Most of us may have heard of Rani Durgavati, the fearless queen of the Gondwana, who wreaked havoc against the Mughals and died fighting for her motherland in the 16th century. She is widely referred to as the brave queen of Gonds and is still a revered hero in central India by both Rajputs and Gonds alike. However, the public and political discourse around Rani Durgavati has only highlighted her Adivasi (Tribal) antecedents. The fact is that Rani Durgavati was much more than just a Gond queen and her elevation within the Gond kingdom was a result of the syncretic culture between Rajputs and Adivasis of the region.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the larger political narrative, Rani Durgavati has been reduced to a historical figure only to woo Adivasi votes. Political parties and leaders led by Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan have used Rani Durgavati as a tool to counter the Congress and the Gondwana Gantantra Party during elections. The BJP led by Chouhan cleverly appropriated the legacy of Rani Durgavati for political gains.
The historical-cultural ties between the Gonds and Rajputs finds an apt reflection in the history of Gondwana especially Garha-Katanga, which was a 15th-16th century state that took its name after Garha city and Katanga village. The founder of Garha-Katanga was Jadurai Gond who had served in courts of Kalchuri Rajputs of Jabalpur. After the decline of the Kalchuri Rajputs, Jadurai established an independent state just like others Gond states like Deogarh, Kherla, Chanda, Makrai.
Abul Fazl’s Akbarnama gives an insight into the kingdom of Garha Katanga during the period of Raja Amandas Gond in the 16th century who was son of one Raja Arjandas Gond, whose father was Sangindas Gond. Under Raja Sangindas Gond, Garha Katanga had a huge infantry and 500 cavalry consisting mainly of Gond and Rajput soldiers. Two of Raja Sangindas Gond’s closest loyalists included a Kalchuri Rajput from Hamirpur (a city in UP founded by Hamirdeo Kalchuri) and a Parmar Rajput, who helped him consolidate the kingdom.
Raja Amandas Gond had earned the title of Sangram Shah from Sultan Bahadur Shah I of Gujarat for exceptional military service. Raja Sangram Shah would go on to adopt the new born of one of his closest aides, Govind Das Kachwaha of Rajput descent. Due to the adoption, the Rajput born Dalpat Shah Kachwaha went on to become the legal heir and son of Raja Sangram Shah Gond of Garha Katanga. (Akbarnama-2, p. 326; RK Dikshit, Chandels of Jejakabhukti, p. 8)
Dalpat Shah was married to a Chandela princess, the daughter of Raja Salbahan, the Rajput king of Mahoba whom we know as Rani Durgavati. In 1550, after Dalpat Shah’s premature death, it was Durgavati, who ascended the throne, as their son Bir Narayan was too young. Rani Durgavati’s prominent advisor was a Gond by the name of Adhar Bakhila, who was in charge of much of administration. She ruled for approximately fourteen years (1550-1564) and her military exploits included defeating Baz Bahadur of Malwa and the Miyana Pathans. (Akbarnama-2, p. 327).
In 1564, Emperor Akbar sent an expedition under Asaf Khan to conquer Gondwana. Many neighbouring chieftains quickly fell until Asaf Khan shifted his focus to Garha-Katanga. On the advice of Adhar, Durgavati gathered her force. When Asaf Khan heard of Rani Durgavati’s advance, he halted at Damoh. The Rani made her camp at Narhi, east of Garha. Iàn a blow to Rani Durgavati and the Gonds, the Mughal army captured the ravines, which was road to access of Narhi after brave resistance of Arjan Das Bais, the Rajput faujdar of elephants in the Gond kingdom of Garha Katanga. The brave Rani and her son Bir Narayan repulsed three Mughal invasions. By then, many of her brave Gond and Rajput officers fell which included Kanut Kalyan Bakhila, Chakarman Kalchuri and Jahan Khan Dakit. The Gond queen’s army suffered huge losses and her numbers dwindled from 2000 to just 300 men (Akbarnama, p. 329-331).
In her last battle, Rani Durgavati, was struck with an arrow in her neck, but she bravely removed it and continued fighting. She called upon her confidante Adhar to end her life with a dagger when the time comes. As per some records, upon hearing the brave Rani’s wish, Adhar hesitated but she did not. Rani Durgavati chose death over dishonour at the hands of the Mughals and stabbed herself to death.
Many brave Gond and Rajput men laid down their lives protecting their homeland against the Mughal invasion. Unfortunately, the larger narrative around Rani Durgavati remains silent on this emotive aspect of Gond-Rajput brother hood.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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