Let us take this opportunity on International Women’s Day to honour the pioneering women of Bharat. From ancient times to the present day, Bharatiya women have always been at the forefront in public life and successful in their chosen fields. Here we attempt to briefly chronicle iconic ladies, from different eras and regions, who earned a place in history through their courage, valour, determination, intelligence and administrative, political skills.
Mahaprajapati Gautami was the first woman accepted into the Sangha by Gautam Buddha. Mahaprajapati Gautami was the one who raised young Siddhartha after Mayadevi, Buddha’s mother, passed away. She was Buddha’s mother figure. She was born in Nepal’s Devadaha (now in southern Nepal).
When Buddha’s mother passed away seven days after his birth, Prajapati was the one who took care of him. Buddha’s father, King Suddhodana, was also her husband. Legend has it that she was so in love with the child Siddhartha that while she was taking care of him, her own children Ananda and Sundari Nanda were raised by nurses.
Mahaprajapati Gautami decided to forsake the world after her husband’s death. She wanted to join his monastic order and approached Buddha to obtain his consent. Women were not accepted into the monastic order till then. When Buddha declined, Gautami followed him to Vaishali along with her companions. Gautam Buddha finally granted them their request and they became Buddhist monks. They were instructed by Buddha to adhere to eight stringent conditions for the rest of their lives. Prajapati soon attained arahantship and developed insight through meditation. Gautam Buddha elevated Mahaprajapati Gautami to the rank of rattannunam, or “Chief of Those Who Had Experience.”
When Prajapati realised that her life was about to end, she left Buddha, performed a number of miracles, and then passed away. Legend has it that her 500 companions perished with her as well. She was 120 years old when she passed away. She did a lot of miracles that were similar to those of Buddha.
The dedication and determination of Gautami Prajapati will always be an inspiration. She continues to be one of the most prominent Buddhist figures in history.
Rani Durgavati was born in the famous Rajput Chandel emperor Keerat Rai’s family on October 5, 1524. She was born at Kalanjar Fort (Banda, Uttar Pradesh). The Chandel dynasty’s King Vidyadhar, who repelled Muslim invader Mahmud Ghaznavi’s attacks, is well-known in Indian history. The world-famous temples of Khajuraho and Kalanjar Fort demonstrate his passion for sculpture.
In 1542, Durgavati wed Dalpat Shah, the eldest son of King Sangram Shah of the Gond Dynasty. Keerat Rai enlisted the assistance of the Gonds and his son-in-law Dalpat Shah during the Muslim invasion of Sher Shah Suri, which resulted in Sher Shah’s death.
In 1545 A.D., Rani Durgavati gave birth to a son, Vir Narayan. When Dalpat Shah passed away around 1550 A.D., Durgavati took charge because Vir Narayan was too young. Chauragarh replaced Singaurgarh as Rani’s capital. This was a strategically important fort on the Satpura hill range.
Rani Durgavati was known as a brave, kind, and tactful ruler who possessed courage and wisdom in addition to beauty and grace. She carried out numerous useful public works. Trade is said to have expanded during this time. She was also a liberal supporter of education. She expanded her territory to complete the political unification of Gondwana, also known as Garha-Katanga. Out of 23,000 villages in her kingdom, 12,000 were directly managed by her government. It is believed that in addition to a significant number of foot soldiers, her large, well-equipped army included 20,000 cavalries, 1,000 war elephants, and other units.
Rani Durgavati distinguished herself as a warrior, and her exploits are still talked about in the region. She defeated the Sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur, with consistent success. In 1562, Akbar annexed Malwa under Mughal rule. As a result, Rani’s state line crossed the Mughal kingdom. Mughal Subedar Abdul Mazid Khan invaded Rani Durgavati’s state with Akbar’s consent.
The Rani took charge of the defense herself after her Faujdar Arjun Das was killed in the battle. Rani prevailed in this battle. In her war counsel, Rani Durgavati suggested attacking the adversary at night but her lieutenants did not agree. The Rani rode Sarman, her elephant, to the battle. She was grievously wounded and fell unconscious. When she regained consciousness she realised that defeat was imminent. She refused the Mahout’s advice to leave the battlefield and killed herself with her dagger. Her martyrdom day, June 24, 1564, is still observed as “Balidan Diwas”.
In her honour, the Madhya Pradesh government renamed the University of Jabalpur Rani Durgavati Vishwavidyalaya in 1983. On June 24, 1988, the Indian government honored the brave Rani by issuing a postal stamp to commemorate her martyrdom.
In 1664, Somashekara Nayak took over the reigns of Keladi. He noticed the young Chennamma, daughter of a Lingayat merchant, when he visited a fair at the Rameshwara temple. He married Chennamma despite his ministers’ objections as she was not from a royal family.
Chennamma received royal education in politics, administration, warfare, weaponry, music, the arts, and literature. She also started getting involved in the administration, helping out several applicants. Sadly, they did not bear children.
When the king got swayed away by a few evil palace staff members, Chennamma looked after the administration with the help of a trusted minister, Thimanna Nayak, from her father-in-law Shivappa Nayak’s time.
The Sultan of Bijapur eyed the kingdom and sent an agent named Jannopant in the guise of a negotiator. This was a ruse as an army followed him. Jannopant conspired to get the king poisoned. The king died and Chennamma realised that the Bijapur forces outnumbered them heavily. She secretly left for Bhuvanagiri, a fort hidden deep in the ravines, along with her troops and treasure.
She was joined there by Thimanna. When the Bijapur army ventured into the jungle to capture the queen, it was ambushed by Thimanna’s troops. The queen returned to Bidnur and executed Jannopant and other traitors. In 1671, the queen was formally crowned as the ruler. She chose a relative’s three-year-old son Basappa as her successor.
Chennamma is best remembered for providing refuge to Rajaram, Shivaji Maharaj’s younger son, who travelled thousands of miles to reach Jinji. During this period, the marathas were engaged in combat with Aurangzeb. Chennamma granted him safe passage through her territory, despite the advice of her terrified ministers. She felt compelled to follow her rajdharma and assist Rajaram. Had she not done so, the course of history would have been different.
Rajaram later sent a letter of gratitude to Chennamma:
“When kings and rulers of bigger kingdoms refused to help me, you bravely gave me shelter and helped to protect Hinduism. I can never forget this bravery and generosity of yours. May Goddess Bhavani give you all happiness! I pray to God that your land may be a home of happiness.”
Chennamma handed over the administration to Basappa Nayak in her final days and devoted herself to religion. She made pilgrimages and gave money to the temples at Kashi, Shrishaila, Rameshwara, and Tirupati. She built an agrahara, a street with houses on either side, and invited scholars to live there. It was named Somashekharapura. She reconstructed a fort in Hulikere, which Basappa Nayak later renamed Chennagiri in honor of his mother. She passed away in 1696. Her son Basappa was later known as Keladi Basavraj.
Abbakka Rani, also known as Abbakka Mahadevi is a legend in Karnataka. The Tuluva queen hailed from the fishing town of Ullal and the region she ruled is known as Tulunadu.
Archival records, travel diaries of several Portuguese travelers, and historical research tell us that there were three Abbakkas, between 1530 and 1599. The mother and her two daughters fought against the Portuguese Army.
Abbakka was proficient in military science and warfare, particularly sword fighting and archery. She was married to a local king, the ruler of Bangher. However, Abbakka ended the marriage by returning the jewels he had given her because her husband had joined hands with the Portuguese in Mangalore.
The Portuguese attempted to capture Ullal multiple times but Abbakka repelled each attack with bravery and inventiveness. Abbakka is the last known person to have used the Agnivana (fire arrow) in her fight against the Portuguese, according to folklore.
The Queen of Ullal, Abbakka Devi Chowta refused to pay the Portuguese any ‘tribute’ and came under repeated attacks. From 1555 to 1570, she repelled many attacks and was instrumental in killing senior generals and other officials of the Portugese army. In 1570, she joined hands with the Zanmorins of Calicut against the Portuguese. Unfortunately, Abbakka lost the war when her estranged husband helped the Portuguese. She was detained and imprisoned. However, she revolted in prison and died fighting like the soldier that she was.
In the Madurai Nayakar kingdom in the present day city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, Rani Mangammal served as queen regent from 1689 to 1704 on behalf of her grandson. She was a popular administrator still remembered for building roads, temples, tanks, and churches, many still in use. She is also known for her successful military campaigns and diplomatic and political skills. Tiruchy was Madurai kingdom’s capital during her time.
Mangammal was the daughter of Tupakula Lingama Nayaka, a general of Madurai ruler Chokkanatha Nayak. Mangammal was married to Chokkanatha. In 1682, Chokkanatha died and she assumed control of the crown.
Mangammal’s son Rengakrishna Muthu Virappa Nayak also passed away in 1689. Mangammal was again compelled to assume the role of regent on behalf of her newborn grandson, Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha. Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha was crowned when he was three months old in 1689, and he ruled until 1705.
Mangammal’s wars were less frequent than those of her predecessors, but she still had to deal with the usual disputes with her neighbours. Mangammal maintained Madurai’s prestige with her political wisdom, diplomatic and administrative abilities, and cool courage in the face of danger.
The death of Mangammal in 1705 remains a mystery. She is most remembered for her administrative work, which can still be seen in some areas of her former kingdom.
Rashmoni was born on September 28, 1793, in the small Bengali village of Halisahar to a family of fishermen. Her father was a poor labourer who married his daughter to Raj Chandra Das, son of a wealthy zamindar family from Jaan Bazaar, when she was just a teenager.
Das’s husband was a progressive man. He gave his young wife full access to his trade business and encouraged her to follow her heart, impressed by her intelligence. They made good money together and used a lot of it towards helping the public, like building pyaus (water storage tanks) for travellers and soup kitchens for the hungry. The couple also constructed the gorgeous Babu Rajchandra Das Ghat, also known as Babughat, and the Ahiritola Ghat, both of which are among Kolkata’s oldest and busiest ghats.
Rashmoni experienced her most difficult period when her husband passed away in 1830. Her husband’s enemies and friends conspired against her but Rashmoni managing her work with pragmatism and with the assistance of Mathura Nath Biswas, an educated young man who was married to her third daughter. Mathura Babu remained her closest confidant till the end.
Rashmoni constructed the well-known Dakshineswar temple near Kolkata. In Calcutta’s administrative circles, her construction skills and business acumen earned her a lot of respect, while the underprivileged loved her for her compassion. This is best demonstrated by her out-maneuvering the British to assist beleaguered fishermen.
The Bengal Presidency’s fishing communities faced a crisis of survival in the 1840s. The East India Company had turned its greedy eye toward the Ganga’s tranquil waters. Small fishing boats dotted her iridescent surface from February to October, bringing in abundant harvests of the silvery hilsa, a Bengali delicacy. The British imposed a tax on the fishing boats, arguing that the fishing activity was hindering the movement of ferries. It was a clever ploy to decrease river traffic and increase company revenue.
In the hope that their upper-caste Hindu landlords would support them, hundreds of fisherfolk traveled to Calcutta. The elites refused to help as they were unwilling to damage relationships with their patrons in the Company. The dejected fishermen went to Rashmoni Das.
A remarkable occurrence in India’s colonial history followed. Rashmoni offered the East India Company 10,000 rupees in exchange for the lease, or ijara, of a 10-km stretch of the Hooghly River, the famous Ganga distributary. After Rashmoni obtained the lease documents, she put two enormous iron chains across the Ganga in Metiabruz and Ghusuri, where the river bends like a bow. She then invited the beleaguered fishermen to cast their nets in the barricaded area.
All commercial and passenger traffic on the Hooghly came to a grinding halt as dinghies flocked to the catch zone. Company officials sought an explanation. Rashmoni replied that the fisherfolk found it difficult to cast their nets within her ijara due to the constant riverine traffic, which decreased its profitability. Under British law, she was entitled to safeguard her property’s income as a leaseholder. She was happy to litigate if the Company thought otherwise, and she would not release her portion of the river until a judicial decision was made.
The Company officials had no choice but to grant the fishermen unrestricted access to the Ganga and repeal the fishing tax. The most cunning colonial corporation was defeated by a Bengali Shudra widow.
Rudrama Devi was the only child of King Ganapathideva of the Kakateeya dynasty. Telangana’s history and culture were significantly shaped by this dynasty. The Kakateeya Empire was founded on Hanumankonda, a hillock between Godavari and Krishna rivers. The capital of the dynasty, which ruled over the Telugu nation from approximately 1150 AD to 1323 AD, was Warangal, previously known as Orugallu.
Ganapathideva, who had no son, performed the Putrika ceremony and officially designated Rudrama Devi as a son, and named her ‘Rudradeva’. She was also named as Ganapathideva’s “male heir”.
She was made co-regent and ruled alongside her father in her early teens. She later married Veerabhadra, the prince of Nidadavolu, and they had two daughters.
The kingdom faced its worst devastation when Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I invaded their empire. The Kakateeyas and their allies lost disastrously. Ganapathi suffered loss of territory and respect despite the invasion’s eventual defeat. He retired after the Pandya invasion and handed Rudrama control of the kingdom. Scriptures indicate that she began her own rule in 1261.
She lost both her father and her husband in 1266. She was now recognized as the Empire’s Queen. However, due to her gender, she faced opposition from several people, including her stepbrothers. She became one of the greatest warriors of her time despite the opposition. She forced the Yedava King of Devagiri to sign a peace treaty by driving him back. She also implemented a new policy of recruiting non-aristocratic individuals to serve as army and administration commanders. At the time, it was a radical move. It is believed that she proposed this policy to win over new loyalists and gain the ordinary people’s trust. She also took important forts like Satti, Renadu, and Eruva Mulikinadu.
The Warangal fort that her father had begun was one of her accomplishments. It involved adding a moat and a second wall to the built structure to protect the city from future sieges.
Kittur Chennamma, the Queen of Kittur, was one of the Indian rulers to lead an armed rebellion against the British East India Company in 1824, against the implementation of the Doctrine of Lapse.
Kittur Chennamma was born on October 23, 1778, in Kakati, a small village in the present Belagavi district of Karnataka. She belonged to the Lingayat community and was trained in horse riding, sword fighting and archery at a young age.
She was married to Mallasarja Desai, the king of Kittur, at the age of 15. She had one son, who after the death of her husband in 1816, also died in 1824. The queen of Kittur then adopted Shivalingappa.
The British East India Company ordered Shivalingappa’s exile on the pretext of the Doctrine of Lapse, according to which adoptive children of Indian rulers were not allowed to be named their successor. The doctrine said that if Indian rulers did not have children of their own, their kingdom would become a territory of the British Empire.
Kittur Chennamma sent a letter to the Governor of Bombay to plead the cause of Kittur but the request was rejected. The Dharwad collectorate refused to recognise Chennamma as the regent and Shivalingappa as the ruler and told her to surrender her kingdom. This led to war.
The British attempted to pillage Kittur’s treasures and jewels, valued around 15 lakh rupees, but were unsuccessful. In the first battle in October 1824, British forces faced heavy losses. The British Collector was killed and two British officers were taken hostages. The British promised there would be no further war if the hostages were released. The Rani agreed, but it was just a lie and the Brtish returned with a larger force. Rani Chennamma fought the second battle fiercely. In this battle, the Sub-Collector of Sholapur, Mr. Munrow, was also killed. For 12 days, Chennamma and her soldiers relentlessly defended their fort, but yet again, Chennamma fell prey to deceit. Two soldiers of her own army betrayed Chennamma by mixing mud and cow dung with the gunpowder used for the canons.
Ultimately, Kittur Chennamma and her forces were outnumbered. Rani Chennamma was defeated and captured by the British, who imprisoned her at the Bailhongal Fort for life. She spent the last five years of her life in prison at Bailhongal Fort reading holy texts and performing pooja. She took her last breath at the Bailhongal Fort on February 21, 1829.
A queen by the name of Velu Nachiyar lived in the Sivagangai estate in present day Tamil Nadu in the 18th century. Velu was raised as the heir to the Sethupathi dynasty as the only daughter of the royal couple. She was trained in archery, horseback riding, and martial arts, and she could also speak French, Urdu, and English.
When the British, led by the son of the Nawab of Arcot, killed Velu’s husband Muthu Vaduganatha Thevar, during the Kalaiyar Koil War, it marked a turning point in her life. Velu and her daughter Vellachi were compelled to flee Sivagangai. Velu travelled to Dindigul, where she spent eight years under the protection of Gopal Naicker, the Dindigul ruler.
Velu Nachchiyar, along with the Marutu brothers, waged a war against the British. Marutu brothers had also helped her to escape from the battlefield. The most important of her aides was Kuyuili. Kuyuili, who hailed from a lower-caste family, was Velu’s confidante, and had saved the queen’s life on more than one occasion. The final attack on the Nawab and the British troops was strategised by Kuyuili, who by then had risen to the ranks of commander-in-chief.
The British had complete control of the Sivaganga Fort in Dindigul. Kuyuili located the fort’s armoury chambers using Velu’s intelligence network. Then she went to the fort along with a few other women on the day of Vijayadashami. On Kuyuili’s orders, the women poured ghee on her. Drenched in the ghee, Kuyuili bravely entered the armoury chamber and set herself on fire, destroying each and every weapon.
Velu attacked the fort to take back her kingdom following Kuyuili’s sacrifice. The brave act earned Velu the title “Veeramangai” because she bravely and fearlessly fought both the British and the Nawab of Arcot.
Accordingly, Velu Nachchiyar became the ruler of Sivaganga. She appointed Marutu brothers as ministers. In 1780 A.D., Velu Nachchiyar passed on the sovereignty to the Marutu brothers.
Didda was the ruler of Kashmir from 980 CE to 1003 CE. She first acted as regent for her son and various grandsons from 958 CE to 980 CE and from 980 CE as sole ruler and monarch. Most knowledge about her is obtained from Rajatarangini, a work by Kalhana in the 12th Century. Didda was a daughter of Simharāja, the King of Lohara, and on her maternal side a granddaughter of Bhimadeva Shahi, one of the Hindu Shahi rulers of Kabul. Lohara was located in the Pir Panjal range of mountains, on a trade route between western Punjab and Kashmir.
At age 26, she married the King of Kashmir, Ksemagupta, thus uniting the Kingdom of Lohara with that of her husband. Even before becoming regent, Didda had considerable influence in state affairs, and coins have been found that appear to show both her name and that of Ksemagupta. When Ksemagupta died following a fever contracted after a hunt in 958, he was succeeded by his son, Abhimanyu II. As Abhimanyu was still a child, Didda acted as regent and effectively exercised sole power. Her first task was to rid herself of troublesome ministers and nobles.
In 972 her son Abhimanyu died. He was succeeded by his son, Nandigupta, still an infant himself. Didda was once again the regent. But Nandigupta too died followed by his younger brother Tribhuvangupta. Didda’s youngest grandson Bhimgupta was then anointed the ruler, and Didda retained her regency.
Didda ruled as Queen regent from 980 CE until she died in 1003 CE at 79. She is one of the very few female monarchs in Indian history. M.A. Stein says that “The statesmanlike instinct and political ability which we must ascribe to Didda despite all the defects of her character, are attested by the fact that she remains the last in peaceful possession of the Kashmir throne and was able to bequeath it to her family in undisputed succession”. Didda did not embark on any adventure involving a conflict with any neighbouring ruler during her rule.
Gouri Lakshmi Bayi
Maharani Ayilyom Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi was a queen who ruled the state of Travancore from 1810 until 1813, and then acted as regent until her death in 1815. She was the only queen of Travancore to have reigned in her own right, ruling for two years before becoming regent. When her predecessor, the unpopular Maharajah Bala Rama Varma, died in 1809, she was barely twenty years old, and there was no eligible male member in the family to take over the throne. A distant cousin, Prince Kerala Varma, staked claim on the throne, but the Princess proved her claim and had the support of the British Resident Col. John Munro. She was made the regent Maharani of Travancore in 1811, and Kerala Varma was imprisoned and banished from Travancore.
Sethu Lakshmi Bayi
Pooradam Thirunal Sethu Lakshmi Bayi was the monarch of the Kingdom of Travancore between 1924 and 1931, though she was designated as the regent due to British policy. She, along with her younger cousin, Moolam Thirunal Sethu Parvathi Bayi, were adopted into the Travancore Royal Family and were the granddaughters of the celebrated painter, Raja Ravi Varma. When Maharaja Moolam Thirunal died in 1924, his grandnephew and heir to the throne, Sree Chithira Thirunal, was only 12 years old, and a regency became necessary. Since Travancore followed the matrilineal system, Sethu Lakshmi Bayi was the head of the family, and it was decided that she should be regent until the minor king came of age in 1930. She ruled as an absolute monarch in her own right, as per matrilineal law, and continued the progressive administration of the Travancore Dynasty.
During her regency, she implemented reforms such as the abolition of the Devadasi system and the prohibition of animal sacrifice. In summary, both Maharani Ayilyom Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi and Pooradam Thirunal Sethu Lakshmi Bayi played important roles as regents in Travancore, and both made significant contributions to the progressive administration of the kingdom.
Minal Devi, also known as Mayanalla, was a well-known queen of Gujarat in the 11th century. She is remembered as a capable and just administrator. She was a member of the Kadamba dynasty in Karnataka and the daughter of Jayakeshin. She married the Chalukya king of Anahillapatanawada, Karna I. He died young, leaving behind his queen and son, Siddharaja Jayasimha.
Minal Devi served as regent to her son, who grew up to become a legendary hero. Minal Devi constructed numerous monuments and lakes, and abolished the tax for pilgrims who went to the Somnath temple.
A poor woman’s hut stood on the shore of Dholka’s Malav Talav (lake) when Rajmata Minal Devi was building it. The pond’s roundness would be marred if this shack was not moved. The Rajmata offered the lady as much money as she wanted in exchange for the hut. The lady did not agree. The Rajmata could have vacated the hut by force, but she let it be. There is a groove in this lake even today. Rajmata Minal Devi had a passion for justice like no other! Therefore, it is said, “Look at Malav Talav (lake) if you want justice!”
The lake isn’t perfectly round, but it’s beautiful. Navagraha, Dasavatara, foliage and floral patterns, auspicious Hindu iconography, sacred symbols, and repetitive linear and horizontal elements adorn the ghats. A Rudrakund was also constructed near the lake to collect excess water. The lake’s inflow and outflow have been carefully planned to keep the bridge that connects the temple in the middle unharmed in the event of flooding.
Queen Nagnika Satakarni
Queen Nagnika Satakarni was the world’s first empress and the kulvadhu of the Satavahana dynasty. Nagnika, the widow of Shri Satakarni, became the first woman ruler of India and the whole world, but our history was hidden, and efforts were made to erase it.
The Satavahana (Shalivahana) dynasty ruled for about 518 years. In the third generation of this dynasty was the ruler – ‘Empress Nagnika’. Naganika was the daughter-in-law of Emperor Simuk Satavahana and the wife of Sri Satakarni. After the death of Shri Satakarni at a young age, she took charge of the state. In the Satavahana period, the centre of state governance was greater Maharashtra, which included Karnataka-Konkan, whose capital was Pratishthan (Paithan).
Emperor Naganika never let the sun set on the Shalivahana empire and Vedic Hindu culture. During her rule, six wars took place against Mesopotamia (Mesopotamia, Assyria), ruled by Shalmaneser IV in 773 CE and against Nirari Pancham in 755 CE. These invaders used to target the women of the state in which they set foot, the populace had to go through painful physical tortures, and they not only used to loot money but also used to attack the symbols of Vedic culture. The ruler of Mesopotamia used to bring a vast army which numbered lakhs.
The first battle was with Shalmaneser IV. Historian “Robert Wallman,” wrote in his book “World First Warrior” that 157 foreign dynasties had submitted before the sword of the Emperor Naganika who had expanded her kingdom to Arabia.
A historian, Shubhangi Bhadbhav, writes in a novel titled “Samragi Nagnika” that “the solid invading force which numbered 1,36,000 was badly driven out of the holy land of Bharat by Nagnika. The fear of this defeat was such that even after the death of Empress Nagnika, the invaders could not dare to attack Bharat again. Queen Nagnika not only drove Babylonia, Mesopotamia and Arab invaders out of India but also eradicated them so that these barbaric invaders could not even think of attacking Bharat again.
Samragi Nagnika was a skilled queen and a protector of Sanatan culture. She was also a very experienced politician; she had brought the fiercely hostile state under an umbrella rule without fighting a war on the power of politics.
Prabhavatigupta was the daughter of Chandragupta II, the ruler of the Gupta empire. She wed Rudrasena II of the Vakataka dynasty. Rudrasena passed away leaving behind three minor sons — Divakarasena, Damodarasena, and Pravarasena. Divakarasena became the crown prince and Prabhavatigupta ruled in his place. It is commonly known that Prabhavatigupta served as a regent for at least 13 years.
The Guptas’ influence over the Vakatakas peaked under Prabhavatigupta’s rule. The inscriptions of Prabhavatigupta highlight her natal ties and offer her own Gupta genealogy. Even when her regency ended, Prabhavatigupta continued participating in public life for a few decades. She is referred to as “mother of the famous Maharajas Damodarasena and Pravarasena” in a donation she makes in the 19th year of her son Pravarasena II’s rule (around 420–455). Four years later, Pravarasena II donated for his and his mother’s spiritual well-being in this life and the next while she was still living. Prabhavatigupta seems to have deeply concerned herself with religious matters, as she is described as a devotee of Bhagavat (Vishnu) and issued a charter from the feet of her tutelary deity Ramagirisvamin, identified with the deity at Ramtek near Nagpur.
Rani Manikavati: The temple builder
The construction of historic temples in India during the 8th and 9th Century AD played a significant role in the country’s architecture, sculpture, and temple building. The Kailasa Temple at Verul is an example of such an extraordinary temple. It is said that the temple was built due to the persistence of Rani Manikavati, the wife of King Krishnaraja, after being challenged by the defeated queen of Pallavas.
The story goes that the queen of Rashtrakutas went to Kanchi, where the queen of the Pallavas showed her Shiva temples at Mahabalipuram and asked if there were any such sculptures in her state. Upon returning, Mankavati expressed her desire to build separate Shiva temples, and went on an indefinite hunger strike till her wishes were fulfilled. An architect was hired, and the temple was built, earning the name Kailasa Cave.
The Kailasa temple is rich in elaborate sculptures and impressive idols of Shiva. The temple is a significant historical and cultural landmark in India, attracting visitors for centuries. It is located in Verul, 29 km from Aurangabad.
In the hall of the Kailasa temple, we can observe dasas with well-formed, bejewelled, and contented faces alongside a child. Additionally, the wall of this hall displays Saptamatrikas depicting Shiva and Ganesha, while three double-sided images of Sathastha, Rekhiva, and Raja Aishwarya are shown on its left-hand side. The image in the centre is of Krishnaraj’s wife, Manakavati. While all Kailasa temples are known for their elaborate lavanya sculptures, impressive Ashyagarbha idols, and mythological stories associated with them, only these three images are unrelated to other Puranas. The middle image represents Maharani, whose determination and insistence led to the completion of the Shiva temple.
Tribhuvana Mahadevi I
Tribhuvana Mahadevi I, also known as Paramavaishnavi Goswamini Devi, was the first female ruler of the Bhaumakara Dynasty in ancient Odisha. She became the queen after her husband, King Santikara I, passed away and ruled over Toshali or Utkala from 843 A.D till 850 A.D. after her son Subhakara III’s premature death. According to some historians, she may have ruled until 863 A.D, after which she abdicated the throne to her grandson, Santikara II.
She was highly regarded for her incredible strength and prestige by the Arab and Persian geographer Ibn Khordadbeh and explorer Ahmad Ibn Rustah. She is credited with constructing the Baitala Deula, one of the oldest surviving temples in old Bhubaneswar and one of the few in Odisha with built-in Khakara-style temple architecture.
As per historical records, Paramavaishnavi Goswamini Devi or Tribhuvana Mahadevi I was a successful ruler who ensured efficient administration and prosperity for her people. After a period of chaos and disorder, she restored stability to the kingdom and ushered in a golden era of economic prosperity and cultural growth.
According to her Dhenkanal charter, she spent the empire’s treasures on religious works and constructed monasteries, mathas and temples to enlighten her country and others. She patronised Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism, while Jain and Buddhist ideologies were left unthreatened. Women in the kingdom were educated and given special powers for issuing land grants and charters.
Her successful reign inspired six more female rulers in the Bhaumakara kingdom, two of whom adopted her royal epithet, Tribhuvana Mahadevi.
Anhilwada Patan is a historically significant city in the state of Gujarat. The kings who ruled this city have made a name for themselves in the annals of world history by achieving remarkable feats. However, even more remarkable is the significant role the Maharanis or queens played in the city’s history. One of the most striking monuments in Anhilwada Patan is the ‘Rani Ki Vav’ or ‘Queen’s Stepwell’. This structure is located in the northwestern part of the city and is a testament to the exquisite architecture of the era. As one descends the steps shaped like the pindi of Mahadev, the eyes are drawn to the spectacular display of sculpture that adorns the seven-storied well. It is fascinating to note that this marvel of architecture was built in the name of a queen – Queen Udayamati.
The Solanki dynasty ruled this city for almost 600 years, from the 8th to the 14th century, and earned a reputation as great administrators. They were instrumental in creating masterpieces of temples, lakes, and wells.
Queen Udayamati’s achievements stand out among these remarkable accomplishments. She is the only queen who paid tribute to her husband, the mighty Bhimdev, by building a magnificent divine memorial well in his memory. The well, known as Jal Mandir or Water Temple, is technically and artistically exceptional for underground water flows. Today it is a ‘World Heritage Site’. Her approach to social welfare and extraordinary design makes her a grand and venerable historical figure. The story of Udayamati has become an eternal source of inspiration.