The Queens of Pre-independent India were known for their bravery in the face of adversity, their courage to face death, and their intense love and love for their motherland, but these women leaders are long gone and forgotten. They made selfless sacrifices and even gave their lives for their country’s freedom and prosperity.
The Portuguese were the first to colonise the Indian subcontinent, followed by the French, and finally the British. In India, warrior women who ruled or even fought when the need arose are not uncommon. As a result, many queens throughout Indian history have stood up for the right. Here we remember some of them:
1. Rani Laxmi Bai
Manikarnika, also known as Manu, was the name given to Laxmi Bai by her Marathi Brahmin parents. Manu was raised by her father Moropant, a Peshwa Baji Rao II of Bithur employee after her mother died. Moropant is said to have put Manu through rigorous physical training after astrologers assured him that she would fulfil a heroic destiny.
She got the name Laxmi from her husband, Gangadhar Rao, king of Jhansi. She was unable to bear a living son and was soon widowed and became a victim of the vicious Doctrine of Lapse. The queen defied the doctrine by adopting Damodar Rao as her son and ascending to her late husband’s throne.
After the East India Company refused to recognise her adopted son as heir, she revolted. Jhalkari Bai and other mutineers, many of whom were women, joined her in combat. Her uprising was one of the most significant events of 1857 which paved the way for India’s struggle for independence.
2. Begum Hazrat Mahal
Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Oudh, was known for two things: poetry and being forced to abdicate by the British. Because she chose to defy the colonialists, Hazrat Mahal is the most famous of his wives. Born as Muhammadi Khanum she started as a courtesan before being sold to the royal harem and rising the ranks to become one of Wajid Ali Shah’s queens. Because she was both beautiful and cunning, she was given the title Hazrat Mahal. In the courtroom, she quickly rose to prominence.
She rallied her allies and defeated the British at the Battle of Chinhat in 1857, not long after taking over as regent. The British were forced to flee to Lucknow Residency, where they remained for the duration of the siege, which was dubbed the Siege of Lucknow. The British gave her partial control over Oudh’s affairs in exchange for maintaining their suzerainty claim. Hazrat Mahal, who led a group of supporters, including peasants, in a revolt against the East India Company, refused to accept this. In 1859, she was defeated by British forces, and instead of surrendering, she fled to Nepal. She died in 1879 after spending the rest of her life in Nepal, protesting British imperialism.
- Begum Hazrat Mahal
3. Kittur Chenamma
Kitturu Rani Chenamma was born in 1778 in Belgaum, Karnataka, to the Lingayat community. She married Raja Mallasaraja and had a son with him, making her Kittur district’s queen. Unfortunately, the son did not make it. Kittur was taken by paramountcy.
Rani Chenamma had written to the Bombay Presidency’s Lieutenant-Governor Mountstuart Elphinstone, pleading for her adopted son to inherit the throne. The British administration advanced on Kittur in 1824 after her request was denied, but they were met with fierce resistance from the country’s queen. Not only did Rani Chenamma win the war, but she also imprisoned two British officials, who were later released in exchange for a promise not to interfere.
When the British East Indian Company sent more reinforcements to Kittur in 1829, this promise was broken. Rani Chenamma was eventually captured and died in captivity the following year, even though they suffered significant losses.
4. Rani Avanti Bai
Rani Avanti Bai of Ramgarh is frequently compared to Jhansi’s Rani Laxmi Bai. True, their respective life stories have many parallels. Both were not born into royalty and later married kings.
Her husband, King Vikramaditya Singh, was declared insane, and the British declared her two minor sons unfit to inherit the throne. Avanti Bai retaliated by dismissing the British administrator in Ramgarh and assuming regency over the throne. She quickly gathered a four-thousand-strong army by summoning the kings of the surrounding kingdoms.
She fought the British army near Mandla, defeating the commander but not killing him. Enraged by their defeat, the British responded with a massive army, which she valiantly fought. When she realized she was about to lose everything, she committed suicide by falling upon her sword. She refused to reveal the names of her backers even as she drew her final breath.
5. Velu Nachiyar
Velu Nachiyar was born in 1730 as the only daughter of the King of Ramnad in Tamil Nadu. She was the first Indian queen to fight British colonialists. She was raised as a prince, with training in martial arts and weaponry, due to her lack of brothers.
Muthuvaduganathaperiya, the King of Sivagangai, was Velu Nachiyar’s husband and died in the 1772 battle between the British and the French. She fled with her daughter. The queen returned in 1780, accompanied by Hyder Ali, just as things seemed to be looking up for the British. They were escorted by a large army she had amassed during her time in hiding. She’d discovered where the British ammunition was kept and set it on fire with a suicide attack in which her army commander Kuyili set herself on fire in the storage.
On her orders, her adopted daughter Udaiyaal blew up the British arsenal in a suicide attack. She founded a women’s army in honour of Udaiyaal. She persevered despite several setbacks and eventually captured Sivagangai. She then imprisoned Wallajah, who was eventually released to the British in exchange for Sivagangai’s independence. Velu Nachiyar kept her unbeaten record.
6. Bibi Dalair Kaur
During a battle, she defeated Wajir Khan of the Mughal Empire and the Governor of Sirhind.
When Wajir Khan and his army were confronted by Bibi Dalair and her 100 armed women warriors, they broke through the walls of Sirhind fort. Khan is said to have been taken aback by the sight, and in a classic paternalistic power move, he began taunting the women.
Unfortunately, Kaur and her warriors were killed by cannon fire. Regardless, Bibi Dalair Kaur in held in high regard as a martyr and an unquestionable source of feminist inspiration.
7. Rani Abbakka Chowta
The Portuguese were successful in conducting trade in India’s coastal areas during the sixteenth century. Their colonialist motives, on the other hand, became clearer over time, and they gradually began to expand their invasive activities. As they prepared to advance on Ullal, near Mangalore Port in Karnataka, the Portuguese taxed much of the trade along India’s western coast. As a result, they were forced to face Abbakka Chowta.
Rani Abbakka was well aware of the Portuguese threat and attempted to broker a truce at first. She refused to honour the Portuguese administrators in any way. In 1527, the Portuguese attacked Ullal several times, but to no avail. In the end, they were only able to capture it for a short time.
In retaliation, the queen raided the Portuguese camp at night and slaughtered a large number of people. After that, the defeated Portuguese were able to persuade Abbakka’s enraged husband to refuse to assist her.
The Portuguese launched a surprise attack with a large army in Ullal in 1570 after several attempts at treachery failed to defeat the queen. Abbakka Chowta dashed into the fray but was badly hurt. Her daughters carried on her fight against the Portuguese after she died.
8. Onake Obavva
In the midst of one of Ali’s many sieges, Onake triumphed. Ali happened to notice a man entering the fort through a window and decided to send his troops through it.
One’s husband was out for lunch, so he wasn’t patrolling the area. When she went to give water to her husband, she saw Haider Ali’s troops coming. Obavva used her cunning and a pestle to kill the man who was only armed with a pestle—her namesake, Onake in Kannada.
She assassinated the first soldier and hid his body so the other troops would not be aware of her presence. She went on like this until they were all dead. Later that day, she was tragically discovered dead for unknown reasons. Her actions, however, saved Chitradurga Fort from Ali’s army that day, and they continued to do so until Ali’s victory in 1779.
As a “mere guard’s wife” with no combat experience saving an important fort, she has become a symbol of Kannada female pride.
9. Belawadi Mallamma
Belwadi Mallama was the first woman to command a specially trained women’s army to fight the British and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s mighty powerful Maratha army in the 17th century.
Belawadi Mallamma was the wife of Prince Isaprabhu and the daughter of Sode king Madhulinga Nayaka.In a war between her kingdom and the Maratha empire, her husband was killed. To save her kingdom, Mallamma took up the sword and fought alongside her army. She was, however, apprehended.
Chatrapati Sivaji later released her after witnessing her bravery. Belawadi Mallamma, a valiant and brave woman warrior, was discovered by the great Maratha Ruler, who immediately set her free and returned her kingdom.
10. Keladi Chennamma
Rani Chennamma is best known today for defying the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s wrath by sheltering the fugitive Maratha king, Shivaji’s son Rajaram.
Aurangzeb attacked Keladi kingdom under the pretext that Rani Chennamma had given Maharaja Shivaji’s son shelter. Chennamma, on the other hand, was unfazed by the situation. She, too, had no remorse. She made no request for forgiveness. She fought back with the courage of a brave woman. When her enemies were defeated and when they asked for a treaty she was forgiving.
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