Hidden History of Tamil Nadu (South Indian History Ignored in Indian History Books)

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2004 (ID. 2004-05-01) Updated 2017-02-01
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CBSE - Central Board of Secondary Education

ICHR - Indian Council of Historical Research

NCERT - National Council of Educational Research and Training

Indian history books and school curricula funded, sponsored and/or approved by the Indian Government (including CBSE history books) revolve around the history of the Hindi heartland and regions close by. History of other regions, such as the south and the northeast are virtually ignored or scant attention paid. There is a concerted effort by successive Indian Governments to project the history of the north (especially the Hindi heartland and nearby regions) as the history of India. This is not just my view, even many learned scholars hold that view.

On February 12, 2002, the Twenty Ninth All-India Conference of Dravidian Linguistics held in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala State, 

passed a resolution urging the Government of India to give South India its rightful and legitimate share in history books and to withdraw the new school syllabus prepared and published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)". [Editor's Note: In the school history book published by NCERT, no mention is made of Tamil kings at all, even of Emperor Raja Raja Cholan-I [Reference 1] or his son Emperor Rajendra Cholan-I whom historians consider amongst the greatest of kings in all South Asian history].

Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), with funding from the Ministry of Culture (Indian government), prepared a comprehensive, five-volume dictionary on approximately 15,000 people who fought against British rule between 1857 to August 15, 1947 (the day British rule over South Asia ended). Title of the book is "Dictionary of Martyrs: India's Freedom Struggle (1857-1947)". 

Why does ICHR start the history of the fight against British rule from 1857? What about Maruthu Pandiyar (Tamil Nadu) who fought against the British in 1801? What about the Vellore Mutiny against British rule in 1806? Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), under contract from Indian government, conveniently starts their history from 1857 when the Sepoy Mutiny against the British happened in northern India, thus ignoring earlier fights in South India against British rule. History of India revolves around the north for the Indian government.

If you ask students of Indian history, most would say that the north-Indian "Sepoy mutiny" was the first mutiny and first war of independence from British colonial rule. But is Sepoy mutiny of the north the first such mutiny or war of independence from British colonial rule? Fifty-one years before the Sepoy mutiny was the Vellore mutiny (Vellore is in Tamil Nadu). Sepoy mutiny took pace in 1857 and Vellore mutiny took place in 1806. There are many similarities between the two mutinies. Both mutinies started because of new regulations that hurt the religious sentiments of Hindu and Muslim soldiers in the British army. The Vellore mutineers attempted to bring back the defeated sons of Tippu Sultan to power (Tippu Sultan was a southern king whose sons were living in Vellore under British pension). The Sepoy mutineers attempted to bring back the defeated Emperor Bahadur Shah to power (Bahadur Shah was a northern king who was living in Delhi under British pension). A major difference is that Indian history books prepared under Indian Government sponsorship devote several pages to the Sepoy mutiny of the north while ignoring the Vellore mutiny of the south. While Indian Government sponsored Indian history books ignore the Vellore mutiny, books on British India by British authors do not fail to spotlight Vellore mutiny. The authoritative "The Colonial Wars Source Book" by Philip Haythornthwaite gives an account of the Vellore mutiny. The importance of the Vellore mutiny is evident from the statement, "In 1806 there occurred one of the most serious outbreaks of mutiny", in the fore-mentioned book. It was also the first mutiny in British India. Yet Indian Government sponsored history books ignore it. 

During the Sepoy mutiny, taking advantage of the mutiny and the weakening of the British army, some north Indian kings and chieftains started a war of independence. It was limited to the north and did not spread to the south at all. Indian Government and history books project this as the first war of independence or first proclamation of independence from the British rule. Not true. You will not find much, if any, about the Tamil Chieftain Maruthu Pandiyar and his brother in Indian history books. Maruthu Pandyar was the first to issue a proclamation of independence from British rule, 56 years before the north Indian rebellion during the Sepy mutiny [Reference 2]. He did so from Thiruchi Thiruvarangam Temple (Tamil Nadu) on June 10, 1801; that was more than half a century before the Sepoy mutiny. British considered it a serious threat to their future in India that they rushed additional troops from Britain to put down Maruthu Pandyar's rebellion. This southern rebellion and the northern rebellion during Sepoy mutiny had many commonalities. In the same way a number of northern kings and chieftains joined together and fought against the British and lost during the Sepoy mutiny, a number of kings and chieftains of the south joined and fought and lost. The only difference is that Indian history books that glorify Sepoy mutiny make no mention of the southern rebellion.

Indian Government deliberately tries to hide historical facts such as Maruthu Pandiyar's fight against the British. Indian Government celebrated the 100-th anniversary of the Sepoy mutiny with great fanfare. There were numerous programs about the mutiny in the Indian Government controlled All India Radio. But not even a mention was made in All India Radio about Maruthu Pandiyar led rebellion against the British on its 150-th anniversary. Indian Parliament commemorated in 2007 the 150th anniversary of north-Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 as the First Indian Independence War but there was no such commemoration of  the 200th anniversary of the south-Indian Vellore Mutiny in 2006. This seems to have irked the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalithaa Jeyaram. On August 14, 2007, she expressed shock at the National Implementation Committee for Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the First War of Independence for not recognizing stalwarts and heroes from India’s southern peninsula. She pointed out that chieftains from Tamil Nadu waged wars against British rule well before 1857. She recalled the role of Pulithevan, Velunachiyar, Muthuramalinga Vijayaragunatha Sethupathy and the Maruthu Pandiar brothers in the fight against British rule. She said, "Ms. Velunachiyar’s role was no less than that of the Jhansi Rani". [Jhansi Rani was from north India.] In September 2010, Indian Government Ministry of Culture announced grants of Rupees 2 crore (20 million) each to conduct research on 12 freedom fighters from north-Indian Sepoy Mutiny but nothing to do research on south-Indian Vellore Mutiny or any of the freedom fighters from Tamil Nadu or other southern states. Thus Tamil Nadu's early wars against British rule were ignored and swept under the rug while north Indian wars are researched and publicized.

Now let us come to more recent history. Do you know who was one of the earliest associates of Mahatma Gandhi? A South African Tamil lady named Thillaiyadi Valliammai. She worked with Gandhi in his early years when he toned his nonviolent methods in South Africa, fighting the apartheid there. It is these techniques that he would later use in India against British colonial rule. Valliammai joined Gandhi's movement at the age of 16 and died during the anti-apartheid agitation. Gandhi said that her sacrifice increased his resolve to fight. In 1998 some Tamil leaders requested the Government of India to issue a postage stamp in her honor on the hundredth anniversary. The Indian Government would not it.

V.O. Chidambaram (1872-1936) from Tamilnadu worked most of his adult life to end the British colonial rule. He was also called V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, V.O. Chidambaranar and VOC. You will not find anything about him in history books used in CBSE schools. He was the first person from the Indian Subcontinent to start and operate a Modern Shipping Company against the active opposition of British colonial rulers. V.O. Chidambaram Pillai was also an active participant in the independence movement against the British and was imprisoned from 1908 to 1912. In prison he was forced to drive an oil press. Let me explain what I mean by "drive an oil press". Oil presses (to squeeze oil from coconut or other nuts) are usually driven by bulls (oxen). Mr. VOC was tied to an oil press in place of a bullock and was forced to drive it exactly the way a bull would do. It is a form of corporal punishment the British imposed on some prisoners. He was very much respected and honored in Tamil Nadu, and is known as "kappalooddiya Tamilan" (a Tamil who operated ships) and "sekkizuththa semmal" (a honorable man who drove oil presses). You will not find even a brief biography of V.O. Chidambaram in Indian history books. Had he been born in the north, things would have been different.

One can write a multi-volume book on those from Tamil Nadu who fought against British rule. I gave here just a few examples. I very well understand why Ms. Dedella and millions of others think that Tamil Nadu did not participate fully in the fight against British rule. This is because the Indian Government and history books it sponsors hide the contribution of the south while spotlighting contributions from the north. The reason is that Indian Government is controlled by Hindi speaking politicians (north-central India) and they want to project the impression that it is the north, especially the Hindi heartland and nearby areas, that is the core of India and those from the south and northeast are peripheral. As I noted earlier, Even the All-India Conference of Dravidian Linguistics was critical of the Indian Government for ignoring South Indian history in history books and school syllabus it sponsors and/or funds.


1. Why is Emperor Raja Raja Cholan Standing outside the Thanjai Big Temple? (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 2001 (14 KB)

2. Nine Hundred Year Historical Perspective of how Tamil Nadu lost its Sovereignty and How Selfish Politicians are selling out Tamil National Rights Today: Part II (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, February 2002 (28 KB) (Specifically see Section 6.2)


1. Indian School Textbook from NCERT Distorts and Disparages 1965 Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Imposition Agitation (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, September 2012 (8 KB)

NOTE: Tamil and other names are sometimes spelled differently by different authors. Here are some variations of spellings of names used in this article:

Chidamparanar - Chithamparanar
Jansi - Jhansi
Maruthu Pandiyar - Maruthu Pandiar
Nalankilli - Nalangkilli
Tamil Nadu - Tamilnadu
Thiruchi - Trichi, (also called Thiruchirapalli, Tiruchirapalli)
Thiruvarangam - Tiruvarangam

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