Day 7 of Navratri is dedicated to the worship of Kalaratri. Kalaratri is considered to be the most ferocious form of Goddess Durga. It is believed that Parvati removed her fair skin to kill the demons Sumbha and Nisumbha. This form of the Mother Goddess is mounted on a donkey. Since she blesses all those who are humble and humane, she is also known as Shubhankari, meaning the one who does good. Indians have been fortunate to have witnessed and experienced the affections of such ferocious yet caring women in the past, who have not only gained popularity but also love and fondness among the citizens.
Rani Abbakka Chowta of Ullal
Rani Abbakka Chowta of Ullal was the first female freedom fighter that India has seen. She was the first Tuluva Queen of Ullal (present-day Mangalore) and was crowned queen of Ullal by her uncle Tirumala Raya in 1525, as the Chowta’s followed a matrilineal system.
From a young age, Rani Abbakka Chowta was trained to be a good ruler. She was taught how to wield a sword and how to fight with one, military strategies, archery, diplomacy and other subjects on what was needed to make a kingdom run.
When her small kingdom, situated in the western coastal region of India, caught the attention of the Portuguese, they made an attempt to capture it for its strategic importance and fertility of the land. However, the first attempt made by the foreign power with superior navy underestimated the leadership of queen and returned unsuccessfully. After that, it became a recurring event where they kept on attacking Ullal but were never able to defeat the Rani and her army. Rani Abbakka is known to be the only woman in history to confront, fight and repeatedly defeat the Portuguese.
The Portuguese were finally able to defeat her only through deceit, as they corrupted her husband against her, who in turn, betrayed her. After the defeat, she was captured and immediately imprisoned. Despite this, she managed to head a single-handed revolt within bars and was eventually killed in the revolt itself. Her legacy now lives on through memory in Dakshin Karnataka in the form of folk songs, stories and performances of Yakshagana – a form of local theatre
Velu Nachiyar of Sivaganga
Velu Nachiyar, the queen of Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu, was the first Indian ruler to fight and triumph against the British. Queen Velu Nachiyar was popularly known as ‘veeramangai’ which means brave woman.
In 1780, Velu Nachiyar bravely defeated the British to reclaim her territory that they had captured after killing her husband. She managed to do this through a brilliantly formulated coup. She found out the location at which the British had stored their ammunition. In order to defeat them, she devised a suicide attack with her commander in chief Kuyili and destroy all the ammunition.
To carry out the attack, Kuyili doused herself in ghee and set herself on fire and jumped into the ammunition store, destroying everything. This is believed to be the first recorded suicide bomb in the history of the world.
Rani Tarabai of Marathas
Rani Tarabai was the wife of Rajaram, Shivaji’s son from his second wife Soyrabai. After the political instability caused after the passing of Shivaji and his sons, Tarabai took over the reins of Maratha kingdom in the name of her four-year-old son – Shivaji 2. Under her leadership, the Marathas were able to recapture lost territories and also raided southern and western regions in Malwa and Gujarat.
Tarabai was a brave, ambitious and level-headed ruler, who put her kingdom above everything else. She concentrated on fighting the Mughals and was an earnest politician who never went against her own family to attain power. Even after her leadership was snatched away, she continued working in the government. Had it not been for her, the Maratha Empire would have disintegrated long before it did.