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Now known for jail and reservoir, Puzhal had a fort 2,500 years ago

Puzhal reservoir. More than 2,000 years ago, Puzhal was the scene of a battle between Kurumbars who ruled Chennai and Cholas

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Media outlets devote much space to Fort St George. But, more than 2,500 years ago, in the Chennai metropolitan region, Kurumba kings built 24 forts in as many divisions and ruled the region, vanquishing other kings.

The Mackenzie manuscripts give us details about the Kurumba kings, their administrative acumen and valour. Some 2,000 years ago, they followed Jain religion. They tended to goats and traded in goat products. Later, King Athondai Chakravarthy brought Vellala peasants and settled them in the region so they could do farming here. Conflicts arose between Vellalars and Kurumbas who differed in religion as well as occupation.

The Mackenzie manuscript notes that the Kurumbas constructed forts and ruled from there. Mention is also made of the special place for Puzhal where the central prison is housed today. The forts housed not just people but also goods. Chettiars from Kaveripoompattinam came to Chennai region and induced kurumbars towards becoming bigger traders. As a result, ship transport got a boost. The forts became trading outposts.

The forts were in Pattipulam near Kelambakkam, Salakuppam, Salapakkam, Meyyur, Cuddalore in Cheyyur, as well as Marakkanam. The Chettiars and Kurumbars conducted business transactions with merchant sailors from the forts.

The irreligious Kurumbars were proselytized into Jain religion by a saint. Jain settlements were built following this. Some of the Jain structures fell into ruin, a few were destroyed by Brahmins, notes Mackenzie manuscript.

Kurumbar diet is similar to today’s Jain food. Their marriage rituals were similar to latter day Jains. Their women would eat asafetida after childbirth and take bath after the fifth day. If someone died, those coming to condole would shave their heads.

The occupation of Kurumbars included rearing goats, trading in goat hair as well as limestone.

The Kurumbars established dynasties and ruled over kingdoms. They fought wars with rivals and defeated them. Though they were forest-based communities, they fought bravely against Pandyas and Cholas and defeated them in battle. Their Puzhal fort was the scene of many battles.

The manuscripts talk of a war between Yathondai Cholan and Kurumbar kings. The Chola king’s army consisted of chariots, horses, elephants and cavalry with which he raided Puzhal fort. The Kurumba army beat them back. The Chola army retreated and camped at a place near Puzhal. That place was called Cholanbedu and the name carries to this day.

The Chola king wanted to go back home. He prayed to his deity and went to sleep. The king had a dream that made him change his plans though.

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