How Rani Velu Nachiyar planned the first suicide attack to disarm the British

Velu Nachiyar was well-trained in martial arts, horse riding, Silambam, and archery

As early as in the 18th century, thousands of men across the country left their homes and devoted their life to free India from the clutches of the British rule. The Indian independence movement also saw hundreds of women leaving the comfort of their homes and fearlessly joining the battle for freedom. One such woman was Rani Velu Nachiyar. She was the first queen to pick up arms against the British, even before the Rani of Jhansi came into the picture.


The Queen of the Tamil kingdom of Shivagangai, Rani Velu Nachiyar was a valiant queen who took back her kingdom from the British and went on to rule it until her death. As we celebrate 70 years of independence, here’s remembering the brave female ruler of India who is an absolute source of inspiration for many women out there.

Early life

Born to a royal couple in Ramnad, Velu Nachiyar was brought up like a boy by her family because they did not have a male heir. She was well-trained in martial arts, horse riding, Silambam, and archery.

Rani Velu Nachiyar

Photo: Crimes of Britain | Twitter

She was well versed in English, French and Urdu language. Velu Nachiyar got married to the king of Sivagangai, Muthuvadugananthur Udaiyathevar at the age of 16 and had a daughter named Vellachi.

Read More: How Mahatma Gandhi’s fearless wife Kasturba Gandhi defied even her husband’s wishes

Entry into the freedom struggle

All was well until the British invaded her kingdom and killed her husband. However, Velu Nachiyar managed to escape with her daughter and took refuge under some of her influential friends for eight years in Dindugal along with the Maruthu brothers who had promised to avenge her husband’s death and regain the kingdom. During these years, she formed alliances and developed her plan to take control of her kingdom by taking it back from the British empire.

Rani Velu Nachiyar

She formed her own army in the late 1700s with the assistance of Sultan Hyder Ali of Mysore. She had requested him to provide for 5000 infantry and 5000 cavalries that would help her to fight the British. She kept moving and changing her bases to confuse the English. Hyder Ali agreed to support her in her battle for freedom and gave her the necessary weapons required to attack the Britishers.

The Main battle

Velu Nachiyar is believed to be the first person to have come up with the idea of a human bomb and arranged a “suicide attack”. In 1780, when Velu found the place where the British had stored their ammunitions and weapons, she organised a suicide attack. Some believe that her adopted daughter Kuyili drenched herself in oil and ghee and set herself on fire which eventually blew up the ammunitions stored by the British in the storehouse.

Rani Velu Nachiyar

With the help of the new army and her alliances, she fearlessly entered Sivagangai again despite all the obstacles and hurdles placed forth by her enemies. She captured the traitors who had helped British capture the kingdom and attacked the British troops. She valiantly fought the British army and took back her kingdom only to be named the queen of Sivagangai yet again. Nachiyar thereby became the first queen to revolt against the British.

Rani Velu Nachiyar

Photo: Sreemathy Mohan‏ | Twitter

A true icon of bravery, Velu Nachiyar ruled the kingdom for 10 more years till she died of illness in 1796. Her daughter Vellacci inherited the throne.

Also Read: Dr Usha Mehta: The freedom fighter who helped set up a secret radio station for the Indian National Congress

As India celebrates 70 years of independence, we bring you stories of women who were part of the Indian Independence Struggle. You might have heard about some of them but most do not find a mention in our history books or popular memory. These were ordinary women from all walks of life who managed to make extraordinary contributions to the cause of freedom. This series is our tribute to these women and their exemplary work. We bring you 70 stories of courage and valour over the next one week leading up to 15th August 2017. Write to us, if you have any names to add to this list. Email:

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