Rani Durgavati

 
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She rose, unexpectedly, to become queen of a doomed people. Yet in her veins flowed the blood of heroes. And she knew it.

Rani Durgavati was born in 1524 in what is now central India. Her father, Keerat Raj, was then a king of the ancient and powerful Chandel Dynasty, which 500 years earlier had brought advanced art and architecture to its region. 

To cement his position of power, Keerat Raj arranged for Rani to marry the eldest son of the King of a nearby kingdom called Gond. Upon the marriage of Rani to Dalpat Shah in 1542, the Chandel and Gond were united into the single kingdom of Gondwana. As was the custom in ancient dynasties, theirs was as much political alliance as marriage.

Rani soon gave birth to a son named Vir. The dynastic lineage Raj imaged was thus secured. However, Dalpat Shah sickened and died in 1550. Indian queens were rarely called on to rule, but because Vir was just a child, Rani had no choice but to take up the reigns of power. She was just 26. She soon made a name for herself as a fair and just leader of her people.

Central India at that time was marred by wars between feuding kings who desired more land and people. Rani had little desire to conquer, but also realized she could never protect her people without a strong defense. In a bold move, she moved her capital from the fertile lowlands to the remote peaks of Chauragarh mountain. Chauragarh was not rich, but it provided a natural barrier to those who wished Gondwana harm.

 

This photo of Rani Durgavati Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The move soon paid off. When neighboring Shah Baz Bahadur sent his armies to pillage Gondwana, his armies advanced in a futile attempt to climb Chauragarh mountain. They were soundly defeated by Rani's soldiers. Queen Ranit of Gondwana had saved the people of Gondwana from annihilation, at least for the moment.

But there soon came the north a new threat: the mighty Mughal Empire. For thirty years, its ruler, Emperor Akbar, had expanded his empire in all directions. He now ruled over more than 100 million people -- roughly one-fifth of the world's population -- making him the second most powerful man on the planet after the Ming Emperor of China. His armies of highly-trained matchlock gunmen were invincible in battle. 

The feuding kings of central India had been too short-sighted and too busy quarreling to see the Mughal threat coming until their doom was at hand. Shah Baz Bahadur, for example, his armies devastated by his campaign to conquer Gondwana, faced the wrath of the Mughals in 1562. Akbar's armies killed the would-be conqueror and seized his lands. The fall of other kingdoms quickly followed. In 1564, the invincible Emperor Akbar set his sights on little Gondwana.

Rani Durgavati watched from atop Chauragarh mountain as the massive Mughal army approached. Victory against such odds was unthinkable. Yet she could not surrender. She had descended from warriors and poets whose courage had led India for 700 years. She was now queen of her people. If she was destined to be the last of her line, then she would preserve the legend of the Chandel even at the cost of her life.

Her people rallied as one under the banner of Queen Rani. They fortified the mountain passages and prepared to defend Gondwana from atop mount Chauragarh. When the Mughals arrived, they saw an entire nation ready to fight. Queen Rani led the population herself, astride the back of her personal elephant, Sarman. 

The soldiers of Gondwana had no guns and were hopelessly outnumbered. Yet, the battle that ensued. They fought so bravely they forced the Mughals to retreat three times. Finally, on 24 June 1564, Rani was struck with an arrow and fell from Sarman. Her advisors begged her to flee. Instead, she drew her dagger and took her own life rather than be taken from her people. The young queen had gone to join her ancestors. Through her bravery, she preserved the heroic legend of the Chandel dynasty.

The Mughals conquered Gondwana at that fateful battle. But Rani Durgavati's courage and dignity in the face of a doomed struggle was never forgotten. Her legendary fight became famous in India; her name synonymous with a powerful character. Even today, Indians remember her as a symbol of courage against hopeless odds. They honor her day of martyrdom each 24 June as they celebrate the power of deeply held convictions. That's why she's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero. 

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