The festival of Navaratri has begun and Devi Shakti is being propitiated as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi for nine days and nights. Prayers are offered to her, seeking power, wealth and knowledge. The story of the origin of Navaratri is already available here and you may click to read the same.
This time, I thought it apt to narrate the story of a powerful, valiant, wealthy and intelligent queen who ruled in Bharat in the 16th century and how she bravely fought with the Moghul invaders and chose death to defeat at the hands of the Moghuls. She is none other than Maharani Durgavathi – who is also referred to as Rana Chandi – meaning, as fierce as Durga in battlefield.
Durgavathi was born on October 5, 1524 to the Chandela Rajput king Keerat Rai. Keerat Rai was ruling the Bundelkhand region from Kalinjar in present Madhya Pradesh. Theirs was the dynasty of Raja Vidyadhara who had repulsed Mohamed Ghazni twice in the 11th century. Durgavathi grew up listening to such tales of valour and bravery which naturally kindled the spirit of bravery in her.
Durgavathi had lost her mother at an early age and so her father took extra efforts in bringing her up without any shortcoming. She displayed a natural affinity to weaponry, riding and allied activities at a very early age and was ably trained by her father in martial arts and warfare. It is said that once a lone lion had strayed into the city and was terrorising the people and when none of the warriors could either tame or kill it, Durgavathi went alone with her weapons, found and killed the lion single-handedly leaving everyone awestruck.
At the age of 18, Durgavathi married the prince Dalpat Sah of Garha Mandla kingdom of Gondwana. Dalpat Sah’s father Sangram Sah was famous for having conquered vast territories upto the Narmada valley. Dalpat Sah who was his eldest son, was an equally famous warrior who had checked the entry of the Mughals to the southern part of Bharat. This alliance due to the wedding of Rani Durgavathi, between the Gond and Chandela rulers, helped the Chandela king in killing Sher Shah Suri (the Afghan king who had started the Suri dynasty in India). This was at Kalinjar in 1545 CE.
Durgavathi and Dalpat Sah had a son Vir Narayan in 1545 and when the child was five years old, Dalpat Sah died suddenly leaving behind a distraught Durgavathi. But being a courageous woman, she gathered herself and since Vir Narayan was only five years old, she ruled the kingdom on his behalf in a very efficient manner. She was valiant, intelligent and beautiful. Ably assisted by her ministers Adhar Kayastha and Man Thakur, she ruled very efficiently. She was an extremely astute ruler and so she shifted her capital from Singaurgarh Fort to Chauragarh Fort which was 290 kilometres away near Panchmarhi of Madhya Pradesh. Chauragarh fort was at a strategic position in the Satpura range and from here she ruled her kingdom. Maharani Durgavathi kept expanding her territories and earning a lot of wealth.
The wealth was used by the Maharani to patronise educational institutions and scholars and encourage art and architecture (which was no surprise, as the Chandela Dynasty in which she was born had built the temples at Khajuraho). She had many tanks and reservoirs built in her kingdom, of which Ranital near Jabalpur is well known. Efficient water management all through the year led to abundance through agriculture which led to overall prosperity. The Rani took very good care of her subjects. It is said that she also maintained a fairly big army with 20000 cavalry, 1000 elephants and numerous foot soldiers and she took good care of them all like a mother and so all of them were ready to give up their life for her sake.
The news of a kingdom flourishing with happiness and prosperity under the leadership of a Hindu queen was bound to raise eyebrows and the surrounding kingdoms with Islamic leadership were keenly waiting for an opportunity to attack the kingdom of Gondwana. The last Sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur launched an attack on Rani Durgavathi first in 1556 CE. Malwa was bordering the territory of Gondwana. His army faced a crushing defeat at the hands of Maharani Durgavathi that he never dared to attack again.
However Akbar defeated Baz Bahadur in 1562 and drove him out of Malwa and therefore now the Mughals had touched the border of Gondwana. The other neighbour of Gondwana namely Rewa had already been attacked and occupied by another Subedar of Akbar by name Khwaja Abdal Majid Asaf Khan. Asaf Khan was enamoured by the prosperity and wealth of the neighbouring Gondwana and after taking permission from Akbar attacked the kingdom of Maharani Durgavathi in June 1564.
The Maharani came to know of the attack. Though her minister Adhar Kayastha was reluctant on their fighting back and pointed out that the Mughal army was much larger in size with better weapons it did not deter the Maharani in any way. “It is better to die with valour than to surrender with disgrace” said she and went to fight the battle from Narrai near Jabalpur. Since she knew the terrain of her kingdom very well she chose this place strategically. Narrai was located between a hilly range on one side and the Narmada and Gaur Rivers on another. Though her army did not possess modern weapons like that of the enemy, the Maharani and her commandant Arjun Das, along with their army fought very valiantly. Arjun Das was killed in the battle and Maharani took the lead and led her army to victory, successfully driving away Asaf Khan and his men.
Elated with the victory, Maharani was keen to continue the war through the night so that the enemy could be totally annihilated. But her counsellors advised her to the contrary and this proved to be a big mistake. That one night was enough for Asaf Khan to smuggle in heavier weapons and artillery. The war started the next day with the Maharani riding on her elephant Sarman accompanied by her son, Prince Vir Narayan. The prince who was a teenager by now fought mercilessly and made the Moghuls retreat three times. But finally he was wounded seriously. Seeing that her son was very badly injured, the Maharani told him to ride back to Chauragarh fort and he left the battlefield.
Now it was the Maharani alone leading her army. It is understood that Asaf Khan wanted to capture the Maharani alive and despite her valiant fight, she was wounded with an arrow through her jaw near the ear and one on her neck and she lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness she realised that it was imminent that she would be defeated. Her mahout advised her to leave the battlefield but she was sure she would be captured alive. She preferred death to surrender and immediately stabbed herself with her dagger and gave up her life. She was forty years old when she died.
Asaf Khan chased Vir Narayan who put up brave and stiff resistance from inside the Chauragarh fort for a few days but Asaf Khan finally managed to kill him. However, before Asaf Khan could enter the fort and seize the ladies, all the ladies committed ‘Jauhar’ (Voluntarily giving up the life by falling into fire) inside the fort. The priceless treasures found by Asaf Khan in Chauragarh was an evidence of the prosperity of Maharani Durgavathi’s kingdom. These facts are recorded in history by Akbar’s historian Abul Fazl.
Maharani Durgavathi’s fame still lives on and her martyrdom day is celebrated as ‘Balidan Diwas’. The Jabalpur University has been named after her and let us all be proud to have had such a queen, a daughter of Bharat who was a real ‘Shakthi’.
Wishing all of you a very Happy Navarathri!!