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India@75: Rani Velu Nachiar, the first Indian queen to fight the British

Many brave Indian women had laid their lives fighting the British invaders. The great Rani of Jhansi Lakshmi Bai is well known. But not so the two brave women of Tamil Nadu.

Jul 31, 2022, 10:39 AM IST

Many brave Indian women had laid their lives fighting the British invaders. The great Rani of Jhansi Lakshmi Bai is well known. But not so the two brave women of Tamil Nadu. Rani Velu Nachiar and her woman commander Kuyili became a martyr when she set ablaze a British army depot. These women were at the forefront of the Polyger Wars that rocked the British during the 18th century in the Tamil country. 

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Rani Velu Nachiar was the first Indianqueen to fight the British. A princess of Ramanathapuram, Velu had become adept in martial arts, archery, and horse riding even as an adolescent. Besides, she also was proficient in many languages, including Urdu, English, and French. She was married to Muthu Vaduganatha Periyodya Thevar, the brave prince of Sivaganga. Tevar died fighting the English East India Company and its ally, the Nawab of Arcot, defending his country.

Following her husband’s death in the Kalaiyar Koil war, Velu Nachiar adventurously escaped with her infant daughter Vellachi to Dindigul. But her decision was not to hide from the British but to fight them. She forged a strategic alliance with Hyder Ali of Mysore and carried out surprise attacks on East India Company’s army cantonments. 

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The most ferocious attacks were on the Vijayadasami day of 1780, led by Nachiyar’s powerful woman commander Kuyil who belonged to a depressed caste. Pouring ghee all over her body, Kuyili walked into the arms depot and set herself ablaze along with the entire armoury. Kuyili could be the first human bomb. This spectacular event terrified the English, who retreated, and Nachiyar regained her country, Sivaganga. Nachiyar and Kuyili symbolize the resistance of brave Tamil women against the invading forces.

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