Puli Thevar

He is one of the earliest opponents of the British rule in South India. He was involved in a vendetta with the Nawab of Arcot who was supported by the British. Thevar's prominent exploits were his confrontations with Marudhanayagam, who later rebelled against the British in the late 1750s and early 1760s.

Nelkatumseval was the headquarters of Puli Thevar, the first chieftain in India to resist the British.

The author of the Thirunelveli District Gazetteer, H.R. Pate, observes as follows:

Nelkatumseval is chiefly memorable as having been in the eighteenth Century stronghold of the redoubtable Puli Thevar, who figured for many years as the leader of the Marava Confederacy against the troops of the Nawab and the Company. He had a shrewd insight into the political situation of the time and was a veritable thorn against the side of the Nawab's agents.

Pulithevar remains one of the illustrious figures in the chequered history of palayakarars. The vivacity of his character gave him an ascendancy over the western palayakarars, while his determined resistance to the Nawab's overlordship made him a potential enemy of the Wallajahs. He was the principal architect of the coalition of the palayakkars organised against the Nawab. The Nawab acknowledged his victory by presenting him with a gold plate and sword.

Pulithevar is regarded as the first ruler in Indian history, who sowed the seed, by his gallant resistance, to expel foreigners from his native land. His services to the nation are honoured; the government of Tamil Nadu has erected a memorial for him in Nelkatumseval where there are the remnants of his palace.

Puli Thevar's struggle-quoted From Caldwell's History of Tirunelveli

In 1736, Muhammad Ali, Nawab of Arcot annexed the kingdom of Madura in Western Tamil Nadu, but the Polygars or Lords of Madura Kingdom were in no mood to compromise with Nawab. The Polygars refused to pay taxes and pay homage to Nawab.

Meanwhile, Nawab =was dragged into the Carnatic Wars between the French and British which lasted from 1743 to 1763. Their zone of struggle was largely in and near the kingdom of Arcot.

Nawab allied with the British and soon incurred debts with British because of his lavish lifestyle. This gave the British opportunity to interfere in his domestic affairs.

As mentioned before, Polygars viewed Nawab as a usurper who deposed the rightful dynasty of Madura Kingdom. Since Polygars had private armies-with infantry, cavalry, artillery & elephants along with strong forts-often on mountain tops and concealed by forests—they could defy Nawab.

There were 77 Polygars who ruled as they willed in their respective domains and fought one another who posed a real threat to their independence if Nawab were to make a serious effort to subjugate them.

Long before the Carnatic Wars were over, British got their chance to meddle in affairs of Arcot.

In 1755, Nawab unwisely requested British help to bring the turbulent Polygars into control.

British exploited this chance and sent a large army under Colonel Heron to subjugate the country that lay between Trichinopoly and Cape Comorin. Heron’s army behaved like bandits and even looted shrines-an act that made sure that people hated them well.

Heron marched through Polygar country, where he fought a number of Polygars into submission. The strongest Polygar was the Kattabomman of Panjalakurichi. He too surrendered and as he did not pay the full sum demanded by the British as tribute, he surrendered some of his close male relatives as hostages.

This part of the story is puzzling indeed. Kattabomman could have easily paid the sum demanded by British, but he chose to give relatives as surety. But soon, Heron asked Kattabomman to pay the demanded sum and recover his hostages as English were in dire shortage of cash. He calculated that since British army would soon march out of country, why waste money? Let them have hostages-It does not cost himself a rupee-this was his line of thought.

But this crooked line of thought would in future end up as a disaster for Polygars in fututure.

Soon British troops under Heron decided to march out of Polygar country. They could not collect tributes as they calculated and as they marched home, Heron ordered a temporary diversion. British army must bring a minor Polygar who was a turbulent figure-His name is Puli Thevar.

Puli Thevar was the hereditary title of Polygar of Nelkattumseval, now in Sankarannainarkovil Taluk of Tinnevelly District. He possessed only a small estate, but his influence among Western Polygars were considerable-due to the fame of his abilities. That made him indeed a force to be reckoned with.