Theeran Chinnamalai Gounder (aka Dheeran Chinnamalai Gounder, Sinnamalai Gounder) is undoubtedly one of the most famous Kongu Vellala Gounder. Today he is treated as a hero not only by the Kongu Vellala Gounder community but by the entire Tamil Nadu, and beyond, for his role in fight for Indian Independence.
Theeran Chinnamalai is one of the earliest freedom fighters. His and other freedom fighters role in the Poligar Wars with British during 1799 to 1805 should rightly be termed as the First War of Indian Independence.
Theeran Chinnamalai was born as Theerthagiri Gounder on April 17, 1756. He was born in Melapalayam near Chennimalai in current Erode district of Tamil Nadu to Rathnasamy Gounder and Periyatha.
He is believed to belong to the Palaiya Kottai Pattakarar lineage, and hence acquired the name Theerthagiri Sarkarrai.
Theeran Chinnamalai was a freedom fighter since his early days. He is believed to be acclaimed in traditional fighting techniques as well as modern warfare (which he learnt with French). He was also well versed in guerrilla warfare. He developed a large army with more than thousand soldiers comprising kongu vellala and other community youths to protect his community.
It is believed that his first encounter with established rulers was when he had to fight the tax collectors for Hyder Ali, near Sivagiri, and recover the tax that was taken from Kongu region. He is also believed to have declared himself as Chinnamalai (literally meaning in Tamil as a small hill) between the two famous hills Sivanmalai and Chennimalai in Kongu Nadu.
He later aligned with Hyder Ali’s son, Tipu Sultan, when Tipu started fighting the British. It was also in the interest of Theeran Chinnamalai to protect his region from being occupied by the British who had already taken over Kerala in the West and Salem in the East.
Theeran Chinnamalai supported Tipu Sultan in his wars with the British. He and his army were responsible for Tipu’s wins in his wars at Mazahavalli, Srirangapatnam and Chitheswaram. Theeran Chinnamalai’s men were also reported to be part of the team sent by Hyder Ali to Napoleon seeking support in his fight against British.
After Tipu’s death Theeran Chinnamalai continued the fight against British by building a fort in Oodanilai. He was part of the grand alliance with other Palayakarrars including including Oomadhurai and Maruthu Pandiyars based at Srirangapatnam. Theeran Chinnamalai and other Poligars established weapons manufacturing facilities and also provided modern warfare techniques to their soldiers in Karur forests with the help of French. His first main attack against British was the attack of Coimbatore Barracks of British in 1800.
Despite initial set back and death of Marudhu Pandiyar brothers and others in 1801, Chinnamalai continued the freedom struggle. He fought and won a number of battles against British at Cauvery in 1801, Odanilai in 1802 and Arachalur in 1804. Later, Chinnamalai left his fort to avoid cannon attack and engaged in guerrilla warfare while he stayed in the Karumalai forests in the Palani region.
A lot of Theeran Chinnamalai’s life and especially his final days are based on folklore and rural (Kummi) folk songs. It is generally believed that though the British were able to threaten Theeran Chinnamalai on the modern warfare techniques (mainly due to their ability to bring resources from other parts of India which were already under their rule), they were not able to win Theeran Chinnamalai on the guerrilla warfare he adopted subsequently.
British resorted to their tested practice of breaking the unity in their enemy and bribing people to betray others. It is not through war, but through such tactics and betrayal by trusted member of his team that enabled British to capture Theeran Chinnamalai.
Theeran Chinnamalai was captured by the British on the Tamil auspicious day of Aadi 18 or Aadiperukku and hanged at Sankagiri Fort on 31 July 1805. Along with him were hanged a number of his associates.
Recognition, commemoration, honors and memorials
- Memorial statue commemorating Theeran Chinnamali at Guindy in Chennai
- Memorial statue commemorating Theeran Chinnamalai in Tiruchirapalli
- Memorial and life size statue (Manimandapam by Tamil Nadu Government) commemorating Theeran Chinnamalai in Odanilai in Arachalur in 2005. This was recently renovated in 2013.
- In 1995, Theeran Chinnamalai memorial day was observed in Kangeyam and his descendants were honoured.
- In April 2012 Government of Tamil Nadu announced proposal to build a memorial in Sankagiri Fort where Theeran Chinnamalai was hanged
- A commemorative postage stamp was issued in July 2005 by the Government of India
- Until 1997, Tamil Nadu State Transportation Corporation in the Tiruchirapalli Zone was named as Theeran Chinnamalai Transport Corporation. Currently TNSTC Kumbakonam.
- Until 1996 Karur District in Tamil Nadu was named as Theeran Chinnamalai Gounder District.
- Erode Collectorate office is housed in Dheeran Chinnamalai Maaligai
- Theeran Chinnamalai Gounder by Pulavar S Rasu, Publ. 1996, Samba Publications, 152 Peters Road, Chennai, TN 600086, India
- Kongu Naattu Singham – Theeran Chinnamali by Kavignar Magudam Manicakam, Publ. 2001, Sakunthla Publications, Rangoli Graphics, 329 EVN Road, Erode, TN 638009, India
RootsToBuds aims to not only research and record the lineage of this great legend but also help every Kongu Vellala Gounder research how they may be linked to this hero. To join RootsToBuds Family Tree click here.