Thursday, May 30, 2024

Rani Durgavati: The Warrior Queen who Chose Death against Surrender

Sanjana Mahendru

We have all heard about the stories of the great Rajput warrior Maharana Pratap—how he fought fearlessly against the Mughals and led huge battles. But do you know that there was a Rajput Kshatriyani too who fought fiercely against the Mughals long before him? Her name was Rani Durgavati. Rani Durgavati was a multifaceted personality with bravery, wisdom, beauty, and skills. She was a great leader with exceptional administrative and strategic skills.

You may have heard about Rani Lakshmi Bai, Rani Gaidinliu, etc., whose stories are still alive in different folk songs. But today, let us take a look at the story of the Queen of the Gond Dynasty and the great Rajputani warrior, Rani Durgavati.

Rani Durgavati’s Life Before Marriage

Rani Durgavati was born on October 5, 1524, to the family of Chandel emperor Keerat Rai. Because her mother passed away when she was very young, her father took care of her and trained her like a Rajput warrior. From a young age, she became skilled in horse riding, sword fighting, the art of war, cavalry, etc. with immense knowledge and assistance from her father. Rani Durgavati was awed after hearing stories of the Gond ruler “Dalpat Shah” (the son of Sangram Shah) and his exploits over the Mughals. She decided to marry Dalpat Shah, but her guru refused, saying Dalpat Shah was a Gond. She replied, “He might be a Gond by birth, but his deeds make him a Kshatriya.”

They both got married in 1542, and she became the queen of the Gond Dynasty. With this union, the Chandel and Gond dynasties grew closer. Keerat Rai also received assistance from the Gonds and his son-in-law Dalpat Shah, during the Shershah Suri invasion, ultimately resulting in Shershah Suri’s death.

Rani Durgavati Takes the Rein of the Gond Dynasty

Rani Durgavati gave birth to a son in 1545 A.D. and named him Vir Narayan. Unfortunately, Dalpat Shah died in 1550 A.D., and Vir Narayan was too young to rule the kingdom. Therefore, Rani Durgavati took the reins of the Gond Dynasty into her own hands. She received assistance from two ministers, Adhar Kayastha and Man Thakur, who helped her in managing the administration successfully as well as effectively. She immediately shifted her capital from Singaurgarh to Chauragarh (since it was located on a hill range) for strategic reasons and the benefit of the people.

She expanded her trade and realm and successfully accomplished the political union of Gondwana, also known as Garha-Katanga, to honor her husband’s and his ancestors’ last wish. There were 23,000 villages in her kingdom, and her government directly oversaw about 12,000 of them. Her well-equipped army consisted of 20,000 cavalry, 1000 war elephants, and a large pack of soldiers. She set forth a variety of social initiatives in various regions of her kingdom, inspiring her community and winning over their hearts. She also constructed Ranital, a magnificent reservoir close to Jabalpur.

Rani Durgavati and the Defeat of Baz Bahadur

Rani Durgavati decided to distinguish herself as a warrior and she gave a tough fight against against Baz Bahadur, the Sultan of Malwa. Her stories of victory still famous in her area and are celebrated greatly even today.

After Shershah died, Sujat Khan took control of the Malwa region, and his son Baz Bahadur succeeded him in 1556 A.D. He came to attack the Gond Dynasty and fought with Rani Durgavati. But in return for the attack, he was defeated with heavy losses to his army. This brought great silence to Baz Bahadur and fame to Rani Durgavati.

Rani Durgavati and Akbar’s Battle

In the year 1562, Akbar defeated Malwa ruler Baz Bahadur and conquered his region. By doing so, he added another region to his Mughal dominion. Consequently, the state boundary of the Mughal Empire touched the Gond Dynasty, so they decided to conquer it too. An ambitious man, Mughal Subedar Abdul Mazid Khan of Rani’s state, defeated Ramchandra, the ruler of Rewa. Prosperity, abundance, and trade in Rani’s state ignited his greed, and he invaded the state after taking permission from the Mughal Emperor. This was part of Akbar’s strategy to expand and grow.

She went to Narrai, located between the rivers Gaur and Narmada on one side and a hill range on the other, which was the perfect place for her to vanquish her adversaries and lead a defensive battle. As it was an unequal battle, she had trained soldiers with modern weaponry on one side of the combat and a few untrained soldiers with outdated weapons on the other. She took the lead after the Mughals killed her chief, Faujdar Arjun Daswas. Rani assaulted them as soon as they got inside the valley. Both sides lost their soldiers, but Rani was victorious and took them out of the valley.

Choosing Death over Surrender

After that, Rani analyzed her plan of attack and decided to weaken the Mughal army at night, but the lieutenants rejected her suggestion. Asaf Khan arrived with heavy weapons on the battlefield the next morning. Rani Durgavati, on her elephant Sarman, also arrived at the battle. This time, her son Vir Narayan joined the fray as well, warning the Mughals to retreat three times, but they refused. He fought with them fiercely but, at last, got badly wounded and had to go to a safer place.

But Rani Durgavati persisted in fighting right up until the very end. She fell unconscious as a result of an arrow that struck her close to the ear and on the neck during the battle. She realized defeat was imminent after she regained consciousness. She was advised to leave the battleground by her mahout, but instead of doing so or giving up, she pulled out her dagger and killed herself. Even today, “Balidan Diwas” (her martyrdom day, June 24, 1564) is celebrated in honor of commemorating her great sacrifice for the nation.

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