Grand entrance of Ramnad palace
The estate of Ramnad included the Hindu holy island city of Rameswaram, from where, legend has it that the Hindu god Rama launched his invasion of Ravana’s Lanka. On the conclusion of the war and Rama’s success in it, he appointed a Sethupathi or “lord of the bridge” to guard the island. The “bridge” referred to here is the legendary Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge which was believed to have been constructed by Rama. The chieftains of Ramnad were entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the bridge, hence the appellation.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, the traditional chieftain of the region who belonged to the Maravar caste and Mallar(pallan) caste was officially recognized as Sethupathi by the Nayak king of Madurai. The chieftain of Ramnad, in return, recognized the sovereignty of the Nayak king over his lands. When the power of the Nayak kings of Madurai began to decline in the late 17th century, the chieftains of Ramnad asserted their independence. In the late 17th century, Raghunatha Kilavan crowned himself king of Ramnad and changed his seat from Pogalur to Ramnad close to the east coast. He erected massive fortifications to protect his capital. In 1725, the king of Tanjore claimed the northern part of the Ramnad kingdom (the Aranthangi region) up to the river Pambar in return for his services during the civil war in Ramnad. A vassal of Ramnad who was amongst the victors in the civil war took over the westerly located Sivaganga region, thereby leaving only three-fifths of the kingdom actually in the hands of the king of Ramnad.
Ramnad participated in the Carnatic wars between the British and the French East India companies. The state came under British influence in the 1790s and the king of Ramnad was deposed in 1795 for misrule. The British, then, made the king’s sister the ruler of Ramnad and deprecated the kingdom to a zamindari by a permanent sanad (grant) in 1803. Since then, until the India’s independence in 1947, Ramnad was ruled by the queen and her descendants.
Raja Bhaskara Sethupathi, who lived in the late 19th century, borrowed large amounts of money from Nagarathar creditors for construction of irrigation works and massive developments projects and for charitable purposes that he soon ran into heavy debt. In 1895, most of the estate was pledged to the creditors who set up a trust for its administration and maintenance. Bhaskara Sethupathi’s successors actively supported the Justice Party. Shanmugha Rajeswara Sethupathi was an active supporter of the Justice Party and promoted the Self-Respect Movement.
The estate was subdivided into five zamindari tehsils: Ramnad, Tiruvadanai, Paramakudi, Tiruchuli and Mudukulathur. The administration was based in the town of Ramanathapuram in Ramnad tehsil. Ramanathapuram, Kilakkarai, Paramakudi, Rameswaram, Mandapam and Pamban were some of the important towns in the estate.
List of Sethupathis
Chieftains under the Madurai Nayaks
Sadasiva Thevar Sethupathi (1590-1621)
Kootan Sethupathi (1621-1637)
Dalavai Sethupathi (1637-1659)
Raghunatha Sethupathi (1659-1670)
Raghunatha Kilavan (1670–1708)
Vijaya Raghunatha Sethupathi I (1708–1723)
Sundaresvara Raghunatha Sethupathi (1723-1724)
Bhavani Shankar (1724-1728)
Kumara Muthu Vijaya Raghunatha Sethupathi (1728-1734)
Muthukumara Raghunatha Sethupathi (1734-1747)
Rakka Thevar (1747-1748)
Vijaya Raghunatha Sethupathi II (1748-1760)
Muthuramalinga Sethupathi I (1760-1794)
Ruler of princely state under the paramountcy of the British Raj
Mangaleswari Nachiyar (1795-1803)
Mangaleswari Nachiyar (1803-1807)
Annaswami Sethupathi (1807-1820)
Ramaswami Sethupathi (1820-1830)
Muthu Chella Thevar Sethupathi (1830-1846)
Parvatha Vardhani Ammal Nachchiyar (1846–1862)
Muthuramalinga Sethupathi II (1862–1873)
Court of Wards (1873–1889)
Bhaskara Sethupathy (1889–1903)
Raja Rajeswara Sethupathi (1903–1929)
Shanmugha Rajeswara Sethupathi (1929–1967)
Ramanatha Sethupathi (1967–1979)
Rajeswari Nachiyar (1979-)