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The Resistance from Rani Chennamma of Kittur

Rani Chennamma was a valiant heroine who resisted the mighty British East India Company forces with a small army belonging to her native state of Kittur. Chennama was born in the Lingayat community in 1778. The British wanted to capture that state using the Doctrine of Lapse. There is an uncanny resemblance with Rani Lakshmibai in this entire saga. Chennamma was born in a small village and was trained in sword fighting, horse riding and archery at a very young age. She was married to the king Malasaraja of Kittur. The king died in 1824 living one son. Unfortunately her son also died in 1824. Following the death of her own son, the Rani adopted a son following all customs and made her heir to the throne. However British East India Company under Dalhousie had formulated the Doctrine of Lapse by which in the absence of a biological legal heir the state after the death of the incumbent king or queen would be taken over by the Company. Rani Chennamma sent a letter to Elphinstone, Lt. Governor of Bombay Presidency, pleading her case, but the request was turned down. A bloody war followed in 1824 in which the British suffered heavy losses in the hands of Rani's lieutenant Balappa. Two British officers, Sir Walter Elliot and Mr Stevenson, were taken as hostages The Collector John Thackeray was killed in the battle. Rani Chennamma released the British hostages on good faith as she received an assurance that the war would be discontinued. But the devious and treacherous British had other designs. Chaplin, the commissioner of Dharwad, continued the battle by bringing in reinforcements. The British roped in armies from Mysore and Solapur. They also convinced two of her soldiers to betray her by mixing cow dung and mud with the gunpowder used for canons. More losses followed for the British as Collector of Solapur, Munroe was killed. Rani, together with her general Sangolli Rayanna, led the battle herself. She was captured and was imprisoned in Bailhongal fort in the Belgavi district where she died in 1829. Her general Rayanna however continued the guerilla war. He was captured in 1829  and was hanged. Rani's adopted son Shivalingappa was also arrested and Kittur was annexed.


The Resistance from Rani Velu Nachiyar and her general Kuyili

(source: 1. Saffron Sword, by Manasi Sinha, 2.

Rani Velu Nachiyar was the queen of Sivagangai in Tamil Nadu. Her husband Udaiya Thevar had to fight a battle with the Nawab of Arcot in 1772, because of the Nawab's unreasonable demand. The Nawab of Arcot was a strategic ally of the British East India Company. Therefore the East India Company took part in the battle and attacked the town of Sivagangai. Thevar was killed by the British forces in the battle. Velu Nachiyar and her daughter Vellachi escaped to the Virupakshi village in Dindigul, ruled by Palayakaarar Kopaala Naayakkar. Velu sought help from Hyder Ali who promised to help her with men and ammunition for reclaiming her kingdom. Velu was proficient both in languages and in skills of combat. Velu decided to launch an attack on the Nawab's forces by 1780 and won over her former courtiers who had helped her escape. During her long hiding for eight years, she was able to set up a huge army which included a large contingent of women. Kuyili was the commander of the Udayal Padai contingent of women army of Velu Nacchiyar. Udayal was a commander who had sacrificed her life in the service of the queen. Kuyili was a faithful follower of the queen and had saved her life on more than one occasion. Her father was also in the service of the queen. 

In 1780, Velu decided to march against the Nawab of Arcot and re conquer her lost kingdom. The army had to fight several battles on the way, first at Madurai Kochadai, then at Thirubuvanam, and at Kalaiyar Koil. In all the three places the enemy was defeated and the victorious queen marched on to recapture the Sivagangai fort. However a news reached them that British troops, anticipating attack on Sivagangai, had heavily reinforced it with guns and ammunition. The guns and the ammunition had to be destroyed, as otherwise there was no chance of a victory. Information reached her that the arms and ammunition were stored inside the Raja Rajeswari temple in the Sivagangai palace. 

The only opportunity that they chanced upon was that the next day was Vijayadashami and as per tradition women from the villages walked to the temple to offer their prayer on that day. Kuyili planned for entering the temple in the guise of a devotee and attacking and destroying the warehouse storing the ammunition dump. The women soldiers under Kuyili carried weapons under their Sarees and along with the general devotees entered the temple premises. When the general devotees left, Kuyili, Velu Nachiyar and the woman army attacked the British. Many British soldiers were killed in the surprise attack. To prevent the British soldiers from getting reinforced themselves with the weapons from the warehouse, Kuyili poured clarified butter or ghee over herself from the large temple lamp, lit herself up and as a human bomb ran towards the warehouse. Before the horrified British troops realized what was going to happen, the warehouse with the ammunition dump exploded along with Kuyili's lifeless body. In the battle that fought the queen's soldiers fought bravely to vanquish the British troops. The British captain surrendered and pleaded for his life with a vow to never attack Sivagangai again. Velu Nachiyar let the captain free. Velu Nachiyar ruled her kingdom for over a decade before bequeathing her kingdom to the Maruthu brothers in 1796.

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