Nachiyar had an adopted daughter Udaiyaal and she named this army in her memory.
During this time Velu Nachiyar was glad to receive support from Hyder Ali. Hyder ali had neither good rapport with the British nor with Nawab of Arcot. He saw a kindred spirit in Nachiyar. Hence, he decided to help her.
Hyder Ali with a troop of 80,000 soldiers launched an attack on the Nawab of Arcot. The British and the nawab’s soldiers both were engaged in the battle. Seizing this opportunity nachiyar and her women’s army marched to sivaganga.
It is said that they went on the day of Vijayadashami so that they could disguise themselves and enter the palace with the women who were going to perform rituals. When they entered, they fought the soldiers with all grit but the British had advanced weapons. At this point the sacrifice done by Kuyili her commander was noteworthy.
Kuyili oiled herself, went to the ammunition room and blew it all up. The blast also destroyed the stocks up. Kuyili is known as the first suicide bomber and the first woman martyr in Indian history. Velu nachiyar defeated the British at Sivaganga.
The nawab now realized that Velu Nachiyar and Hyder Ali had joined hands, so he decided to negotiate terms with Nachiyar. He handed over the kingdom but on the condition of receiving a certain amount of revenue each year.
The queen expressed her gratitude to Hyder Ali by building churches and mosques in her territory and he did the same by building a temple in his. She also maintained friendly relations with his son Tipu Sultan. She also sent him a tiger as a gift.
She ruled till 1796 after which her daughter Vellachi succeeded her. The Marudu brothers would help her in administration. She breathed her last on 25 December 1796.
She is still remembered in various parts of Tamil Nadu and India. Stamps have been issued in her name in 2008 and 2014 respectively. Ballets and musicals are performed even today in her honor. Professor A.L.I., a Tamil-American hip-hop artist, released a song dedicated to Velu Nachiyar titled “Our Queen” as part of his Tamilmatic album in 2016. Jayalalitha the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu also unveiled a bronze statue of the warrior lady Velu Nachiyar in Sivaganga.
The Tamilians call her Veeramangai or the brave woman. This queen of the Sethupathi dynasty set an example for generations to come. This was the story of Velu Nachiyar- the Warrior Queen.