Many people would know about the story of Rani Padmini/Padmavati who committed Jauhar(self-immolation) in order to save her honor. But few people know about the bravery and never give up spirit of the 16th century Empress who not only challenged authority of the Mughals but Defeated the Muzaffarid dynasty ruler Baz Bahadur , who reigned over the Gujarat Sultanate.
Born in the Chandel dynasty of the Rajput clan Durgavati was the daughter of Keerat Rai, the ruler of Kalinjar(Uttar Pradesh). The Chandel’s were famous for repulsing the invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni. So it’s no surprise the valor and courage of the Indian queen was in her blood. Growing up in Kalinjar she was well versed in Horse riding, Sword Fighting and Archery from a very young age. Various references talk about her hobby of hunting. She always had a zeal of learning and followed her Father in the matters of Politics, Governance and Warfare. However the glorious reign of Chandel’s was declining as they were confined to Kalinjar.
Durgavati was married to Dalpat Shah the eldest son of Gond king Sangram Shah. Gonds were tribe who setlled in Gondwana(Eastern Madhya Pradesh) They ruled 4 kingdoms Garha-Mandala, Deogarh, Chanda and Kherla
Durgavati’s Marriage to Dalpat Shah was an unconventional one as there was rarely marriage alliance between Chandel’s and Gond. Some Sources also suggest a folk tale about a hunting incident where Princess Durgavati killed a lion while piercing her arrow in the Lion’s heart, The Gond Prince Dalpat Shah who himself was hunting in the jungle that day witnessed bravery of the princess and lost his heart her, a marriage proposal was later sent to Keerat Rai who despite reservations for the marriage agreed.
The Chandel’s were in continuous war with the Kalchuri’s near Jabalpur and the Later Delhi Sultans which continued to drain their treasures. The marriage was a would give the Chandel’s new allies with the Gond’s who had considerable wealth and hence the marriage alliance was formed between the two kingdoms. This proved fruitful when Keerat Rai gave Stiff Resistance to Sher Shah Suri who attacked Kalinjar in 1545 C.E. Later Durgavati’s father died and the Mughal emperor Akbar became the emperor on Mahoba and Kalinger.
In 1545 C.E Durgvati gave birth to a son who was named Vir Narayan, however Dalpat Shah passed away in 1550 C.E leaving behind his minor son and Queen. This did not deter the Queen’s Resilience she was not deterred and became the Regent of Gondwana. She made Vir Narayan the new king of the Gonds and took over the Reign of Gondwana. Diwan Beohar Adhar Simha and Minister Man Thakur helped the Rani in looking after the administration successfully and effectively. Rani moved her capital to Chauragarh in place of Singaurgarh. It was a fort of strategic importance situated on the Satpura hill range.
Looking at this opportunity to expand his empire Miyan Bayezid Baz Bahadur Khan the last sultan of Malwa declared war against Gond’s in 1556. This however turned out to be a foolish move by him as his army suffered heavy losses and he had to flee from the battlefield. The Queen hence established herself as the rightful and a powerful person to the throne and gained loads of fame in her kingdom.
Peace remained in her territory for the next 5 years. After his Northern conquest when Akbar The Mughal King turned his attention to Deccan. He defeated the army of Baz Bahadur who fled after the battle. He was aware about the valor and Courage of Rani Durgavati as written in Akbarnama by his court Poet Abul Fazl who states “She was not lacking any of the essentials of bravery and of effort, and did great things by dint of her farseeing abilities. She had great contests with Baz Bahadur (of Malwa) and the Minas (Afghans of Sironj in Malwa) and was always victorious…. She was a good shot with gun and arrow, and continually went hunting. The wealth of Garha-Mandal was so much that they traded in elephant or gold in their market ’’
Knowing the wealth and zeal of the Queen Akbar sent his best General, Khwaja Abdul Majid Asaf Khan, an ambitious man who vanquished Ramchandra, the ruler of Rewa. Prosperity of Rani Durgavati’s state lured him and he invaded Rani’s state.
When Rani heard about the attack by Asaf Khan she decided to defend her kingdom with all her might although her Diwan Beohar Adhar Simha pointed out the strength of Mughal forces. Rani maintained that it was better to die respectfully than to live a disgraceful life she said to her solidier “It is good to die in a good condition rather than live a tarnished life. It is a matter of shame to bow in front of ordinary subedar like Asaf Khan.”
The queen dressed like a soldier’s ascended her horse. Asaf Khan’s senses were seen leaving when he saw the queen leading charge on her horse.The Queen’s soldiers in the battlefield were exuberant and they started cutting their enemies into half. The queen also broke down on the enemy just like the Hindu “Goddess Durga” .
To fight a defensive battle, she went to Narrai, situated between a hilly range on one side and two rivers Gaur and Narmada on the other side. It was an unequal battle with trained soldiers and modern weapons in multitude on one side and a few trained soldiers with old weapons on the other side. Her Faujdar Arjun Das was killed in the battle and Rani decided to lead the defence herself. As the enemy entered the valley, soldiers of Rani attacked them. Both sides lost some men but Rani was victorious in this battle. She chased the Mughals out of the valley The wrath of the queen made Asaf Khan flee and he succeeded in saving his life with great difficulty.
Hearing about the Inflicting loss of the Mughals in the battlefield, a few days later a great number of reinforcement along with big guns and cannons for the battlewere sent. Asaf Khan was again made the general to lay siege. He attacked again The queen was operating the army aboard the elephant. They cut the heads of Mughal artillery. Seeing this, the army of Asaf Khan retreated twice, Asaf Khan was full of shame and gloom and he decided to attack with all his might and lay siege to the fort for the third time to avenge his defeat next day. (It is allegedly said Khan was helped by a treachrous noble of Rani Durgavati.)
At this stage Rani reviewed her strategy with her counselors. She wanted to attack the enemy at night as they had superior weapons, numerical strength and a large cavalry this time. She wanted to enfeeble them but her lieutenants did not accept her suggestion as it was the tradition of the Rajput’s to fight after sunrise and Either to come back victorious or die trying.Therefore the lieutenants refused to compromise the traditional warfare rules just for the sake of victory unlike their Mughal counterpart who often fled away to fight another day.
While few agreed with the Rani’s decision to attack at dawn, Rani rode on her elephant Sarman came for the battle. Her son Vir Narayan also accompanied her in the battle.
They laid havoc on the Mughal army but durthe war Vir Narayan got wounded and had to retire to a safe place along with some nobles. Seeing the condition of her brave son, the queen started throwing swords on her enemies with double thrill, she cut the heads of the enemies and they started to fall on the ground. In the course of battle Rani also got injured badly. She succumbed injury near her ear with an arrow. Another arrow pierced her neck and she lost her consciousness. On regaining consciousness she perceived that defeat was imminent. Her mahout advised her to leave the battlefield but instead of accepting defeat or getting captured by the enemies she took out her dagger and killed herself. After her death her son tried to defend the kingdom from their capital at Chauragarh fort but he too died fighting.
The Kshatriya Veerangana is a source of inspiration to all women. Her courage, zeal to fight for her motherland from invaders continues to thrive. A great example of women power she really defied the odds in the era dominated by the men to inspire to fight for a cause, live and die for honor. Many folklore’s are still sung in Madhya Pradesh in her name She is remembered as the Queen who defied the odds to become immortal in history.
William Sleeman in his Rambles and Recollection of an Indian Official, writes, ‘Her tomb is still to be seen where she fell, in a narrow defile between the hills; and a pair of large rounded stones which stand near are, according to popular belief, her royal drums…. The travellers who pass this solitary spot respectfully place upon the tomb the prettiest specimens they can find of crystals…. Durgawati so inspired me that I could not resist the temptation of adding one to the number when I visited.’
Her martyrdom day (24th June 1564) is even today commemorated as “Balidan Diwas”