Veerapandiya Kattabomman was one of the first small-time Indian/Tamil Vassal King to rise and revolt against the British. He fought the British during the times of Hyder Ali/Tipu Sultan (end of 18th century), but there was one difference: The Sultans matched the British prowess (and almost won), but Veerapandiya Kattabomman was just a Vassal King controlling a few districts near Tirunelveli, under the Arcot of Nawab.
Kattabomman’s father actually paid taxes to the Arcot of Nawab, the then ruler of South East India. He also helped the Nawab collect taxes from neighboring Kingdoms. After his father’s death, Kattabomman continued the tax paying/collection for a couple of years.
The problem started when Arcot of Nawab handed over the tax collection duties — hence effectively the control of his Kingdom — to the British, as he was unable to repay loans taken from them. Veerapandiya Kattabomman was firm, and remained firm until his last breath, that he will not pay taxes to foreigners.
The British were furious at this and tried to arrest him via trickery through two collectors. In the first case, the collector summoned him (alone) to his palace and tried to arrest him forcefully, but Kattaboman literally fought his way outside and his escape was aided by his commanders and troops hiding in the vicinity.
When the second attempt to extort taxes also failed, the Madras Presidency sent a general with troops to attack Kattabomman’s Fort at Panchalang-Kuruchi, near Tirunelveli.
The attack failed and Kattabomman emerged victorious. The general escaped from the battlefield, but Kattabomman knew the Englishman would attack the fort again with the help of a much larger contingent from the neighboring Palayang-Kottai. He also knew he had no chance of defending his fort this time.
Left with no other option, and still refusing to pay taxes, Kattabomman left the fort and tried to secure the help of his so-called friends. It was three of those very friends who deserted him and enabled the British to arrest him without even a battle.
Kattabomman was hanged in a tree in the presence of all other Vassal Kings. After observing what a single Vassal King was capable of, the British were so afraid of another uprising that they revoked the right of all Vassal Kings to raise and maintain an army.
Kattabomman’s story is inspirational because although he knew he was going to lose the war, he upheld his principles and fought valiantly for what he believed was just. No wonder Kattabomman’s name is synonymous with bravery even now, unlike the Kings who deserted him whose names have become synonymous with treachery!
He was indeed a Freedom Fighter. One of the first. And the bravest.
Reference: ‘Nattukku Uzhaitha Nallavar: Veerapandiya Kattabomman’ published by Palaniappa Brothers in Tamil.
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