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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Puli Thevar – the 18th century Tamil King who went undefeated for 16 years against a British-Nawab alliance

Doordarshan is presenting the story of Puli Thevar, a Tamil King from 18th century who went undefeated for 16 years against East India company & Nawab rule. This series on Bharatiya freedom fighters is broadcast every Sunday at 9 PM.

1857 Sepoy mutiny is commonly recognized as the beginning of freedom struggle but rebellion against British originated long before that. The earliest revolt in the Bharatiya subcontinent against the British & Nawabs was the Independence war of King Puli Thevar of Nelkattanseval.

Puli Thevar was born in 1715 to Chitraputra Thevar in noble lineage. Their kingdom was bestowed to their ancestors by Pandya King at the start of 14th century. Puli Devar’s Palayam (mid-sized feudal kingdom) was one of the 18 Maravar Palayams divided under the Nayak rule.

Thevar was crowned in 1726. British formed an alliance with Islamic Nawabs in 1730s, they ventured south & friction began. Thevar refused to pay taxes & revolted, starting two decades of bloody war. He forged alliance with other poligars to declare independence in 1757.

From 1750 to 1766, for 16 years, Puli Thevar was undefeated in every battle against the Anglo-Nawab forces. The magnitude & period of combat dominance against a European power was unprecedented at that, considering British were also in alliance with locally strong Nawabs.

Puli Thevar crushed three Pathan generals of the Nawab named Mudemiah, Mian & Nabi Khan. Perturbed by their inability to defeat him militarily, Nawab-Anglo alliance offered large land grants if Thevar were to join Nawab’s side against other Bharatiya rulers but he refused.

Unable to usurp the Poligars, British added to its alliance, Yusuf Khan alias Marudanayagam in late 1750s, a Bharatiya Poligar who had converted to Islam & switched sides. Their combined might finally got better of Puli Thevar, yet he refused to surrender & went into hiding.

Due to colonial competition for land at that time, French & Dutch knowing Thevar’s might offered alliance to help him defeat British. Despite having just lost his Kingdom, he refused to entertain them on the grounds they were colonizers too who wanted to subjugate natives.

After much struggle & help of spies inside his camp, British arrested Thevar in 1767. On his way to prison, he requested to worship at Sankarankoil and legend has it that he entered the temple, sang in praise of Goddess Gomati & became one with the deity, attaining Moksha.

Another theory is that the British forces executed him secretly but let this legend stay on as they feared the news of his execution would enrage the entire region to go up in revolt. The room where he is said to have disappeared is still revered in the Sankaran temple.

To protect this culture and ensure our freedom, Bharatiya soil had to endure thousands of heroic deaths. We have got it through countless sacrifice & unceasing bloodshed. Puli Thevar was one of the first to ignite it with his epic struggle against the British-Nawab alliance.

(This article has been compiled from the tweet thread originally tweeted by Cogito (@cogitoiam) on August 26, 2022.)

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