Our past has seen monarchies rising to power and some dramatically falling. However, it has mostly remained a fratriarchal set up for the longest time. Rarely have we seen the space dominated by females. Among these rare women, we had Razia Sultana who emerged as the scintillating ruler of the Delhi sultanate who received massive antagonism for her being a woman. Amongst them was also the 13th century Warrior Queen of Kakatiya Dynasty, Rudrama Devi.
Rudrama Devi was born as Rudramba to King Ganapathideva. She was the only child of the King Ganapathideva, who was the ruler of the Kakateeya Dynasty. He ruled the entire territory from Warangal the capital of the Dynasty.
The Kakatiya Dynasty was one of the major dynasties that ruled over Telangana and had major contributions in shaping its history and civilisation. Hanumankonda, a hillock lying in between the rivers Godavari and Krishna, formed the foundation of the Kakateeya Empire. Warangal, which was then called Orugallu, formed the capital of the Dynasty which ruled over the Telugu country from about 1150 AD to 1323 AD.
Rudra Deva: The King
Since Ganapathideva had no sons, he performed the Putrika ceremony and formally designated Rudrama Devi as a son. For her male recognition, she was named Rudradeva. On the advice of the Prime Minister, Ganapathideva also nominated Rudramadevi to be his ‘male heir’.
She rose to power in her early teens when she was appointed co-regent and ruled alongside her father. She maintained the designation that was bestowed on her and ruled as a King. She wore male attire and maintained a similar demeanour. She was later married to Veerabhadra, prince of Nidadavolu with whom she had two female children.
She maintained the designation that was bestowed on her and ruled as a King. She wore male attire and maintained a similar demeanour.
In the first few years of the conjoined rule with her father, Rudramadevi saw the kingdom falling into utter chaos during the Pandya invasion. Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I invaded their empire throwing it into disorder and confusion. The Kakateeyas along with their allies were disastrously defeated on the battlefield of Muttukur near Nelore. Although the invasion was eventually repelled and Ganapathi could ultimately turn back the tide of the invasion, he suffered the loss of territory and respect. Consequently, his control over feudatories and nobles were left in shaking grounds. The kingdom was now left in a weakened state.
Rudrama Devi: The Queen
Following the loss of prestige after the Pandya invasion, her father retired from the public sphere passing on the control to Rudrama. The powers now were vested in the hands of Rani Rudrama Devi. Scriptures suggest, she individually started ruling from 1261.
Around 1266 she lost both her father and her husband. After the demise of her father, Rudrama was finally coronated in 1269. She was now officially the Queen of the Empire. However, owing to her gender, several oppositions including that of her stepbrothers came her way. Harihara Dev and Murari Dev who refused to submit to a woman’s authority later rebelled against her.
Accomplishments and Legacy
Despite the antagonism she faced because of her gender, she rose up as one of the greatest warriors of her time. She drove back the Yedava King of Devagiri forcing him to finally sign a peace accord. She also introduced a new policy of recruiting people from the non-aristocratic background as commanders in the army as well as the administration. It was a radical step to take at that time. It is believed that she put forward such a policy to gain the trust of the commoners and thereby win new loyalists.
She also captured important forts like Renadu, Eruva Mulikinadu, and Satti.
Her accomplishments include the completion of the Warangal fort that her father had begun. It involved the addition of a second wall and a moat to the structure which was built to protect the city against future sieges.
History believes Rudrama Devi was one of the most outstanding queens of all times in Indian history. She played an active part in governing the country and maintained the best interest of her people. Despite the interruptions from neighbouring empires, her people remained contended under her rule. While her gender was no barrier for her, she faced the ill will of others owing to her gender.
The Venetian traveller Marco Polo on his visit to the kingdom later spoke of her administrative qualities in high capacity. He appreciated her benign rule and greatness. He described her as a lady of discretion and appreciated her manners of justice and equity.
The concealment of identity has been used as a tool by women down the ages to project their selves in the public sphere. From historic queens like Razia and Rudrama Devi to modern authors like Mary Ann Evans and J.K. Rowling.
The Politics of Gender
Through the annals of history, gender has time and again proven to be an ‘impediment’ and a tool of suppression. The thirteenth-century witnessed the rise of two such legendary queens who were downtrodden against their gender.
Razia Sultana, daughter of Iltutmish ascended the throne of the Delhi Sultanate in 1236 CE. In a sphere that was dominated by men, queens like Razia and Rudrama Devi fought their way to ultimately rule their kingdoms. However, the century is a testament to a sadder reality of suppression of these women despite being in the highest echelon. Razia’s reign lasted for four years. Minhaj-i Siraj writes that “She was endowed with all the admirable attributes and qualifications necessary for Kings. But her sex was her greatest disqualification.”
At a time when purdah formed the larger part of the Mughal customs and attire, Razia rose against the practice deeming it obstructive. Razia too discarded conventional female attire and dressed in qaba and kulah which were elements of dresses worm by men.
Attire and appearance become a common denominator in both these examples. Through the vicissitudes of history, the need for women to endow themselves with conventionally masculine traits and project themselves as men is symptomatic of a larger contradiction.
The concealment of identity has been used as a tool by women down the ages to have chance to put themselves out in the public sphere. From historic queens like Razia and Rudrama Devi to modern authors like Mary Ann Evans and J.K. Rowling, the struggle to step out of the household has been a struggle against their feminine existence.