Former IAS Officer M. Rajendran’s historical novel Kala Pani (Black Water), which depicts the defeat and exile of 72 persons — including Vengai Periya Udayanna Devar, ruler of Sivaganga, and Duraisamy, son of Chinna Marudu — after the Kalayakoil war, has won the Sahitya Akademi award for 2022.
ALSO READ | Kala Pani: The tale of the first king to be exiled by the British
“I would rather treat the award as a recognition of the valour and sacrifice of our ancestors. Now the award will draw the attention of the country towards the freedom movement that started in Tamil Nadu 56 years before the Sepoy Mutiny or the First War of Independence,” said M. Rajendran.
People were deported to an unknown island called Kala Pani, also referred to as Theevanthira Thandanai. “It was worse than the death sentence,” Mr. Rajendran said.
The full title of the novel is Kala Pani, the story of the King, referring to the king who was first exiled.
Recalling historian K. Rajaiyan’s argument that writing of India’s war of Independence should begin from the South, Mr. Rajendran said the country was not aware of the Marudu Brothers and other freedom fighters of Tamil Nadu.
“They created the South Indian Confederacy against the British. I hope the novel and its translation into other Indian languages will shed light on them,” said Mr. Rajendran, who visited Penang and Sumatra to see for himself the jails where Periya Udayanna Devar and others were lodged.
The battle between the British and Marudu Brothers took place in the forests of Kalayarkoil for six months in 1801. After the defeat, the brothers were hanged at Tirupattur, south Tamil Nadu, on October 24, 1801. The novel, published by Agani publishers in 2020, begins with the exile of the 72 persons in the ship on February 11, 1802. They reached Penang after 62 days.
Three persons ended their lives even before the ship reached Penang. Three people lost their minds and ran into the forest. Periya Udayanna Devar was separated from others and sent to Sumatra, where he lived for just four months. In 1820, 11 persons including Duraisamy, returned to India.
Colonel James Welsh, the British Officer, who led the war against the Marudu Brothers had recalled his meeting with Duraisamy in Penang in his Military Reminiscences. It was Welsh who tightened the chains of Duraisamy before his exile. He met him again in 1818.
“I received a sudden visit from a miserable decrepit old man. I demanded his name …he uttered the word “Dora Swamy”. It came like a dagger to my heart,” recalled Welsh.
Duraisamy also could not reach Sivaganga. He died of a stomach illness in Madurai in 1823.
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