Remembering the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers, the leaders of the South Indian Rebellion of 1801

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Article by Vinita Govindarajan, Originally published in scroll.in on Oct 10, 2017

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On October 24, 1801, two middle-aged brothers were publicly hanged to death at the Tirupputhur fort of southern Tamil Nadu. The fact that the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers were the rulers of Sivaganga kingdom did not invoke any ceremony during the execution. Every one of their fellow rebels, their commanders and servants, their sons and even their young grandsons were hanged alongside them, supposedly from palmyra trees around the fort.

With those mass executions, the British East India Company and its allies successfully put an end to a fierce rebellion by the Southern kingdoms of India – a revolt that is little remembered, and barely finds mention in history textbooks.

More than 50 years before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers had led a concerted struggle against the oppressive practices of the British. On June 16, 1801, months before their death, the brothers issued a proclamation of independence from the Tiruchi fort, calling for people of all castes and communities to unite their fight against European domination.