Saga of gallantry: Rani Durgavati, the Gond queen who breathed her last in the battlefield

The Chauragarh fort, on the way to Panchmarhi, was the capital of Rani Durgavati during the sixteenth century. Although almost 500 years are over, the local people still remember the gallantry of Rani Durgavati and her teen-aged son, Vir Narayan. Read the immortal saga of gallantry in this article.

Are you a tourist visiting Panchmarhi, the only hill-station of Madhya Pradesh? On the way to Panchmarhi, you will visit Chauragarh fort. The guide would tell you that the fort is an excellent sunrise viewpoint in entire Madhya Pradesh, but most probably he would fail to tell you the saga of gallantry written in Chauragarh fort during the sixteenth century. Now very few people are aware of the grand fight which took place around the fort between the warrior queen Durgavati and her son, Vir Narayan in one side and the Mughal troop on the other side. Let us know the saga of the gallantry of the gallant queen and her young son.

Early life of Rani Durgavati

The courageous lady was born on 5th October, 1524 in the family of Keerat Rai, the Chandella ruler of Kalinjar fort. Chandella Rajputs had earlier built the famous temples of Khajuraho. They also confronted and repulsed the force of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. But at the time of birth of Durgavati, Chandella power had declined and their rule was confined to the surrounding areas of Kalinjar fort. Even in her childhood, Durgavati was an expert in horse riding, sword fighting and archery. Even Abul Fazl acknowledged her expertise in his famous book, 'Akbar-nama'.

Marriage with a Gond king

Durgavati was married to Dalpat Shah, the eldest son of Gond King Sangram Shah, in 1542. At that time, the Gond tribes settled in eastern Madhya Pradesh were ruling four kingdoms in the region. Sangram Shah was the ruler of the kingdom of Garha-Mandla. Historians surmise that during the fifteenth century, the Chandellas used to enter into matrimonial alliances with Gond rulers and used to fight jointly the invaders from northern India. Keerat Rai, the Chandella ruler of Kalinjar fort, had resisted the invasion of Sher Shah Suri, with the help of Sangram Shah.

Rani Durgavati, the queen-mother of Garha-Mandla

Durgavati gave birth to a son in 1545. The son was named Vir Narayan. But Dalpat Shah left this world in 1550 leaving behind a five-year-old heir. Rani Durgavati started ruling the kingdom as a Regent on behalf of Vir Narayan.

The Rani proved to be an efficient administrator and brilliant military strategist. She shifted her capital from Singhgarh fort to Chauragarh fort, near present-day Panchmarhi. The new capital was chosen due to its strategic location at Satpura hill range. Her decision was soon found to be very prudent. Sultan Baz Bahadur of Malwa attacked her kingdom in 1556, but Rani personally led the repulsive action against Malwa soldiers. The Malwa troop was defeated and it suffered heavy losses. This victory of Rani was followed by a temporary period of peace in her kingdom.

Rani Durgavati versus Mughal army

The peace was short-lived for Rani Durgavati. In 1562, Mughal Emperor Akbar defeated Baz Bahadur and brought Malwa under the Mughal rule. At the same time, another Mughal general Asaf Khan annexed Rewa. So, Garha-Mandla kingdom was then surrounded by mighty Mughals in the north (Rewa) and in the east (Malwa).

The attack came in 1564. Asaf Khan led the assault with a huge force. Rani Durgavati moved her force to Narai Nala, situated between a hilly range at one side and two rivers of Gaur and Narmada at the other side. When Mughal forces entered the narrow valley, Rani's soldiers attacked them. She personally chased the Mughal army out of the valley and emerged victorious.

The next day, the Mughal army returned with heavy artillery. Both the Rani and her gallant son Vir Narayan led the soldiers of Garha- Mandala. This teen-aged young boy of nineteen thrashed the Mughal army thrice during the course of the battle, but was grievously injured. He was taken to a secured place. Rani Durgavati went on fighting on the elephant. But she was injured by two arrows. She decided to end her life to evade captivity. The gallant Rani plunged a knife into herself and committed suicide on 24th June, 1564. After her death, Vir Narayan continued fighting from Chauragarh fort, but ultimately he was also martyred in the battlefield. Garha-Mandla finally fell into the hand of the Mughals.

Finally what happened

The prosperous days of Garha-Madala were over. The kingdom became part of Mughal Subah of Malwa. After another 25 years, Chandra Shah, the youngest son of Sangram Shah, became the ruler of Garha-Mandla, under the Mughals. The kingdom witnessed many attacks from Bundellas. Ultimately Marathas annexed the area in 1698. When Maratha forces became weak, the area was taken over by the British after the Third Anglo-Maratha war in 1818.

The kingdom frequently changed hands. But the simple Gond and Rajput inhabitants of the region never forgot their great Rani Durgavati and her young son Vir Narayan. Hundreds of folklores and ballads of the region still bear testimony to their gallantry.

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