16 October: The Day of Martyrdom of Veera Pandya Kattaboman

published on October 15, 2014
Today commemorates the day of martyrdom of the brave Palayakarrar warrior chieftain of 18th century Veerapandiya Kattabomma Karuthayya Nayakkar (also known as Kattabomman). Hailing from Panchalankurichi of Tamil Nadu, he was reckoned as a formidable foe of the invading British and showcased solid fight against them, while defending his land. Kattaboman’s name has been engraved in the annals of history in letters of gold.

Kattabomman refused to accept the sovereignty of British East India Company, but he did pay the taxes for a while. But when the rates where raised, he couldn’t pay them and instead opted to fight against them. In 1799, he was captured by the British and hanged at Kayattar in Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu.

Also known as Kattabomma Nayakkar he was among the earliest to oppose British rule in these regions. He waged a war with the British six decades before Indian War of Independence occurred in the Northern parts of India. He was captured and hanged in 1799 CE. His fort was destroyed and his wealth was looted by the British army. Today his native village Panchalankurichi in present day Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu is a historically important site. Some Palayakarrar families also migrated to vedal village in Kanchipuram District, India.

Kattaboman’s martyrdom took place as he was betrayed along with six other veerars by the then ruler of the kingdom of Pudukottai Vijaya Raghunatha Tondaiman to the British on 1 October 1799,Kattabomman was subsequently arrested by British and brought to a building at Kayathar. He was then interrogated by the British till 16 October 1799,where he was sentenced to public hanging at about 10am on the 16th October 1799.

Following Kattaboman’s martyrdom, in subsequent years, a good deal of legend and folklore developed around Kattabomman and the Marudu Brothers. Kayatharu, where Kattabomman was executed has remained a place of political pilgrimage. The brave chieftain’s ancestors migrated to Tamil Nadu from Kandukur area of Prakasam district in present day Andhra Pradesh during the Vijayanagara period.

In his Tinnevelly Gazetteer of 1917, H. R. Pate notes the presence, in Kayatharu, of “a great pile of stones of all sizes, which represents the accumulated offerings by wayfarers of the past hundred years. Folk songs recalling the heroism of the Poligar leaders remain alive in Tamil Nadu to this day…”

The popular Tamil slang for a traitor or committing treason is Ettapa or Ettapan, courtesy the Ettayapuram Polygar whom the British later conferred the title of Raja. But it is disputed whether Ettapan ever committed a treason at all because Kattabomman was arrested by the King of Pudukottai. The Campa Cola ground in Chennai belongs/belonged to Ettappan family. In recent times, there is an outcry over the unflattering portrayal of Ettappan in the 1959 Tamil language film, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, in which legendary Tamil thespian, Sivaji Ganesan, played the titular character.

Kattabomman’s story is celebrated in many legends and epic poetry in Tamil. Kattabomman is today recognized by the government as one of the earliest independence fighters opposing the British.

In 1974, the Government of Tamil Nadu constructed a new Memorial fort. The Memorial Hall has beautiful paintings on the walls depicting the heroic deeds of the saga which gives a good idea about the history of the period. A cemetery of British soldiers are also seen near the fort.

The remnants of the old fort are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
At Kayathar, near Tirunelveli on the present day NH7, the place where he was hanged, there is another memorial for Kattabomman.

A statue of him is put up in Wellington, Tamil Nadu to commemorate his bravery.
To commemorate the bicentenary on 16 October 1799 of Kattabomman’s martyrdom, the Government of India brought out a postal stamp in his honour, which was released on 16.10.1999 by India postage.

India’s premier communication nerve centre of the Indian Navy, at Vijayanarayanam, about 40 km from here, is named as INS Kattabomman.

Till 1997, the state transport buses of Tirunelveli District was named Kattabomman Transport Corporation.

Veerapandia Kattabomman Panpattu Kazhagam (Veerapandia Kattabomman Cultural association) is an organisation named in his honour.

The district administration celebrates `Veerapandia Kattabomman festival’ at Panchalankurichi on his anniversaries.

Much of the modern currency of the legend comes from the 1959 motion picture starring Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan in lead role portraying the life of Veerapandiya Kattabomman. The Movie was directed by B.R. Panthulu and Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan got a wide international recognition and earned many international awards for his epic performance and this particular film is one of the most remembered in his 45 years of filmdom. The film received ubiquitously positive reviews and adjudged the best film at the Cairo International Film Festival and Sivaji received the prize for best actor from Col. Nasser, the then president of Egypt.

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