Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Regency of Queen Mangammal, Madurai

The Regency of Queen Mangammal.

“The Audience Hall of Rani Mangammal of the Naik dynasty who ruled Madura country, circa 1700,” says the plaque at the entrance. The Mangammal Mahal is located near the magnificent Rock Fort in Tiruchi. Historian F.R.Hemingway referred to it as “a robust structure with beautiful pillars.”
The Audience Hall or Kolu Mandapam functioned as the meeting place for the Town Hall Committee from the 19th to the 20th centuries and the fa├žade contains a tablet commemorating its centenary celebrations in 1982. The Mahal now houses a museum of the State Department of Museums.
Rani Mangammal who wielded power from 1689-1706 was one of the few women rulers the Tamil region has had. She left her imprint on both Madurai and Tiruchi. The widow of Chokkanatha Naik, grandson of the great Tirumalai Naik, was known for her administrative acumen and initiated many development and charitable works.
When her husband died in 1682, he was succeeded by Muthu Veerappa Naik. But he soon succumbed to an attack of small pox and Mangammal became the regent for her infant grandson and spent the greater part of her reign in Tiruchi. Chokkanatha had shifted his capital from Madurai to Tiruchi fearing invaders from the North.
Those who have visited the awe inspiring Tirumalai Naik Mahal in Madurai may feel angered when Chokkanatha’s name is mentioned. For he dismantled portions of the beautiful Mahal to enable him to construct the palace in Tiruchi. You feel slightly pacified when P. Raja Mohan, Curator of the museum, says that Chokkanatha did this because Tiruchi was then in the grip of a severe famine and he wanted to avoid levying taxes on his people to build the palace. The Mangammal Mahal is a part of this palace which Chokkanatha built in 1666.
Assortment of objects
The Mahal today houses an assortment of objects. “This is an offspring of the Madras Museum which is a multipurpose museum; it is not an archaeological museum. We get around 30 visitors a day,” says the curator.
Stuffed animals, shards of pottery, household and agricultural implements, valuable bronzes, Theru-k-koothu costumes, musical instruments, duplicate coins belonging to various eras and contemporary paintings make up the medley; labels and information are rather scarce. Inside the building, the beauty of the multiple arches is marred by wires crisscrossing between the fans.
The building provides a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. The dome resembles a multi-petal flower and on the pillars and cornices are birds in stucco with wings poised for flight. Mellow vegetable paintings are visible everywhere. The Mahal however is not very presentable. “This is because we are in the midst of renovation,” says the official.
“If we were not occupying the building, it would have been in a worse state. Multistoreyed buildings have come up where Mangammal’s beautiful park once stood and there are Naik buildings nearby which are being used as various government offices. If they are handed over to us, we can maintain them well. In fact it was because of former Collector K. Rajaraman that the Mahal is now in our possession. It was handed over by the Revenue Department to the Department of Museums in 1998.We are now in the midst of a crisis. We are paying Rs.7The 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 suchcircumstances, 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
lakhs as Corporation tax and have already paid Rs.60 lakhs in seven years. They refused exemption saying this is not an educational institution.”
Despite the feeling of let down at the neglect of a rich heritage building, your spirits are lifted when you meet a member of the staff. “See that container in that corner? It was used to make idlis centuries ago,” he says. Sure enough, the terracotta container has scoops of regular sizes very similar to the stainless steel idli containers of today. “By the way, I’m the taxidermist who has stuffed all the birds and animals displayed here. I am very interested in archaeology and artefacts. I collect them from the villages around. I have donated this terracotta artefact to the museum,” Kamaraj says in an offhand fashion.
You gape at him with a mixture of admiration and disbelief. Instances like these restore your faith as passion for the past lurks in the most unlikely places. If only the same passion drove all those concerned with preserving our heritage…

Rani Mangammal Mandapam On the western side of the Potramaraikulam is the small Rani Mangammal Mandapam, projecting over the steps of the tank. Rani Mangammal of the Nayak dynasty ruled over Madurai in the late 17th century, maintaining amicable relations with neighbouring sovereigns republic empires. After 15 years of tactful and diplomatic regin, she was tortured to death by her ungrateful and jealous generals. The mandapam has statues of the queen, her minister Ramappayyan & grandson, Vijayarangachochanathar. There are also several paintings dating from Rani Mangammal's time. The one on the ceiling is especially striking, depicting the scene at the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Thirukkalyanam (wedding) and capturing in paint all the gaiety which marks a South Indian wedding. Gods and goddesses, richly attired, sourround the divine couple, as Vishnu, the brother of the bride, holds here affectionately. Lord Brahma below performs the ceremony proper, uttering relevant mantras before the fire. Oonjal Mandapam Opposite the Rani Mangammal Mandapam is a black marble stone structure with an onnjal ( Swing ) hanging in the hall within. This is the Onnjal Mandapam, where the golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are brought every Friday for a ceremonial swing. Special offerings are made and Tamil hymns sung by priests, as Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are rocked gaily to and fro. The idols are about 45 cm and 35 cm in height. They are both pieces of classical workmanship, dating to the 16 th century, and may have, therefore, been consecrated by the great Visvanatha Nayak.Kilikoondu Mandapam Northwest of the Potramaraikulam is the Kilikoondu Mandapam ( parrot cage hall ). As the name indicates, there are caged parrots in the hall. But more interesting are its 28 huge monolithic pillars carrying life-size sculptures of various figures from the Hindu mythology-the Pandavas, Vali, Sugreeva and the inevitable yali of which the Vijayanagar kings were very fond, and which are found on at least a few pillars in almost every hall in the temple. At the southern end of this hall is the shrine of the Sthala Vigneswara.

1 comment:

  1. The text about the Audience hall of Tiruchirappalli where the Government Museum functions now, has got some interruption after ''We are paying Rs.7''. A large paragraph has got inserted after that and the continuity comes at ''lakhs as Corporation tax''.

    Please edit the text so that to get the proper continuity.