India clearly remembers its great male warriors like Asoka, Akbar, Maharana Pratap, Sivaji and Prithviraj Chauhan. But we rarely get to hear about her female warriors. Except for Rani Laxmibai and Sultana Razia, do we know any other female warriors? The fact is that women, through the ages, have been very capable, and have played a crucial role in history. But more often than not, we don’t get to read about them. Let’s change that, shall we?
#13 Begum Hazrat Mahal
One of the well-known female warriors, Begum Hazrat Mahal was divorcee of Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh. When the Britishers took over Awadh and the nawab fled to Kolkata, he left Hazrat Mahal behind. The queen took charge of the kingdom and fought against the Britishers. She took her capital back and crowned her 11 yr old son as the ruler of Awadh. She ruled the regent for 10 months but British force again attacked. This time Hazrat was not successful and she fled to Nepal.
#12 Uda Devi
Uda Devi and her husband were part of Begum Hazrat Mahal’s army. She was part of the Dalit community and reached out to Queen Hazrat when the revolutionaries like Tantya Tope and Nana Sahib were rebelling against the British rule. Under the queen’s leadership, she formed a army of women. She is well-known for her bravery during the battle of Sikander Bagh. During the battle, she climbed a pipal tree and began shooting. She killed around 40 British soldiers before she was caught.
#11 Azizun Bai
Azizun Bai was a courtesan of Kanpur who did not take part in any battle but she was inspired by Nana Sahib. Her house was not only the meeting point of the sepoys but also arms and ammunition were kept. During the siege, she dressed soldiers’ wounds, cheered for Indian soldiers and distributed arms and ammunition to them.
Jhalkaribai was not only part of Rani Laxmi Bai’s army but she also served as the advisor to the queen. She was born in a dalit community. When the British troops came to attack Jhansi, Jhalkaridevi (who resembled like Jhansibai) took the center position and declared herself as the queen. The British army mistook her for the queen and this gave Rani Laxmi Bai an opportunity to escape. Jhalkarbai was eventually captured but she was freed by the British troops.
#9 Rani Avantibai
Rani Avantibai was the wife of King Vikramjeet Singh and Queen of Ramgarh. When the king fell sick and could not take care of his kingdom matters, the British decided to annex Ramgarh. Before they could reach Ramgarh, Rani Avantibai with her troop was waiting for them at Kheri. The battle was fierce and Avantibai won the battle. Unfortunately, the British returned stronger. In the end, Avantibai killed herself with her own sword.
#8 Rani Draupadi
Rani Draupadi was the queen of Dhar. After her husband’s death, the king’s thirteen year old was recognized as the ruler. Since he was a minor, Rani Draupadi was declared the guardian. While the British Raj recognized Anandrao Balasaheb as the rightful ruler; they were not too happy with Rani Draupadi. During the revolt of 1857, Rani Draupadi attacked Sardarpur cantonment and returned with loot. Her actions made British more nervous and they decided to attack Dhar. The revolutionaries fought hard but soon a gap was found in the fort wall that helped British troop entered the fort. The queen escaped through the escape passage.
#7 Belawadi Mallamma
Belawadi Mallamma was the first woman to form a women’s army. She was born to Sode king Madhulinga Nayaka and was the wife of Prince Isaprabhu. When her husband was killed during a war between the kingdom and the Maratha empire, she fought with her army to save her kingdom, but was captured. Later, Chatrapati Sivaji released her after seeing her bravery.
#6 Rudrama Devi
Rani Rudrama Devi was born to King Ganpathi Deva of Kakatiya Dynasty in present day Warangal. The king had no sons and designated Rudrama as his son via the putrika ceremony. As per her father’s wishes, Rani Rudrama took over the reigns of the dynasty and ruled the kingdom. In fact, during her rule, she fiercely battled the Pandyas, Cholas and the Yadavas.
#5 Rani Velu Nachiyar
Rani Velu Nachiyar was the first woman of Tamil origin to challenge the British empire, before even Rani Laxmibai. After her husband was killed by the Britishers, she lived under the protection of Hyder Ali, all the while forming alliances.
In 1780, Rani Velu built the first human bomb and formed a women’s army. She defeated the British and regained her kingdom, and ruled after for more than 10 years.
#4 Abbakka Rani
Rani Abbakka from Chowta dynasty ruled a small coastal town called Ullal, 8 km away from Mangalore. During her reign, the Portuguese wanted to conquer the coastal town and use it as a port. They made their first attempt in 1525. But Rani Abbakka resisted and fought fiercely against the Portugese, gaining the name Rani Abhaya (fearless queen).
An annual celebration is held each year in Ullal in memory of the queen.
#3 Onake Obavva
Obavva was not a princess, but the wife of a guard at Chitradurga Fort.
Down south, Haider Ali was trying to conquer Chitradurga, but was repeatedly unsuccessful. One day, he noticed a woman trying to enter the fort through a hole. See this, he ordered his men to enter the same way. Obavva’s husband was away for lunch, and she decided to take matters into her own hands. She guarded the crevice, making sure she killed the men entering the fort. By the end of it all, Obavva had killed almost 100 men.
#2 Keladi Chennamma
Chennamma was not of royal lineage, but became queen of Keladi after her marriage to Somashekhara Nayak. She is most well-known for giving shelter to Rajaram, Sivaji’s second son, who was on the run from the Mughals. The Mughal dynasty was extremely powerful and neighboring kingdoms were not ready to give Rajaram shelter.
When Aurangzeb found out Chennamma was providing shelter to Rajaram, he sent his troops. The queen fought bravely and defeated the army. The war ended with a treaty between Keladi and the Mughals, with Aurangzeb recognising Keladi as a separate kingdom.
#1 Kittur Chennamma
Half a century before the time of Rani Laxmibai was the rule of Kittur’s Rani Chennamma. With the introduction of Doctrine of Lapse, Kittur came under the British empire. Chennamma revolted against the Doctrine of Lapse by adopting Shivalingappa and making him the heir to the throne.
Furious with her actions, the British attacked Kittur but Chennamma fought fiercely and killed St John Thackeray, after which she was captured and imprisoned.
These were just some of the female warriors that played a significant role. There are many like Habiba, Mahabiri Devi, Asghari Begum, Asha Devi, Bakhtavari, Bhagwati Devi Tyagi, Indra Kaur, Jamila Khan, Man Kaur, Rahimi, Raj Kaur and Shobha Devi who fought fiercely.
History also proves to us, time and again, how women were treated equally in society. They were given the same status and training as the men they served with. When did we start discriminating?