Driving through Mannar in 2010, my aunt pointed out Kudiramalai in the distance and joked that the ruined Allirani Fort was my rightful estate. According to her, Princess Alli had stormed off from her home in Madurai and set up fort in Mannar after having a tantrum with her father, a Pandyan king. The ‘joke’ was hilarious among my relatives as I was notorious in the family for being stubborn and disobedient. I was nonetheless flattered by the comparison; a girl who instead of conforming to authority decided to forge her own life and even her own kingdom – my heroine, no doubt.
The weird thing is someone had actually called me ‘Allirani’ before and I’d heard the name thrown about in various Tamil songs, but this was the first I’d heard of her tale, so of course I went about doing my research about my new-found inspiration. In an awesome case of serendipity, I didn’t find a single mention of Alli having fought with her father. What I found instead was that she was in fact “the indomitable empress of the Tamil folk tradition”, who had protected her father’s kingdom with her “martial prowess, intellect and strength”.
All of this is told in ‘Alliyarasanimalai’ which is a sort of Tamil folk spin-off of the Mahabharatha. As far as feminists go I’m a pretty mellow one, so I guess I wasn’t too keen on Alli’s all female-kingdom, in which men were forbidden and despised, but I was impressed that the concept even existed, especially in Tamil folk tradition. I had discovered our very own Amazonian queen.
I did say this lesson would be quick, so maybe more detailed posts on Queen Alli’s antics will follow later, but I have to say, a Tamil queen that was bold, confident, wise and tough (in a society where being timid, bashful, naive and delicate was virtuous) and one that resisted the romantic advances of many a powerful man is definitely my kind of it-girl, and therefore the perfect namesake for this blog!