Archana Garodia Gupta time-travels to revisit history’s epoch-making, sparkling moments and reopens chapters to show that although women rulers have been few in number and far between compared to their male counterparts in India.
The book is an engrossing read for history buffs, as several unfamiliar nuggets of information are presented by the author. Readers are inundated with richness and abundance of interesting and vital information from the past. Archana Garodia Gupta time-travels to revisit history’s epoch-making, sparkling moments and reopens chapters to show that although women rulers have been few in number and far between compared to their male counterparts in India, they have left their indelible marks by ruling kingdoms like able statesmen.
In the introduction itself readers are briefed about what lies ahead. Interestingly, Gupta never puts the women on a pedestal. She makes it clear that portraits of these women are “not hagiographies — because these women were not saints.” They were courageous but essentially flawed heroines who, “sometimes lied and cheated in their quest for power.”
As one turns over the pages, one gets to witness the valour of several female rulers, including queen of Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai, Raziya Sultan, Didda, Nur Jahan, Chand Bibi and Rani Karnavati of Garhwal. Gupta’s simple but gripping prose breathes new life into the characters. The events are depicted in a way to give the feel as if they have happened in the recent past, and not centuries ago. The revealing pieces of information, which Gupta has unearthed, make one wonder from where these strong feminists got their strength at a time and age when feminism as a concept was far from existence. Simultaneously, one realises that they were feminists in their own rights.
In the chapter, The Queen Who Chopped off Noses, we learn about Rani Karnavati of Garhwal who, to readers’ surprise, was not some demure damsel in distress. When the Mughals came to her land, Karnavati ruffled her calm disposition and turning into a fierce worrior, who completely lacking the fear of retribution, ordered that noses of all the enemy soldiers be cut off. This incident earned her the epithet, ‘nak-kati’ rani. Readers encounter heroines of Chittor in the chapter, Twice-Told Tales: Truth and Myth, and learn that Karmavati, Jawahirbai, and Mirabai defied the norm by choosing to abstain from being a sati. History is replete with examples to show that these women were anything but ordinary.
While Jawahirbai chose to embrace death by leading a cavalry charge instead of committing jauhar, Tarabai participated in battles dressed in male attire, and considered it a noble pastime. Karmavati ensured that her kingdom was held together even under attack and managed to keep her territory and children safe. In The Challenger of Mughal Might, we learn that Chand Bibi had several other achievements to her credit, besides saving her land from the Mughals.
One chink in her armour was her inability to judge one of her trusted lieutenants. She had tremendous faith on a senior officer, eunuch Humeed Khan, who allegedly declared in public that Chand Sooltana had signed a treaty with the Mughals.
The Deccanies, who lacked foresight, plunged into her private chamber and put her to sleep forever. Thus, a fierce ruler’s life was cut short — an undaunted soul perished for one flaw of character. She was too naive to rely on power-hungry nobles.