Monday, 9 March 2015

Joan of Arc of India - Rani (Queen) Mangammal, the ruler of Madurai,Tamil Nadu,- a great woman of valor and wisdom.

Rani Mangammal of Nayak dynasty (1529-1736) of Madurai

Part of S..India showing Madurai
 In India, when monarchy was ruling the roost centuries ago, the ruling class was dominated by males. We seldom ever heard of women taking active role in the area of administration with some exceptions like Jansi Rani Lakshmi Bhai (1828–1858) and equally famous 18th - century Indian queen from Sivaganga,Tamil Nadu. Rani Velu Nachiyar (1760-1790 ?) was the first queen to fight against the British in India, even preceding the famous Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Prior to these courageous women, circumstances forced yet another brave woman to take the reins of administration of a strife-ridden kingdom and successfully groomed it and regained the lost glory.
The illustrious woman, who made the best out of 
 every bad situation and finally achieved her goal, was,none other than  Rani Mangammal of Nayak dynasty (1529- 1736) of Madurai kingdom.

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Mangammal (1689—1704), the daughter of  Tupakula Lingama Nayak (Nayakar), a general of Madurai ruler Chokkanatha Nayak (1659–1682) - (1689—1704) was a queen regent on behalf of her minor grandson, in the Madurai Nayak Kingdom in present day Madurai,Tamil Nadu, India towards the end of the 17th century. The Nayaks of Tamil Nadu owed their allegiance to King Krishna Devaraya (1509–1529) of Vijayanagara. 

Though Chokkanatha married Mangammal early, she became the principal queen officially, when the ruler made  futile efforts to wed the daughter of the Thanjavur ruler Vijayaraghava Nayak. Chokkanatha died in 1682 A.D at a time when the political scene in the Madurai Kingdom was not rosy and beset  with many problems - internal as well as external.
 Meenakshi temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu,
As mentioned earlier, the practice of ''SATI''- an horrible act of getting into the husband's funeral pyre had been unofficially in force as in the case of Rajputs for various reasons among the Hindus before the advent of British rule under the crown. The reasons were many. Among the royal households in  case of war, the widows preferred 'sati' to getting  caught by the Muslim rulers, as invariably most of them would treat them shabbily and send them to harem. Upon her husband's sudden death, the royal family of Madurai kingdom was shattered as there was no dynamic male member to lead the dynasty and rule the strife-ridden kingdom with various inherent  and inevitable hurdles associated with ruling classes all over the world.

Rani Mangammal did not commit 'sati' as she was  more determined and motivated than ever before to restore the glory of Nayak dynasty and raise her grandchild and groom him to carry  on the legacy of the Nayaks. She shed her woman-persona and donned the role of an intelligent, male warrior and learned the nuances of  governance. Her innate sagacity and political acumen came to her rescue and she was almost like valiant French woman Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d'Arc, 1412 -1431), nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans" (French: La Pucelle d'Orléans) of Tamil Kingdom, Madurai. She became  a strong politically motivated woman to whom affairs of the state were more important than anything else.
  Gandhi museum,Madurai.built in 1670, and was the summer palace of Rani Mangammal,
 Mangammal took complete control of administration of the Madurai Nayak kingdom about the close of 17th century at a time amidst odds that were against her. In the north: Mogul Aurangazeb with a mighty army. The general of Mogul emperor Aurangazeb was at  the Gingee fort,South Arcot, Tamil Nadu and had a plan to attack  Thanjavur and Madurai at any cost. In the west:  The powerful Tipu Sultan, who was a headache for the British Bobs, from Mysore was anxious to expand his land further down south and south west. In the south:  Ramnad Raja, Raghunatha Thevar, also known as Kilavan Sethupathi, was revolting for independence. Besides,  continuous default of payments of tributes by the Maharaja of Travancore  and the threats from the mighty, diabolic British and their allies Arcot Nawob and other smaller rulers. Poisonous spears were directed from vantage points at the lonely Rani from all directions. Be as it may, she was prepared to face the odds with valor and faith in God.

Rengakrishna Muthu Veerappa succeeded Chokkanatha. Soon after the death of Rengakrishna in 1689, his queen gave  birth to a male child Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha, and later she committed sati  despite strong remonstrance by her mother-in-law Mangammal. So, Mangammal was forced to become  a regent on behalf of her infant grandson Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha, who was crowned when he was three months old in 1689 and ruled till 1705, with an able administrative council headed by Dalavoy (Governor General) Narasappiah. During her reign she kept all her enemies at bay judiciously using diplomacy and tactics and regained the lost prestige of Madurai Kingdom and improved it to a position of power  and pelf similar to the rule of famous Nayak king Tirumalai Nayak.

To avoid blood shed and loss, Mangammal, after careful deliberation, sent her tribute and later with the help of Zulfikhar Ali, she recovered  some portions of the kingdom lost to Thanjavur in the past. An invasion of Tiruchi by Chikkadevaraya of Mysore along with his famous Dalavoy Kumariyya was met with doom and later recalled  because of Maratha intervention. After 1697 A.D., Mangammal somehow managed to subdue the belligerent  Ravi Varma who had  outstanding tributes to be paid to Madurai. 1700 A.D. Dalavoy Narasappiah of Madurai defeated the Thanjavur forces.

Rani mangammal  along with Thanjavur ruler proceeded against Chikkadevalaya of Mysore who had built an anicut(dam) across the river Cauvery and prevented adequate supply of water for the irrigation of lands in Thanjavur district. Following heavy rains, the anaicut was washed off the site where now  Kannambadi dam stands.

Her only serious set back was her unsuccessful attempt to subdue Raja of Ramnad Raghunatha Sethupathi and the  death of Dalavoy Narasappiah in the battle. After her death by 1706 A.D. she was succeeded by her grandson Vijayaranga Chokkanatha Nayak.

Rani mangammal was an excellent administrator, good visionary always concerned about the future generations. So, her contributions to public work, civil administration, trade and industry  had a good impact on the social life of people. She gave importance to infrastructures - essential for the growth of a country. She built broad streets lined with trees in Madurai, improved irrigation facilities by repairing canals and built a long road - highway connecting Madurai and Kanyakumari  southern most end of the peninsula. She built a number of free boarding and lodging facilities (choultries) for the  benefits of long distance travelers.

Mangammal was a staunch and pious Hindu woman, but nevertheless, she was
secular and tolerant of other religions  and had high regards for other faiths. She never interfered in their religious affairs. She  created endowments for the  temples and mosques, and she was friendly with Christian missionaries and their converts and was helpful to them. In 1701, she made village grants to a Dargah in Tiruchirapalli. Christian Missionaries enjoyed greater freedom in carrying out their works.

Her religious contributions:

Mangammal donated considerable jewels, palanquins to the Madurai Meenakshiamman Temple and similar endowments to numerous Hindu temples in her Kingdom. Meenakshi temple is famous for unjaal Sevai (swing festival) to be held in the Tamil month of AniPart June and July). Lots of devout people attend this festival. People owe a debt of gratitude to Rani Mangammal who was instrumental in initiating this festival at this famous  heritage temple of India.

Tamukkam (Summer)palace built in 1670, where Gandhi Museum is located, Mangammal Chatram both at Madurai and her palace at Trichy bear testimony to this great woman  of Tamil Nadu and of India who had exemplary wisdom and courage at a crucial time  and rose to a position of eminence and reverence in a male dominated field of managing a kingdom..


 David Abram (2003). South India: Rough Guide Travel Guides. Rough Guides Series (3, illustrated ed.). Rough Guides. ISBN 978-1-84353-103-6.

  ( women's day was celebrated on the 8th of March, 2015. I dedicate this article to them, an integral part of a family,  without their active participation the world will not survive)