India's earliest freedom fighters - Palayakkarars and their Telugu legacy.

Puli Thevar was a poligar (or palayakarar)
Sri Krishna thevaraya

Palaiyakkarar (Tamil) or Palegaadu (Telugu) or Paaleyagaara (Kannada) or Polygar (English), was  a special  feudal title  for  a  class  of  rulers,   specifically  selected  and appointed  by  the  Nayak  rulers  of  South  India (notably  Vijayanagara  Empire formed in  1336; Madurai  Nayakas and the Kakatiya dynasty)  during 16th – 18th centuries. In reality, they  were   territorial  administrative  and  military governors  vested  with  limited   powers  over large areas and  they  owed  their  allegiance  to  Madurai  Nayak  rulers.

 Kumara  Kampana - 1378 AD  of  Vijayanagaram  first  established  his  rule in  Madurai.  By  the  end  of  the century, the  whole  of  South  India,  south  of  the  Krishna-Tungabadra  rivers  including  part of Kartataka, Kerala, were  under the  Vijayanagara  rule.

Veerapandya Kattabomman, early freedom fighter. Chira Chaitanya - blogger

 Vijayanagaram   became  so  a vast  a  military  state,  it was  too  difficult  to  manage it. At  one  stage territorial  division  for  effective  management  became a  necessity. The  country  was  divided into small territories  and each  territory called 'Amara Nayakka Thaanam' is headed by  Amara Nayakkars. Subsequently,  the  divisions  were referred to as ''Palayams.''  

Palaiyakkarars'  civil  responsibilities  included  irrigation  projects, maintenance of forts, religious  institutions, land  revenue  collection, giving  judgment and imposing punishment, etc.

Many wars, waged  by  the  daring, well  motivated and  highly  patriotic  Palayakkarars   against  the diabolic British  East  India  company  officers,  after  the  demise  of Madurai  Nayaks,  are  often  regarded  as  the ''earliest  Indian  Independence   struggles.'' Though  their relentless rebellions  predate  the Sepoy  Mutiny of 1857 in Northern  India  by  many  decades, unfortunately,  their  daring  exploits,  sacrifices  and  vast  contributions  to  India's  early  independence  struggle  are  given  either   less  importance  or  simply ignored by  historians. The central government must take steps to recognize the vital roles played by the Playakkarars of South Tamil Nadu in the early freedom struggle against the unjust East India company. Countless young Palayakkarars came their precious lives for our country.

Even  now  a  vast  majority  of  Indians including native Tamil people  have  no  idea  whatsoever  about  Palayakkarars, who were  early  freedom  fighters  of  Tamil Nadu. Nor have they read  or  come  across  great  freedom  fighters  from  Tamil  Nadu  like  Puli Thevar,  Veerapandya  Kattabomman, Dheeran  Chinnamalai, Marudu  brothers, Uyyalawada  Narasimha  Reddy - the most  courageous  and well-known  Palayakkarar. They  revolted  against  the  oppressive  British rule  in  South India, particularly, in  the southern  part  of  Tamil Nadu,  south of Madurai where  the British  were land  revenue  administrators  on  behalf  of  the  Nawob  of  Arcot.  Just  because  the  feudal  rulers  protested  against  their  forced  land  revenue  collection  from  their  legitimate  land, which  they  had  long  been  enjoying   the  rights  by  way  of  raising  various crops even  before the arrival  of  the  British,  many  Palaiyakkarars  were hanged to death   under  some  pretext  and  some  banished  forever  to  Andaman Islands  by  the  British. Over night, the rich feudal  heads, their families and their dependents were  pushed  to  mere ''hand to  mouth  existence.'' One  could  imagine  how cruel  the British company officials were against the natives. To  strangle  the  throat of  daring Poligars  or  Palayakkarars, the  British followed several ingenuous  methods - right choice of whistle blowers, unpatriotic, untrustworthy  persons, turn coats, among some local rulers. These traitors served the British well in return for substantial rewards, land, etc.

A 1700 AD map of India, region ruled by  Polygars in the south,

The  head  of  Palayam (Tamil) or  Paalem (Telugu), a fortified  district  or  military  camp  was   often referred  to  as  Palayakkarar. It is believed, that  the famous  general  Ariyanatha  Mudaliar of Visvanatha  Nayakkar  of  Madurai  established 72 Paalayams in the Madurai country - system  of military - civil administration  for better  management and  better  services to the people. Each  palayam was taken care of by a chieftain - palyaakkarar. So, there  was  a  perfect harmony  between  the  head  of  Palayam  and  his  subjects. After  the  gradual down  fall of Madurai Nayak rule, many Palayams became  separate  small kingdoms on their own and the palayakkarar became a ruler.

There are  no specific  and  acceptable sources of  information  on  the  origin  of  Palaiyakkarar in Tamil country. The general  belief  has  been  that  this kind of  system of civil military  administration  was based  on  the Kakatiya  dynasty's  model  by the ruler Prataparudra. There  were, it  is  believed, 77 Padmanayakas  in the kingdom; but the records  are  not clear.

Soon  after  the  Vijayanagara  kingdom  was  formed,  it  started expanding. The formation was in 1336 AD. By 1378 AD, Kumara Kampana, the prince of  Vijayanagaram  had  conquered  the Madurai country, then  the whole of Tamil  Nadu and later  Kerala. By  the end  of  the  century, the whole of South India, south of the Krishna - Tungabadra rivers  was under  rule. Vijayanagaram was a military state. The Viyanagara rulers were staunch Hindus and they, during their reigns in Tamil Nadu, safe guarded the various temples. In addition  to it  the  Nayak rulers, rebuilt or repaired  several temples damaged by the Muslim invaders led by Malik Kaufer and Ulagh Khan, Military Commanders of Alauddin Khilji of Delhi in the 13th century.

In  the Vijayanagara empire, local  chieftains called Polygars  were  allowed  to  rule  with  limited autonomy  by  their  overlords. They had powers to collect revenue, maintain a  small  army  and  impose punishments. They numbered up to 200 during this period. However, they are supposed to have refused to come to  the  rescue  of  the  empire  at the Battle of Tallikota in 1565 AD, which  marked the downfall of the Vijayanagara  empire.

When  the  Vijayanagara  Empire  of  southern  India weakened  after  the  mid-16th century, the Vijayanagara  Nayakas, or  governors, became the independent  rulers  of  large  tracts  of  southern  India. Of  the  prominent  Nayakas  were  the  Nayakas  of Madurai (1549–1736), ruling  from  Madurai  and Tiruchirapalli. The Tanjore Nayaks opted for a conventional  system  of  administration, while  the  other  Vijaynagar  offshoots, namely the Nayakas of Gingee, and other territories under the Aravidu line of later Vijayanagara  Kings  based  in Chandragiri – Vellore  Fort,  followed  the  Palayam or Palegallu  system of  administration.

The Madurai  kingdoms  consisted  of  present day Western  Tamil Nadu  with  Coimbatore, Salem and Kollidam  river  forming  the  northern  boundary barring  Tanjore  Kingdom and  Western Ghats forming  the  western  border and  Kanniyakumari in the South.


Balendu Sekaram, Kandavalli, 1909–. The Nayakas of Madura by Khandavalli Balendusekharam (Hyderabad : Andhra Pradesh Sahithya Akademi, 1975) ; 30 p. ; 22 cm. ; "World Telugu Conference publication." ; History of the Telugu speaking Nayaka kings of Pandyan Kingdom, Madurai, 16th–18th century.

Prof.K.Rajayyan M.A.,M.Litt,A.M. P.hd.,A History of Freedom Struggle in India

M.P.Manivel, 2003 – Viduthalaipporil Virupachi Gopal Naickar (Tamil Language), New Century Book House, Chennai