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DURGAVATI (1524-1564)

Durgavati, a queen of the Gonds in what is now the state of Madhya Pradesh), defended her kingdom from an attack by Baz Bahadur of Malwa as well as the onrush of Mughal imperialism. Abul Fazl describes her with these words: ‘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….’

Daughter of a Chandel Rajput ruler of Mahoba, Rani Durgavati was the Regent of Gondwana in the sixteenth century as her son Bir-Narayan was a minor when he ascended the throne. In 1564 Akbar ordered Asaf Khan to subdue Gondwana, but Rani Durgavati refused to accept Mughal suzerainty. She led the charge, and so inspired the soldiers with her example that her army inflicted two defeats on the Mughal invaders. She wanted to complete their rout by attacking them by night, but her men would not consent. When fighting resumed the next day her son was seriously wounded. At this her army scattered; but she fought on until two arrows pierced her. She was overwhelmed but refused to flee, instead stabbing herself to prevent her capture by the enemy.

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.’

Piyashi Roychoudhury
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