THOOTHUKUDI: The term 'unsung hero' has become stale from overuse. However, with a land that has witnessed as many riveting epochs as ours, scores of worthy heroes needless to say get overlooked. The Neithal Writers Movement invites our attention to one such leader -- Don Gabriel De Cruz Parathavarma Pandian.
Born on December 13, 1753, Parathavarma Pandian ascended to the throne succeeding Don Caspar Anthony De Cruz Vaz Victoria Parathavarma Pandian in 1779, and ruled over the Pearl Fishery Coast till his death in 1808.
Parathavar or the Paravar is a fishermen community, which was converted to Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese in 1532-34 upon a promise to protect them from the Arabs, who were then trying to conquer the Pearl Fishery Coast. The flourishing pearl fishing and trade in the region had invited unnecessary clashes off the coast.
Ally of the British initially
Parathavarma Pandian had initially joined hands with the British forces to defeat the Dutch forces, who controlled the beach road in the 1780s. However, soon he associated with Panchalankurichi Poligar ruler Veerapandiya Kattabomman to fight against the English rule.
Tamil writer and coordinator of the Neithal Writer Movement Neithal Anto said Parathavarma Pandian was also known as 'Pandiyapathy'. "He had a good relationship with Kattabomman, who sailed to far-off destinations in Pandiyapathy's ship. Following a defeat in the first Poligar War, the Britishers hanged Kattabomman in 1799 and imprisoned his younger brother Oomaithurai at Palayamkottai prison. Oomaithurai managed to escape from prison in February 1801. "It was Pandiyapathy who sheltered and protected Oomaithurai at the nearby Pandian Theevu island after the prison break," Anto said.
Secret meeting to supply explosives
Pandiyapathy, Oomaithurai, Nagaraja Monigar of Tirunelveli and Mayilappan of Ramanathapuram held a secret meeting at Kadalkudi, and Pandiyapathy was entrusted with supplying explosives to retaliate against the British. "As promised, he brought explosives through his sources from Sri Lanka by sea," Anto said. Later, the British ordered the capture of Pandiyapathy, but the leader managed to give authorities the slip till his death at the age of 56 in 1808.
The then British General Collins had mentioned that they found guns and modern weapons at Panchalankurichi fort when they demolished it. Also, professor Rajaiyan of Madurai University had stated in his research book 'South Indian Rebellion' that the Paravar headman had not only joined the rebellion but also supplied guns, wall pieces and gun powder for the promotion of violent struggle.
Tiruchendur Murugan temple car
Pandiyapathy had also shared the traditional right to pull the rope of Tiruchendur Murugan temple car during carnivals. However, Catholic priests asked him to give up the right when he embraced Christianity, Mamannar Vanangamudi Parathar Peravai general secretary Roosvelt told TNIE. To follow the same tradition, Pandiyapathy later offered a golden chariot for the Our Lady of Snows Church in Thoothukudi, which was the head centre for the seven fishing jetties in 1806. Thus he was also called as "Thermaran", he added.
Upon his death, Pandiyapathy was buried in Thoothukudi, and his tomb is still preserved at the La Salle Higher Secondary School campus.
'Honour the memories'
The Neithal Writers Movement has urged the state government to recognise the freedom struggle of Parathavarma Pandian. They also want the beach road stretch between Trespuram and Roche Park to be named after Pandiyapathy. On the 268th birth anniversary of the fisherfolk leader, writers and historians have tipped their hat to the forgotten valour and sacrifices of Pandiyapathy.
* Neithal is a Sangam era literature based on land classification of sea and surroundings