A warrior queen, a gallant female military commander and an army of 5000 - together they gave the British a tough time! This was a historic event that gave India not only its first female warrior but also involved what is said to be the first-ever instance of suicide bombing in India.
During the 18th century, in the Sivagangai estate in present-day Tamil Nadu, there lived a Queen named Velu Nachiyar. Velu was the only daughter of the Royal couple of the Sethupathi Dynasty and was raised as the Royal heir. Trained in martial arts, horse riding and archery, she could also speak several languages including French, Urdu, and English.
The turning point in Velu’s life was when the British - led by the son of the Nawab of Arcot - killed her husband Muthu Vaduganatha Thevar in the Kalaiyar Koil War. Velu and her daughter, Vellachi, were then forced to flee from Sivagangai.
Velu reached Dindigul, a distant land from Sivagangai where she spent eight years under the sanctuary of the then ruler of Dindigul - Gopal Naicker.
It was at Dindigul that she also met Haider Ali, the Sultan of Mysore, in whose eyes she found favour as she had impressed him with her fluent Urdu and intellect.
In 1780, with the unwavering support of Gopal Naicker and allied forces of Haider Ali, Velu Nachiyar set out to avenge her beloved’s death and regain control over her kingdom.
While the British had taken complete control over the Sivaganga Fort, in Dindigul, Velu along with her military commander, Kuyuili, devised a suicide plan. For the plan to be successful, it was important to know where the British had stored their arms and ammunition. With Velu’s excellent sources of intelligence, she gathered agents who helped her find the armoury chambers in the fort and soon, the plan was set to action.
On the day of Vijayadashami, Kuyuili and a few other women set out to the Fort. On Kuyuili’s command, the women poured ghee on her and drenched in it, Kuyuili fearlessly walked into the armoury chamber and set herself on fire, destroying each weapon that was stored there.
Following Kuyuili’s sacrifice, Velu launched an attack on the Fort with the aim of taking over her Kingdom. Velu not only fought the British but also the Nawab of Arcot, fearlessly and full of valour and this earned her the title, ‘Veeramangai’ - the brave one.