Ariyanatha Mudaliar was the Vellala Delavoy (General) and the able Chief Minister of the greatest of the Nayaka domains established by the Vijayanagar viceroy and later ruler of Madurai, Viswanatha Nayak (1529–64). He is renowned as the founder of the quasi-feudal organization of regions called poligar or the palayakkarar system where the regions are divided into palayams (small principalities) and are independently governed by poligars or palayakkarars (petty chiefs).
He organized the Pandyan kingdom into 72 palayams and ruled over the 72 dry-zone poligars chiefs for over fifty years. Ariyanatha Mudaliar was not only the pre-colonial military man but also enjoyed a cult status in southern Tamil Nadu and became a tutelary patron figure amongst some of the region's cattle-keeping predator groups. The feudal chiefs of southern Tamil Nadu continue to be specially attached to his memory to this very day.
The Aiyaram Kaal Mandapam, or Thousand Pillared Hall, in the famous Meenakshi Temple was constructed by him in 1569. At the entrance of the Mandapam, we can still see his statue; the majestic pose of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a beautiful horse-back. His great grand childrens are still around.
Ariyanatha Mudaliar was born in a Vellala family in Meippedu village, Tondaimandalam(the present day Kanchipuram district). He learned Tamil and Mathematics from a teacher for free and in his spare time mastered the ancient Tamil martial art of Silambam and others like sword fight and wrestling. At the age of 16, he was encouraged to go the court of Krishnadevaraya, the king of Vijayanagara. Ariyanatha soon rose to prominence and became the chief accountant of the Vijayanagara empire. When the Vijayanagara empire fell, he became the Delavoy(General) and the second-in command to the Vijayanagara viceroy Viswanatha Nayaka of Madurai.
Rise to power
The process of consolidation of the Tamil region under the Vijayanagara empire started in the beginning of the 16th century. The regions were brought primarily under the control of the Nayaka kingdoms of Madurai, Tanjore and Senji. Though the different Nayaka regions were autonomous, they all acknowledged the sovereignty of the Vijayanagara and its emperor Krishnadevaraya.
During the process of consolidation, Krishnadevaraya dispatched one of his most successful generals, Nagama Nayaka, on a campaign to punish Virasekhara Chola who had plundered the petty Pandyan regions. The Pandyas were under the protection of the Vijayanagara empire. Having put down Virasekhara, the general Nagama Nayak claimed Madurai for himself. Viswanatha Nayak, the son of Nagama Nayak was more loyal to the king Krishnadevaraya than to his father. He overthrew his father and handed him over to Krishnadevaraya and as a reward for his loyalty the king appointed Viswanatha Nayaka as the governor of Madurai and other provinces in the neighboring Tamil country.
Ariyanatha Mudaliar who led Viswantha Nayak's army became second in command and took power along with the latter in Tirunelveli in southern India. Viswantha Nayak was then succeeded by his son Krishnappa Nayak who along with his father's able minister Ariyanatha expanded the Madurai Kingdom under the Nayaks and brought most of the ancient Pandyan territory under its rule.
Palayams or Poligar System
Ariyanatha Mudaliar founded the palayam or poligar system which was widely used to govern the Nayak kingdom during the late 16th centuries. The system was a quasi-fedual organization of the country, which was divided into multiple palayams or small provinces and each palayam was ruled by a palayakkarar or a petty chief. The Madurai Nayak kingdom was accordingly divided into 72 palayams and Ariyanatha ruled over them for over 50 years along with Viswanatha and then with his son Krishnappa Nayak.
According to an inscription from Kiranur, Madurai, we have a record of one Kalahastiyappa Mudaliar, described as Viswanatha Nayak's Prime Minister. He donated the village of Kondaranji Karanur as a free gift to the Brahmins. During the reign of Viswanatha Nayak's successor Chokkanatha Nayaka, we have one Chinnathambi Mudaliyar who is described as the Vassal Pradhani, i.e., the Prime Minister or the Gate keeper to the Nayaka. He is described as the Dalavay or Pradhani for seven years. For example Rahm Emanuel, the former White House Chief of Staff, was also described as the Gate keeper to the Oval Office. Again, an inscription from the Sri Ranganathaswami temple we have one Muthuna Mudaliyar who is described as the Vassal Pradhani of Ramakrishnappa Nayaka.
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- ..for example Rahm Emanuel (Chief of Staff), the Gate Keeper to Obama..