Friday, July 8, 2016

Panjalamkurichi Memorial Fort & Ancient Fort Ruins, Thoothukudi

Panjalamkurichi Memorial Fort & Ancient Fort Ruins, Thoothukudi
Panchalankuruchi is a small but historic village around 70 kms from Tirunelveli and 18 km from Tuticorin. From here the great warrior Katta Bomman popularly known as 'Veerapandiya Kattabomman' raised his voice against the British regime in the 17th Century A.D. The Government of Tamil Nadu constructed the existing memorial fort in 1974.
The memorial Hall, have beautiful paintings on the walls depicting the heroic deeds of the saga, which gives a good idea about the history of the period. Sri Devi Jakkammal Temple, the hereditary Goddess of Kattabomman, is located near the fort. A cemetery of British soldiers is also seen near the fort. The Archaeological Survey of India protects the remnants of the old fort. At Kayattar, near Tirunelveli the place where he was hanged, there is another memorial for Kattabomman.

Veerapandiya Kattabomman fort (Panchalankuruchi) in Tuticorin is located at 8°56'01.4"N 78°02'02.4"E or 8.933722, 78.033994. Apart from the statue of Kattabomman, half size statue of Oomathurai, Thanathipathi Pillai, Sundaralingam and Vellaia Thevar are also found in the Memorial. There are seven arches in honour of Goddess Jakkammal from Kurukkusalai to the Fort. City bus services are available from Thoothukudi. Kattabomman Festival is celebrated on January 15 and May second week every year which attract thousands of people. Small bullock cart race is the special attraction during festival.

The Fort was constructed by the Government of Tamilnadu in 1974. The fort was built in honor of Kattabomman, one of the greatest warriors of those times who were from Panchalankuruchi village. He is popularly called 'Veerapandiya Kattabomman'. He had opposed the policies of the British rulers in the 17th Century.

In fact, he fought a war with the British. This was 60 years before the commencement of Indian War of Independence in 1857 in North India. The British captured Kattabomman after a bloody war and hanged him to death in 1799. The British army confiscated his wealth and destroyed his fort. Presently, the Archaeological Survey of India maintains the Kattabomman Memorial Fort.

Fort of Panchalankuruchi:
The Fort of Panchalankuruchi is one of the greatest examples of Indian architect. Twice the East India Company destroyed the fort after capturing the Kattabomman. Kattabomman’s brother Ummaidurai came to Panchalankuruchi after spending 16 months in the jail on February 2, 1801. He gathered all his people and built a new fort, which can face tanks.

The fort was built in five days involving 7,000 workers with new techniques. In February 8, 1801 General Vellsdurai of East India Company looked at this fort and was surprised he called this fort as another Gibraltar. After capturing the fort from Ummaidurai the East India Company destroyed the fort with great difficulty. The fort of Panchalankuruchi was razed to the ground and the English soldiers looted all of Kattabomman’s wealth.

The Tamilnadu Government at Panchalankuruchi reconstructed a fort in 1972 stands as a monument to this great hero from the south that played a pivotal role in the freedom movement of our country.

Reason for choosing this place:
During his hunting in the forest of Salikulam, Kattabomman watched the spectacle of a hare chasing seven hounds. Kattabomman was amazed at this miracle. Believing that the land possessed great powers that could instill courage in people, he built his fort there and named it Panchalankuruchi.

Veerapandiya Kattabomman:
Kattabomman was a fearless chieftain who refused to bow down to the demands of the British and gave them sleepless nights to the British East India Company, between 1798 and 1801, a brave warrior who laid down his life for his motherland. The fight he launched in Panchalankuruchi has been hailed as the inspiration behind the first battle of independence of 1857, which the British called the “Sepoy Mutiny”.

Born in this clan of Adi Kattabomman was Veerapandiya on January 3, 1760 – the 47th king of Panchalankuruchi. On February 2, 1790, Veerapandiya became the king of Panchalankuruchi.

War against Panchalankuruchi:
The Nawab of Arcot who had borrowed huge sums of money from the East India Company gave them the right to collect taxes and levies from the southern region in lieu of the money he had borrowed. The East India Company took advantage of the situation and plundered all the wealth of the people in the name of tax collection. All the ‘poligars’ paid taxes except Veerapandiya Kattabomman.

Kattabomman refused to pay his dues and for a long time refused to meet Jackson the Collector of the East India Company. Finally, he met Jackson at ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’, the palace of Sethupathi of Ramanathapuram. The meeting ended in a skirmish in which the Deputy Commandant of the Company’s forces, Clarke was slain. Kattabomman and his men fought their way to freedom and safety, but Thanapathi Pillai, Kattabomman’s secretary was taken as prisoner.

The Commission of Enquiry that went into the incident fixed the blame on Jackson and relieved him of his post, thinking the Company’s plan to take over the entire country gradually could be marred by Jackson’s fight with Veerapandiya Kattabomman. The new Collector of Tirunelveli wrote to Kattabomman calling him for a meeting on March 16, 1799. Kattabomman wrote back citing the extreme drought conditions for the delay in the payment of dues and also demanded that all that was robbed off him at Ramanathapuram be restored to him. The Collector wanted the ruling house of Sethupathis to prevent Kattabomman from aligning himself with the enemies of the Company and decided to attack Kattabomman.

Kattabomman refused to meet the Collector and a war broke out. Under Major Bannerman, the army stood at all the four entrances of Panchalankurichi’s fort. At the southern end, Lieutenant Collins was on the attack. When the fort’s southern doors opened, Kattabomman’s warriors killed him. After suffering heavy losses, the English decided to wait for reinforcements from PaalayamKottai. Sensing that his fort could not survive a barrage from heavy cannons, Kattabomman left the fort that night.

A price was set on Kattabomman’s head. Thanapathi Pillai and 16 others were taken prisoners. Thanapathi Pillai was executed and his head perched on a bamboo pole was displayed at Panchalankuruchi. Veerapandiya Kattabomman stayed at Kolarpatti at Rajagopala Naicker’s house where the forces surrounded the house.

Kattabomman and his aides fled from there and took refuge in the Thirukalambur forests close to Pudukkottai. Bannerman ordered the ruler of Pudukkottai to arrest Kattabomman. Accordingly, Kattabomman was captured and on October 16, 1799 the case was taken up (nearly three weeks after his arrest near Pudukkottai). After a summary trial, Kattabomman was hanged unceremoniously on a tamarind tree. The fort of Panchalankuruchi was razed to the ground and all of Kattabomman’s wealth was looted by the English soldiers.

Kattabomman death:
After escaping from Kolarpur, Kattabomman along with his brothers went to Sivagangai by foot via Sozhapuram. Finally he reached palace of Vijaya Raghunatha Thondaiman in Pudukkotai. Vijaya Raghunatha Thondaiman gave tips to British about Kattabomman the palace was surrounded by the East India Company troop. Kattabomman was arrested while he was sleeping on October 1, 1799 Kattabomman.

After four days Kattabomman was taken to Kayathar where East India Company stayed on October 5, 1799. On October 16, 1799 at 10 am after a summary trial, Kattabomman was hanged unceremoniously on a tamarind tree. Though Kattabomman soul went away from this earth still his courage and his life shows way for many others.

Kattabomman’s humanity:
During the war between Panchalankuruchi and East India Company lots of soldiers died on the both sides. East India Company never took away the bodies of their own soldiers who died during the first war in which Kattabomman won.

Kattabomman did all the ritual to the bodies for the British soldiers and he created a cemetery for British soldiers inside Panchalankuruchi where lots of British soldiers are sleeping today.

The existing Memorial Fort was constructed in 1974, by the government of Tamilnadu. The Memorial hall has beautiful paintings depict the heroic deeds of the saga which give a good idea about the history of the period. Sri Devi Jakkammal Temple, the hereditary Goddess of Kattabomman, is located in the fort complex. A burial ground build for British military personnel is also an interesting tourist attraction.

The rest of the old fort is protected by the Department of Archaeology. Tourists can also find the snap shot of Veerapandiya Katthabomman’s fifth generation heir. His name is Jegaveera Pandya Subramanya Kattabomma Durai, also called ‘Veemaraja’.

There is Sri Devi Jakkammal Temple near the fort. The deity is regarded as the traditional Goddess of Kattabomman. Kattabomman was hanged at Kayathar, located near Tirunelveli. Another memorial for this great warrior is constructed here. The Panchalankuruchi fort area measuring 35 acres remained as a mound. The aim of the excavation was to find out the remnants of the palace of Kattabomman. 

The excavation revealed the main palace with its east facing entrance in the southern end. Three rooms on each side flanked the entrance. There was a square pit about one and a half meters lined with lime plaster probably intended for storing grains. A passage with a slope to the north led to the audience hall, which is the most impressive part of the structure. It had a raised platform at the western end, built of brick.

The eastern part of the platform was decorated with ornamental mouldings and a row of sockets for lamps. In the northern wall adjacent to the main platform was found a cannon ball, embedded into it. The Kalyana mandapa lying adjacent to the audience hall has at the centre a square platform and a raised platform all around with an intervening passage. 

Fort Timings
Kattabomman Memorial Fort is open from 8:00am to 1:00pm and from 2:00pm to 6:00pm daily. The entrance fees for adult are Rs.2 and Child Rs.1. A Tourist Rest house is available here for the benefit of the Tourists.
Panchalankuruchi is located at a distance of 70 kms from Tirunelveli and 18 km from Tuticorin. The nearest Major airport to reach Tuticorin is located at Madurai. Tuticorin has a local airport which connects to Chennai by private airliners. Tuticorin, which is the chief port city of India, has a railway station. The place is well connected to important towns and cities of South India by road. Tourists can get buses from Tuticorin that go straight to Panchalankuruchi.

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