India's first ever freedom fighter - ''Puli Thevar'' of Tamil Nadu

                            Palayakara rebel  Puli Tevar(1715 to 1768)

Puli Thevar or Pooli Devar (1715 to 1768; the name Puli in Tamil means a Tiger) was a local  chieftain of Hindu Maravar  community also known as poligar in English or in local parlance Palayakarar. He was an ardent  devotee of Lord Shiva and  ruled an area called Nel katum sevval (the place that pays rice tribute to  the Nawab of Arcot) or Avudayapuram situated now in the Sankarankovil taluk of Tamil Nadu, S. India.  He was a just, but  rebel ruler and strode the path of dharma. His personality was such that never had he failed to act against adarma whenever it  raised its ugly head in this regard he never made any compromise on his cherished character or principles of justice. 

Puli Thevar has the unique distinction of being the first  Hindu native local ruler in the entire Indian subcontinent ever to have revolted against the oppressive British East India company prior to the hanging of soldier Mangal Pandey at Meerut cantonment, UP  who first protested against the use of cow's fat in the greased rifle cartridges for the newly introduced Enfield rifles that triggered  the first war of  Independence (earlier known as ''Sepoy'' revolt of 1857).

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 historically speaking was not the first revolt against the British and the very first   regional awakening against the foreign rule began in South Tamil  Nadu.  Undaunted  
Poolithevar began a rebellion against the British in 1757-58 at Nelkattumseval village and it was followed by Kattabomman   of Panchalankurichi and other heads of palayams during 1797-1801.  

The short lived Vellore mutiny took place in 1806 and the impact on the English company was very much then.  The Indian Rebellion of 1857, though   took place around ''100 years after Poolithevar’s uprising,” in certain parts of northern states it rattled the EIC misrule for some time.Lasted for more than  one and half years, thousands of Indians were killed by the British  and  in places like Lucknow and Allahabad in UP,  they brazenly committed massacre. Taking advantage of the political scenario and the fall of Delhi the English company saw the fall of the last mogul rule in India, Ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar was  banished to Burma (Myanmar) where he died in obscurity. Anyway, the spirit of freedom from the British yoke sprang up from Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

The British company's land grabbing spree continued vigorously and now they came down to the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula. Thanks to  the generosity of the Nawob of Arcot. who was rendered powerless  as he was burdened by heavy loans from the British loan sharks.  The nawab  transferred the land revenue to the british to  keep his head above the water. After Puli Thevar, who refused to pay the customary rice tribute to the Nawab, the place became Nelkattan Sevval ("place which doesn't pay rice tribute").

Tirunelveli Seemai. TN

patriot and warrior Puli Thevar.

Palaiyakkarar, was the feudal title given for a class of territorial administrative and military governors or agents appointed by the Nayak rulers of South India (notably Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks  and the Kakatiya dynasty) during 16th – 18th centuries. They took one fourth of revenue and the rest would go to the treasury of the rulers. After the decline of Madurai Nayak dynasty, they first revolted against the British predating Sepoy mutiny because they were forced to pay kisti- land tax to them. The question on their mind was that they and their forefathers  had been masters of their land for centuries and  not only did these British people gain control on their motherland but also coerced them into paying taxes using intimidation and threats. Many of the revolting Palaiyakarars  were put to death by the army of the EIC These people  had their roots in present day Andhra state.

Puli Thevar was not on good terms with the  Nawab of Arcot Mohammed Ali, a close alley of the  British who in 1736 took control of Madurai and southern parts after the Nayaks became powerless. His prominent exploits were his confrontations with Marudhanayagam (who became a Muslim convert by the name of Muhammed Yusuf Khan (1725 – 1764), who, later on rebelled against the British himself; he was a warrior in the Arcot troops, later Commandant for the British East India Company troops and both  used him to suppress the confederacy of seventy seven Palayakkarars in  south Tamil Nadu. 
All this happened in late 1750s and early 1760s, way before Kattabomman, another great patriot who revolted against the British, had appeared on the scene.  According to Tirunelveli District Gazetteer, H.R. Pate, leader of the Marava Confederacy was shrewd and a veritable thorn against the side of the Nawab's agents. 

In the checkered history of Palayakarars, Puli Thevar carved outa niche for himself and was a potential enemy of the Nawab of  Arcot whose lordship the Palaiyakarars never  accepted. Arcot Nawab had military alliance with the British forces to put down the  rebels and gave them rights to collect the land revenue in return for their military assistance, a subtle diabolical trap set by the British to swallow lands which the Muslim rulers regretted when it became too late.  

Puli Devar, a warrior of exceptional ability, was known for his  diplomacy and war strategy, though he was much maligned by the British historians' tags such as a 'deceitful' person who never kept his word.  He was not at all deceitful or conceited as often portrayed by the British to set the people against him. In 1757 these palayams - areas declared independence  and refused to pay ''Kisthi''(land tax).
Puli Thevar  remained invincible and  defeated a battalion of British and Nawab Soldiers on the banks of Thamirabarani. However, by 1761 Yusuf Khan (Maruthanayagam) at last suppressed the revolts for good and Puli Thevar became a victim of a trap set by the Nawab and his agents to help British catch him. He was arrested by the British and Nawab's army and taken to the prison. On his way, he expressed his desire to worship the deity at  the Sankaran kovil temple. So, he sang in praise of the deity inside the temple. The moment later  there was the sound of the handcuffs getting broken. When the troops rushed in, all they could see was the broken handcuffs and chains; Puli Thevar was not there. They were dumbfounded and found no clues as to how he escaped without leaving any physical evidence or clues whatsoever. The invincible hero became an immortal hero  invisible in the history of India and Tamil Nadu in particular.

There are two different versions about the 
disappearance of  of Puli Thevar. The rebel fled for his life as  Englishmen  were actively searching for him.

Puli Thevar.

Above image:  Puli Thevar.statue near Vasudeva Nallur (Nel Kattum seval) in Tenkasi district, TN. . His 308th birth  anniversary was celebrated in August in 2023................................. 

Netaji Chandra Bose, patriot and freedom

Another suggestion was that the news of hanging of Puli Thevar  by the British, would make the public protest against them, so the story of disappearance of  Puli Thevar  was just a ruse purposely concocted by the wily British to avoid the ire of the natives. Any way, this riddle till today remains an unsolved mystery. Even today the race conscious British are known for their arrogance, white supremacy and conceitful. The British crown is stained with blood and curses from the British colonies, especially India subcontinent.