January 3 is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Velu Nachiyar, the 18th century queen from Sivagangai district of Tamil Nadu who fought against the British and recaptured her kingdom. She is widely known as the first queen to put up a resistance against the colonial power, even before the Rani of Jhansi.
Velu Nachiyar was born in Ramnad to the royal couple Mannar Sellamuthu Sethupathy and Sakandhimuthal in 1730 AD. Velu Nachiyar did not have any brothers and she was brought up like a prince, trained in martial arts, horse riding, archery and handling different weapons. She was also educated in many languages including English, French and Urdu.
When Velu Nachiyar was 16, she married Sivagangai Mannar Muthuvaduganathur. The couple had a daughter named Vellachi. In 1772, the Nawab of Arcot and the British troops belonging to the East India Company united and invaded Sivagangai. They killed Muthuvadugananthur in a battle known as the Kalaiyar Koil war.
Velu Nachiyar and Vellachi escaped and lived in Dindugal with the help of the Maruthu brothers of Sivagangai and some other powerful friends. In the years that Velu Nachiyar spent in Dindugal, she formed alliances and plotted her revenge against the British.
In 1780, she led the charge against her enemies with an army she had built along with the help of Sultan Hyder Ali of Mysore. She is also credited to have been the first person to use a human bomb - Kuyili, her loyal follower (and some say adoptive daughter), doused herself in oil/ghee and set herself aflame to blow up the ammunition of the British.
Velu Nachiyar was successful in recapturing her kingdom and became the queen of Sivagangai once again. In her reign, she formed a women's only army called Udaiyaal in memory of (another) her adoptive daughter who died in the battle against the British. Velu Nachiyar ruled Sivagangai for more than 10 years before she died of an illness in 1796.
On July 18, 2014, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa inaugurated the Veeramangai Velu Nachiyar Memorial in Sivagangai and also declared that January 3 will be celebrated every year as her birth anniversary.