Compiled  by London Swaminathan

Uploaded in London on  – 7 JANUARY 2020

Post No.7430

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A lampoon by a contemporary writer Chnna Venkanna, throws some light on Mangamma’s life. According to his account, she was the daughter of  Tupaakula Lingama Nayaka of Chandragiri and a courtesan of  Tiruvellore near  Chennai. Her name was Kanakaa. Beautiful and accomplished young Kanaka  migrated probably in search of a career to the court of Vijararaghava of Thanjavur, where talented women had the opportunity of  rising to prominence. Vijayaraghava was said to have intended to take her in to his harem, but she left Thanjavur for some reason or other and married Chokkanatha Nayaka of  Madurai, whose heart she captured by blandishments. The account, perhaps, distorted one, may contain a kernel of truth.

Mangamma alias Kanaka survived her husband and her son Rangakrishna Muthuveerappa Nayaka, and after the demise of the later in 1689 ruled the kingdom till 1707 as the regent during the minority of her grandson Vijayaranga  Chokkanatha  Nayaka.

The regency of Mangamma was a critical period in the history of  the Nayaka Kingdom of Madurai, which was threatened on one side by the Mughal forces of Aurangzeb and on the other side by the rulers of   Mysore, Thanjavur , Ramanathapuram and Travancore. Mangamma shrewdly decided that the only way of survival was to approve the supremacy of Mughal emperor. She agreed to pay him an annual tribute, and secured the goodwill of his officers and generals by suitable presents and bribes.


Towards her other enemies she adopted a policy of firmness and waged war upon them, on the whole successfully. Occasionally she had to buy off some of them with bribes, but that was only a temporary expedient. Later, when she felt she was strong enough, she overpowered the enemy and exacted compensation.   She had for her counsellor Narasappiah , great in strategy and administration and in private life a skilful player on the Veena (lute).

Mangamma’s name is almost a household name in south Tamil Nadu. There are still in existence numerous avenues  and cholutries, Dharmasalas built by her as well as the lofty piles like those that remain of the Nayaka Palaces within the fort area of Tiruchy.

Mangammal Choultry opposite Madurai railway station served thousands of pilgrims to Madurai and Rameswaram. All these are monuments to the greatness of her rule. Her benefactions to temples and gifts of Agraharams (Brahmin streets) to learned brahmins  were numerous, but she was equally liberal in her endowments to Christian churches and Muslim darghas. The dargah of Baba Nattar Auliya in Thiruchy was specially favoured and received grants of villages.

Manucci has paid a handsome tribute to her benevolence and large hearted tolerance .

Niccalao Manucci (1638- 1717) was an Italian traveller and writer, who spent his life in India during the Mughal period.


There is an interesting account of a social enactment  in her reign. The Saurashtra weavers of Madurai claimed the privilege of observing some ceremonies peculiar to Brahmins (wearing sacred thread etc). Mangamma first opposed the claim, but later sanctioned it.

There are conflicting reports about the end of her reign. According to one account, power was forcibly wrested from her hands and transferred to her grandson, on his coming of age, and the queen perished in prison. Whatever may be the truth Mangamma’s place in history  as a capable, enlightened  and beneficent ruler is unchallengeable

Source – Great Women of India, Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, Almora, Himalayas, year 1953


Cleopatra of Tamil Nadu


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.

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