Puli Thevar

First-ever Freedom Fighter : Puli Thevar

Puli Thevar or Pooli Devar (1715 to 1768; the name Puli in Tamil means a Tiger) was a local chieftain of Hindu Marava community also known as poligar in English or in local parlance Palayakaarar. He was a devotee of Lord Shiva and ruled an area called Nel katum sevval (the place that pays rice tribute to the Nawob of Arcot) or Avudayapuram situated now in the Sankarankoil 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.

Puli Thevar has the unique distinction of being the first ever 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 who first protested against the use of cow’s fat in the greased rifle cartridges that triggered ”Sepoy”revolt of 1857.

The British company’s land grabbing spree continued vigorously and now they came down to the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula. Thanks to to the generosity of the Nawob of Arcot. After Puli Thevar, who refused to pay the customary rice tribute to the Nawob, the place became nel kattan sevval (“place which doesn’t pay rice tribute”).

Palaiyakkarar, was the feudal title given for a class of territorial administrative and military governors or agents appointed by the Nayaka rulers of South India 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 British. 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 the south of Tamil Nadu. All this happened in late 1750s and early 1760s, way before Kattabomman, another great patriot who revolted against the British, appeared on the scene. According to Thirunelveli District Gazetteer, H.R. Pate, leader of the Marava Confederacy was shrewd and a veritable thorn against the side of the Nawab’s agents.

Puli Thevar

In the checkered history of Palayakarars, Puli Thevar carved a niche for himself and was a potential enemy of the Nawob of Arcot whose lordship the Palaiyakarars never accepted. Arcot Nawob 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 Nawob and his agents to help British catch him. He was arrested by the British and Nawob’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 thePuli Tevar. en.wikipedia.orgdisappearance of Puli Tevar. The rebel fled for his life as Englishmen were actively searching for him.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 British to avoid the ire of the natives.Any way this riddle till today remains an unsolved mystery.

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