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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rani Durgawati - "Better to die with glory, than to live with ignominy .. Either i will conquer or i will die" .. With Portraits from Akbarnama and pictures related to Rani Durgavati

Her name is now more revered than that of any other sovereign this land has ever had. She was killed above 250 years ago, about 12 miles from Jabalpur, while gallantly leading on her troops in their third and last attempt to stem the torrent of Muhammadan invasion.

Her tomb is still to be seen where she fell, in a narrow defile between two hills ; and a pair of large rounded stones** which stand near are, according to popular belief, her royal drums turned into stone, which, in the dead of night, are still heard resounding through the woods, and calling the spirits of her warriors from their thousand graves around her.

The travellers who pass this solitary spot respectfully place upon the tomb the prettiest specimen they can find of the crystals which abound in the neighbourhood ; and, with so much of kindly feeling had the history of Durgavati inspired me, that I could not resist the temptation of adding one to the number when I visited her tomb some sixteen years ago. 

-- Homage to Rani Durgawati
By Sir Williams, December 1835
Major General, British Bengal Army Regiment
Honored 'Knight of the Order of the Bath' by the British Crown

** - Picture and information about this famous pair of rocks is present at the end of this post.

Married at 18.
A mother at 19.
A widow at 24.
A glorious death at 40.


In her magnificent rule of 16 years, Rani Durgawati achieved all that a woman could desire in that medieval age and reached the zenith of her popularity, which continues to this day. Her rule in Gondwana* became synonymous with justice, tolerance, beneficence and patriotism. She was an extremely beautiful woman, a heroic Rajputni, a benevolent queen, and an able administrator. 

She led her armies personally, and was equally adept at riding a horse or an elephant as her war vehicle. The forces of Gondwana always emerged spectacularly victorious against the superior forces of the Surs of Delhi, Baz Bahadur of Malwa, the Afghans of Bengal, and several adversaries of the Deccan. 

She did not lose even 1 of the 51 wars she fought in her reign of 16 years, and she treated the defeated enemy with generosity, at times bestowing upon them rich gifts and rewards - keeping with the tradition of Rajputs.

Her last battle was against "a team of 7 generals" of Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1564. Her battle cry against the Mughal forces underscores her indomitable courage and her willingness to even sacrifice her life for the sake of the independence and self-respect of her homeland:

"~..Better to die with glory, than live with ignominy..~ "

Statue of Rani Durgawati with bow and arrow, at her Samadhi

* - Gondwana is in present-day Madhya Pradesh state of India. During the 16th century, it was a part of Rajputana. The size of her state : east-west 250 miles; north-south 120 miles. She ruled a huge territory. According to Abu'l Fazl - " The east part of this country adjoins Ratan­pur, which belongs to Jharkhand, and the west is contiguous to Raisin, which belongs to the province of Malwa in Gujarat. Its length may be 150 koss. On the north is the country of Pannah, and on the south the Deccan. Its width may be 80 koss. The country is called Gadha Katanga. It is an extensive tract and is full of forts, and contains populous cities and towns, so that truthful narrators have stated that Gadha Katanga contained 70,000 inhabited villages. Among these, Gadha is a large city whilst Katanga is a village. The country has become known by this double name. The capital is the fortress of Chauragarh."

Extent of Rani Durgawati's kingdom of Gondwana .. Scan from Akbarnama

Ruins of the Madan Mahal Fort at Jabalpur...Used as a Watch Tower by Rani Durgawati. The fort is an excellent piece of architecture. Judicious use of natural rocks and basaltic stones renders  strength to the structure. This portrait is from India(1884) - Earth and Inhabitants.

Her Personality: 
An Accomplished Warrior - An Able & Tolerant Administrator - Patron of Arts

When clad in full armour she rode on to the battle field, the enemy often fled before a shot was fired. To her people, she became a symbol, a cause for which they were prepared to shed the last drop of their blood. According to Abu'l Fazl, she was a good shot with both gun and arrow and enjoyed hunting animals with her gun.

Here lay the secret of her power and popularity. The Gonds, an unsophisticated tribe who formed the natives of her kingdom, proud of their bow-and-arrow culture, adored her. Everyone of their 70,000 inhabited villages was at once a bastion of defence and a cog in a hard-hitting war machine. In her prime, she had at her beck and call an army of nearly 70,000 men and 2,500 elephants. The support which the Gonds gave to Rani Durgawati was very similar to what the Bhil tribals of the Aravalli Hills gave to Maharana Pratap later on.

She was great not only in war, but in peace as well. Efficient control and management of production in 23,000 cultivated villages gave the little kingdom self-sufficiency in food and other essential items. Durgawati knew the headman of every village by name. She made it a point to personally look into the grievances of her subjects and give redress, where possible, on the spot. The old and the young virtually worshipped her as a goddess of justice, and frequently made visits to the capital fortress of Chauragarh to steal a glimpse of their Maharani.

Rani Durgawati's administration...Scan from Akbarnama

Statue of Bir Narayan, son of Rani Durgawati

Early Life, Lineage and Marriage:

She was born in 1524 in the Kalinjar Fort of Banda, in present-day Uttar Pradesh, to the Chandel Rajput*** ruler Raja Salbhan of Rahatgarh / Mahoba in Bundelkhand, who traced his lineage to the "Maharaja of Maharajas" who ruled over Central India in the beginning of the 8th century. The 16th-century wars against Baz Bahadur and other rulers in the region weakened Raja Salbhan's authority and drained his coffers. 

In desperation, he sought an alliance with Raja Aman Das, who possessed neither fabulous riches nor the 'expensive' traditions of a Hindu royal house. The only virtues Raja Aman Das possessed were his self-respect and his word of honour. Circumstances compelled him to marry his daughter in marriage to the Gond prince Dalpat Rai. She was married in 1542 to Raja Dalpat of Gondwana. The couple was blessed with a son in 1543 and named Bir Narayan. Bir Narayan was just five years old when his father died in 1548.

Here was a marriage rooted in the compulsions of penury. Mindful of her obligations, Durgawati applied herself to strengthening the economy and military power of Gondwana, and in the process, won the respect and admiration of her people. 

The following is a folkLore about Rani Durgawati and Raja Dalpat Rai. People believed theirs was a combination, which matched Lord Ram and his consort Sita, thereby bringing immense prosperity to the kingdom of Gondwana.

" Kunwar Kunwarni Kal Bhanwari dehi , Nayan labhu sab saadar lehi
Jai na barni manohar jodi, jo upma kacchhu kaha so thori.!!

Ram-Siya sunder prati chaahi, Jagmag maani khamban mahi
Manhu madan rati dhari bahu rupa, dekhat Ram bhiyahu anupa..!!

Her father-in-law died in 1541. Her husband ruled for just 7 years and died soon after. At the young age of 24, Durgawati was left alone to handle the vast kingdom, and her 5 year old son. By the time her husband died in 1548, she had earned so much respect that the ministers themselves called upon her to don the mantle of regent and assume responsibility on behalf of her son to maintain the independence of the kingdom. On reaching maturity, Bir Narayan left the reins of government in the hands of his popular mother and served under her.

*** - Some interesting details about Chandel Rajputs are given at the end of this post. 

Madan Mahal, the palace of Rani Durgawati in Jabalpur. The architecturally well-designed rooms in front of the main structure probably lodged the military troops of the rulers who stayed here. The maintenance and protection of this historic monument has been undertaken by Archaeological Survey of India. This is an 1865 photograph by G.W. Laurie.

Her Qualities and Prowess Impress Akbar:

The ancestors of Raja Dalpat Rai had ruled over Gadha-Katanga since the 12th century without a break. They were not among the richest, but, "were fiercely 'patriotic', and considered the independence of their land as a gift of God to be preserved at any cost". Durgawati identified herself with their aspirations and, during the 16 years of her rule as regent,  carved out for herself an everlasting place in the history of the kingdom.

The stories of Durgawati's heroism and dauntless courage, especially in her wars against Baz Bahadur, aroused Akbar's curiosity. Not only did she repeatedly defeat Baz Bahadur in the west, but she was also able to inflict crushing defeats on the dreaded Afghans of Bengal in the east. It should be noted that even the famous and experienced general of Akbar, Munim Khan, and a team of 12 generals were not able to subjugate the Afghans in 1575. Later, Akbar had to personally march along with re-inforcements. 

Akbar was impressed. He wanted to meet her — not as an equal but in the capacity of an overlord and bestow upon her the honours and gifts her status warranted. He wanted her to accept Mughal suzerainty and serve the Mughal Empire. To that end, he sent emissaries to Chauragarh, but to no avail. Durgawati refused to acknowledge Mughal suzerainty, much less travel to Agra to pay homage to the Mughal Emperor. 

Durgawati's Refusal to Accept Mughal Suzerainty Infuriates Akbar:

Akbar was infuriated. He ordered one of his foremost & favorite generals, Asaf Khan, to mount an invasion on Gondwana and bring the Rani, alive rather than dead, to his court. Asaf Khan served in other important campaigns also, like the 3rd Siege of Chittor. He remained in high favour of Akbar till 1576, when he suffered a reverses in the Haldighati campaign agiainst Maharana Pratap. Akbar, in anger, debarred Asaf Khan along with Raja Man Singh from the Mughal court after the Haldighati battle. Let us reserve this story for another day.

Abu'l Fazl's Praise of Rani Durgawati in Akbarnama:
Abu'l Fazl writes in the Akbarnama 

The sover­eignty of that country had come to a woman named Durgavati, who was generally known as the Rani. She was distinguished for courage, counsel and munificence, and by virtue of these elect qualities she had brought the whole of that country under her sway. I have heard from experienced men who had been there that 23,000 cultivated villages were in her possession, and that in 12,000 of these she had resident governors. The remainder were subordinate to her, and their headmen were under her control. She was the daughter of Raja Salbahan of Ratanpur and Mahoba, who was a Chandel Rajput by caste.

Rani Durgavati in concurrence with her loyal ministers Adhar Kayath and Man Brahman gave her son the title of Raja and exercised the real authority herself. She neglected no point of courage or capacity, and did great things by dint of her far-seeing abilities. She fought wars and had great contests with Baz Bahadur and the Mianas, and was always victorious. She had 20,000 good cavalry with her in her battles, and 1000 famous elephants. The treasures equivalent of many of the Rajas were in her hands. 

She was a good shot with gun and arrow, and continually went a hunting, and shot animals of the chase with her gun. It was her custom that whenever she heard that a tiger had made his appearance, she did not drink water till she had shot him. There are stories current in Hindustan of her feasts and her frays. 

Account of Rani Durgawati from Akbarnama

Ruins of the Madan Mahal Fort at Jabalpur

Unprovoked Mughal Attack on Rani Durgawati..
To Fight 1 Rani, 7 Generals are sent, including the favorite Asaf Khan:

The Mughal attack on Rani Durgavati was unprovoked, but Abu'l Fazl gives a futile reason for the attack: " The Rani had one great fault, to wit, she, owing to a crowd of flatterers, became proud of her outward success, and did not submit herself at the threshold of the Shahinshah. "

Akbar knew defeating Rani Durgawati was not an easy task. Hence, he sent 6 other major commanders along with Asaf Khan to fight her. Abu'l Fazl gives the names of those 6 Mughal generals :

1. Muib Ali Khan,
2. Muammad Murad Khan,
3. Wazir Khan,
4. Babai Qaqshal,
5. Nasir Bahadur,
6. Aq Muhammed,

The other adversaries of the Rani whom she had defeated earlier were also included in their train. Now all the enemies of Rani Durgavati had joined hands. 

Badayuni's Twist to the Tale..
A Different Reason for the Attack on Rani Durgawati ??

Badayuni gives a slightly different reason for Asaf Khan's attack on Rani Durgawati: 

Rani Durgawati,  by name, was a lady of great loveliness and grace, and in the prime of her beauty, who held the government of the place.

Asaf Khan marched against the district of Gadha-Katanga. This district at that time contained 70,000 inhabited villages, and its metropolis was the fortress of Chauragarh. It is 70 miles west of Jabalpur.

The picture shows Rani Durgavati. She holds a flower in her left hand. An inscription is written at the top of the painting. The picture is present in the Government Museum, Chennai.


A Chauvinist Asaf Khan Resolves to Humiliate Rani Durgawati:

Unlike Akbar, Asaf Khan was narrow-minded in both thought and application. He set out not to subdue Rani Durgawati through tact and persuasion, but to humiliate her on the battlefield. Asaf Khan was the Mughal governor of the neighbouring area of Karra Manikpur, near modern-day city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh state of India.

A "woman" ruling over such a vast territory in "that medieval age" was an impediment to the unquestioned supremacy of a "man".

The numerical superiority of his forces blinded him to the role of diplomacy, and he went headlong, in command of a massive force of men, horses and elephants, to drub Rani Durgawati into submission. But Asaf Khan, had not yet tasted the mettle Rani Durgawati was made of.

This painting from Akbarnama shows Asaf Khan leading the Mughal forces in 1564 against Rani Durgavati, the ruler of the Gond Kingdom of Middle India. 
The female ruler of Gondwana fell to the Mughal forces after a fiercely contested battle, leading even her enemies to admire her extraordinary bravery.

Account of Gondwana's Plunder by Asaf Khan from the Akbarnama:

Asaf Khan did not directly attack the Rani. He started by trying to purchase her soldiers and officers, and by looting and plundering the borders of her kingdom. However, the vigilant Rani came to know of this and punished the ones who were involved in this act of treason. 

Writes Abu'l Fazl -

When Asaf Khan was near at hand, he kept open the gates of friendship and intimacy and sent spies and experienced traders into her country and made investigations about her revenue and her expenditure. When he knew the truth about her abundant collections of treasure, and her hidden stores, the desire of lordship over the country entered his mind, and he longed to "embrace the bride of the territories". 

He began with coquetry and toying, and "put out his hand to touch the down and the mole of the beauty of Gondwana", i.e., he began by attacking and plundering the villages and hamlets on the borders.

At length, he in this year by the orders of the Shahinshah, collected 10,000 cavalry and abundant infantry and girded up the loins of endeavour for the conquest of Gaḍha. Muib Ali Khan, Muammad Murad Khan, Wazir Khan, Babai Qaqshal, Nasir Bahadur, Aq Muhammed, and a large number of holders of fiefs in that quarter accompanied him in accordance with the royal order.

Account of initial combat of Rani Durgwati and Mughal Forces

Account of the Initial Combat from the Akbarnama:
Rani Durgawati was not only a distinguished warrior with guns, sword, and bow and arrow, but also an administrator with a brilliant mind and sound warfare tactics. She knew how, when and where to engage the enemy in attack and nullify the strength of its superiority. Despite having a small number of soldiers in comparison with the Mughals, she did not lose heart.

Abu'l Fazl's account, though full of high praise for the Mughal army, does provide a glimpse of the Rani's understanding of military tactics. He writes -

When the news arrived that the victorious royal army {the Mughal army} had reached Damoh, which is one of the important cities of the country - a stone of dispersal fell into the midst of her pride, and her soldiers scattered in order to defend their families. 

Not more than 500 men remained with her. As soon as she heard of the event, the Rani in her courage proceeded towards the victorious army and, with the rashness which outruns arrogance, went forward to welcome a battle. 

Adhar, who had charge of her administration, spoke to her like a well-wisher of dominion and unfolded the circum­stances of the desertion of the soldiers and of the largeness of the royal army. The Rani replied that the desertion was due to his stupidity, and asked how she, who had for years governed the country, could resolve upon flight? 

She said - " It was better to die with glory than to live with ignominy. If the just king {Akbar} were here in person, it would have been proper for her to wait upon him. What did that fellow Asaf Khan know of her rank? It was altogether best that she should die bravely.

Death of Arjun Das and Entry of Rani Durgawati in the War

Rani Durgawati: "Either I Would Conquer or I Would Fall."

She advanced four stages towards the victorious army. Asaf Khan, who was marching rapidly, halted in Damoh. The Rani had collected 2000 men. Her officers unani­mously said that it was noble to determine upon war, but that it was not in accordance with courage and prudence to let fall the thread of deliberation. It was proper to stay in some secure place and to await the reassembling of their forces. 

When the Rani heard these words, she moved towards the forest west of Gadha. She then came into another forest north of Gadha, and wandered about slowly in those deserts. At last she came to Narhi which is east of Gadha. It is a place very difficult for ingress or egress. On four sides there are sky-high mountains, and there is a river in front called Gaur. On another side is the furious river, the Narmada. The ravine formed by the passage of the river and by which access is attained to the village is very narrow and awful. 

Asaf khan, who, on hearing that the Rani was approaching, had halted at Damoh, completely lost news of her, and though he sent out persons to make inquiries, yet, as the country was of an extraordinary nature, he could get no information. At last, he advanced in person to Gadha and proceeded to bring the villages and hamlets into subjection. When he got news of the Rani, he left a force in Gadha and hastened after the Rani. 

When the Rani heard of the army's approach, she called together her officers and held a council. She said that if they thought of going to some other place till her forces were collected, it would be proper to go there, but that her own inclination was to fight. How long was she to shelter herself among trees? Whoever liked to go might do so. They had leave. There was no third issue to her warfare. 

She made it clear - "Either she would fall or she would conquer". At last all her men — there were about 5,000 collected — set their hearts on fighting. 

Next day the news came that Nasir Muhammad, Aq Muhammad and a large force of gallant men had taken by force the head of the ravine which was the road of access, and that Arjun Das, who was the faujdar of the elephants (i.e., Rani Durgavati's commander), had bravely lost his life there.  

Ruins of Singauragarh. It was here that the initial battle was fought between the Mughal forces and the general of Rani Durgawati - Arjun Das.

On Rani Durgawati's Call, Gondwana Rises as One Man Against the Mughals :

We saw how, in a short span, Rani Durgawati was successful in gathering and raising her forces from 500 to 2000 to 5000, solely on the basis of her personal confidence and her undying spirit of resistance to the Mughal aggression. Gondwana rose as one man to meet the aggression. Rani Durgawati's soulful exhortations in the name of self-respect and justice brought tears to the eyes of her listeners, and they all swore to defend the 'matra-bhoomi' (motherland) with every resource at their disposal. 

Her commander Arjun Das fell fighting with a much larger force of Nasir Muhammad and Aq Muhammed. Now, the battle began between the Rani and Asaf Khan. The first day of the battle belonged completely to the Rani. Asaf Khan was routed despite his much larger army.  

The Rani Enters the Battle

Abu'l Fazl's account of the initial engagement of the rival forces (near Jabalpur), from the Akbarnama, makes for a very interesting reading -

The Rani put armour on her breast and a helmet on her head and mounting her stead slowly advanced to encounter the heroes who were eager for battle. She said to her soldiers : "Do not hasten, let the enemy enter the pass and then we shall fall upon them from all sides and drive them off." It turned out as she anticipated, and there was a great fight. Many on both sides fell to the dust, and 300 Mughals quaffed the wholesome draught of martyrdom. The Rani was victorious and pursued the fugitives, and emerged from the ravine. At the end of the day, she summoned her chief men and asked what they advised. Each man spoke according to his understanding and courage. 

Statue of Rani Durgawati in Traditional War Armour with Sword and Shield, Madya Pradesh

A 'Himalayan Tactical Blunder'* Jeopardizes the Future of Gondwana

The Rani said we ought to make an attack this night, and finish off the enemy. Otherwise Asaf Khan will come in the morning in person and take possession of the pass, and will fortify it with artillery. The task which is now easy will become difficult. No one agreed to this proposal. 

At last she yielded to the majority and retreated by the way she had come, and occupied herself in comforting those of her people who had been orphaned.** When she came to her house, she proposed the night-attack to some of her devoted followers. Not one of them could equal her in courage.

When it was morning, what the Rani had foreseen occurred. Asaf Khan came with his artillery and fortified the entrance to the pass, and the victorious army entered the mountains. The Rani in her eagerness for battle mounted on a lofty and swift elephant which was the best of her animals, and was called Sarman, and came out. She drew up her forces, distributed the elephants and prepared for battle. 

* - Though i called it a blunder, the generals of the Rani were true to the Rajput traditions of warfare. Fighting after sun-set was not considered ethical according to Rajput customs of warfare. But, in my opinion, such customs should be followed only with those enemies who ALSO follow the same customs of warfare. Hence, i feel that Rani Durgawati's stand was practical.

** - This act of Rani Durgawati taking care of the wounded and the orphaned at night reflects a lot about her magnanimous personality.

Statue of Rani Durgawati on her favourite elephant - Sarman, with her trusted servant - Adhar Bakhila

Raja Bir Narayan Faces the Mughals Gallantly

After the armies had encountered, the work passed from arrows and muskets to daggers and swords. Raja Bir Narayan, the Rani's son, who was the nominal ruler, behaved bravely, and performed great deeds. Shams Khan Miana*, and Mubarik Khan Biluc fought bravely. The battle raged till the third watch of the day, so that if it was fully described the account would be a long one. Three times Raja Bir Narayan repulsed the victorious army but the third time he was wounded. 

* - Shams Khan Miana was an old enemy of Rani Durgawati, whom she had defeated along with Baz Bahadur earlier. This time he joined hands with the Mughals to eliminate the Rani.

When the Rani heard of this, she ordered trusty men to remove him from the battlefield to a place of safety. They obeyed the command and carried him off to a retired place. On this account, a great many left the field of battle, and the Rani's troops were much discomfited. Not more than 300 men remained with her. But there was no weakening of the Rani's resolution, and she continued to wage hot war alongside of her own gallant followers.

The First Arrow Hits the Rani

An arrow from the bow of fate struck her right temple*, and she courageously drew it out and flung it from her. The point remained in the wound, and would not come out. 

* - The Persian text said - 'Shaqiqa' . It means the place between the eye and ear.

The Second Arrow Leaves Her Unconscious

Just then another arrow struck her neck. That, too, she drew out with the hand of courage, but the excessive pain made her swoon. When gradually she recovered her senses, she addressed Adhar, who was of the Bakhila caste and was distinguished for courage and devotion and who was riding in front of her on the elephant."

Rani's son get wounded and is removed from the battlefield .. Despite being heavily outnumbered she puts up a gallant fight.. An arrow strucks her near the eye and ear .. She pulls it out and continues fight .. Another arrow strucks her in neck..This time she faints..Finally, she stabs herself to avoid capture by the enemy..

The wounded Rani asks her servant to kill her because she does not want to fall into the hands of the enemy. The servant offers to rescue her from the battle field. Hearing the thought of "leaving" the battle field, the Rani gets angry and stabs herself.

She said to him - "I ever laboured to educate and consider you in order that one day you might be of service. Today is a day in which I am over­come in battle, God forbid that I be also overcome in name and honour, and that I fall into the hands of the enemy; act like a faithful servant, and dispose of me by this sharp dagger."

His true heart could not do anything so hard-hearted. He said - "How can I bring my hand to do this thing. How can the hand which has held your gifts do such a dreadful deed. This I can do: I can carry you away from this fatal field. I have full confidence in this swift elephant."

When the Rani heard these words, which proceeded from soft-heart­edness, she grew angry and reproached him, saying, "Do you choose such a disgrace for me?" Then she drew her dagger, and herself inflicted the blow, and died in virile fashion. 

A large number of her devoted followers fell in her service, notably Kannur Kalyan Bakhila, Chakarman Kharcali, Jahan Daakit and Maharakhs Brahman Thakur. A great victory was gained.

Statue of Rani Durgawati with her Son Bir Narayan, at Mandla

Account of the Battle by Badayuni:

Badayuni writes in his usual orthodox manner:

Rani Durgawati came against Asaf Khan with 20,000 horse and foot, and 700 powerful elephants, and fought an obstinately contested battle. Many valiant souls on either side, after striving and struggling beyond all limit or measure, at a message from some arrow or pitiless sword, vacated their bodies. An arrow hit the queen in a mortal part, and when she was on the point of death, she signed to her elephant-driver to put an end to her agony. 

Nevertheless the tricks of her bad luck did not deliver her from ruffians. 
Ah yes!—

"Every foul fetid beast, Finds his foul fetid feast:"
[and again]:
"A Christian's well may not be pure, it's true ; 'Twill do to wash the carcass of a Jew!"

Asaf Khan marched against Chauragarh, and the son of the afore­said queen, after fighting for his life, joined the queen*. So much treasure fell into the hands of Asaf Khan and his soldiery, that the Creator alone is competent to compute its amount.

* - Badayuni hints sarcastically that the Rani, being a woman, was weaker in comparison to Asaf Khan, a man, and that Raja Bir Narayan joined the company of such 'weak' creatures after his death. This orthodox tone is typical of Badayuni.

Account of the Battle from Tabaqat-i-Akbari:

I am presenting the scans here :

Her End:

Thus died Rani Durgawati — brave, fearless, and faithful to the end to the norms of chastity set by her dynasty. Her example spurred her followers to perform deeds of incredible valour. 

One of them carried her body beyond Asaf Khan's reach despite a virtual wall of steel that surrounded the remnants of the defeated army. Fire reduced her to ashes before the Mughals knew where she was.

This painting depicts the heroic death in battle of Rani Durgavati, ruler of the Gondwana Kingdom of Middle India, in 1564. She was a princess of the renowned
Chandel dynasty of Mahoba, and ruled Gondwana (now included in the state of Madhya Pradesh) as regent for her son Bir Narayan. She was a capable and
benevolent ruler as well as being a courageous leader. Her army consisted of 20,000 cavalry and 1,000 elephants, and had repelled other attacks on the
kingdom, but her forces were defeated by the overwhelming size of the Mughal army. This picture shows the event of her death. I have marked the location 

of Rani in this paintinge with a red color locating pointer on the left - middle. The two arrows which she sustained on her body are clearly painted here.

Ruins of Rani Durgawati's Fort - Madan Mahal
Ruins of the Madan Mahal Fort. Picture shows the underground chambers, which served as a safe barrack for the soldiers and a storehouse of ammunition and other precious articles.

Interior of the above-mentioned chambers in the Fort of Rani Durgawati

Aftermath of Death of Rani Durgawati...
Jauhar and Saka in Chauragarh :

The battle was not yet over. The son of Rani Durgawati, though badly wounded, would not surrender before the superior numbers of his enemy. Asaf Khan rushed to lay siege to the fort at Chauragarh. When it became clear that the fort could not be held for long, the ladies of the royal family and wives and daughters and other female relatives of the nobles marched solemnly to a pre-arranged enclosure for mass participation in the ceremony of the Rajputs called Jauhar.

To two high-ranking officers of the Raja's court—Bhoj Kaith and Mian Bhikari — was given this grim charge to protect the ladies from the reach of the enemy soldiers till Jauhar was conducted. When the women had taken their assigned places, the pyre was lit. The flames leapt skyward, consuming in a few fateful moments the cream of Gondwana's womanhood. Not a shriek, nor a moan, nor a wail was heard outside. The belief that their self-immolation would enhance the glory of womanhood sustained their spirits. 

The remaining of the warriors rode out to sell their lives in the ultimate battle, which, in Rajput tradition is known as Saka. The wounded Bir Narayan put up a 'strong resistance' and died fighting.

The gates of the 'arena of death' {place where the Jauhar took place} were opened by Asaf Khan's men. When they entered the area, a miracle had happened. Two of the prettiest princesses were found alive under a log the raging fires left untouched. One was Kamlawati, sister of Rani Durgawati, and the other Ruprani, a princess of Pargadha who was engaged to be married to Raja Bir Narayan, who had just died fighting. Both were sent to Agra. Akbar was delighted to have them, and gave the pair a place in his women's residential quarters (harem).

The fight was not yet over..Jauhar and Saka take place in Rani Durgwati's capital after her death .. Chauragarh fights till the last man..

Rani Durgawati Memorial at the Battlefield

A close view of the slab depicting the place where Rani Durgawati laid down her life for her motherland / matrabhumi .

Samadhi of Rani Durgawati

Statue of the favorite elephant of Rani Durgawati - Sarman - near her samadhi

Dazzled by the Rani's Treasure, Asaf Khan Rebels Against Akbar

According to Abul Fazl, a 1000 elephants and a lot of other booty fell into the hands of the imperial forces. The wealth of gold and precious stones in the castle dazzled Asaf Khan's eyes. An underground strong room contained, besides :

a. treasures of ancient gold and silver ornaments, 
b. coined and uncoined gold, 
c. decorated utensils, jewels, pearls, figures, pictures, jewelled and decorated idols, figures of animals made wholly of gold, and other rarities. 
d. Among the goods and treasures of Rani Durgawati's kingdom were one hundred jars (deg) full of ashrafis(gold coins) of Khilji period

There were also other things which could not be calculated. The Tajik* in Asaf Khan was stirred, and he decided to keep this vast hoard of riches for himself.

* - A tribe of Central Asia

Akbar receiving spoils of war from his general Asaf Khan in Jaunpur in 1565. Akbar's encampment is shown outside the walls of a fort on a river bank. Asaf Khan brought only some of the spoils for Akbar as mentioned by Abu'l Fazl.Depicts Akbar receiving spoils of war. Akbar sits on a travelling throne inlaid with ivory beneath a red canopy outside the walls of a fort on a riverbank.

Unaccountable treasure of Rani Durgwati falls into hands of Asaf Khan..He rebels against Akbar..

Driven by his greed for the unimaginable wealth of the Rani, Asaf Khan forgot his loyalty to the Mughal empire and rebelled against Akbar. Some token gifts were sent to Agra in the hope that the known poverty of the region would not make the Emperor suspect his honesty. Akbar was, however, quick to perceive the duplicity of his general. It did not take Akbar long to bring him to the path of obedience. 

This painting depicts Shuja’at Khan pursuing Asaf Khan on the River Ganges. Asaf Khan was vizier to the Mughal Emperor Akbar. But after the war with Rani
Durgawati, kept treasure that the Mughal forces had seized during the successful campaign in 1565. He tried to flee with his supporters across the Ganges,
where Akbar’s forces, led by the general Shuja’at Khan, caught up with him. A fierce confrontation followed, depicted in this illustration, but Asaf Khan escaped.
In 1567, he re-joined the court and he was straight away sent to lead the Mughal army at the battle of Chittor , details of which have been posted on this blog.

Legacy of Rani Durgawati:

Rani Durgavati fought all her life to safeguard the independence of her kingdom. She will always be immortal as an epitome of sacrifice and the undying spirit of a woman. She was a rare woman, who faced all odds despite the difficulties infront of her. She was widowed at a young age, with a young child and inherited a kingdom surrounded by hostile neighbours, and her rest is already present in this post.
Postal Stamp by Government of India, 1988 - Rani Durgawati
There are many authorities who have paid homage to this great lady in different manners.

a. Her death anniversary, 24th June, is celebrated as Balidan Diwas (Martyrdom Day). 
b. Rani Durgawati Museum is a museum situated in Jabalpur city in Madhya Pradesh state of India. It houses a fine collection of sculptures, inscriptions and prehistoric relics. The museum is dedicated to the memory of Rani Durgavati.
c. In 1983, Jabalpur University was renamed as Rani Durgawati Vishvavidyalaya in her honour.
d. The Government of India paid its tribute to her by issuing a postal stamp commemorating her death, on 24 June 1988.
e. Indian Railways named a train as the Durgavati Express (Jabalpur - Jammutawi) after her. 
f. In July 2015, the Indian Coast Guard commissioned 'ICGS Rani Durgavati', an inshore patrol vessel, which was named after this legendary queen.


A. Balancing Rocks of Jabalpur

The famous "Balancing rocks of Jabalpur", situated just on the base of the hill. It is said that these balancing rocks had survived the impact of an earthquake of magnitude of 6.5 on the Richter scale. It is similar to the "Krishna’s butter ball" at Mahabalipuram. Since, these are mainly volcanic rocks, it can only be anticipated that the rock would have been present, since the time of Rani Durgawati. This is the same pair of rocks about which Major General Sir Williams wrote, in his homage to Rani Durgawati in 1835 - mentioned at the starting of this post.
B. Some interesting details about Chandel Rajputs:

Rani Durgawati was from the clan of Chandel Rajputs. They ruled in the area around Bundelkhand which is famous for the battle between the last Rajput Emperor of Ajmer and Delhi, Prithviraj Chauhan and Alha-Udhal, in 1182 AD. Her early ancestor Vidhyadhar Chandel and his father Gandh Chandel were the only rulers of Hindustan who were able to successfully resist the invasions of Muhammed Ghazni in the 11th Century. They fought against him in 1019 AD and it was a mutual agreement between both the sides to cease the hostilities. Chandel Rajputs are credited with the construction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site - the Khajuraho Temples, which are built in accordance with the Hindu and Jain traditions in the period between 950 and 1050 AD. The Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta, who visited India in 1335 AD, mentions the destruction of the Khajuraho temples by the rulers of Delhi Sultanate in his account Riyalat-i-Ibn-Batuta. Of the original 85 temples, only about 20 exist today. Picture of one such temple is shown below. 

Kandariya Mahadeo Temple - Khajuraho Group of Monuments : A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ceiling of Kandariya Mahadeo Temple
Architecture of the Khajuraho Temples..Courtesy : Wiki Commons


This post has been prepared from the English translation of 3 historical accounts. 85% of the post is from Akbarnama. Scans have been included at appropriate places.

Akbarnama, Volume - II, Page 323 - 333
Calcutta, 1921

Al-Badouni, Volume - II, Page 66-67
Calcutta, 1898

Tabaqat-i-Akbari, Volume - II, Page 294-296
Calcutta, 1936

The article has been posted under the Rajputs and Mughals (Akbar) section of this history BLOG.

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