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In memory of a warrior

Khan Sahib's Dargah' hides a revealing story about a remarkable man



CREDULOUS The Dargah that speaks the history of Muhammed Yusuf Khan PHOTO: K. GANESAN

He was born a Hindu, acquired knowledge from a Christian and died as a Muslim and buried at Sammatipuram, Madurai. History has many stories about this remarkable man, popularly known as Khansa, an abbreviation of Khan Sahib. As it is said and believed that the fall of a great man is always great and tragic, so it was with this soldier-cum-warrior and a ruler who was hanged as a rebel.

Birth

Khan Sahib was born at Panaiyur in Ramanthapuram Country to a Hindu couple as Marudhanayagam. He ran away from home and took service under a European for three years. Captain Brunton, an European, helped him to gain knowledge through education following which he served the Nawabs and rose to the level of subedhar. In 1748, he embraced Islam, according to D. Devaraj, postgraduate teacher in Tamil of Pasumalai Boys Higher Secondary School, who has authored 16 books on Madurai's history.

Quoting from the `History of Tamil Nadu' authored by R. Aalalasundaram, Mr. Devaraj said Muhammed Yusuf Khan was a sepoy under Robert Clive and Lawrence and was soon promoted as the commandant by the East India Company given his loyalty.

However, there is apparently a controversy as to whether Yusuf Khan was raised to the level of Commandant in Nawab's army or in the East India Company.

In 1735, Nayak dynasty came to an end when Nawab Muhammed Ali captured Madurai with the help of Col. Heron, who later went on to become the Madurai Governor and collected taxes.

Col. Heron's work was dissatisfactory and he was soon replaced by Muhammed Yusuf Khan. In Mr. Devaraj's opinion, though Yusuf Khan ruled for a brief stint, he was one of the best rulers believing in social harmony. He provided aid to Meenakshi Amman Temple and supported the weaving trade of Sourashtra community.

Yusuf Khan's executive ability is indicated in the report from Colonel Fullarton - dated March 1785 and entitled `A view of the English interests in India' published in Madras in 1867. It says: "In Tinnevelly (now Tirunelveli) and Madura, his whole administration denoted vigour and effect. His justice was unquestioned, his word unalterable; his measures were happily combined and firmly executed, the guilty had no escape from punishment."

Yusuf Khan had the audacity to wage a war against the King of Travancore without the consent of the company. Consequently, he was asked to pay a lease amount of Rs. five lakh to the Nawab. But he refused and joined hands with the French and also hoisted the French flag on the Madura Fort.

When Governor Pigot of Chennai called Khan Sahib for a meeting, he refused evoking the wrath of the East India Company. Captains Monson and Breston waged a battle against Yusuf Khan in 1762 but failed miserably.

Captain Compell hatched a treacherous plot and captured the fort on October 13, 1764. Khan Sahib was hanged on October 16 following an order.

He was ignominiously hanged near the camp about two miles to the west of Madura and his body was buried at Samattipuram. A small square mosque was erected over the tomb that was later known as `Khan Sahib's pallivasal.'

Magic or divine

Even death did not come to him easily. When he was hanged neither the body came down nor the rope went up. He was alive and fell down two times. And finally the besiegers succeeded in the third attempt.

It was believed that Yusuf Khan had a magic golden ball under his arm that saved him from the first two attempts. Others say it was his yoga-training that saved him twice. Few others believed that some divine power was at work, Mr. Devaraj said and added that the dargah in his memory was built in 1808 by Sahiah Imam.

K. Johnny, whose family has been taking care of the dargah for seven generations, said fearing that Yusuf Khan would again come alive, the hangmen chopped his body into four pieces and buried them at various places -- his head in Tiruchi, legs in Periyakulam, hands in Palayamkottai and body in Madurai.

In remembrance of Yusuf Khan, few places are named after him. Like Khan Palayam in Tirunelveli, Kansapuram in Kadayanallur and Mamsapuram in Srivilliputhur. In Madurai, Kansa Mettu Theru was formed when British damaged the palace of Yusuf Khan.

S.S.KAVITHA

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