Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Origin of Madurai Veeran

DISCLAIMER: You can debate the contents of this article as there is no real evidence on the origins of Madurai Veeran or we can also say that it is not fully proven. What I have written here is based on existing oral tradition and opinions. The origin of Veeran remains a mystery and time shall tell who he really was. If I find anything new about his origins that contradicts with what I have written here, I will write a sequel to this post and share it with everyone.


Madurai Veeran with Bommi and Valliyammal

Madurai Veeran is worshiped as a guardian deity by the Tamils. As what I know, there is no written record about him. 

According to certain oral tradition, he was the prince of a king in Kaasi (Varanasi). When he was born, the astrologer predicted that the baby will bring bad luck to the king. So the king decided to dispose him and requested his guards to do it.

The guards then threw him away. Some say he was left to die in the forest. Others say he was placed in a trunk and left to float away in the river. 

Veeran was then found by the Sakkiliyar community (presently known as Arunthathiyar). They were cobblers and leather workers. They raised him as their own son. He became a powerful warrior.

He fell in love and eloped with a local chieftain Bommana Naicker's daughter, Bommi. As he belonged to a different caste, Bommana Naicker became very angry and sent soldiers to kill him. The ruler of Trichy at that time was also a Naicker. He saw the military potential of Veeran. So he gave Veeran protection. 

At that time, Madurai was ruled by Tirumalai Naicker (1623-1659 AD). He got to know about Veeran and requested the ruler of Trichy to send him over to serve in Madurai. This is how Madurai Veeran became a commander in Tirumalai Naicker's army.

He then fell in love with a beautiful damsel named Valliyammal. He also subdued the Piranmalai Kallars and their leader, Sanggili Karupu. Later, Veeran was wrongly accused of treason and sentenced to death by amputation.

That is the summary of the folk legend. 

I believe that Veeran's origins is debatable. Let us look at some fine details which skipped the normal ears.

For a start, the legend claims that Veeran was the prince of a king who lived in Kaasi. He was then abandoned by the king but raised by the Sakkiliyar community. 

The Sakkiliyars are actually Telugus. The original name of the Sakkiliyar community is Madiga. They migrated to Tamil Nadu from Andhra when the Telugu Naickers were ruling South India. 

As they were leather workers, they usually lived close to the military camps. They were needed to prepare equipment such as boots, shields and guards for the soldiers. Some of the Madigas also served in the army of the Naickers. 

During the rule of the Palayakarar chieftains, Sakkiliyars also served in their army. One of the earliest Palayakarar to fight against the British, Pooli Thevar, had a Sakkiliyar warrior named Ondi Veeran Pagadai. The Sakkiliyar soldiers are known as Pagadai.

Veeran was probably never a prince of Kaasi. Kaasi is located in Uttar Pradesh. That is about 1700 km north of Tamil Nadu-Andhra region. It will not be possible for a new born baby to be abandoned in Kaasi and then found by a community which lives so far away in South India.

Furthermore, the royal guards would have not traveled that far to abandon the baby. Considering the obstacles such as hills and forest with no proper roads in the 17th century, it would have taken weeks for them to travel that far just to throw a baby away. The most impractical thing to do!

If at all Veeran was a prince, how did his adopted parents find out about it? Who told them he was a prince? 

Royal guards who were tasked to abandon a royal baby would have not dared to leave any mark of royalty such as garments, jewels on the baby as this can invite trouble for the king. If Veeran was a prince, Bommana Naicker would have not objected his love for Bommi.

Some claim that Madurai Veeran's image shows him wearing a Poonool (sacred thread). Therefore, they assume that he must be a royalty or an upper caste like Brahmins. 

Poonool was actually used by many castes in ancient times. It was not exclusively for the Brahmins or any upper castes alone. Today, many of the practices like wearing Poonool or keeping Kudumi (hair knot) is no longer done by us but our ancestors did it. 

Just because we don't wear Poonool today, it does not mean our ancestors never wore it.

It is only logical to assume that Veeran was indeed born in a Sakkiliyar community. Like other Sakkiliyars, he lived near the military camp and learned martial arts from there. He then became a great warrior. 

It is either this or he could have been an abandoned child found by the Sakkiliyars and raised as one of them. Meaning no one knows his actual caste or lineage.

I believe that his royal origin could be a myth created because some cannot accept the fact that someone either born into or raised by the cobbler community became one of the most successful warriors of all time. 

When you become too proud of your lineage to the extend of looking down on others, you will not bow down and pray to a deity who was from the cobbler community. Myths like this is created to elevate the deity's position so that others will worship him too.

Veeran will remain as an icon of bravery. A true warrior. May the Tamils of the villages continue to sing ballads on his name. May our descendants remember him for his service in upholding justice.
- Comments

8 comments:

  1. Honour killing, as it is now called, is an ancient practice in Tamil society

    The best example is the story of Madurai Veeran, a local deity who has a special shrine within the Meenakshi templ

    Honour killing, as it is now called, is an ancient practice in Tamil society. The best example is the story of Madurai Veeran, a local deity who has a special shrine within the Meenakshi temple in Madurai. He was murdered by Thirumalai Nayakar for falling in love with a member of the royal family.

    An Arundithiayar by birth, he rose through his exploits of valour. Thirumalai Nayakar acknowledged his skills and appointed him general in his fight against the Kallars. But he killed Madurai Veeran when he went against the caste hierarchy.

    The woman he loved committed suicide when she heard how his body had been mutilated, as did his first wife Bommi, a Kallar.

    Dr T Dharmaraj, professor of the folklore department at St Xavier University, Tirunelveli, says this is a typical example of honour killing. The view is endorsed by Professor A Sivasubramanian, veteran folklorist of Tamil Nadu.

    “If you analyse the oral history of Madurai Veeran, it’s clear his death came about because he loved a woman from a higher caste and questioned the hierarchy,’’ he said.

    What is interesting here is that Thirumalai Nayakar, from the dominant caste, who killed Madurai Veeran, is believed to have erected a temple and created a myth around the dead man. “This they do for fear of repercussions for killing such people,” says Dharmaraj. He adds that there are more than 2,000 little known female deities, or mounds of earth or small structures, in villages across Tamil Nadu worshipped by the villagers, including the dominant castes. “These were victims of honour killings in the last 500 years.”

    People believe that the ghost of the victim will take revenge against the killer. “The best example is the installation of stones in the villages for the victims and prayers not to cause any ill fortune to them,” says Dharmaraj.

    (It is worth mentioning here that Megala of Kattikulam wants to be reunited with her lover Shiva who, according to her, already exists in spirit form. “We will as ghosts take revenge against the family.”)

    The result of this deification, Dharmaraj says, is that the murders of these subaltern heroes, victims of the caste hierarchy, are hidden in plain sight.

    “People from all walks of life worship Madurai Veeran at Meenakshi Amman temple. Similarly, Pothyamman is worshipped in Ettaypuram in Tuticorin district even today.’’ Deification thus hides some of the worst crimes committed against the subaltern castes.

    In the early 1970s there were serious attempts to narrate these stories through a folk art form, Villupattu. At the time it had a huge impact, but now it has just become a matter of academic interest. Scholars do a lot of research on these subaltern heroes and on Periyar and his ideas on intercaste marriage, but people have been slow to absorb these ideas.

    Perhaps if the effort is made once again with greater determination, the practice of honour killing could still be eliminated from Tamil Nadu and folk heroes like

    Madurai Veeran would be honoured while alive, not worshipped dead.

    — Gokul Vannan (The New Indian Express)

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  2. In Tamil Nadu,Especially in Thanjavur Dt,many Kallar families,including ours,with different titles ,worship Madurai Veeran as their Family Deity, Kula Deivam.IF He was from Sakkiliuyar family how the Kallars worship him as their Kula Deivam, This is a long bending subject in my research....

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    Replies
    1. Good question. I noticed that too. Alot of Thanjavur Kallars worship Veeran under different names. Veeranar, Nondi Veeran. I don't have an answer for the question. Maybe if I find anything new then I will publish a sequel to this post.

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    2. when naiker said to attack the kallars....veeran doesnt attack the kallar because he understand kallar doesnt do robbery for the wealth....naiker who sucked the energy of kallar and history gave the tittle robbery....as veeran come to knw this...he not lik to attack kallars....but naiker gave wrong information to kallar and murder...in future...kallar came to knw his kind heart..so they were adapt him as deity....usually...kallars will follows under kind heart...

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  3. wonderful post ............also plz research about ayanar, 18th padi karupu, Kamachiamman, bairaver.....

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  4. Well researched article. Best wishes

    I wish to add few things which I found frm my research.

    The Veeranar worshipped in Tanjore districts necessarily not be the Same Madurai veeran. Even before that the story of one deity Veeran is popular. It's actually he who is the son of a king and who is abandoned and again becomes a king. His wives are Veerasena and madanasena. It's my assumption that both these characters might have got confused in due course of time.

    Orelse within Tirumalai naickers time how it is possible that so many temples of veeran is wide spread across Tamilnadu when communication was so less in those days.

    My statements are based on what I've researched. But I'm open for other's findings too.

    Thanks
    Aravind Subramanyam, Coimbatore

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