Kashmir’s Women Rulers

Right from the earliest times Kashmir has had some women rulers. There are three womenwho have made an imprint on Kashmir’s history

Pandit Kalhana in Rajatarangini, his treatise on the Kashmiri Kings from the ancient times,which was written in twelfth century AD mentions about some of the women rulers of Kashmir. The most famous ruler has been Rani Didda who ruled for 40 years from 958 to 1003 AD. She is supposed to have been physically disabled, clever, manipulative, and ruthless. Her rule represents the peak of women power in Kashmir. She has been called the Catherine of Kashmir like the Catherine of Russia who was ruthless and ruled for a long time with her favourites whom she purged from time to time. Sir Aurel Stein says about her, “The statesmanlike instinct and political ability which we must ascribe to Didda in spite of all the defects of her character are attested by the fact that she remained to the last in peaceful possession of the Kashmir throne, and was able to bequeath it to her family in undisputed possession.” Didda is referred to as footless as she was lame but could still walk. She is supposed to have been taken round by woman Vagla who accompanied her everywhere. About her capability, Kalhana says, “the Lame Queen whom no one had thought capable of stepping over a cow’s footprint got over the host of her enemies just as Hanuman got over the ocean.”

Women rulers were not very much encouraged during the Hindu period because of a negative observation in Mahabharata about women rulers, “The country where a woman, a child or a gambler rules, sinks helplessly as a stone raft in the river.”According to Kalhana, there were two other women rulers before Rani Didda. One was the Mythical Yashomati who is supposed to have been crowned by Krishna himself. Kalhana comments about her rule as, “The eyes of men which viewed womankind with scanty courtesy, considering it as one of the objects of pleasure, looked upon this mother of her subjects as if she were her goddess.”  The other was the Sughandadevi who ruled in the beginning of the tenth century, first as a regent and then directly. However, she had a very short stint of two years only and was killed by her courtiers.

Kota Rani was the last Hindu ruler of Kashmir in Medieval Kashmir, ruling until 1339. Wikipedia gives a very concise description of her as, “She was the daughter of Ramachandra. Ramachandra had appointed an administrator to Rinchan, a Ladakhi. Rinchan became ambitious. He sent a force in the fort in the guise of merchants, who took Ramachandra’s men by surprise. Ramachandra was killed and his family was taken prisoners.To earn local support, Rinchan appointed Rawanchandra, the son of Ramachandra, as administrator of Lar and Ladakh, and married his sister Kota Rani. He employed Shah Mir as a trusted courtier, who had entered Kashmir earlier and had been given an appointment in the government.Rinchan converted to Islam and adopted the name of Sultan Sadruddin. He died as a result of an assassination after ruling for three years”.

“Kota Rani was first appointed as a regent for Rinchan‘s young son. Later she was persuaded to marry Udayanadeva by the elders. Udayanadeva died in 1338.Kota Rani had two sons. Rinchana’s son was under the charge of Shah Mir and Udayanadeva’s son was taught by Bhatta Bhikshana. Kota Rani became the ruler in her own right and appointed Bhatta Bhikshana as her prime minister”.

“Shah Mir pretended to be sick, and when Bhatta Bhikshana visited him, Shah Mir jumped out of his bed and killed him. Shah Mir forced her into marriage. According to the historian Jonaraja, she committed suicide and offered her intestines to him as a wedding gift.It is not known what happened to her sons”.

After the advent of Islam, Kashmir did not have a woman ruler. However, the last Queen of the independent sovereign Kashmir, Habba Khatoon was a virtual ruler as her husband Yusuf Shah Chak was mostly busy with his poetic parties and celebrations. She was a very famous poetess. In fact, she transformed the famous Spiritual Sufi School of poetry into the Romantic Lol School. Her poems are still very popular in Kashmir especially among the village folk. It is history that she had advised Yusuf Shah Check not to fall in the trap of the Mughal King Akbar who had called him to Lahore for discussions. Immediately on arrival there, he was arrested and Kashmir was annexed to the Mughal Empire. The best poetry written by Habba Khatoon was during separation from Yusuf Shah Check.

Thus, Rani Didda, Kota Rani and Habba Khatoon have left their distinct imprint on the history of Kashmir. Right now, we again have a women ruler. Even though we are supposed to have a democratic set up yet the succession of rulers here has remained dynastic like the old times. At the present moment, we have history in the making and time only will show how she compares with the earlier women rulers of Kashmir!

Mohammad Ashraf,     I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir


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