Alagumuthu Kone – Tamil Nadu’s first freedom fighter

The story of Azhagu Muthu Kone will make every Indian proud of our valiant history – where our ancestors chose to challenge and lay down their lives instead of bowing their heads

A tribute to Azhagu Muthu Kone

In the story of Bharat’s struggle against British rule, the freedom fighter Alagumuthu Koné (1728 – 1757) can be called Tamil Nadu’s first freedom fighter and martyr who boldly opposed foreign rule and vehemently denied subjugation to British orders in refuse to pay tax. Even as he was strapped to the cannon and torn to pieces by the cannonball, his loyalty to the King Ettayapuram and his devotion to the fatherland was solid and unwavering – the true spirit of a nationalist leader.

Few sources are available regarding this freedom fighter, but folklore continued to sing its fame through the centuries, which has motivated historians of recent decades to seek sources that give more facts about this lesser-known subject, unsung warrior of the Indian peninsula and record his bravery, loyalty and patriotism.

The ancestors of freedom fighter Alagumuthu Kone were the ancient inhabitants of Aayarpaadi and Vanagapadi located on the banks of the Palar River. Several of his ancestors served as guards, soldiers and commanders in the army of the Chola kings.

Freedom fighter Alagumuthu was born to Chief Kattalankulam Periya Alagumuthu and Alagu Muthammal in 1728 in Kattalankulam. Kattalankulam is currently located 17 km southwest of Kovilpatti and falls under the jurisdiction of Kovilpatti Taluk of the Thoothukudi district. His grandfather was Servaikarar Alagumuthu Kone who reigned between 1691 and 1725 and became a martyr in the Battle of Palangkottai.

Freedom fighter Alagumuthu’s father died in the battle of Hanumanthakudi in 1750. Soon, the same year, at the age of 22, freedom fighter Alagumuthu became the King of Kattalankulam. His paternal uncle Chinna Alagumuthu was his assistant.

On August 26, 1751, Robert Cliv led an army of 500 soldiers and went from Chennai to Arcot and captured Arcot.

Due to the frequent wars between the French and the English, the British financed deteriorated. As a result, they decided to collect taxes. In this effort, in order to collect tax from Arcot Nawab and his Palayankarars (polygars), the East India Company sent a troop of 500 European soldiers, 2000 native soldiers led by Khan Sahib and Arcot Nawab Muhammed Ali’s brother, Mabus Khan, under the command of Colonel Alexandre Heron.

This troop left Trichy towards the South in February 1755. When the the troops have arrived in Dindigul, Dindigul Lakshmana Nayakar gave Heron’s requested amount and bowed to him. Ramanathapuram Senapathy gave two ports to the English and surrendered. Likewise, several chiefs submitted to British requirements.

By 1750, the British East India Company had established its control over Tamil Nadu. The Arcot Nawab which was bankrupt had to cede the right to collect taxes to the British in return for a loan. In 1755, the Company started directly collecting taxes from the Palayakarars (Polygars) of the Tirunelveli region. Khan Sahib was appointed by the English as commander of Madurai and Tirunelveli regions to collect taxes from the Palayakarars in those regions. They sent a notice to Ettayapuram also asking to pay the taxes.

In 1755 Ettayapuram was ruled by Jagaveeraraam Ettappa Naickar. At the same time, Bhoothalaipuram southeast of Ettayapuram was ruled by Bhoothalaipuram Ettaya. On the other side, the Kurumalai part of Ettayapuram was ruled by another relative of the king of Ettayapuram, Kurumalai Durai. All three were called ‘Ettappan‘ by the people and they ruled Etayapuram.

When King Ettayapuram received the notice from the British asking him to pay the taxes, he had a discussion with freedom fighter Alagumuthu Kone. Alagumuthu did not accept it. He argued with the king of Ettayapuram saying, “Why should we pay taxes to immigrants?” Alagumuthu refused to pay taxes to the English. Ettayapuram King also accepted Alagumuthu’s feelings and logic and refused to pay the tax.

Consequently, Colonel Heron and Khan Sahib who were camping at Ellainayakanpatti, on the advice of Kovilpatti Vaithiyalinga Mudhaliyar, came to Ettayapuram to collect taxes. Now, stationed at the eastern gate of the Ettayapuram fort, they informed Jagaveeraraam Ettayappar of their goal to come. King Ettappa refused to pay the tax.

Seeing an opportunity, Bhoothalaipuram Ettaya told Khan Sahib that if he (Khan Sahib) made him king of Ettayapuram, he would pay the taxes.

The English artillery attacks the fort of Ettayapuram. Hearing this, freedom fighter Alagumuthu Kone came with his army and fiercely fought against the troops of Khan Sahib. The British army destroyed the temple of Lord Shiva and the Poosai Mandabam in the East. As they went to destroy the temple of Perumal, the warriors of Alagumuthu led by his paternal uncle Chinna Alagumuthu prevented them. Chinna Alagumuthu was shot dead by hidden soldiers of the enemy troop.

Meanwhile, as King Ettayappa’s defender, Alagumuthu continued to fight at Melvasal – the main entrance against the British force. When he learned that the Company’s army was take control above the fort, Alagumuthu secretly rescued Jagaveera Ettappa Naickar and his warriors from the southern gate and sent them into a stay safe in Perunaalikadu.

Khan Sahib captured Ettayapuram. In April 1755 he declared Bhoothalaipuram Ettaya the king of Ettayapuram. He collected the tax amount from the newly crowned king and left Ettayapuram for Tirunelveli with the prisoners of war.

Bhoothalaipuram Ettaya in due time could not pay the tax. Seeing the circumstance, Kurumalai Durai, who wanted to become the king of Ettayapuram, expressed his wish to Khan Sahib’s friend, Vembathoor Siva Shankaran Pillai.

In April 1756, Khan Sahib and Mabus Khan met at Kayathar and traveled to Ettayapuram on their way to Thiruviliputhur. At Ettayapuram, seeing Bhoothalaipuram Ettaya’s inability to pay taxes and heeding Kurumali Durai’s eye on the Ettayapuram Throne, Khan Sahib arrested Bhoothalaipuram Ettaya and made Kurumalai Durai king of Ettayapuram. Kurumalai Durai paid the tax amount of Rs.18,700/- to the British and Khan Sahib set out from Ettayapuram.

Hearing that Kurumalai Durai had paid taxes to Khan Sahib, Alagumuthu became angry. At Perunaalikadu, Jagaveeraraam Ettayappa Naickar died of grief which his brother Kurumalai Durai also had betrayed him. Immediately, Alagumuthu handed over the sword to Venkateshwara Ettayappar, son of Jagaveeraraam Ettayappa Naickar, and crowned him king. Since then, even today, the heirs of Alagumuthu Kone are honored by the descendants of Venkateshwara Ettayappar in the festivals of Ettayapuram Samasthanam.

When Khan Sahib learned Venkateshwara Ettayappar’s chanting, he felt very insulted and angry with Alagumuthu Koné.

In order to reclaim the Ettayapuram fort, Alagumuthu started assembling the army. He summoned warriors from the Bethanayakanoor area, trained them and merged them with his army. He thus created a huge army. He divided it into two divisions. One troop was led by Venkateshwara Ettayappar and the other army was led by Alagumuthu Kone himself. Both set out with their respective armies in two different directions towards Ettayapuram fort.

The troop led by Alagumuthu Kone stopped overnight at Bethanayakanoor fort to rest. Having spied on this, Siva Shankaran Pillai informed Khan Sahib and told him that it was the good time to attack their. He also prompted Khan Sahib to say that if he does not destroy Alagumuthu, not only will Ettayapuram be taken out of English hands, but he will also give courage to other Palayakarars who will also start rebelling against paying taxes. He further added that to revolt against the power of Khan Sahib, Alagumuthu can gather all the others.

Realizing the threat due to Alagumuthu and the insult he threw at Khan Sahib by crowning Venkateshwara Ettayappar, Khan Sahib decided to attack Alagumuthu’s army which the night itself. Khan Sahib surrounded the Bethanayakanoor fort and suddenly attacked the Alagumuthu soldiers who were sound asleep. Unable to respond to the sudden onslaught, several Alagumuthu warriors were kill and 255 others, including Alagumuthu, were detained prisoners.

Khan Sahib asked the captives – Alagumuthu and his warriors where Ettayapuram King was. He asked them to ask for forgiveness and agree to pay the taxes. But, none of the 255 captives accepted bow to Khan Sahib. Instead, Alagumuthu Kone roared saying, “In order to safeguard the honor of our motherland, we are ready to accept death“. This patriotic conviction and fierce determination of Alagumuthu made Khan Sahib tremble. Therefore, Khan Sahib inflicted severe torture on Alagumuthu Kone and his captive warriors.

As punishment for not obeying the orders of the British, Khan Sahib cut off the right hand of 248 captive soldiers. The other seven – Alagumuthu Kone, Kechilanan Servai, Venkateswara Rettu Servai, Muthalagu Servai, Parivaram Muthirulan, his brother Segaveera Rettulakshmanan and Thalaikattupuram Mayilupillai were tied to the muzzle and shot. This brutal atrocity occurred between midnight on Friday and dawn on Saturday November 18, 1757.

Alagumuthu Kone had sown the seeds of Indian independence from British rule on the soil of Tamil Nadu 100 years ago India’s first war of independence Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was fought.

On December 26, 2015, the Indian government issued a Post stamp in tribute to freedom fighter Martyr Alagumuthu Kone.

To note:
1. Text in Blue indicates additional data on the subject.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

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