Cat, Ettappa & Dumby

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Looking at the title, many will wonder what I am upto this time. Well, not far from normal, really, I am still talking history, and on this occasion, it is a little further and southerly to Malabar, closer to Tuticorin and Tirunalveli in general. To be more accurate, Ettayapuram and Panjalamkurichi, the home towns of VeerPandya Kattabomman and his nemesis Ettappan. I will clarify the title to start with. Cat was the term used by the British Army while referring to Kattabomman and Dumby while referring to his deaf and dumb brother Omathurai. The time period of this account is 1799-1801.

The complete poligar history is not covered here, for this would then end up as a long and dreadfully boring treatise, but what I will cover here are just some specific issues related to the three of the mentioned persons. And let me also thank Praveen for leading me into this study.

First some background. While Kerala was busy fighting their wars in Malabar, Cochin and Travancore, the massive Vijayanagara Kingdom or what was broadly termed Carnatic in those days had their own issues, which were in many ways similar to those in Kerala. The usual culprits such as the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, and the Mysore Nawabs were present, in addition they had to contend with the Nawabs of Arcot, Travancore’s Marthanda Varma and the Marathas at various times. The Vijayanagara Raya Kings who got involved between the Pandya Chola fight in support of the Pandyas (Parakrama Pandya 1516) had dispatched Nagama Naya to take charge in Madurai. His son Viswanatha Naikar later formed the Nayaka Dynasty (suffices to conclude now that the Naykas were still considered lieutenants of the Vijanagara king and paying tribute ‘at times’) and installed his feudatory chieftains in various principalities of Madurai & Tirunelveli. These were the Palaiakkara’s or Poligars (somewhat similar to the Naduvazhi’s or Sthani’s of Malabar). The real Poligar rule commenced from around 1559 and between Madurai and Tirunelveli there were about 48 Poligars. Most of the Poligars were Telugu Vaduga Nayaks (now more familiar as the Naidu’s). Some where Kambala nayaks and some as in the case of Ettayapuram,Thottian Nayaks. The Tondiaman Poligars (Pudukottai) were however Tamil Kallars.

The Poligars had their own armies (like the Nair’s of Malabar) and these footmen or lance men were the Kallar’s. Sometimes some of these Poligars were also termed Zamindars. Roughly speaking, each of them lorded over 33 villages.

The Nayaks made their income primarily from ‘Kaval Panam’ (guard fees) and taxes from the various villages under them. Many of them were feared by the farming villagers and the grip they had on the populace was tight and firm. The Tirunelveli area was the major farming area, Tuticorin had pearl fisheries and thus the locale was very important to the Nawabs the Nayaks and all the new entrants like the Dutch and the British.

Let us now shift focus to the Panchalam Kurichi and Ettayapuram areas. During the later part of the Vijayanagara empire, the entirety of the Nawab of Arcot’s rule and during the Dutch and the English periods, many of the Poligars had frequent rebellions, skirmishes and wars with the Nawab and the English forces. The reasons were almost always relating to collection of any or all of tributes owed. Poligars such as Kattabomman maintained in the later periods that they owed nothing to anybody, let alone a foreigner like the British.

PanchalamKurichiThe Panchalam Kurichi poligars between 1750 and 1801 were called Kattabomma (Gettibommu in Telugu to describe strength and fighting qualities) Nayaks (Kambala Naickars). There were four, the first who died in 1760, the second in 1761, the third in 1799 and the fourth in 1801. The third Nayak of PanjalamKurichi 1790-1799 was the Veerapandya Kattabomman (aka Veeraraja alias Jegaveera Pandya Subbramania Kattabomma Durai or in short Karuttaiyya or Cat) and the fourth Sivattaiyya (fair lord) or Sivappu (suppa) Nayaka. The fourth Nayak was later supported by his elder brother Kumaraswami Naika (aka Oomathurai or Dumby). The full life story of Veerpandya Kattabomman is well known, documented (not always correctly), so I will leave it at that. However Dumby came to the forefront after his brother’s death, his subsequent capture, imprisonment at Palayamkottai, escape in 1801 and by leading of the revolt later, even though deaf mute.

They are Thottian Telugu Naickars and were initially a subsidiary of the PanchalanKurichi Poligar. From the early 1780’s the Ettayapuram family were good friends with the British and obtained much preferential treatment thus alienating them from the other warring/rebellious poligars. They were later accused by these poligars, especially Kattabomman of frequently offering information and troop support to the British. The Ettapap nayak in this discussion was named Venkateshwara Ettappa Maharaja.

While the Kattabommars and Ettappans were civil with each other in the beginning it appears that the take over of Ettayapuram controlled Supplapuram village by the Kattabomman’s resulted in deep animosity through the years. This was confounded when the British officer Maxwell in his demarcation of 1792 gave some of the Palayankurichi villages to Ettayapuram.

The British failed to obtain monies owed from many Poligars and mainly Panchalamkurichi after their 1792 treaty with the Nawab or Arcot where the Nawab who was getting yearly tribute (albeit with lot of difficulty) allocated some or all of it to the British. The Kattabomman not only refused to pay tribute but also later led a rebellion with the other poligars. His anger at the British had various reasons, one of them being his tussle with a Collector Jackson. It soon became a British need to take him out of the scene. The responsibility to get Kattabomman #3 was given to Maj Bannerman in 1799. However even though the Veerapnadya Kattabomma Nayak escaped from his fort and took to the forests, he was soon recaptured and hanged in Oct 1799. The revolt and the following fight by the Marudu brothers plus the Oomathurai were considered an early example of organized mutiny against the British rule.

Ettappa Nayak was eventually branded a traitor by the populace. The reason attributed was that he had been the one who showed the British where the Kattabomman was hiding. How did this idea spread and was it entirely right? A little investigation proved otherwise. To start with, yes, it is true that Ettayapuram like Pudukottai was fully behind and closely aligned to the British.

The History of Tinnevelly by Rev R Caldwell is a fine book covering all these events and the Poligar history if one needs the details. It quotes on page 183-193 Major Bannerman’s letter to the Secretary of the British Government. Specifically relating to the capture of Kattabomma Nayka, it clarifies on page 186 “I have received a letter from Mr Lushington (Collector Tinnevelly) that he has received a letter from the Tondaiman (Pudukottai Poligar who was also aligned with the British) informing him that he had succeeded in his exertions to seize the person of Kattabomma Nayka”, and desiring to be furnished with orders respecting the disposal of that rebellious Poligar. Thus it becomes clear that the Pudukottai people were the ones who located and captured Kattabomman, not the Ettayapan Nayak or his people, as rumored.

The Pudukottai website states the following - There is an unauthenticated tradition that, at the time of the ‘Poligar War’ of 1799, the famous Kattabomman of Panchalankurichi and his dumb brother had taken refuge in the jungles of Tondaiman territory near Thirukkalambur. They were captured by the Tondaiman and imprisoned for a time in the Thirumayam fort. He then handed them over to the English (Hemingway in the Gazetteer of the Trichinopoly District mentions only Oomayan as having been lodged at this fort). It is also mentioned in some accounts that Bannerman ordered the Tondiaman Poligar to capture the Kattabomman, however the above paragraph proves that was not necessarily so.

But how did the myth that Ettayappan was the traitor come to effect? It owes itself not only to the movie Veerapandya Kattabomman (based on the book written by Ma Po Sivagnanam), but also the many Nattu pattu’s amongst which are Pulittevan Sindhu, Kattabomman Kathaipadal, Kattabomman Kummi, Kattabomman Kuttu, Kattabomman Villupattu etc. So much so that today whenever the name Kattabomman comes up, one is reminded of Shivaji Ganesan. It goes without saying that he did great justice to the role he played and in this particular case, so fine was the portrayal that history was virtually rewritten in the modern Tamil mindset.

Wikipedia states - The popular Tamil slang for a traitor or committing treason is Ettapa or Ettapan, courtesy the Ettayapuram Polygar whom the British later conferred the title of Raja. But it is disputed that Ettapan committed treason Kattabomman was arrested by King of Pudukottai. Lately there is a cry that the unfair portrayal of Ettappan in the film Kattabomman in which actor Sivaji Ganesan gave a great performance is the main cause for this. It seems that Ma.Po.Si (Ma.Po.Sivanyanam) who wrote the dialogues for the film had some misunderstanding with the Ettappan family.

A few words on Oomadurai
Gen Welsh recounts – He was one of the most extraordinary mortals I ever knew. A tall slender lad very sickly in appearance, yet possessing that energy of mind which in troubled times always gains pre eminence….The Oomai was adored, his slightest sign an oracle and every man flew to execute his command. He led every daring expedition. His method of representing English was extremely simple, he collected a few little pieces of straw, arranged them on the palm of his left hand to represent the English force, then he drew the other hand across and swept them off, with a whirring sound from his mouth which was the signal for attack.

He was wounded severely in his final major fight in 1801 and was lying among the dead when a few women clearing the place found him. They tended to him, but once again it was the Ettayapuram people who raised the alarm. The women immediately covered him with a blanket and started a death lament. When the Ettayapuram people reached there, it was stated by the women that the boy under the blanket had died of small pox. The pursuers fled to escape the pox; the Oomathurai recovered to lead more skirmishes, but was eventually caught and hanged (Page 296-297 - History of Tinnevelly Robert Caldwell).

It is stated that when Kattabomman was earlier led to the gallows, he had only one remorse - that of the future and fate of his younger deaf mute brother. Little was he to know that this brave Oomathurai got far more respect in the eyes of their tormenters than Kattabomman himself.

Observing Kattabomma Nayak’s last moments, Major Bannerman wrote “it may not be amiss here to observe that the manner and behavior of the Poligar during the whole time of his being before those who were assembled yesterday at the examination which took place were undaunted and supercilious. He frequently eyed the Etiapore Poligar, who had been so active in attempting to secure his person, and the poligar of Shevighergy with an appearance of indignant contempt and when he went out to be executed, he walked with a firm and daring air and cast looks of sullen contempt on the poligars to his right and left as he passed” (Major John Bannerman, letter to the Madras Government dated October 17th 1799)

The character of Kattabomman is pretty different in the English eyes - From his fort of Panjalamkurichi the Poligar used to sally forth at the head of his armed followers, and making incursions into Circar villages, as well as into the villages of other Poligars, sack and plunder all that came into his way, often times carrying off some of the principal inhabitants. Kattaboma Nayaka often used to make raids into the neighboring territories, especially into the territories of the Poligar of Ettaiyapuram.

As one British Collector noted:
I again repeated that. . . unless this poligar were deprived of his power, and my recommendations went to the fullest extent of the measure, the Company's investment would be materially checked, the weavers residing in the Panchalamkurichi palayam would be stripped off their property, and the largest part of the advances made to them by the commercial resident exposed to considerable danger.

This begs a question – were they going to be stripped of their property by the said Poligar? At least looking at contemporary records, it is thus not clear that Kattabomman was a patriot in the large sense, but it becomes apparent that he and other poligars were actually fighting to retain their individual powers over their villages. Having no access to freedom fighter and politician Ma Po Si’s works and knowledge of his definitive sources (which as I understood are the time eroded ballads mentioned earlier), I cannot make any conclusion in this regard.

Anyway today you see the Ettayapuram and Pudukottai towns on the map, but hardly a mention of the once powerful Panchalamkurichi. The former towns were obviously favored by the British and later rose to prominence. The people of Ettayapuram today are primarily engaged in weaving, making matches and agriculture. While Ettappa Naykar was considered a traitor, his namesake descendants are admired for their welfare activities and wide support for the arts. They were patrons of poets and musicians. Notable examples are poet and freedom fighter & poet Subrahmania Bharathy (birthplace) and carnatic guru Muthuswami Dikshitar (death place) who lived in Ettayapuram. Umaru Puluvar also lived there. Violin exponent (he pioneered the use of violin in Carnatic music around 1800) Baluswamy Dikshitar was an asthana vidwan at Ettayapuram palace, Muthaiah Bagawathar practiced there and Kumara Ettendra a later Ettayapuram Raja was a composer of many krithi’s.

But well, the Kattabomman legend as written by Ma Po Si lives on - So much so that it is said - Mahakavi Subrahmania Bharathi was Ettayapuram's Prayaschitham (Repentance or penance)

Peshkush – Though I had heard this word before I had no idea what it was. Now I understand it as an Anglo Indian (not Eurasian) term for tribute, land revenue due to the government or even provision of local forces when required. Poligars were sometimes termed Peshkush Zamindars. But in Urdu & Farsi PeshKush means ‘present’ or even ‘mixed’– Tandoori Pesh Kush is a mixed tandoor platter!

History of Tinnevelly – R Caldwell
History of Military transactions R Orme
History f the Madras Army – WJ Wilson

Pics – www, acknowledged with thanks


  1. History

    Great work Maddy...
    Many works in History brings forth Ettappans as traitor. I never knew that it was a myth and propagated through popular folk lore..

    Pullithevan i believe like Kattaboman deserves a place in history. He mysteriously disappeared and the causes unknown. His major setback was that he was not able to create a confederacy due to different warring feudal fractions!!!

  1. Maddy

    Puli Thevar was another interesting character. However I am not convinced that any of the Polygars had interests beyond securing themselves or their legacies. the only Palayakkaran who strayed into arts was the Ethayapuram king from my studies.

  1. Suresh, Madurai.

    The Great Nayak Kings Nagama,Viswanatha,,,,,,Tirumalai Nayaks ruled Madurai Kingdom, Under their kingdom, There were 72 Poligars (Palayakarars).. The Kattabommu,Ettapppa, Pulideva, sethupathis...all are among the 72 Polygars.. they are said to be (Chittrasars)Kings.. Emperor Thirumalai Nayak is the Ultimate and Incomparable in his contemporary period.. All arts were patronised in his period which is Unparellel across the country.. These are all my indebth historical research...

  1. software circle

    Naidus of South India seem to be descendants of nair battle warriors of kerala who were in the service of vijayanagar military. Naidu has come from Nairdu which is the affectionate manner in which vijayanagar kings addressed their malayali nayaks. Naicker could also mean nairs who were nayaks. Note that nairs of modern day kerala could have supplied spices to the vijayanagar empire.

  1. csganesh

    There is a saying that "One who wins the war writes the history". There is another note in early 1800s which talks about no cheaters/beggars in India. That was more a complaining note where the British found it very tough to penetrate India by fair means.

    Thus, I would love to believe that Ettappan was a good person.

    Who could gain by making him a traitor ? Going by motive - Why this could not have been a part of the infamous "Divide and Rule" strategy of British ? They definitely had to divide us so that we do not trust each other and unite against them. If Ettayapura Raja did not do anything just because he was mroe friendly to British - who was going to believe his words. Its like saying "Our PM knows me very well" - unless someone can prove it otherwise it will remain true.

    At the same time, raids by Kattabomman is something that needs to be closely studied. In late 1700s, millions in India died due to drought but still the British kept collecting taxes and sent it to England to support their wars without caring for us. Funding wars from innocent people's blood started then.

    With my little understanding of our tradition and culture at that time, I can say that we had better ethics than the British when it came to working for the welfare of our people or even when fighting our enemy..

  1. Maddy

    thanks Ganesh..

    the Ettayapuram kingdom is a typical south Indian kingdom who tried to cling as long as possible to their position of power. They aligned themselves to the British and of course the British were lenient to them in their portrayal of history.

    the point is simply this - the Ettayapuram king did not point out kattabomman for capture as MaPoSi wrote...that was the gist of the account..

  1. ashok

    software circle said...
    Naidus of South India seem to be descendants of nair battle warriors of kerala who were in the service of vijayanagar military. Naidu has come from Nairdu which is the affectionate manner in which vijayanagar kings addressed their malayali nayaks. Naicker could also mean nairs who were nayaks. Note that nairs of modern day kerala could have supplied spices to the vijayanagar empire.

    If you do not know history do not put comments. Naicker, naidus, nayakkar all are same. There is almost 18 sub's in the caste which has a rich heritage from 8th century A.D.

    The kerela nair is the caste which has its origin from naykkar's of Andra pradesh. ( this reaserach is Still under developement stage)

    You cannot produce milk from curd.

  1. ashok

    software circle said...
    Naidus of South India seem to be descendants of nair battle warriors of kerala who were in the service of vijayanagar military. Naidu has come from Nairdu which is the affectionate manner in which vijayanagar kings addressed their malayali nayaks. Naicker could also mean nairs who were nayaks. Note that nairs of modern day kerala could have supplied spices to the vijayanagar empire.

    If you do not know history do not put comments. Naicker, naidus, nayakkar all are same. There is almost 18 sub's in the caste which has a rich heritage from 8th century A.D.

    The kerela nair is the caste which has its origin from naykkar's of Andra pradesh. ( this reaserach is Still under developement stage)

    You cannot produce milk from curd.

  1. Anish Kumar Nadelkar

    Very funny right up... In malabar martial arts and community power means Thiyya Chekavars

    Nairs established themselves by doing subserviency to nambudiris and thru immoral relationships...this is open fact like daylight..

    Now let me clarify here there is no superior or inferior its all each community build up with money and power..

    If we actually look a review and recap.. This entire castes were intially counted as various tribes in kerala or malaya mountain, which elevated in to various clans and classes.

    If we go back further majority of this tribes are migrated in various conditions from Scy"thian" or Saka provinces, which was large region covering iran, kirghistan, kazhak afghan and tiangshen etc....if we further go back to the myth all this group primarily originate malaya mountain during theThis is bloody Crime in the name of Healthcare 7th manus period (after great deluge) and from here keep migrating to various location.
    .majority sythian tribals are lunar clan and very mere from solar clans.

    Yadu and his brother had first moved out to new north west region and in various war and other calamity condition they keep returning to their homeland...

    In succession there were intra_clan and inter clan wars among the scythian tribes and one of the key was issue parasuram attacked haihayas and they flew back malaya mountain or today sahya mountain.. From scythian only thian word formed.

    Majors scythian tribes were Nagar,Tirayar, Ezhavar,shanars, vellirs (ayrs) and further it merged with dravidian tribes vanavar marayar,pulayar parayar and so only

    Parasuram was in need of war support in this region so he took help of Nagar to demolish the dynasty of hai ba

  1. Unknown

    My parents are from the Nellai region and my father has mentioned that there were 55 palayakkarars ( Zameedhars) in the Thirumelveli/Ramanathapuram region before the Nayakkars arrived. The Nayakkars split and reorganized the territory to 70+ palayams and handed majority to Telugu Nayakkars. Apart from the Tamil Kallar zameen of Puthukkottai, there were other Tamil Maravar zameens such as SIva Gangai, Oothumalai, Nerkattum Sevval, Kadambur and Siva Giri. Pooli Thevar was from Nerkattum Seval Zameen fought the British and won the wars for almost 17 years. After his defeat he was captured by the British, but he escaped in the Kalugumalai Murugan Temple which had some secret tunnels. This temple still stands in Kalugumalai, Thirunelveli.


  1. Maddy

    Thanks Pandyan
    I am working on the subject once again, mainly on Puli Thevar.,
    will post an article later this year

  1. துரை ராஜ்

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