Kizhanilai

Kizhanilai (கீழாநிலை), The place, Kizhanilai (‘kee-zhaa-ni-lai’)
contains a dilapidated fort. From the days of the imperial Chozha-s and
the Pandya-s upto the 19th century, Kizhanilai was an important military
station.

The name Kizhanilai means ‘the eastern gate’, as
distinguished from the adjacent village called Mela-nilai (மேலாநிலை,
‘the western gate’). Between them is Pudhunilai (புதுநிலை, ‘the new
gate’).

Approach

Kizhanilai is a village,
33 km from Pudukkottai. One can reach this place via Thirumayam
(திருமயம்) and Kanadukaththaan (கானாடுகாத்தான்).

Historical background

According
to Maha-vamsa (மஹாவம்சம்), the Srilankan chronicle, a line running from
Ponnamaravathi (பொன்னமராவதி) to Kizhanilai and thence to Manamelkudi
(மணமேல்குடி), divided the Chozha and Pandya in the 10th and 11th
centuries, before the final subjugation of the Pandya kingdom by the
Chozha-s. This line marks the northern limit reached by the Sinhalese in
their invasion of South India. Parts of the 12th-13th century strategic
road leading from Kizhanilai (கீழாநிலை) to Aranthangi (அறந்தாங்கி) in
the east and to Tiruppattur (திருப்பத்தூர்) and Ponnamaravathi in the
west can be seen even now. About the middle of the 12th century, the
Ceylonese general, Lanka-pura (இலங்கபுரம்), who was in alliance with
Parakrama Pandya (பராக்கிரம பாண்டியன்), defeated Kulasekhara
(குலசேகரன்), a rival claimant to the Pandya throne, who had killed
Parakrama (c. 1162 AD) and placed Vira-pandya Parakrama’s (வீரபாண்டிய
பராக்கிரமன்) son, on the Madurai throne. During this campaign, a
sanguinary battle was fought at Kizhanilai in which, according to the
Maha-vamsa, the slaughter was so great that the corpses of the slain
covered a space of four leagues. Kizhanilai was one of the frontier
forts of the Thanjavur kingdom under the Nayak-s. Vijaya-raghava, the
last Nayak ruler, is the reputed builder of the fort, now in ruins.

The Fort, Kizhanilai

The Fort, Kizhanilai

History of the fort

The
Statistical Account of Pudukkottai (1813) informs us that the fort,
which had an arsenal, was built about 1683 by a Sethupathi (சேதுபதி). It
is probable that this Sethupathi, who got possession of the fort,
repaired or extended it by adding an arsenal. In 1756 when Vijaya
Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (விஜய ரகுநாத ராயத் தொண்டைமான்) of Pudukkottai
temporarily occupied the place, a granary was built in which to store
provisions against sieges.

The fort passed through different
hands over a time, including Thanjavur (தஞ்சாவூர்) and Ramanathapuram
(இராமநாதபுரம்), before coming to Pudukkottai. It was afterwards part of
the debatable land, which passed from Ramanathapuram to Thanjavur in
1750 and 1763 and again in 1771.

Thanda-Thevan (தண்டத் தேவன்) of
Ramanathapuram promised the fort and district of Kizhanilai to the
Pudukkottai Tondaiman-s in 1723, if he succeeded in gaining the throne
with Tondaiman’s assistance. Tukoji, Raja of Thanjavur (1729-36) also
appears to have granted it to the Tondaiman, who sold it back to
Thanjavur on certain conditions. The conditions were violated and the
Tondaiman attempted to recapture it. In 1749 Manoji the Thanjavur
general, ceded it to the Tondaiman on his own account in return for
military assistance, so that the Tondaiman actually got possession of
it. But the Raja of Thanjavur refused to ratify Manoji’s act and ordered
its recovery in 1756.

Hider’s forces seized and occupied it for a
time in 1781, but the Tondaiman recaptured it in the same year at the
request of Colonel Braithwaite of the Madras Army. When, soon after
this, the whole of the Thanjavur territory was annexed by the British.
Kizhanilai, which originally formed part of Thanjavur but had all along
been claimed by the Tondaiman, was finally ceded to Pudukkottai
(புதுக்கோட்டை). The only condition imposed was the payment annually of
the tribute of an elephant. This, however, was never paid, on the ground
that the stipulation was inconsistent with previous treaties, and with
the rank and status enjoyed by the Tondaiman-s. It was formally waived
in 1837 by the Court of Directors themselves.

The Fort

This
extensive but now dilapidated fort, covering an area of 43.61 acres, is
built of laterite, quarried close by in the extensive Sengirai
(செங்கீரை) and Sakkottai (சாக்கோட்டை) patches. The first place of
interest that a visitor observes within the fort is a small temple of
Hanuman then he approaches the Ariya-nayaki Amman (அரியநாயகி அம்மன்),
which is the principal one. There are other temples dedicated to Vishnu
and Munisvara (முனீஸ்வரர்).

Sections of walls have fallen down.
According to the tradition, an underground passage near south gate, now
blocked, leads to a fort in Sakkottai in the Ramanathapuram
(இராமநாதபுரம்) district. A fairly large gun lying on one of the ramparts
is all that now remains of the efficient military equipment with which
the fort was once fitted.

There is a small hamlet within the fort surrounded by flower gardens.

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