Rani Velu Nachiyar was an important icon in the history of India's fight against the British colonial power. She is the first queen to fight off colonial rule and triumph, thus she earned the name "Veeramangai" (brave woman).
Plenty of women were part of the rebellion against the British including the 1857 fight against the British by Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.
Princess Velu Nachiyar was born to Raja Chellamuthu Vijayaragunatha Sethupathy and Rani Sakandhimuthathal of the Ramnad kingdom in Tamil Nadu on January 3rd, 1730.
She was the only child of the couple so they raised her like they would raise a male child. She was trained in horse-riding, archery, and martial arts forms like valari (throwing sickle) and silambam (stick fighting). She studied Tamil, Urdu, French and the English language.
She married the prince of Sivagangai, Muthuvadugananthur Udaiyathevar and the couple had a daughter named Vellachi. They ruled the kingdom for two decades until her husband was killed by the British in the ‘Kalaiyar Koil War’.
In 1772, along with the son of the Nawab of Arcot, the East India Company troops invaded Sivagangai. Rani escaped the kingdom with her daughter and found a safe spot in Virupachi in Dindigul. Under the sanctuary of Gopala Nayaker, she and her daughter lived there for eight years.
Eventually, she met Haider, who ruled Mysore kingdom then. Due to her skills in Urdu, she conversed with him and her courage and persistence impressed the Sultan. She wanted to fight back the British and both Sultan and Nayaker expressed their support to her.
Sultan Haider Ali invited Rani Velu Nachiyar to stay at the Dindigul fort where she was respected and treated like royalty. Every month, Sulthan gave her financial support of 400 Pounds money and 5000 infantry and cavalry troops. With the help of resources and finances from the Sultan, Nachiyar formed an army to fight the British.
In 1780, Nachiyar planned the fight against the British rulers. With the help of her intelligence and support, she located where the British kept their ammunition and firepower. She planned a suicide attack to take it all out.
Her commander-in-chief Kuyili volunteered to carry out the suicide attack. Kuyili doused herself with ghee and set herself ablaze and jumped into the ammunition store, destroying all of it.
Though she is recorded as Nachiyar's commander in chief, many sources cited that Kuyili was adopted by Nachiyar.
Nachiyar had another adopted daughter Udayaal who died in the fight against the British. She formed an all-women army as a tribute to Udayaal.
She got her Sivangangai kingdom back from the British and ruled for a decade. She named her daughter Vellachi as the heir to her kingdom. At the same time, Marudhu brothers, her fellow escapees from the Kalaiyar Koil War, were given administrative powers as well.
She constructed a mosque and church at Saragani as an act of gratitude towards Sultan Haider Ali for her resources and allyship.
She maintained a very good relationship with Haider Ali's son Tipu Sultan as well. Her daughter succeeded her and ruled from 1790 to 1793.
Rani Velu Nachiyar died in 1796 in her kingdom Sivagangai at the age of 66.
A stamp was released in her remembrance on December 31st, 2008. OVM Dance Academy of Chennai narrated the brave queen's story through dance ballet. The Veeramangai Velu Nachiyar Memorial in Sivagangai was inaugurated by then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa on 18th July 2014.
Tamil-American hip-hop artist Professor A.L.I. dedicated a song titled ‘Our Queen’ to Rani Velu Nachiyar. Rani Nachiyar was specifically lauded for breaking gender roles and her achievements as a freedom fighter.