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The Most Badass Woman Commander in Indian History


Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.

Kuyili was the first-ever suicide bomber in history who fought against British rule and successfully defended her kingdom.

Kuyili was the first-ever suicide bomber in history who fought against British rule and successfully defended her kingdom.

In many ways, history works just like product marketing. You make a good product but fail to market it and the product flops. In the same way, any extraordinary historical character not getting his/her deserving due (read marketing) from the people gets obscured away in the dusty annals of history.

And Kuyili happens to be one of those extraordinary women who despite being instrumental in handing over the British, one of their worst defeats is still languishing as a side note in history books.

Her valiant act as a suicide bomber, destroying the entire British armory and giving the British East India Company a real run for their money was probably one of the first instances of armed resistance against British colonial rule.

The British army, taken by surprise, were forced into a battle which they lost miserably due to lack of ammunition and weapons, thanks to a fearless Kuyili who sacrificed her life for the country. It is quite possible that Kuyili’s act may have been one of the first instances of a suicide bombing in the history of mankind.

The story of Kuyili

The year was 1772 and Muthuvaduganatha Thevar, the second king of Sivaganga state was fighting a losing battle with the nearby Nawab of Arcot. Normally it would have been a cakewalk for Muthuvaduganatha whose forces were far superior and armed but this time the Nawab was riding high on the support of the British army who wanted to oust Muthuvaduganatha out and put in a puppet in his place.

In the war that took place, Muthuvaduganatha was killed and his queen Velu Nachiyar escaped to the nearby hills vowing to avenge her husband’s death and take back her kingdom.

Being an astute stateswoman herself, she steadily worked in the background, amassing troops and forging crucial alliances with Mysore kings like Hyder Ali and Gopala Nayaker from Madurai. Soon she had a well-trained and disciplined army under her disposal, raring to take on the British.

That was when she came across Kuyili, a tall muscled girl whose guerrilla-type attacks were already becoming a thorn in the flesh for the British. Velu Nachiyar made her as commander-in-chief of her army as together both the women made life miserable for the British army stationed at Sivaganga.

That was when Kuyili came up with an audacious plan to infiltrate the Sivaganga fort, bomb the entire armory of the troops, that was located into the fort premises and then open the fort gates for Velu Nachiyar’s army to catch them off-guard when they are at their most vulnerable.

It was festival time with Diwali celebrated across the country and the British were only allowing women inside the fort to light the lamps as part of festivities. Kuyili planned to get a few women soldiers inside the fort under disguise, with weapons hidden inside flower and fruit baskets.

Once inside, she intended to use the ghee (clarified butter) and the oil used for lighting the lamps to burn away the armory chambers situated near the western side of the fort.

The plan was highly successful with the British army overwhelmed by the chaos and confusion created by Kuyili’s women as they opened the fort gates and caught the British unawares. But despite the surprise, the British were still managing to defend the armory chambers that needed to be destroyed for Velu Nachiyar’s army to win against them.

That was when Kuyili did her supreme sacrifice. She poured ghee and oil that were meant for lighting the lamps, upon herself and then walked into the armory chambers with her head held high and set herself on fire.

Kuyili’s sacrifice did not go in vain as Velu Nachiyar’s army routed the British and captured the fort. She thus not only helped Velu to avenge her husband’s death but also handed over to the British one of their worst defeats in history.

Kuyili is getting remembered

After her victory over the British, Velu Nachiyar reigned over the Sivaganga kingdom for a decade. After her, Vellachi, Velu Nachiyar’s daughter, succeeded her to the throne and ruled from 1790 to 1793.

After that, the kingdom of Sivaganga fades away from public memory as the brave exploits of two valiant women who dared to fight and defeat the British get denigrated as mere footnotes in history.

It was only centuries later, they are being remembered now. In 2008, a postage stamp was released in the Queen’s name and the title ‘Veeramangai’ or ‘brave woman’ was bestowed upon her by the government.

The government has also erected a memorial for Kuyili at Sivaganga town with school textbooks been rewritten to educate the children of today about her brave saga of sacrifice and patriotism.

The brilliance, bravery, and sacrifice of Kuyili have forged a new shining chapter for women’s contributions in Indian history that should never be forgotten.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on February 26, 2021:

I apologize here. Of the byone days who had left behind her legacy for world.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 25, 2021:

Thanks Gyanendra

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on February 25, 2021:

Hi! ravirajan01, Thank for putting up an article focusing the daring act of a woman of the begone days.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 25, 2021:

Thanks Bill

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 25, 2021:

With a title like that, how could I not read this fascinating article. Well done, my friend.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 25, 2021:

Thanks Vanita

Vanita Thakkar on February 25, 2021:

Interesting and important information about these historic incidents that have not receive the deserved attention for so long a time.

Heartiest tributes to the great women.

Great work, Ravi. Thanks for sharing.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 25, 2021:

Thanks Chitangada

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 25, 2021:

Thank you for introducing me to this brave woman. Indian history has some wonderful examples of brave women warriors.

An interesting information, well written and researched. Thank you for sharing.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 24, 2021:

Thanks MG

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 24, 2021:

Interesting reading.

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