No Need For Flawed Feminism In The Land of Kuyili & Velu Nachiyar

Women Self Defense

I have never subscribed to the metamorphosed feminist idea of blind vilification of men, and a demeaning view of women as victims rather than as free agents. Women don’t need equality, they are not equal. They are better in several aspects of life and why should we bring them down in the name of equality, they have higher endurance, resilience, perseverance, emotional intelligence, tact and managerial ability. If a girl child is raised properly, then you don’t need to offer her equality. She will be well equipped to lead and take over the world. The only thing that is lacking is the right upbringing of girl children.

A woman saying ‘I can do anything that men can do’ is not true empowerment. Empowerment is about changing the way the world perceives the strength of women. True empowerment happens only when Men start saying, ‘I can do accomplish anything that women can accomplish’.

I feel bad when I see Indian women looking west to demonstrate empowerment and equality. “A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree,” “The more they are beaten, the better they’ll be.” was a famous proverb in the United Kingdom. Until 1925 there was a common law permitting husbands to beat their wives with a stick or rod, no thicker than his thumb. Our women don’t need to look up to that western world for empowerment. We belong to a culture which nurtured bravery and leadership abilities in women. As this old Tamil verse says

“சீறி வந்த புலியதனை முறத்தினாலே – அடித்து
சிங்கார மறத்தி ஒருத்தி துரத்தினாளே!”

The verse explains an incident, where few women gathered for an occasion. A fierce tiger pounced upon those women. One of those women used a grain-pad (Muram in tamil) to hit and chase away the tiger. Some might consider it as fiction, or just a proverb to give courage to women. However, several ancient Indus-Valley Seals (in ancient Tamil script) illustrates similar incidents.

A Women Fighting With a Tiger A Women Fighting With a Tiger 2 A Women Fighting With Two TigersTemple Sculpture

According to the legends one of the greatest rulers of our land during the Tamil Sangam period was Meenakshi and not her husband Sokkanaadhar. Sembian Mahadevi, the wife of Gandaraditha Chola was one of the most powerful queens of South India. For over 60 years she remained as the Raja Mata and guided and controlled the administration. She built over 72 grand temples in the Chola kingdom. Today she is revered as a Goddess. That legacy did not die with her and it continued until the 18th century. Great warrior women became the village deities.

Before getting in to modern feminism, let me narrate a part of our history.

There was a king named Sellamuthu Sethupathy who ruled the Ramnad kingdom during the early 18th century. In 1730 AD, he and his wife Rani Sakandhimuthal got a baby girl. They named her Velu Nachiyar. The king brought in good gurus to teach her Varmam, Kalari, Silambam, sword fighting, archery and horse riding. By the time she became an adult she became an expert in those disciplines.

She married Muthuvaduganathan, the king of Siva Gangai. They had baby girl named Vellachi Nachiar. When Muthuvaduganathan was travelling with very little protective detail, he was assassinated by the Son of Nawab of Arcot and British soldiers. Siva Gangai was annexed to the English East India Company’s territory. Velu Nachiar escaped with her daughter, took the help of Hyder Ali and lived anonymously in a place called Virupachi near Dindigul. For the next 8 years, her only thought was to defeat the British and to free her nation. She had extremely loyal aides in Uddaiyal (also her adopted daughter) and Kuyili, who helped her with all her strategies. She built an army and looked for strategic alliances, however none of them were willing to take on the might of the British army. Finally forming an alliance with Gopala Nayaker and Hyder Ali she planned her attack against the British. In 1780, nearly 80 years before the Rani of Jhansi fought against the British forces, Velu Nachiar attacked the army of English East India Company.

Wars are not won by valor alone; tact, alliances and weapons play and equally important role. She was courageous and tactical, but she did not have the weapons that matched those of the British. Her army did not stand a chance against thousands of advanced guns of the British. Victory was a distant dream as long as the British were armed with high tech weapons. Kuyili, one of her closest aides, came up with a plan to neutralize the advantage of the British. The English East India Company usually housed all their arms in temples. Kuyili along with other women in her army, on the day of Vijayadasami went to the temple as devotees. They were lighting lamps in the temple. Suddenly Kuyili, doused herself with ghee and set herself on fire. She ran towards the soldiers who guarded the arms. No knowing what to do, the soldiers moved away. She jumped on to the piled up arms and rolled over the gun powder resulting in a huge blast. Thousands of guns were reduced to ashes, so was Kuyili, sacrificing her life for loyalty and for the freedom of her people. Today she is just a dalit icon in certain areas of Tamil Nadu, and a few still sing folk songs about her without even knowing whom they are singing about.

Uddaiyal too sacrificed her life during the war. Velu Nachiyar then named a 100% female regiment as ‘Uddaiyal’, which fought as fiercely as men and was instrumental in defeating the English East India Company. That was the first time a Queen won against the British army. She ruled for 10 years (glorious period of Siva Ganga) and anointed the Marudu brothers to administer the kingdom after her. She died a couple of years later. Sadly our history books have no space for a hero like her, and our hearts have no space for a legend like Kuyili. Our women have to look up to Joan of arc and Tatcher for inspiration, when there are hundreds of female heroes in our history.

Women Self Defense

Women don’t need inspiration from outside. In our culture every Goddess is a warrior who put down injustice. Every village has a female protective warrior deity (Kaaval Deivam), they are women who took up arms to protect people and bring justice. If you think that those are just myths, then there are real life historical figures like Velu Nachiar to get inspired. We don’t need to look West to empower women, we just need to look back.  Empowerment is not given in a silver platter, it is taken; excellence is the only deterrent to sexism. The first step in doing it, is to raise our girls well, and provide them with all the opportunities they need. We got to teach them martial arts and physical training, and help them break the the stereotype of ‘weaker sex’. If she can physically and emotionally defend herself, there is nothing in the world that can stop her from achieving her goals. She will naturally excel in the area of her choosing. Excellence results in true empowerment.

Note: Tamil Nadu government is building a memorial for Kuyili.