Gondwana, a region that covers eastern Vidarbha, some parts of Western Chattisgarh, and Southern part of Madhya Pradesh. It is so named after it’s rulers the Gonds, a predominantly forested region, inhabited by tribals. One of the kingdoms of Gondwana was the Garha Mandla kingdom in it’s northern part. It’s most famous ruler was Sangram Shah, who captured the territories all the way up to the Narmada Valley, Sagar and Damoh. Conquering 52 forts, the famous Chouragarh Fort at Narsinghpur was built in honor of this achievement. And the lady who would make his legacy even more distinguished was his daughter in law, Rani Durgavati, married to his son Sangram Shah. The valiant Gond queen who refused to surrender to Emperor Akbar and fought till the end. A true heroine, who took over the kingdom on her husband’s death, and defied the mighty Mughal army.
She was born to Shalivahan, the Chandela Rajput ruler of Mahoba, famed for his bravery and courage. With her mother passing away early, she was bought up with great care by Shalivahan, and was trained like a Rajput. And trained by her father at a young age in horse riding, hunting and usage of weapons. She was a skilled hunter, markswoman, who took pleasure in going on expeditions, also a skilled archer. Hearing about the valor of the Gond ruler Dalpat Shah, and his exploits against the Mughals, Durgavati was impressed by him. When her guru pointed out that Dalpat Shah was a Gond, Durgavati replied “He might be a Gond by birth, but his deeds make him a Kshatriya”. Dalpat Shah was one warrior, whom the Mughals feared, he controlled the territory that gave them passage to the South. When Dalpat Shah bought up the alliance with Durgavati, many other Rajput rulers protested saying that he was a Gond. They knew very well that if Mughals were unable to advance to South, it was due to Dalpat Shah himself. Shalivahan himself was not keen on Durgawati marrying Dalpat Shah, as he was not a Rajput.
However considering the vow he gave to Durgavati’s mother, that he would allow her to choose her life partner, he agreed to Dalpat Shah. Finally in 1524, Durgavati was married to Dalpat Shah, and this also bought the Gonds and Chandel dynasties in an alliance. .With the Chandelas, Gonds coming together, a new alliance was formed against the Mughal rulers that could keep them in check. Sadly Dalpat Shah died soon, in 1550 and it was left to Durgavati to handle the kingdom. With her son, Bir Narayan, still a minor, Durgavati ruled as a regent, after her husband passed away. Assisted by 2 ministers, Adhar Kayastha and Man Thakur, she reigned over the Gond kingdom with wisdom and success. As a ruler, she shifted her capital to Chauragarh, a strategically important fort on the Satpuras.
Like her husband Dalpat Shah, Durgavati proved to be an able ruler, expanding the kingdom, looking after her subjects well. She had a large army with 20,000 cavalry, 1000 war elephants, large number of soldiers, which was well maintained. She also dug many reservoirs and tanks for the welfare of her people, one of the more well known one is near Jabalpur called Ranital.When the Sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur, tried to attack her kingdom, she fought back and forced him to retreat. So heavy was the loss faced by Baz Bahadur at hands of Durgavati, that he dared not attack her kingdom again.
In 1562, Akbar defeated Baz Bahadur, and took over Malwa, which now meant that Mughal empire was touching her kingdom. Lured by the prosperity of Gondwana, Akbar’s subedar Abdul Majid Khan, wanted to invade and occupy it along with Malwa, which had already fallen to Mughals, Rewa too was captured and now only Gondwana was left. Though her Diwan warned her against taking on the mighty Mughal Army, Rani Durgavati said she wud prefer death to surrender.She initially fought the Mughal Army at Narrai, flanked by the Narmada and Gaur rivers, and hilly ranges.hough the Mughal Army was superior to Durgavati’s she led the defense, and fought back fiercely. Her fierce counter assault on the Mughal Army chased them out of the valley and she was successful initially.
Buoyed by success, Durgavati wanted to attack the Mughal Army in night, but the suggestion was not accepted by her lieutenants. And this meant she had to face the Mughal Army in open combat, which would prove to be fatal to her.Durgavati however refused to surrender, and with her son Vir Narayan, counter attacked the Mughal forces strongly, riding on her elephant Sarman. Vir Narayan, himself led a fierce attack on the Mughals, making them retreat thrice, before he was wounded badly. Hit by arrows, bleeding, she realized that defeat was imminent against the Mughals. Disregarding her mahout’s advice to flee from battle, Rani Durgavati, stabbed herself with a dagger, preferring death to surrender. Thus ended the life of a truly brave and remarkable lady.
Durgavati was also a patron of learning, respected scholars, encouraged building of temples, truly a great ruler. She was not just a brave warrior, but an able administrator too, who built lakes and reservoirs for benefit of her subjects.passed away physically, but her name lives on, especially in Jabalpur, where the University is named after her. She was a benevolent ruler, a caring mother, and a fierce warrior, who refused to surrender. A woman who was fiercely independent, be it in choosing her life partner, or refusing to surrender to the Mughals.