Dheeran Chinnamalai (Tamil: தீரன் சின்னமலை) original name:Theerthagiri Gounder (April 17, 1756 – July 31, 1805) was a Palayakkarar and independence fighter from Tamil Nadu. He was born in Melapalayam, Erode Tamilnadu, India. He formed a 1,000-strong army in support of Tipu Sultan, and was instrumental in victories at Chitheswaram, Mazahavalli and Srirangapatna.
He was one of the main leaders in the Polygar Wars, and commanded a vast army, notably during the Second Polygar War that took place in 1801-1802. After Tipu's death, Chinnamalai settled down at Odanilai and constructed a fort there to continue his struggle against the British, whom he defeated in battles at Cauvery in 1801, Odanilai in 1802 and Arachalur in 1804. Later, Chinnamalai left his fort to avoid cannon attack and engaged in guerrilla warfare while he was stationed at Karumalai in the Palani region.
He was betrayed by his cook and captured by the British, who hanged him at Sankari Fort on July 31 or August 2, 1805.
Theeran Chinnamalai belonged to the PalayaKottai Pattakarar Family. The Pattakarar family had the title of Manradiar and controlled large tracts of land from their palace at PalayaKottai. Theeran Chinnmalai's grandfather, Kotravel Sarkari Madradiar, was childless. He adopted two sons; the first son, Senapathy, was groomed by his first wife and the second, named Rathnaswamy, was groomed by the second wife. Both the adopted sons were educated at the palace. In course of time, the brothers got married. As was the custom in those days, the first son Senapathi took the titles of Manradiar in the year 1731 and continued to control the lands from Palayakottai. The second son Rathnaswamy moved to nearby village named MelaPalayam and took care of the farming of the lands that belonged to the family.
Rathanaswamy and his wife Periatha had six children in all – five sons and one daughter. The first son was Kulandaiswamy, the second was Theerthagiri, the third was Thambi, fourth was Kilothar and the fifth was Kuttiswamy. Their only daughter was named Parvatham. Theerthagiri who later became Chinnamalai was born in the April, 1756.
The eldest son Kulandaiswamy and the last son Kuttiswamy mainly attended to farming and took care of the vast tracts of lands under their control. However, the band of three brothers Theerthagiri, Kilothar and Thambi devoted their attention to administration and safety of the villages under their control. They learnt the martial arts of Silambu, archery etc. They rode on their horses throughout their jurisdictions and formed Kongu youth organizations. They also trained the Kongu youth in martial arts. They protected their areas from robbers. They also took part in Village Panchayats which were popular in those days to resolve disputes between families. They not only helped to resolve family disputes but also land disputes. They became famous for their public service in the region.
In course of time, they got their sister Parvatham married to Ulagapuram Muthi Thirumalai Gounder. As they were rich, they conducted the marriage lavishly and made their sister happy by giving generous marriage presents in the form of jewellery, ornaments and vessels.
Dispute with Hyder Ali
During those days Kongu area was under the control of Mysore Muslim king Hyder Ali. Hyder Ali was entitled to tax the Kongu people. A Diwan appointed by Hyder Ali, named Mohammed Ali, and a tax collector were troubling farmers in the collection of the taxes in the Kongu area. They humiliated the farmers by confiscating their land – their only means of livelihood – away from them. Hearing the atrocity committed by the Mysore King's Diwan, Theerthagiri and his two brothers mounted on their horses to stop them. As they were searching for the Diwan, the Diwan and his party were returning to their tents after colleting taxes. Theerthagiri met them on a road between Sivan Malai and Chenni Malai. They recovered all the taxes from the Diwan and asked him to go and report to the Mysore King that Chinnmalai took away all the taxes. Diwan was angry and protested that the taxes belonged to Hyder Ali and Theertahagiri would face severe consequences for his actions. When Diwan informed him that Kongunadu was ruled by Hyder Ali, Theerthagiri asked the Diwan to inform Hyder Ali that Kongus could rule themselves and they did not need a Mysore King. He distributed the taxes back to farmers. The story of his encounter with Mysore King's Diwan spread like wild fire and people named him as 'Chinnamalai' for this show of bravery.
Mysore Diwan was humiliated. But he wanted to take revenge against Chinnamalai and also wanted to punish him for violating the Mysore King's rights in Kongu. The Diwan sent a contingent of soldiers from Sankagiri. Theerthagiri and his soldiers met them on their way to Kangeyam at the Noyyal River and defeated them. This was the first battlefield experience for Chinnamalai. Knowing that he has to meet Mysore King in battle in course of time, Chinnamalai collected an army of soldiers from all the villages. He gave the new Kongu soldiers training in many martial arts. Chinnamalai became a very powerful figure in the Kongu region.
His house in Kangeyam has become a guest house for the all Kongu activities. The eldest brother Kulandaiswamy and his wife Kempayammal took good care of the all the guests who visited them by providing food and shelter.
Hyder Ali died on 12 July 1782 and his son Tippu Sultan became the Mysore King. After Tippu became Mysore King, hostilities broke between British and Tippu Sultan as Tippu claimed sovereignty to his kingdom and refused to pay taxes to the British. Tippu Sultan wanted to raise a big army of soldiers to fight the British and invited the Kongus to join him to fight against the British. Chinnamalai, and his brothers Kilother, Thambi decided to join with Tippu Sultan. They also took with them their loyal friend Karuppan and Velappan. Chinnamalai was made chief of Kongu Regiment. About 1000 young Kongus joined the Kongu Regimen. They were given proper military training by French who were collaborating with Tippu to fight the British. The war between Mysore King and the British are known as Mysore Wars. The fourth and crucial battle between Tippu took place in the year 1799. Chinnamalai's soldiers battled against the British at MalaValli front and caused severe damage to the British forces. The Srirangapatnam war front was led by Tippu himself. In the battle that took place, Tippu was killed on April 5, 1799. After the defeat of Tippu, the Kongu area technically came under the control of British.
After death of Tippu Sultan, Chinnamalai led all his soldiers through Kaveri River into Kongunadu. However, their loyal friend Velappan was captured by the British and remained in their custody. Velappan promised the British that he would act as their agent. Believing his words, they gave him a position in their army. However, Velappan remained loyal to Chinnamalai and sent notes concerning British activities and helped Chinnamalai in many ways.
After his return from the Mysore War to Kongu, Chinnamalai built a palace in a village called Odanilai. He advocated to all Kongus and the neighboring Palayakarars that they should all unite together and fight the British. At that time, Salem and Malabar areas were under the control of British. But, British could not control the Kongunadu due to opposition by Chinnamalai and his alliance. If the British wanted to travel to Malabar from Salem, they had to take a circuitous route through Mysore. Kongu soldiers were guarding Kongunadu and were preventing the entry of British through Kaveri River. The British wanted to take over the control of Kongunadu without a fight. They sent a messenger to inform Chinnamalai to accept the British Control of Kongunadu and pay the taxes. Chinnamalai refused the offer and challenged the British for the hegemony over his land.
Although Velappan was serving the British, he informed Chinnamalai and warned him in advance of the British activities through some secret messengers. Chinnamalai knew that British would enter Kongunadu in course of time. He made preparations to the eventual fight with the British. During this time he built an ordinance factory at Odanilai to make war preparations to face the British.
During this time, it is said that Chinnamalai was generous to poets and learned men under his rule. He made Arunachala Kavi the poet of his kingdom. He also donated large sums of gold coins to Punthurai Ambikapathi poet and honored him in his kingdom. He punished the infiltrators sent out by the British into his Kingdom and made his kingdom safer for its subjects. In all, people lived a peaceful and happy life under the rule of Chinnamalai.
The British were annoyed that Chinnamalai was running his own independent kingdom and did not listen to their demands to accept their hegemony. The British decided to strike him and take the land by force. Initially, they sent out a troop of soldiers under the captainship of Colonel Makiskan to arrest Chinnamalai. Velappan who was in serving the British informed Chinnamalai of the British plan though his informers. As Chinnamalai was forewarned, he met Makistian and his soldiers on the banks of Noyyal River and defeated them in the battle thoroughly. Makistan was beheaded in the battle and it is said that this head was paraded in the villages of Kongu.
Learning what had happened to Makiskan, the British became furious and sent cavalry unit under Captain Harris to capture Chinnamalai. When Harris was approaching Arachalur, he heard the Puja sounds from the Arachalur Amman Temple. Thinking that Chinnmalai might be in the temple, Captain Harris entered the temple in search of Chnnamalai. As he could nor find him, he was frustrated and proceeded to Odanilai where Chinnamalai's palace is located.
A sentry at the top of the palace noticed the movement of the troop led by Harris and immediately informed Chinnamalai what he saw. Chinnamalai planned to attack them alone with a hand grenade first. He advised his soldiers to attack them after he had a chance to throw the grenade at them. Chinnamalai mounted a horse and sped towards Harris and his troop. As Harris was wondering why a single person was approaching him, Chinnamalai swiftly threw his grenade at his horse's side. The horse became bewildered and started running away from the bomb and the smoke. Harris lost control of his horse and pandemonium ensued. Meanwhile Chnnamalai's troop joined him. Harris and his troop had to withdraw . Chinnamalai and his troop drive all the way to Kaveri River up north. This battle is took place in the year 1802.
Hearing what has happened to Harris, the British became furious and they decided to send in a troop carrying Cannons. As soon as Velappan knew of the British plan, he sent a word through the informers about the impending British attack on Odanilai. Chinnamalai used to wear a new pair of shoes every day. The informer wrote the news in a chit and left it in his shoes. When Chinnamalai was about the wear the shoes, he found the note from Velappan. After reading the note, he left in there by mistake.
Chinnamalai consulted with his brothers for a plan of action. They decided to leave Karuppan in Melapalayam in a hiding. Chinnamalai and two of his brothers and the cook Nallappan decided to hide in the Karumalai area that is adjacent to well known Palani Malai. Karumalai area was full of thick forests and provided cover for the brothers to hide from the British attack.
The British came to Odanilai with their cannons and found that all had vacated the palace. When they were searching the palace area they found the note sent out by Velappan. The moment British came to know that Velappan was an informer to Chinnamalai, they shot him dead. They demolished the entire palace with cannon shots. They decided to search and find Chinnamalai.
Meanwhile, Chinnamalai and his brothers stayed during the day time in the Karumalai area and returned in the night to a house at the foot of the hills for dinner and sleep. They ate the food prepared by the cook Nallappan. They always carried guns for precaution.
Cook Nallapan was traitor. He was tempted to accept bribery and inform Chinnamalai's whereabouts. He secretly informed a British agent about Chinnamalai and his brothers and their daily routine of eating food in the house at the foot of the hills. The British dug a underground trench leading to the house and waited for Chinnamalai and his brothers.
As usual when the brothers were entering the house he served them food. That day, he cunningly asked the brothers to leave their guns on the floor, as there was no danger when they were eating food. The brothers believed his words and left their guns on the floor, as they also did not sense any danger.
When they were about to eat, Nallapan opened the secret door leading to the underground trench and allowed the British soldiers in side the kitchen. The British soldiers surrounded Chinnamalai and his brothers. With all the fury, Chinnamalai hit the traitor and killed him on the spot.
The British arrested Chinnamalai and his brothers and kept them in Sankakiri prison. A four person tribunal consisting of Genaman, Marvul, Horse and Backy Hart was formed. Their loyal servant Karuppan who was in hiding at Melapalayam also surrendered to the British. The tribunal asked Chinnamalai to accept the British rule over his Kingdom and pay taxes to the British. They also offered him amnesty if he tendered an apology. Chinnamalai refused the British offer and informed his decision to face the consequences.
Preparations were made to hang them by rope tied to a Tamarind tree located at the top of the Sankakiri fort. Chinnamalai, his two brothers and Karuppan were brought to the tree on the day of the hanging. They asked the escorting soldiers to move away from them. Then each one tied the rope around his neck and jumped down to embrace death. The whole of Kongunadu wept for their heroic deed on that day. The British saw to that that Chinnamalai name did not become household name by banning books or any literature on Chinnamalai for a long period of time. Theeran Chinnamalai was hanged on July 31, 1805.
The story of Chinnamalai and his heroic battles with the British and the eventual sacrifice of his for the cause of freedom would have been completely consigned to oblivion but of the heritage of oral story telling that existed in our culture. The singular credit goes to Pulavar Kulanthai who heard this story from his grand father during early 1900s. However, during the British rule it was not possible to write about the freedom fighters as the those literature was banned. Pulavar Kulandai could write about Chinnamalai only after independence. However, by the time he was about to write, he could not recollect everything his grand father told him. However he was able to create the first account of the Story of Theeran Chinnamalai and in course of time Kongus understood the heroic role of Chinnamalai of his independence from British Domination.
Milestones in the life of Chinnamalai
|1||Birth: Born as the second son of Rathnaswamy Gounder (Payiran Kootam) and Periyatha (Othalan Kootam) on April 1756. He was named Theerthagiri.|
|2||Growing-up: He grew up learning martial arts along with two of his other brothers – Kirlother and Thambi. He formed Kongu Tamil Youth Groups and gave them martial arts training.|
|3||Encounter with Hyder Ali's Diwan: He recovered the taxes collected by Mysore Diwan and earned the nickname Chinnamalai. He also defeated Diwan's soldiers and successfully defended the Kongu Region from Mysore Kings.|
|4||Allianace with Tipu Sultan: He led 1000 Kongu Tamil Youths and joined with Tipu Sultan to fight the British. In 1799 he fought the British in Melapalayam Front and caused severe damage to the British forces. However, Tipu died at the Sriranga Patnam front. Fourth Mysore War ended.|
|5||Defending Kongu ( 1799-1805): Returned to Kongu after Tippu's death and organized an alliance of Kongu Palayakarars against the British. Fought four battles with British and successfully defended himself.|
|6||Refuge and Capture(1805): British destroyed his Oda Nalli Fort with cannons. Chinnamalai took refuge in the Karumalai forests. A traitor cook helped the British to capture Chinnamalai and his brothers.|
|7||The End (1805): The British hanged Chinnamalai, his two brothers and their loyal soldier Karuppan on 31 July 1805. They banned any literature on Chinnamalai. However, due to the existence of the oral tradition of storytelling, Chinnamalai's story survived and reached us in the form of books and Kummi Songs.|
Tamil Nadu government constructed a "mani mandapam" (memorial) for Chinnamalai in Arachalur, Erode district at a cost of about 30 lakhs. Tamil Nadu government placed a statue of Chinnamalai in Chennai.
Theeran Chinnamalai Gounder by Pulavar S. Rasu, Samba Publications, 152 Peters Road, Chennai, India 600 086, 1996.
Knogu Nattu Lion Singham Theeran Chinnamalai by Kavignar Magudam Manickam, Sakunthla Publications, Rangoli Graphics, 329 E.V.N.Road, Erode, TH, India 638 009, year 2001.