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Rani (Queen) Mangammal

Rani (Queen) Mangammal

The history of Madurai will not be complete without mentioning the name of Rani Mangammal, the woman of great skill and sagacity. History does not provide many instances of ruling queens in Tamillnadu. Though it was considered that women were not suited to succeed the throne of a kingdom, Rani Mangammal, however,shines in almost solitary eminence as an able and powerful ruler in Tamilnadu. It was sheer circumstances that forced Mangammal to take up the reins of administering the Madurai Nayaka kingdom about the close of the 17th century. She ruled it for about eighteen years during an exceptionally troublesome period with great skill and boldness.

The general of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb was at the gate of the Gingee fort and he was bent upon attacking Thanjavur and Madurai at any cost. Mysore in the west, had embarked on a campaign of territorial expansion by including Madurai even during the time when her husband was alive. In the south, the Raja of Travancore, who was an overlord of Madurai, had stopped paying the tribute. In the east, the powerful ruler of Ramanad, Raghunatha Thevar also known as Kilavan Sethupathi had risen in revolt in a bid for independence.

It was in this state that Rani Mangammal had to face almost without any help from outside. With her political wisdom, diplomatic skill, administrative ability and cool courage in facing danger, she was able to maintain the prestige of Madurai and regain for it much of the position it had held during the days of Tirumala Nayaka. Mangammal was the daughter of Lingama Nayaka, a general of Chokkanatha Nayaka, who ruled Madurai from 1659 to 1682 A.D. Though Chokkanatha married Mangammal early, she became the principal queen only later on when all his efforts to wed the daughter of the Thanjavur ruler Vijayaraghava Nayaka had failed. Chokkanatha died in 1682 A.D., but his queen Mangammal did not commit sati as she was a politically minded woman to whom affairs of the state was more important


Rengakrishna Muthu Veerappa, who succeeded Chokkanatha was a spirited youth. He tried to retrieve to some extent the diminished fortunes of the kingdom. He made a name for himself by ignoring Aurangazeb with courage. When Rengakrishna died in 1689 A.D., his queen was pregnant. After she gave birth to a son, Vijayaranga Chokkanatha, she ended herself by saying that she could not live after the death of her husband. Under such circumstances, Mangammal was forced to become regent on behalf of her infant grandson, who was crowned when he was three months old. The first problem which Mangammal had to face was the threat from the Mughals. Zulfikhar Ali Khan, the general of Aurangazeb, who was engaged in the siege of Gingee, where Rajaram, son of Shivaji had entrenched himself, sent an army to the south to demand submission from Thanjavur which had gone into the hands of the Marathas, even during the time of her husband. After careful deliberation, Mangammal sent her tribute and later with the help of Zulfikhar Ali, she was able to recover some portions of the kingdom lost to Thanjavur in the past. In this policy, Mangammal showed great prudence and wisdom, by skillfully bowing before the enemy. Mangammal had to face an invasion of Tiruchi by Chikkadevaraya of Mysore who sent his famous Dalavoy Kumariyya, but an attack by the Marathas on Mysore led to his recall.

In 1697 A.D., Mangammal sent an expedition to Travancore to punish its ruler, Ravi Varma, who had attacked and destroyed an army sent from Madurai to Travancore, as in the previous years, to collect the annual tribute which the king had not been paying. Mangammal’s next war was against Shaji, the Maratha ruler of Thanjavur. In 1700 A.D., Dalavoy Narasappiah defeated the Thanjavur forces. For some time afterwards, friendly relations existed between the two kingdoms. They even united and proceeded against Chikkadeval.aya of Mysore who had built an anicut across the river Cauvery and prevented adequate supply of water for the irrigation of land in Thanjavur district. But by that time, heavy rains had washed off this anicut at the site of which the present Kannambadi dam stands.

Mangammal’s greatest trial and serious failure was her expedition against Raghunatha Sethupathi. This ended in a defeat for the Madurai and the death of Dalavoy Narasappiah in the battle. This was a serious blow to Madurai from which it never recovered again. Mangammal died in about 1706 A.D. and was succeeded by her grandson Vijayaranga Chokkanatha Nayaka. Mangammal did not neglect civil administration, trade and industry. She paid special attention to irrigation and communications. Many irrigation channels were repaired, new roads were constructed and avenue trees planted. The highway from Cape Comorin was originally formed during the time of Mangammal and it was known as ‘Mangammal Salai’. She built many works of public utility of which the Chatram in Madurai near the railway station is a standing monument. Her own original palace in Madurai now houses the Mahatma Gandhi Museum although modified several times.

Though Mangammal was devout Hindu, she showed tolerance in religious matters. She endowed temples and mosques alike with property and was friendly to the Christian missionaries and their converts. Mangammal was an efficient and popular ruler and her memory is cherished even today in the rural areas of the district. Rani Mangammal instituted the famous Unjal (swing) festival in the temple of Meenakshi to be performed in the month of Ani. It will be interesting that her contemporary portrait is found in the Unjal Mandapam. It may also be mentioned that Hindu kings ruled their kingdoms as the servants of God. The land was ruled in the name of the presiding God of the country. Tirumala Nayaka was ruling Madurai in a similar manner. On all celebrations, the royal sceptre (sengol) used to be placed before the Meenakshi deity and then placed on the thTone for the whole day. This symbolised that the rule of land was by the Goddess. This old practice continued even during the period of Rani Mangammal, as evidenced by a painting in the Meenakshi temple. It shows the priest of Meenakshi temple handing over the royal sceptre to the Queen.

 

Queen Mangammal Palace

Queen Mangammal Palace

 

Rani Mangammal Palace

Rani Mangammal Palace

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