What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Shakespeare certainly had a right to his opinion but names, like words, are very important. Yet, while we often name our boys after valiant heroes of the past, we don't seem to have equivalents for girls. The triumphs of India's courageous women, who sacrificed as much as their male counterparts in fighting invaders such as the Mughals, should be known and honoured in equal measure. Here are some heroic women whose selfless, intelligent and courageous actions should be forever remembered.
Chand Bibi, who died a martyr, was the queen of Bijapur and met her end fighting Mughals whilst defending Ahmadnagar. She was known as "The Invincible lady of Ahmadnagar," for her brave and wise leadership of the defence of Ahmadnagar. The writer Abu Fazl wrote, "Chand Bibi appeared with a veil on her head. She got guns to be brought to bear on the assailants, and stones to be hurled at them, so that they were repulsed in several repeated attacks." She never gave up or surrendered and saved Ahmadnegar from the Empire of Akbar. Should not her name be remembered in the names that are bestowed upon our daughters?
While addressing the topic of besting the Empire of Akbar, let us recall here the life of Queen Durgavati, who thrice defeated Akbar! Rani Durgavati endured a long struggle to take her throne, and yet she persevered, becoming one of the most important people in Indian history. Queen Durgavati took it upon herself to save the great names and legacies of those who refused to submit to violent aggressors.
It was Queen Durgavati who defeated the notorious Malwa ruler Bajbahadur. Beyond that event, history recalls how she alone stood up to the Mughal emperor and the entire army! Imagining it today seems to not do the story justice, since in those days the Mughal army was known for its ruthlessness. She also protected and encouraged the great art of India, which flourished under her reign.
The valiant Rani Tarabai, the queen of the Maratha Empire, was a vigorous leader who instilled patriotism and courage in her people against all invaders and enemies. She and her army fought in Maharashtra against the dreaded Mughals, and she even lead a brave group of warrior women against her people's foes. Tarabai was known for having the power to lead with great success and she was very knowledgeable about military strategy and cavalry movement in particular.
Bibi Dalair Kaur
Bibi Dalair Kaur was martyred while fighting the Mughals alongside 100 female Sikhs, and yet her name is not heard with the frequency or the reverence that it deserves.
When Wajir Khan's army broke through the walls of the fort and saw Bibi Dalair Kaur and her 100 armed women warriors, each dressed in traditional Sikh garb, the enemy soldiers stopped in their tracks, surprised to see all women defenders. Wajir Khan yelled and called his soldiers cowards and said to capture the women and do what they wanted with them. Bibi yelled back that the women were the hunters that day and dared them to come and try to take them. When the soldiers came forward, Bibi and her one hundred killed many of them and the rest retreated. Later, Bibi and her warriors were all killed by canon fire. She gave her life for the good of India, and her courage cannot be overstated.
The same is true of Keladi Chennama, who was the last hold out against the mighty Mughals. The history books tell of how she bested Aurangzeb, yet where is her name upon the birth certificates of today's youth? She was the Queen of the Keladi Kingdom in Karnataka and she practiced the Lingayat religion. Keladi Chennama, aside from being one of most valiant fighters of her time, was also known to be a very holy woman to whom piety mattered a great deal. She was also very astute, and was often sought out for her wisdom and logic-based advice. This strength of mind was seen in the fact that even when threatened by a terribly foreboding army, she never once questioned her decision to help those who needed it.
Rani Padmini of Chittorgarh
Where also is the name Rani Padmini of Chittorgarh who was sought after by the Sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji? Khilji and his army were master spies who used wine and camaraderie to infiltrate enemy camps; they used their wiles as often as their might. He even used marrying into the families of potential enemies or threats as a way to get a stronghold. When her people needed her the most, she was there, standing strong.
Still, in the end, her beloved husband, Ratansen, was brought into captivity. She was captured later, only to be freed by the very soldiers who were charged with keeping her imprisoned. In the end, Rani Padmini and the women in her entourage burned themselves to death when the Sultan of Delhi conquered their fortress so he could take her as his wife. She is remembered by the people of India for her beauty as well for her bravery and loyalty.
These daring women of India, each with unique talents, each living in different areas of the country and each practicing different religions, stood up to defend Mother India from violent invaders who were focused only on domination and destruction. These magnificent female leaders did whatever it took, including self-sacrifice and braving death, to fight off those who attempted to erase India's heritage. By keeping the names of these heroic women in the names of our daughters, and on monuments, buildings and streets, we keep the memories of their fearlessness alive forever.
A version of this post was previously published at India Facts.