In the past, women were not thought to be equals as men. They were given less importance yet they struggled their way to lead the world. Many names of women emerge who were warriors or queens of considerable worthiness. They were able to bloom like a lotus out of the mud of ignorance. We do celebrate them as their deeds deserve to be sung by each one of us. However, if we just dig a little deeper, we will find legendary women of India who go unnoticed and deprived of credit or importance. Who are these women? why are they worthy? You will get the answers of all such questions right here in this article. Stick around if you are intrigued to know the historic female rulers of India who are underrated.
Unsung Legendary Women From India’s Past
Without much delay, let us know about the unsung legendary women in India and their significant contributions:
Rani Abbakka Chowta
- Rani Abbakka Chowta was the Tuluva Queen of Ullal, Karnataka in the 16th century. It was a matrilineal system where she acceded the throne after his uncle, Thirumala Ray III. Many colonialists like the Portuguese, Dutch and British vied for Ullal as it was strategically advantageous. The prosperous port of Ullal transported spices to Arabic and Western countries and the trade routes were sufficiently favorable.
- With his uncle’s aid, Tirumala Raya was well-trained in military and warfare. She appointed skilled men for various positions across different sects, castes or religions. Also, she forged alliances with local rulers to keep foreign invaders at bay.
- Rani Abbakka Chowta persistently fought against the Portuguese for a span of forty years. For her courageous feats, she is also called “Abhaya Rani” which means “The Fearless Queen”. She is considered the first female freedom fighter of India.
- The Portuguese were making repeated efforts to occupy Ullal. They even asked the Rani to pay tributes and taxes. When she refused, the Portuguese sent troops under Admiral Dom Álvaro da Silveira to occupy the land. They were unsuccessful in their attempts, as the Rani protected her region with all her might. This further strengthened their resolve to occupy Ullal at all costs.
- In their following endeavour, they managed to capture Ullal under the Portuguese general João Peixoto. On the same night Rani Abbakka Chowta who took refuge in a mosque gathered 200 soldiers and launched an attack on their rivals. The war concluded with the general’s death and prisoners taken as captives. In the following attacks, the Portuguese were compelled to vacate the Mangalore fort.
- Her husband Lakshmappa Arasa Bangaraja II, king of Banga principality in Mangalore proved treacherous when he helped the Portuguese in defeating Rani Abbakka Chowta. She continued to revolt despite being jailed. She was one valiant queen who stood as a guard to Ullal against the rivals and continues to be an inspiration for the brave and the righteous.
Rani Velu Nachiyar
- Rani Velu Nachiyar was born in the Ramnad kingdom in 1730 in Ramnathpuram, Tamil Nadu. She was the only child of King Chellamuthu Vijayarangunatha Sethupathi and Queen Sakandhimuthathal. A scholar of her times, and a polyglot of the 18th century era, she was also well-versed in weaponry like sword fighting, archery and various martial arts.
- The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was the first opposition against British rule by Indian troops or Sepoys. Rani Velu Nachiyar was way ahead of the time who was the first Indian Queen to oppose the Britishers.
- By forming an alliance with Hyder Ali and Gopala Nayaker, she waged a war against the Britishers and emerged victorious. She had many supporters that helped her lead the campaign against the British East India Company. They include the feudal lords, Tipu Sultan, the Maruthu brothers, Thandavarayan Pillai and Dalit commanders (Wikipedia).
- When she discovered the place where the East India Company had stored their ammunitions, a suicide attack plan was launched along with her commander, Kuyili to blow up the entire place incurring huge losses to the enemies.
- In the midst, she lost her husband’s kingdom but re-inherited it later and ruled for a decade.
- It was because of her unrelenting efforts to topple the East India Company that she is popularly known as Veeramanagai that means brave women in Tamil. She remains one of the unsung heroes who has not yet found a place in the history textbooks. However, those who know her tale will continue to sing praises and celebrate her highest achievements.
Begum Hazrat Mahal
- The birth name of Begum Hazrat Mahal was Muhammadi Khanum. She assumed the title “Hazrat Mahal” after the birth of her son. Her birthplace was Faizabad, Awadh, India.
- She was sold as a child by her parents and grew up to be a courtesan. After entering the royal harem, she was promoted from the rank of khawasin to become a pari (Mahak pari). Later, she became a concubine to the Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah and was referred as the Begum. She mothered Prince Birjis Qadr who acceded the throne for a short period.
- Her husband, Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta and consequently the Indian rebellion of 1857 took place. She actively participated in overthrowing the British rule during the Indian rebellion. Begum Hazrat Mahal faced the advancing British troops and took control of Lucknow. She is also known as the “Lakshmi Bai of Oudh”(East Coast Daily) for her fierce stance against the Britishers.
- For that purpose, Begum Hazrat served as the regent to her minor son, Birjis Quadr who was enthroned after his father Wajid Ali Shah’s death. She controlled the affairs of the state and played a massive role in revolting against the Britishers.
- Her reign lasted for a brief period from 1857 to 1858.
- In her later years, she retreated to Nepal where she was initially denied asyllum by Jung Bahadur, the Rana Prime Minister and later permitted shelter. She lived for 59 years from 1820 to 1879.
- Although, she is not in the lips of many but she was one of the legendary queens in Indian history.
- Queen Naiki Devi was a regent queen belonging to the Chalukya dynasty. She is considered to be the daughter of the Chandela emperor Paramardi according to a noted historian. She was well-trained in warfare and was skilled in sword fighting, military tactics and diplomacy.
- Following his husband’s death, King Ajaypala, she took charge of her kingdom with the ruler as her son Mularaja II. Since his son was a minor at that time, she became the regent of the state.
- Muhammad Ghori who was the ruler of the Ghurid empire crossed the Thar desert and made his way to Gujarat in 1178 AD (Desh Gujarat) for the purpose of invading the territory as per the chronicler Merutunga. Rani Naiki Devi opposed this vehemently and taking his son in his lap charged at the enemies in the battle. This reminds us of the 19th century Queen Rani Laxmi Bai who fought in a similar way against the Britishers.
- With the aid of the Rajput confederacy or the Chalukyan feudatories such as Jalor Chahamana clan, Naddula Chahamana and Arbuda Paramara clan, she launched an attack on the advancing army in the Battle of Kasahrada. These Rajputs were even turmoiled by the conquests of the Ghurid forces. The confederacy brought together the Chalukyas and the Rajputs that deepened their motives of defeating the rivals.
- Subsequently, with a clever ploy of utilizing the terrain to their advantage, the Ghurid forces under Muhammad Ghori were defeated and forced to retreat to Afghanistan through the desert. Thus, Rani Naiki Devi secured Ahilwara to fall into Ghori’s hands. They were defeated at Gāḍarāraghaṭṭa pass, henceforth Naiki Devi’s son acquired the title of the “vanquisher of the king of Ghazni”.
- Although an unsung female ruler, her persona surely inspires all warriors, particularly women. She didn’t flinch with the death of her husband and instead became vigilant to protect her kingdom at all costs. Muhammad Ghori underestimated the power of a woman and a child but the hero proved him wrong. Truly, Naiki Devi is an exemplary of womanhood that celebrates both love and war.
- Moolmati was a legendary woman not because she was the mother of the revolutionary, Ram Prasad Bismil. She was historic because despite having the pangs and being heartbroken, she sacrificed her two sons for India’s freedom.
- Ram Prasad Bismil established the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association in 1928 along with other revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqulla Khan, Chandrashekhar Azad, Rajguru etc.
- Moolmati stands testimony to the times when not just revolutionaries or freedom fighters contributed for India’s independence but their mothers played significant role that inspired them to struggle for freedom. The quote “The future destiny of the child is the work of a mother” fits right here.
- When Moolmati went to visit his son Ram Prasad Bismil in the jail, he broke down but his mother’s emotions seemed firm and unwavering. Despite the anticipated vacuum in her life, she was proud that her son was a revolutionary and was going to sacrifice his life for his motherland. His son told her that he was in tears because he will not be able to see his beloved mother again. Ram Prasad Bismil was only 30 years old at the time of his death.
- After her eldest son’s death, Moolmati attended a public gathering and sacrificed her other son to India’s freedom struggle. A woman who bore immense pain to give birth to her son has to again bear the tragedy after his death. This sacrificial ability is only the mark of a true hero. Her presence in relation to Ram Prasad Bismil is negligible but she will remain the biggest inspiration for a human heart that knows true sacrifice.
- Panna dai was the nursemaid of Udai Singh II who was the legitimate heir of the throne of Mewar in the 16th century. She belonged to the Rajput family and nurtured Udai Singh and his son Chandan together. Her naam “Panna” refers to the precious gemstone emerald and dai means one who is a second mother to someone else’s son.
- Udai Singh was born to Maharana Sangram Singh. The latter was succeeded by his son Rana Ratan Singh II followed by Vikramaditya Singh (1517-1536). However, Vikramaditya was short-tempered and others had to bear the brunt of his arrogance. On one such occasion, he was placed on palace arrest. The next heir to the throne was Udai Singh but he was a minor.
- As a result, a distant cousin named Banvir was appointed to act as his regent. He considered himself to be the rightful heir despite being the illegitimate son of Udai Singh’s uncle. Therefore, he decided to kill both the heirs Vikramaditya and Udai Singh and claim the throne himself. Panna Dai came to know of the news through a trusted palace aid. She immediately sent Udai Singh out and placed his own sleeping son Chandan in the heir’s bed.
- Banvir marched in and asked for Udai Singh. Panna Dai gestured to the bed which soon became soaked in his son’s blood. Banvir had murdered the child taking him to be Udai Singh. Panna Dai checked her emotions so as not to make the killer suspicious.
- After Banvir established himself on the throne of Mewar, Panna Dai roamed the provinces with Udai Singh to find shelter and protection. At last, Bundelkhand extended support to her. In 1540, Udai Singh went with his troops to dethrone Banvir and regain his position back. The latter was defeated and probably killed or exiled.
- What leaves us agape is the insurmountable sacrifice of the legendary woman- Panna Dai. She was able to do what is next to impossible for the majority. Witnessing your progeny being murdered brutally is a pathetic situation which no one can bear. Emotions are bound to come in the way turning people insane and lament with vigour. Panna Dai maintained her calm although extremely pained to see her son dead.
- To save the king, she made the biggest sacrifice. Surely, she occupies a commendable position among the historic women of India. She is the paragon of loyalty because to save her kingdom and the king, she let her son be a victim of Banvir’s sword. For a greater cause, she let go of something extremely dear to her. She might not be present in the textbooks but one must surely sing praises of her immense fortitude.
Parvati Giri was born on 19 January 1926 in Samlaipadar village, Odisha to Dhananjay Giri. She was a dropout from school in her childhood years but post Independence, she decided to complete her education by enrolling in the Prayag Mahila Vidyapitha in Allababad at the age of 24.
She was rightly called the Mothern Teresa of Western Odisha because of her social service for the people of Odisha. Post independence, she established an orphanage in Paikmal village and dedicated her entire life to social welfare.
An ashram was even part of her plans which was named Kasturba Gandhi Matruniketan (Nrusinghanath). She even started a home for the destitute by constricting Dr. Santra Bal Niketan (Birasingh Gar, Sambalpur District) and dedicated herself for philanthropic causes like jail improvement and leprosy eradication.
Parvati Giri was much enthusiastic about the Freedom Movement in India from a young age. When she was 12 years old, she started campaigning for the Congress. Her interest in the Congress was likely to be kindled from her uncle, Ramchandra Giri who was a Congress leader.
After her father agreed to let her work for the Congress as requested by the Congress members, she actively participated in the process. She even visited Bari Ashram and acquired skills in handicraft and also learned about self-reliance and ahimsa (non-violence). Parvati Giri contributed to the Independence Movement by teaching villagers to spin and weave Khadi.
At the age of 16, she was part of an agitation following the Quit India movement. She had been jailed a number of times for opposing the British rule in numerous ways but this didnt deter her from fighting for the country’s good.
Although she had been released later considering her age. She faced rigorous imprisonment for two years because of her anti-British activities which involved invading the SDO’s office at Bargar. She wanted the laywers of the Bargarh court to boycott the proceedings and consequentially staged an agitation for the purpose.
Thus, she engaged herself not only in political matters but also for the welfare of the poor, downtrodden and the diseased. She led several agitations against the British rule for which she deserves to be termed “legendary”. It was because of her contributions to the welfare of others, that she was awarded a prize in 1984 by the Department of Social Welfare.
If you have made this far, you have probably picked up valuable information about the legendary women of India. You must have realized that they were not simply the female rulers of India who deserve to be sung but also a mother who is the symbol of purity, sacrifice and forbearance. Hopefully, this article aligns with your needs appropriately. If not, know that knowledge never goes waste, particularly when it is shared among others.