Queens of India Great mothers whose children rewrote history

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Anupama Nair


As a woman, freedom and empowerment of women is a topic close to my heart. I remember Rousseau’s famous statement during the French Revolution, “man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains”. However for men a lot changed but what has not changed is for women. So, we can correctly say “women are born free, but she is everywhere in chains”. Even in the 21st century there is not much change anywhere in the world. She is a victim of domestic violence, rape and many horrors. The US has the most cases of domestic violence in the world. To add to misery, religions play a huge part in their condition.

The legendary queens in India, Egypt, Greek and Roman mythology were warrior women who had fascinated the world from time immemorial. India, too, had its own share of indomitable women who proved themselves to be fierce fighters and skilled leaders. Making military strategies to storming the battlefields, these courageous queens were truly a force to be reckoned with and second to none. Rani Lakshmi Bai, Rani Abbaka Chowta and Kittur Chenamma were three of the more well-known examples. However, there are many more whose stories have been forgotten in the annals of history. Among these unsung warrior women were Swarajya Janani Jeeja Ma and Tarabai – the brave queens of Marathas.

 “Swarajya Janani – Jeeja Mata, the mother of Shivaji Maharaj was born on 12th January 1598 AD. I can safely say it was Jeeja Mata who made the Hindu Hridaya Samrat Shivaji so great. It is rightly said “behind every successful man is a great mother who nurtures a great life” and the life of Shivaji is a testimony to this fact.

Jeeja Mata is also known as Rajmata Jeejabai, mother of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, founder of the Maratha kingdom and the protector of our Bharat Mtaa as well as his Dharma Hinduism. “She was the guide who shaped his mind from his early years. She was the embodiment of self-respect — the great mother who suffered in silence and became a source of inspiration to her heroic son”.

The true importance of a mother in any individual’s life can be judged from the fact that while on one hand, she is the first guru to her child, on the other hand, it is the very heaven sleeping on her lap, listen to her lullabies, eating food served by he, and from her hands, and lastly touching her holy feet. Jeeja Mata was such a combination — mother and brave woman. She was not only his friend, and guide but also a great source of inspiration. She never lost courage and patience in case of difficulties and adversities. She imparted moral values and ideals to her son. As a result, her son grew up to be a great protector of the Hindu society and came to be known as Hindu Hridaya Samrat Shivaji Maharaj.

She was born in a village named Sindkher to Lakhuji Jadhav and Mahalasabai Jadhav . Her father belonged to Deulgaon, near Sindkhed, in the present-day Buldhana district of Maharashtra. He was equally brave and ambitious and proud of his lineage. She was the only daughter of Lakhuji Jadhav, and as per the customs prevalent in those days, she was married at an early age to Shahaji Bhonsle, who was the son of Maloji Bhosle of Verul village. She was only eight years old and her husband was hardly twelve years old and, she remained with her parents for several years before joining her husband.

She had eight children (six daughters and two sons), unfortunately, all the daughters died in infancy and only the two sons, Shambaji and Shivaji reached adulthood. 

Shahaji was granted Jagir of Bengaluru and as per the terms of the treaty was forced to move to Bengaluru. While Shivaji and Jijabai were at Bengaluru, Shahaji provided excellent education to Shivaji. However, Jeeja Bai along with young Shivaji and a few chosen associates soon shifted to Pune. In those days, a large part of Maharashtra was under the rule of Nijam Shah of Ahmadnagar and Adil Shah of Bijapur and these two rulers were in a constant fight with each other to prove their dominance over the parts of Maharashtra. Along with these rulers, the Portuguese, the British, the Dutch, and the French, constantly tried to prove their dominance over Maharashtra. Due to all these factors, there was instability and insecurity in Maharashtra and needless to say the condition of the common man was miserable.

There were many great Sardars who belonged to the Maratha clan, but they worked either for the Adil Shah or Nizam Shah. Jeeja Bai was not happy that her husband and her father were serving under the Muslim rulers. She always had a vision for an independent kingdom. Nijam Shah deceitfully murdered her father Lakhuji Jadhav and his sons in his royal court. This incident had a deep impact on Jijabai. She was a very pious and intelligent woman with a great vision for an independent kingdom.  Shivaji grew up and began his fight for freedom. At the young age of sixteen, he captured the fort of Thorangadh. Shivaji would not take any important decision without consulting his mother. Jeeja Bai is widely credited with raising Shivaji in a manner that led to his future greatness.

She inspired Shivaji by telling stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Right from his childhood, she would tell Shivaji about the lives of Sri Ram, Maruti, and Sri Krishna to make him pious and patriotic. No wonder, he believed in the saying “Janani janma bhumishcha swargadapi gariyasi”. Right from his childhood, she sowed the seeds of devotion to Bharat Ma. “She instilled in him many values like courage, modesty, truthfulness, fearlessness. She inspired him to the establishment of Hindu Swaraj”. In Shivaji’s spotless character and courage, her contribution is enormous. It was through the efforts of his mother that Shivaji became an ideal administrator and ruler.

Even to Shivaji companions, she was a source of inspiration, and she treated them as affectionately as she did her own son. A glimpse of this was seen in the Bollywood blockbuster Tanaji. “She felt very sad like a mother when brave Maratha soldiers, after fighting heroically, fell one after another sacrificing their lives for their country”. After hearing the news of  her elder son and husband’s death, she was very upset and unfortunately  died soon after the coronation of Shivaji on June 17, 1674, in Pachad. Shivaji was heartbroken by her death, as she was not only a mother, but also a source of his inspiration.

Jijabai lived through life without any assistance, and the moment she stepped into the Bhonsle household, “she absorbed and adapted to their customs and traditions. She had cemented a concrete resolution in life – to cultivate Shivaji into an exemplary king, one who would abide by the ideals of Swaraj and Swadharma, whose subjects would have sufficient to survive on and in whose kingdom, the woman would be treated with due honor and respect”. She realized this cherished dream through her great son.

I am now going to write about the brave Maratha queen Tarabai, who defeated the most barbaric ruler in the history of the world — Aurangzeb.. Many warriors, especially brave queens were neglected and never included in history. One such brave queen is Tara Bai, the Maratha queen who defeated Aurangzeb. Considered as one of the bravest women in Indian history, Tarabai was also called the ‘rainha dos Marathas’ or the ‘Queen of the Marathas’ by the Portuguese. She was the daughter-in-law of Chhatrapati Shivaji and one of India’s greatest medieval monarchs. She is among the few women in history to “save a kingdom by her sheer force and willpower, her indefatigable courage and resolute spirit are at par with the legendary Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, Rani Rudramma Devi of Warangal, Rani Abbakka Chowta of Ullal, Rani Chennamma of Kittur and Velu Nachiyar”. However, very little is written about this warrior queen or her incredible story, so I am writing about her today.

Tarabai Bhosale was the daughter of Maratha general Hambirao Mohite. She was married to Rajaram Bhosale, who was the youngest son of Bharat Ma’s greatest son Shivaji Maharaj, when she was only 8 years old. She was a woman who witnessed the rise and fall of the Marathas, as it was an era when the Mughals and the Marathas were constantly at war for control over Deccan. In 1674, Shivaji had been crowned the ruler of the independent Maratha kingdom that was established by him. Under his able leadership, the empire quickly became a key political force in India, surviving at the height of Mughal power.

Unfortunately, Shivaji passed away in 1680, and the Marathas passed through their toughest time. Sambhaji Maharaj the eldest son of Shivaji became the next ruler. In 1689, Sambhaji was captured and tortured to death by Aurangzeb, after Raigad fort fell to a Mughal army of over fifteen thousand. His wife, Yesubai and son, Shahu, were captured and taken to the Mughal court as hostages.

After his death, the Marathas under Rajaram Bhosale continued the war through guerilla tactics. But unfortunately, Rajaram Bhosale died in 1700 due to a chest disease. The Mughals were delighted when they heard the news. However, they underestimated the strength and bravery of  a young queen and learnt a lesson never to underestimate the great valor of Bharat Ma’s daughters. There were no legal heirs to the throne, due to this Tarabai Bhosale proclaimed her son Shivaji II as the heir to the throne and successor of Rajaram and declare herself as Queen Regent and took charge of the administrative, judiciary and military powers of the empire.

Though grief-stricken by the loss of her husband, Tarabai did not waste much time on tears. Instead, she threw herself into organizing a well-planned and vigorous opposition to Aurangzeb. In fact, in his book, ‘A Social History of the Deccan’, the famous historian Richard Eaton quoted the following lines said by Khafi Khan who was the court chronicler of the Mughals and the author of Muntkhab al-Lubab “the Mughals felt that it would not be difficult to overcome two young children and a helpless woman. We thought our enemy weak, contemptible and helpless; but Tarabai, as the wife of Ram Raja  (Raja Ram), showed great powers of command and government, and from day to day the war spread and the power of the Mahrattas increased”. She must have been truly great that even enemies praised her valor.

She was an intelligent woman, and had earned a reputation during her husband’s lifetime for her knowledge of “civil, diplomatic and military matters”. She used this knowledge to lead from the front travelling between forts, forging crucial partnerships, mobilizing resources and men. “She was a skilled cavalry warrior and also motivated her commanders and soldiers by personally leading aggressive attacks on the enemy.

In his memoirs, Bhimsen who was an officer in the Mughal army said that Tarabai “was a stronger ruler than her husband” and that Tarabai “became all in all and regulated things so well that not a single Maratha leader acted without her order”.

One of Tarabai’s greatest achievements was that she never stopped learning, even if it was from the enemy. She learnt Aurangzeb’s technique of bribing commanders on the enemy side and then Tarabai and her commanders began attacking all the long-held territories of the Mughal empire like Malwa and Gujarat and appointing their own revenue collectors. Even, when forts of her own fell into Aurangzeb’s control, Tarabai always had control of resources from her permanent collection centers in Mughal domain! In her seven-year period as regent, Tarabai single-handedly directed the Maratha resistance against the massive army of Aurangzeb, then the mightiest ruler in the world.

Under her rule, the Maratha army established their rule over Southern Karnataka and plundered several rich towns of the country’s western coast such as Burhanpur, Surat and Broach. In the midst of repeated failures in suppressing the Maratha resistance, Aurangzeb died in 1707, and after facing a power vacuum at the top, the Mughals tried all ways to defeat the Marathas

The brave queen Tarabai passed away at the age of 86 in 1761, a few months after Ahmad Shah Abdali destroyed the Maratha Army at the 3rd  Battle of Panipat. “Had the indomitable queen not taken charge of the Empire in 1701, it is quite likely that the Marathas would have had to face a similar defeat much earlier and the history of India would have been very much different”.

“An indomitable warrior queen who was deeply devoted to her kingdom, Tarabai didn’t just prevent the Maratha Confederacy from disintegrating when it was at its lowest ebb, she played a crucial role in it rise to national power by 1760, the Marathas de facto controlled almost all of India”.



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