Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Narrating the British Invasion of Kongunadu

Idaipadi Amuthan
Will you believe that Coimbatore was once a village, when the British divided the Kongu region into different parts for administrative purpose? But, a surviving handwritten document of an English officer dating back to 1799 says that ' Coimbatore is the largest village'
When the 'city' came under the British rule, the English officers felt that its location was unsuitable for administration and set up its headquarters rather at Bhavani, which is in the present Erode district.
It was surprising, when Idaipaadi Amudhan, a Kongu historian, displayed the handwritten document in his power point show, as he addressed on the topic Aangileyar Kaalathil Kongunadu ( Kongunadu in the British period) at The Vanavarayar Foundation on Friday.

Idaipaadi Amudhan, who is the author of the books Konngunaattil Thomas Munro and 1800il Kongunadu, informed that the Kongu region had been under Mysore rule before the British captured it.
Though the British government later surveyed the Kongu region and divided it into several parts for administration, it was the Mysore king Chikka Devaraya Udayar, who had initiated the project of surveying it for constructing canals and dams across the rivers”
Amudhan pointed out that the British could not conquer the entire Kongu region until the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799. Nevertheless, he informed that Salem was under British rule even in 1792, while Coimbatore was still in the hands of Tipu Sultan.
When Alexander Reed was the Collector of Salem, Sir Thomas Munro, who later came to be regarded as 'The father of Ryotwari System' was the Assistant Collector to him. Munro administered Dharmapuri and certain parts of Salem including Mettur Dam, Sankagiri, Edapadi, Omalur and Thiruchengode. At a later period, Coimbatore too came under the British rule and Major William Macleod became its first collector ” detailed Amudhan.

Explaining the background of the four Anglo-Mysore wars, Amudhan said:

As Tipu sought the military support from France and Turkey against the English, Lord Cornwallis, the British Governor General, passed orders to wage war against him and capture the Mysore kingdom. And, under the orders of Cornwallis,William Meadows, the Governor of Madras, led the British troops from Trichinopoly and captured Karur, Dharapuram, Coimbatore and Erode in the Kongu region“

Amudhan also informed that the army led by Meadows divided itself into different troops and marched under the commandership of the respective military officers.

While the troop led by Col. James Stuart captured Dindigul and Palakkad, the one commanded by Sir John Floyd took over Sathyamangalam “ he informed.

An ardent admirer of Sir Thomas Munro, Amudhan said:

Munro, who respected the sentiments of Indians, has pointed out in one of his writings that the natives could lead a peaceful life under the British rule. However, they could never dream of coming to power”

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Washing the Dirt on Washer-men Community

Coimbatoreans, who are known for their unique culture of honouring people cutting across castes, observed all the ceremonies in their social life only with the participation of members from the washer-men community.

It was a custom in the yesteryear Coimbatore to invite washer-men to carry the blazing torch on both auspicious and inauspicious occasions like temple festivals and funeral processions. However, it is sad that they were later denigrated by being addressed with their caste name as 'Vannaar' due to their main occupation of washing others' clothes.

With the Tamil word 'Mannuthal' meaning 'Washing', the group of people who involved in washing others' clothes came to be called as 'Mannaar' in earlier days. And in due course, the term got corrupted to 'Vannaar'. However, pieces in ancient Tamil literature and several stone inscriptions list the other names for the washer-men community as Vannaththaar, Eagaali and Eerangolli.
In contrast to the present age, when the idea of caste is deep-rooted in the minds of people, ancient pieces of literature and mythologies about Gods propagated human relationship cutting across caste and clans. Legend has it that Lord Siva, who once cursed his wife Parvathi to be born as a girl in the fishermen community, later longed for a reunion his wife and married her again as a girl from the fishermen community. Lord Siva's younger son Murugan too fell in love on Valli, a tribal girl and married her.

What's more, of the 63 Nayanmars ( Apostles of Lord Siva), whose life histories are compiled as Periyapuranam by Sekkizhar, the apostles Athipathar, Thiruneelakandar, Perumizhalai Kurumbar and Thirunaalaipovaar were all from the so called low castes Parathar, Kuyavar, Kurumpar and Parayar respectively.

Thirukurippu Thondar, another apostle of Lord Siva, whose tale is vividly portrayed in Periyapuranam, was a Vannaar, who washed the clothes of all Sivanadiyaars ( Devotees of Lord Siva) everyday. It is said that Lord Siva himself appeared in front of him in the disguise of an emaciated Sivanadiyar and requested him to wash his dirty, torn clothes on condition that he should return them the same evening. But, in order to test his dedication, the Almighty created a heavy downpour, which hindered the drying of clothes.

Guilty of having put the Sivanadiyar in the discomfort of cold and rain, when the helpless Thirukurippu Thondar attempted to kill himself by hitting his head on the washing stone, Lord Siva Himself appeared before him in his real form and saved him. The Supreme deity also accepted the washer man as one of his 63 apostles  !
Sources: Kongu Kulangal Varalaru – Kavingnar Sivadasan, Arupaththu Moovar Kathaikal – 
Durgadas S.K.Swamy. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: