The Garhwal Kingdom was founded in 823 by Kanak Pal. By 1358, the ruler Ajay Pal had expanded its territories by capturing the 52 “Garhs”, with the capital at Devalgarh not far from Srinagar, where it was later shifted to, by the dynamic ruler Mahipat Singh who ascended the throne in 1622. He brought most of Garhwal under his rule.
Mahipat Singh lived by the sword and died by the sword in 1631 on the battlefield, fighting against Kumaon. When king Mahipat Shah died, his son was only seven-years- old. Hence, the queen of Mahipat Shah, Rani Karnavati, took over the administration. Rani Karnavati ruled the kingdom on behalf of her very young son, Prithvi Pat Shah.
Rani Karnavati was a brave woman warrior who not only defended her kingdom from the neighbouring chieftains of Kumaon, Sirmour and Tibet—but also against the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan and, later, his successors. Garhwal was eyed because it had mines of silver, copper and gold. According to an English traveller, William Finch, the king, dined off solid gold plates! William Finch, as quoted by William Foster in Early Travels in India, states that “To the eastward of this Rajaw, betwixt Jemini and Ganges lyeth the land of Rajaw Mansa, a mighty prince and very rich, reported to be served all in vessels of massie gold; his country 300 C. long and one hundred and fifty broad; his chief seat Serenegar [Sri nagar]”.
TAKING CUDGELS AGAINST MUGHALS
The richness of Garhwal brought it into conflict with the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, in 1640. Shah Jahan sent a huge contingent of troops numbering 30,000 under General Najabat Khan. Soon, they were knocking on the frontiers of the Garhwal Kingdom near what is today Rishikesh. Rani Karnavati had a choice. She would have easily accepted the overlordship of the Mughal State and continued to rule as a vassal State. Instead, she decided to take guard against the invading Mughal army.
Humiliating the Mughal Troops
According to Manucci, a 17th Century Italian traveller who has written about the war, the Rani allowed the forces of Najabat Khan to advance and penetrate the mountains up to a distance, after which she closed the roads; from the way they came! They could not go back, and they did not know the mountainous terrain well enough to advance forward quickly. The spider had drawn the fly into its web.
Finding his forces in a hopeless position—the General sued for peace. Rani Karnavati could have killed all of them, but her demand differed. She told Najabat Khan that his forces would be spared if they cut their noses and left them behind! The soldiers had no choice!
Shah Jahan’s soldiers found themselves in such dreadful straits, rather than losing their lives, were content to lose their noses. They abandoned their arms, throwing them down where they stood, and issued one by one, leaving their noses behind them on the spot. Due to this, Shah Jahan out of shame never again attempted to make war against the Rajah, and he gave an order that ever afterwards this Prince should be spoken of as the Nactirany’ (Nak-kati-rani)—that is to say, Cut-nose’—and until this day he is known by this name
Niccolao Manucci, in his book Storia Do Mogor, Vol. 1 Or Mogul India; 1653-1708, writes that “The purpose that Shah Jahan had of fighting with the Rana was diverted to a campaign against the Hindu prince of Scrinaguer(Srinagar), which is in the midst of lofty mountains in the north, covered all the year with snow. But it did not happen to him as he had hoped. To effect his purpose he dispatched a general at the head of thirty thousand horsemen besides infantry. The prince allowed his enemy to penetrate into the mountains, retiring as they advanced. When the soldiers of Shah Jahan had got a certain distance, he closed the roads so that they could neither advance any farther nor retreat, and there was no way of deliverance for them. Finding himself in this danger, the General sent proposals for peace negotiations, but the Hindu prince returned the answer that his resolve to treat was too late. Already the commander had a deficiency of supplies, and all his camp was in great confusion. He, therefore, requested from the prince permission to withdraw, and although the raja could have destroyed them every one, he did no wish to do so. He sent to say that he would grant them their lives, but. His soldiers required all their noses as a memorial for giving them a gift of their lives. Shah Jahan’s soldiers found themselves in such dreadful straits, rather than losing their lives, were content to lose their noses. They abandoned their arms, throwing them down where they stood, and issued one by one, leaving their noses behind them on-the-spot. Due to this, Shah Jahan out of shame never again attempted to make war against the Rajah, and he gave an order that ever afterwards this prince should be spoken of as the Nactirany’ (Nak-kati-Rani)—-that is to say, Cut-nose’—and until this day he is known by this name. The general, who could not endure coining back with his nose cut off, took poison and put an end to his life before he got back to the plains”.
Why did she ask them to cut their noses? The answer is very simple. This practice has been a means of punishment since times immemorial. In the Ramayana, Laxman cut off the nose of Shurpanakha and “naak katanaa” is still used colloquially to express humiliation!
Queen Karnavati became famous as “Nak Kati Rani”! The above incident is not only written about by Mannnuci but also by chroniclers like Bernier, Tavernier and Shah Nawaz Khan.
Rani Karnavati of Garhwal was not just a warrior queen. Imperial gazetteer of India Volume 11 gives a detailed account of the monuments erected by Rani Karnavati. She was a visionary credited with building monuments at Navada in Dehradun district and founding Karanpur, which was then a village in Dehradun. Rani Karnavati is said to have orchestrated a number of hydraulic constructions, the most noted of which was an irrigation system that prevented the water from sinking underground as it exited the hill into the gravels leading to the valleys. This allowed agricultural development that allowed an efflorescence of several towns in the region. This consequently fed a local Hindu revival which was mainly seen in the form of various productions of certain tantrika,legal, and medical texts under the patronage of this dynasty.
There is no doubt that Rani Karnavati was one of the bravest women in Indian history.