Tamil Badass of the Week: Once Upon a Time in Tamil Nadu
North American informal
• Distinctively tough or powerful individual or thing.
• A person whose extreme attitudes, determination, behaviour or appearance are admirable.
Give me the name of one Tamil Badass? If the first name to come out of your mouth is either Vijay, Surya, Simbu etc, then I would be very grateful if you could clench your fist (any hand) and then PUNCH YOURSELF RIGHT IN THE FACE!!!
Throughout history there have been larger than life Tamil’s with a natural talent for unleashing the twin sisters of PAIN and MISERY on anyone stupid enough to cross their path. Therefore to educate you Kollywood hero worshippers; once every week I’m going to talk about a real life “Thalaivar” or “Thalapathy” that would make these Kollywood pretenders look like the jokes they are. I would advise all you sensitive, in touch with your feminine side guys to regularly read this feature – it will suck the oestrogen right out of you!
This week’s Tamil badass is…..
Veerapandiya Kattabomman (1760 – 1799)
In the 18th century, the main player in India was the British East India Company. If you dont know who these guys were, think of the SPECTRE mega corporation from the James Bond movies – a super-powerful organisation, with its own private army, that spent all of its time plotting evil diabolical schemes to take over the world. The British East India Company first came to India in 1612 with two goals; divide and conquer! Their diabolical scheme was made infinitely easier by the fact that India was fragmented into numerous provinces with their own individual rulers. They swept through the country, instigating wars between various Indian rulers and then pimping out their private armies and weapons to the Indians for a hefty price. As you can imagine when the time came to pay up, many Indian rulers amassed debts so large that they could never afford to pay them back. This was the plan of the British all along; when the Indian’s couldn’t pay, they took over their province and imposed heavy taxes on populace.
By the 18th century, their stranglehold over the country had become so strong most Indian rulers only had two options: do as they say or get killed and replaced by someone who will. Through fear, like the rulers in North India, the majority Southern rulers submitted to the rule of the British. However, there was one who stood defiant. His name was Veerapandiya Kattabomman.
Kattabomman was the head chieftain of Panchalankurichi, located in Tamil Nadu. The other South Indian rulers pleaded with him to bow to the British and presented him with the simple facts – the British East India Company had the backing of the most powerful nation in the world at the time (Britain), over hundred thousand battle hardened mercenaries and weapons that could blow their palaces to dust. Maybe the best option was to shut up and pay them whatever they wanted.
HELL NO! Kattabomman was a short tempered, bone-crunching badass who preferred to die fighting rather than submit to the demands of a bunch of pale-skinned, wig-wearing, tea-drinking douchebag’s from the west. He had never borrowed money from the British and refused to pay for the stupidity of the others. He threatened that if any British official stepped onto his turf he was going to send them home in a body bag!
The British were clearly not impressed and proving that things have not changed much over the centuries, their response to Kattabomman’s tax dodging was to send numerous “Payment Due” notices to his residence. Kattabomman, proving that Tamils have also not changed much over the centuries, ignored them. This went on for months until the British lost all patience and sent a man referred to as Jackson Thurai (no idea what his full name was), the chief debt collector for Southern states, to get what they believed was owed to them. Jackson demanded Kattabomman meet him alone for talks but slyly conspired to arrest him and so brought an entire battalion of soldiers with him. Kattabomman countered this by bringing his own small army. When the two eventually met, the conversation was heated. Jackson mocked Kattabomman and demanded that he backed down, warning him that his swords, arrows and limited firearms stood little chance against the British and their powerful guns. Kattabomman response to this was…
“Brother, how you going to fire those guns after I slice off your fingers?”
I dont know if Cuban cigars were available in 18th century India, but if they were, I’m pretty confident Kattabomman would’ve been smoking one when he delivered that epic comeback.
As you can imagine, after being subjected to the greatest putdown in 18th century India, Jackson lost his cool. He angrily demanded that Kattabomman yield to the British and pay homage or be prepared to die. In a scene resembling the Tamil version of the speech spoken by King Leonidas to the Persian emissary at the start of the movie 300, Kattabomman told him that the British had no right to demand money and demanded that they get the hell out – I’m hoping he ended it by shouting “THIS IS TAMIL NADUUUUUUUUU!!!” before kicking Jackson into a mound of cow dung (in a badass slow motion scene).
This wasn’t the end. It was just getting started.
Jackson in a fit of rage ordered his soldiers to attack, Kattabomman and his men retaliated. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Kattabomman and his men fought bravely and managed to hack their way to safety. One would have expected that this small victory would have inspired some sense of “Desi Pride” among the other Indian rulers but unfortunately, despite Kattabomman’s requests for an epic South Indian team up, he was left to fight the British mostly alone.
On 5th September 1799, the British invaded Kattabomman’s kingdom of Panchalamkurichi. They surrounded Kattabomman’s fortress it a scene resembling the Battle of Helms Deep minus the orcs, elves and giant walking talking trees. Prior to the attack, the British sent a messenger asking Kattabomman to surrender unconditionally. Despite being heavily outnumbered, outgunned and surrounded, Kattabomman replied…
"We are the sons of this soil. We live with prestige, honour and dignity and we let our soul die for the prestige, honour and dignity of our land. We don’t bow down to the foreigners. We will fight until death."
If Kattabomman’s life was turned into a Hollywood movie, this would be the moment when they play the inspirational pre-battle music, followed by a badass montage of Kattabomman gearing up for battle – Armour on! Sharpen sword! Sword into sheath! Battle helmet on! Kiss hot wife for the last time! Determined look to camera…Badass Tamil Ready for War!
The battle was gruesome. The British tactics were what you would expect from an overwhelmingly powerful force assaulting a relatively small clay fort; they charged and hoped to overrun the Tamil defenders by throwing wave after wave of soldiers against them. Let’s not forget the cannons; in addition to sending wave after wave of soldiers they were smashing the clay walls of Kattabomman’s fortress with an endless mass of cannonballs. However, if the British thought they were simply going to bulldoze over the Tamil defenders they quickly realized that Kattabomman and his men were not a bunch of ill disiplined back water spear chucker’s they had hoped. With their own fortress walls crumbling around them, the Tamil defenders bravely held of wave after wave of British soldiers and inflicted massive casualties within the British ranks. The damage to the ranks was so severe that the British commander was forced into retreating until reinforcements arrived. That’s right, despite starting the battle heavily outnumbering Kattabomman; the Tamil’s warriors had kicked their butts so hard that the British needed freaking reinforcements to continue. Despite their epic victory, Kattabomman had lost a significant number of men and realised that there was no way in hell they could afford to wait for the British to regroup and hold back another onslaught. He did the sensible thing he could have done at the time and escaped into the nearby Thirukalampur forest, which was under the domain of King of Pudukottai.
The British disgraced by their embarrassing defeat put a warrant out for the immediate capture and arrest of Kattabomman. So what happened next? Kattabomman epic victory against the odds inspired all the other South Indian rulers to team up and boot the English out of India right? WRONG! The British sent out a warning to all Indian rulers that if they sided with Kattabomman they would be killed and replaced. Then, in possibly one of the biggest douchebag acts committed by a South Indian in history, the King of Pudukottai lured Kattabomman with false hopes of support, captured him and handed him over to the British. Kattabomman was arrested and then trialled on 16th October 1799. Despite numerous demands by the British for him to submit, he remained stubborn, did not give up his honour and shouted. In a scene reminiscent to Braveheart, minus the “FREEEEEDOM!!” part, Kattabomman called the British a bunch of cowards and boldly argued for the right of his country, accusing the British of illegally occupying India. The British, frustrated by the fact that they could not break him, did what they normally did to people who refused to bend over and accept their demands – they sentenced him to death.
On October 16th 1799, Kattabomman was hanged from a Tamarind tree at a place called Kayathar.
Kattabomman was a brave warrior who laid down his life for his motherland. He waged a war with the British six decades before the Indian War of Independence occurred in Northern Indian and was an inspiration to many of the Tamil freedom fighters that followed. To this day, he is celebrated by millions of Tamils in legends and epic poetry.
Please note – I’m a scientist who writes for fun, not a full time history professor. The title has the word “Badass” in it, so dont expect a serious piece of writing. I’ve tried to be as historically accurate but as you can imagine navigating through the literature is near on impossible and I really dont have the time. If I have made some historical errors, sorry! I hope these articles inspire people to go do their own reserach and learn about these interesting Tamil’s from our past.
© Mystic Tamil for Thamarai.com 2011