The greatness of Bharat can be gauged from the fact that right from the dawn of civilisation, our women have scripted tales of their grand achievements. Rishika Vakbhrini, who lived during the Vedic period, once asserted, “I am the sovereign mistress of this world; I am responsible for its creation, functioning and destruction.” This confident assertion should not be read as a conviction borne out of struggle. It is an expression of power and authority. Expressed at the dawn of world civilisation, this is no ordinary statement; it is an example of the ideals Bharat had set from ancient times.
Although it is difficult to fix a timeline for the Vedic age, but going by the archaeological evidences, one can say that examples of Vedic women’s achievements can be found throughout Bharat. In all spheres of knowledge, we come across shining examples of women’s achievement. And these women come from every segment of the society. It is perhaps the beauty of Bharat that our women, regardless of circumstances, have left an indelible imprint on their respective ages.
At a time when other countries hadn’t even conceived the idea of ‘women’s respect’ and when Western scriptures were preaching that women were born out of a man’s desire for companionship, Bhartiya women were scripting their own golden history. Around 250 BCE, the great princess Nagnika of the Satvahan dynasty accomplished something so remarkable that it is natural for every Indian to bow to her in deep obeisance. She unified the entire Southern India. To foster trade she built roads and made arrangements for transport toll. Further, to assert the dominance of her kingdom, she minted silver coins. Nagnika’s administrative acumen, martial skills, and a sense of justice appear surprising. More so given the time that she lived in. She is credited with giving a fresh lease of life to the Vedic civilisational.
At the beginning of the common era, Lady Gautami, the mother of warlike Satvahanas, took charge of the kingdom and got her son to script a new history of the kingdom’s glory. Around forth century, Prabhavati Gupta unified her country, displaying great political sagacity. She also promoted Sanskrit literature, culture, and temple architecture. In the annals of history, her kingdom is described as grand and prosperous. Here, I have recounted only a few tales of women administrators. History tells us that prior to Muslim invasion Bharatiya women had distinguished themselves in several fields such as agriculture, medicine, justice, grammar and mathematics.
At a time when other countries hadn’t even conceived the idea of ‘women’s respect’ and when Western scriptures were preaching that women were born out of a man’s desire for companionship, Bhartiya women were scripting their own golden history
Islam’s invasion was devastating. There is no limit to brutalities perpetrated on women. It completely ruined the social life of women. But even during such testing times, whenever Bharatiya women had the opportunity, they presented great examples of leadership. It is equally remarkable that the leadership was gladly accepted by the men folk. In Odisha, for close to 200 years in eight and ninth century, the women of Bhaumkar Dynasty wielded administrative power. Exemplary administrators like Tribhuvan Mahadevi, Prithvi Mahadevi and Lakshmi Mahadevi, among others, I presented the world which ideals of administration. In many senses, the example of Bhaumkar Dynasty is one of its kind.
Likewise, Mayanalla, the Queen of Gujarat was just and worked for popular welfare. Another queen from Gujarat, Rani Udaymati, oversaw the construction of a Smriti Jal Temple, which is an architectural wonder. In their refusal to surrender to Islamic oppression, brave-hearts like Rani Durgavati and Avantika Bai scripted tales that will be remembered till eternity. Similarly, Rani Padmavati performed Jauhar—the highest form of sacrifice— and laid down her life for the sake of dharma.
And who can forget Abbakka Rani, the vanquisher of the Portuguese? Or the exploits of Velu Nachiyar who humbled the British? A woman like Keladi Chennamaa, who offered refuge to Rajaram and challenged Aurangzeb, can only be born in Bharat.
The achievements of Rani Mangammal, who steered all-round development of Madurai, must be celebrated. Rani Rasmani, who promoted Bharat’s spiritual traditions, and Rani Setu Lakshmi of Travancore, who dedicated her entire life to social causes shall always command our complete reverence.
The role of women in making Bharat’s history glorious is immense. It must be underscored that we are yet to fully comprehend the magnitude of their contribution. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to recall the examples of countless women who have empowered Bharatiya society.