Cleopatra (69 BC -30 BC) ruled Egypt for 21 years before Christ. She was famed for beauty and intelligence. Her life was shrouded in mystery. Lot of interesting things are said about her that needs proof. But her marriage to her brother Ptolemy, Julius Caesar and Antony are facts. Egyptian kings married their sisters. Cleopatra was a Macedonian and she was the last ruler of Macedonian dynasty (Ptolemaic dynasty). When she had a clash with her brother Ptolemy XIII she fled to Syria. Roman General Julius Caesar restored her to the throne in 47 BC. They became lovers and had one child. It was said that she rolled herself in a carpet and presented herself to Caesar. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, she fled to Egypt. Antony summoned her to Rome and once again an affair led to he marriage to Antony. They had three children. When she got her Egyptian kingdom back, both Antony and Cleopatra went to Alexandria where they were given a rousing welcome. Both of them were seated on Golden thrown with their three children.
When the Roman senate declared war against Antony, a rumour was spread that Cleopatra committed suicide. Antony believed it and committed suicide. When Cleopatra heard this she killed herself with an asp (Poisonous snake).
Cleopatra has inspired writers like Shakespeare , Bernard Shaw and several authors and film directors. Though Shakespeare has written about the snake bite in his drama ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, nobody knew the truth. She had the luxury of bathing in donkey’s milk every day to maintain her beauty. Another controversy is about her origin. Some people claim that she was not of Macedonian Greek origin but of Black African origin. Her beauty is also questioned by many. Some portraits on coins show her as an ugly woman. But there is no doubt she was the queen, fought wars, married three people and had several children.
Now to Rani Mangammal:
Rani Mangammal was also famous, beautiful and controversial like Cleopatra. She fought wars and died mysteriously, probably in a prison. Her origin was also questioned by a contemporary writer. But she did marry only one person.
Rani Mangammal’s name is a household name in Madurai area. She built lot of Dharmasalas for the general public and palaces in Trichy and Madurai. Her palace is converted to Gandhi Museum in Madurai. She donated a lot to different temples and Brahmins. She restored Brahmin status to Sourashtra Community.
Her contemporary writer Chinna Vekanna said that she was the daughter of Tupakula Lingama Nayaka of Chandragiri and a courtesan of Tiruvellore called Kanaka. She was beautiful and very clever. She migrated to Thanjavur and later to Madurai. She came in contact with Sokkanatha Nayaka of Madurai and married him. After the death of her husband, her son Rangakrishna Muthuveerappa Nayaka became the king. He died in 1689 and Manhgamma ruled Madurai Kingdom on behalf her grandson Vijayaranga Chokkanatha Nayaka, who was just three months old at that time.
Moghul emperor Aurangzeb sent one of his shoes in a procession to all the areas hwere he expected tribute. Though Mangammal’s commander boldly took that shoe and wore it in his foot and demander for the missing shoe, later she accepted his sovereignty and paid tribute. This was done to tackle the local problems such as attacks from Chikka Devaraya of Mysore, Ravi Varma of Travancore, Shaji of Thanjavur and Kizavan Sethupathy of Ramanathapuram.
The Cauvery river dispute came to the fore during her rule. Chikkadevaraya built a dam across the river in Kannambadi. This deprived the irrigation channels in Thanjavur. Mangammal went to war with Chikkdevaraya and before long the dam burst because of heavy rains and floods.
Mangammal was thrown into prison by her grandson’s coteries and she died in a prison. But she occupies an important place in Tamil history for her good work. It is relevant to compare her origin, beauty, intelligence, rule, wars and death with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra.