MAAVEERAN KULASEGARAM VAIRAMUTHU KUMARA PANDARA VANNIYAN
LAST TAMIL CHIEFTAIN OF VANNI (1785-1803)
The last Chieftain of Vanni, Maaveeran Kulasegaram Pandara Vanniyan (1785-1803). He was a great Chieftain of the Vanni territory lying between Jaffna and the Sinhalese Kingdoms. The last Chieftain of Vanni was defeated by Captain Von Driberg on 31 October 1803. According to N. Parameswaran, ("Medieval Tamils in Ilankai"), With the fall and demise of the Tamil Kingdom of Jaffna in 1619 to the Portuguese, the spark of Tamil freedom and resistance to the European colonisers fell to the Vanni chieftains. All through their history, the Vanni chieftains of the Northern Province had displayed a sturdy independence, though owing a nominal fealty to the Tamil Kings. With the entry of the Europeans, beginning with the Portuguese, their continued resistance to the foreigners highlights this period as a chapter in the freedom struggle of the Tamils. The chief character in this struggle was the haughty and warlike Chieftain, Kumara Pandara Vanniyan whose exploits against both the Dutch and British are now legendary. Until his defeat finally at the hands of the British. Pandara Vanniyan held aloft the fires of Tamil resistance to foreign rule.
The Vanniyars and their descendants had continued to exercise power over their territories and supported the Tirukonesar Temple in Tiruconamalai when the Portuguese arrived in Lanka in 1505. The Portuguese thus on their arrival found that, "the Vanni consisted of seven chieftains each governed by a chief with the title Vannian or Vanniachchi calling themselves vassals of the Kings of Jaffna but virtually exercising independent control over their territories". At this time, the rule of succession amongst them was that the nearest male or female relative should succeed. According to Mr. A. O. Brodie, “these Vanniyars belonged to a caste much superior to that which is elsewhere considered the highest and they were a proud and warlike race”. They intermarried with the Vellalas of Jaffna and they were almost merged with them. The Vanniyars who ruled over the southern part of the Vanni intermarried with the Kandyan Sinhalese and thus sprung up the Sinhala Vanni districts of Nuwara-Kalawiya and Tamankaduwa. In course of time the Sinhala Vanni came to owe allegiance to the Kandyan Kings, particularly so as the Jaffna Kingdom had ceased to exist.
About the year 1775, the defiance of the Vanni chieftains had become so dangerous that the Dutch had to take severe measures to curb the power of the chieftains who ruled the seven pattus. They had become more and more independent and were defiant against those who sought effective control of their territories. In the end the Dutch found that nothing could be done in the Vanni without the approval of these chiefs. Hence, the Dutch East India Company appointed Lieutenant Thomas Nagel and entrusted him with the task of bringing the unruly Vanni under the direct administration of the Company. Lieut. Nagel, who had previous experience, adopted a strong policy tempered with conciliation towards these chiefs. The Vanniyars were left in possession of their private property. Lieut. Nagel promised and afforded the inhabitants protection and besides remitting their tithe for three years made them advances of money and other necessaries. He built a fort at Mullaitivu and made it the headquarters of his administration. To him should be given the honour of being the founder of the present town of Mullaitivu which before this consisted of four of five mud huts close to the surf-beaten shore.
The task of subduing the Vanni, however, was not and easy one. Lieut. Nagel had to contend against the Vannians and Vanniachchis who showed a determination to safeguard their territories. There was also the hatred of the foreigner who dared to despoil them of their power and possessions. It was characteristic of the spirit of these people that the Dutch met with greater resistance nowhere than from the warlike chieftains and chieftainesses like Maria Sembatta Nachchiyar, Chinna Nachchiyar and the great chieftain Vyramuthu Kumara Pandara Vannian. Princess Elizabeth Catherine Nalla Vannichchi Nachchiyar who had been ruling over the important division or pattu of Pannangamam was defeated and dispossessed of her territory in 1762. Her uncle Don Gaspar Nalla Mapane Mudaliyar was earlier removed from the chieftaincy on a charge of disobedience to Dutch orders. It was her ancestor, Kailaya Kumara Vannian, the most powerful chieftain of his time who refused the summons of the Dutch Governor, Ryklof Van Goen, to appear before him in 1665 to answer a charge of rebellion. He allied himself with Tennekoon, the Disawe of the Seven Korales and threatened to take Aripo, the key to the Pearl Fishery which induced Van Goen to come to teams with him. Another Vannichchi worthy of mention was Maria Sembatta Nachchiyar who headed a rebellion in 1782 but was defeated and captured by Lieut. Nagel. In capturing her, he was assisted by Don Juan Samarasekera Mudaliyar who transported her to Jaffna in her state palanquin, bound in chains of gold. From there she was taken to Colombo, where the Dutch detained her in the Fort of Colombo. She died a few years later in captivity. Princess Chinna Nachchiyar who defied the Dutch had to flee to the Court of Kirti Sri Raja Sinha, King of Kandy for refuge in 1782. She later returned and settled down in Mullaitivu.
Vairamuthu Kumara Pandara Vanniyan, a very powerful chieftain on the borders of Nuwara-Kalawiya was the last to be subdued. He was a thorn to the Dutch and British. Lieut. Nagel overcame this fearless chieftain. Though defeated and dispossessed of his territory, this proud aristocratic chieftain kept alive the flame of resistance to regain his territory and fulfil the wish of his ancestors to drive the hated foreigners out of the country. Lieut. Nagel dispossessed all the chiefs of the old line but allowed them to remain in possession of their private properties. He strengthened the fortifications on the borders of Vanni to secure his hold on the territory.
In 1803, Pandara Vanniyan was growing restless under British control. When hostilities broke out in June of that year between the British and the King of Kandy, he saw an opportunity. He entered into a secret alliance with Sri Vickrama Rajasinha, the Kandyan King and having undertaken to expel the British rose in revolt. The King of Kandy sent a large force under the Disawe Kumarasuriya Vanni Sinha of Nuwara-Kalawiya in support of the insurrection. With this assistance, Pandara Vanniyan over-ran the Vanni and on 25 August 1803 attacked the Government House at Mullaitivu in great force. He drove out the garrison there which was under the command of Captain Drieberg and seized the fort. Captain Drieberg prudently withdrew his forces and with boats sent from Jaffna made safe his retreat.
While Pandara Vanniyan lay encamped with his army at Kachilamadu near Mullaitivu intending to attack the fort of Mullaitivu, Captain Drieberg himself made a surprise attack on him at 5.00 AM on 31 October 1803. The consequence was that Pandara Vanniyan's men broke and scattered in different directions in the jungle. Pandara Vanniyan himself had to flee from the battlefield to avoid capture and eventually sought refuge in the Kandyan Court. The British took forty-six prisoners, several Kandyan guns and sixteen houses in which Pandara Vanniyan had stored munitions. Among the prisoners taken was Kumarasekera Mudaliyar of Mullaitivu who soon afterwards was executed for treason. His ancestors had held the title of Mudaliyar of Mullaitivu over several generations, descended as they were from Kumara Udaiyar of Mullaitivu. The scene of the execution of Kumarasekera Mudaliyar was under a huge tree opposite the Mullaitivu P. W. D. compound off the road to Vadduvakallu. The spot is still known as "Thukku Marathadi" or the tree site of the execution, though the tree has long since disappeared. With this victory at Kachchilamdu, the power of the Vanni chiefs was thus finally and effectually extinguished.
In September 1810, Pandara Vanniyan was active again and disquieting news of Panadaran Vanniyan's movements and actions reached Mr. Turnour. From the reports of the Mudaliyar staioned at Vavuniya, it seemed that Pandara Vanniyan had made arrangements with some Kandyan Dissawes to overrun the Vanni. Though he received the promised support, he did not move against the British. The main reason for this was that he could not get the people of the Vanni headed by the Mudaliyars to rise against the British at the same time as he entered the Vanni with his army. Without this promise it was not possible to recapture the Vanni. As he wrote to the King of Kandy explaining the position that many Mudaliyars who had taken service under the British were in favour of the British. Thus Pandara Vanniyan never felt strong enough again to attack the British. At this time relations between the Kandyan Court and the British grew more strained and the King had good reason to turn his attention to the western frontiers of his Kingdom for the British were fast drawing the net around him. Hence Sri Vickrama Rajasinha recalled the Dissawes and soldiers sent to help Pandara Vanniyan and also asked the latter to give up the idea of winning back the Vanni and to come back and assist him. This was a terrible blow, as it meant he had to abandon his cherished desire to become once more the lord of Vanni. Just before his departure for the Kandyan capital, he wanted to strike one last blow at British power. He advanced as far as Kilakkumulai and from there to Udaiyarur. Before he could cross into Pannangamam, he was surprised by a detachment under Lieut. Reid. Pandara Vanniayan's men were routed and he himself was carried away by his men severely wounded. They carried him to the village of Pannangamam, where Kumara Pandara Vanniyan, the last great chieftain of the Vanni, passed away the next day. Thus ended a glorious chapter in the history of the Vanni and the Tamils. After Kumara Pandara Vanniyans death a pension was paid to his widow, the Vannichchi, until the late 19 century.