Indian school books have long been under scrutiny from eminent historians and political figures for not including the ‘untold’ aspects of the Indian history. The curriculum divides the country’s history into three periods – Ancient, Medieval and Modern.
While the ancient Indian history talks about the Indus Valley Civilization till the glorious age of Emperor Asoka, the Medieval and Modern Indian history focuses more on the Islamic rulers and the British Raj. What it doesn’t account for is the sacrifice the Indian people had made, and the valor Indian rulers showed while protecting their homeland from the Arab, Mongol and Turkish invaders.
Renowned industrialist and philanthropist Sanjay Dalmia condemns the exclusion of heroic tales of Indian rulers and people from children’s school curriculum. According to him, several accounts of unprecedented tales of commoners as well as rulers have been ignored for so long that they have started fading away. One such instance is the history of Vellai Gopuram at Srirangam Temple, Tamil Nadu.
“The history of the Vellai Gopuram at Srirangam temple holds a special place in my heart because it is one of the most inspiring acts of courage I have ever heard about in my life. It makes me proud to be born in this country, a land that has produced such brave and extraordinary women. It’s a pity that only a handful of people know about these incidents today,” says Sanjay Dalmia.
During the 1300s, Malik Kafur, a powerful general of the Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khalji, invaded several parts of South India. He was cruel and targeted the temples for the immense treasures that were kept safe within them.
When Kafur attacked the Srirangam temple in 1311, the local armies were clearly unable to hold him back for a long. While desperate attempts were being made to carry the main idols and treasures away to hide them safely, it became imperative that Malik Kafur’s progress be slowed down for as long as possible.
At that point, about 69 Devadasis, inspired by their leader Vellai Ammal, decided to do something unprecedented. While thousands of litres of oil were flung at the enemy’s army by giant mechanical devices, these women doused themselves in oil, climbed to the top of the Gopuram, immolated themselves and pounced on the invading army, setting them afire.
The extraordinary sacrifice of these women saved thousands of lives, and many invaluable historical documents, artifacts and other treasures, including the main deity that is still worshipped today and would otherwise have been destroyed. Today, more than six centuries since Vellai Ammal’s courageous act, that particular Gopuram at the Srirangam temple is still painted White in her honor.
“The extraordinary sacrifice made by Vellai Ammal is one of the untold stories of Indian history. What shocks me is that the school kids today never get to read such incidents in any of their history books. This is our country’s greatest tragedy: we don’t take pride in our history and the absolute greatness of our nation at all,” says Sanjay Dalmia.
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