A legendary queen of the Kakatiya dynasty, Rudrama Devi epitomized the essence of indomitable courage after taking charge of Warangal in the 13th century. She suppressed many military threats, commanded the respect of her subjects, lived for the people whom she led – and died for them.

Rani Rudrama Devi ( r 1262 – 1289)

“This (Kingdom) was formerly under the rule of a King, and since his death, some forty years past, it has been under his Queen, a lady of much discretion, who for the great love she bore him never would marry another husband (sic). And I can assure you that during all that space of forty years she had administered her realm as well as ever her husband did, or better; and as she was a lover of justice, of equity, and of peace, she was more beloved by those of her kingdom than ever was Lady or Lord of theirs before. The people are Idolaters, and are tributary to nobody. They live on flesh, and rice, and milk……

No other country but this kingdom of Mutfili produces them (diamonds), but there they are found both abundantly and of large size. Those that are brought to our part of the world are only the refuse, as it were, of the finer and larger stones. For the flower of the diamonds and other large gems, as well as the largest pearls, are all carried to the Great Khan and other Kings and Princes of those regions; in truth they possess all the great treasures of the world.

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In this kingdom also are made the best and most delicate buckrams, and those of highest price; in sooth they look like tissue of spider’s web! There is no King nor Queen in the world but might be glad to wear them. The people have also the largest sheep in the world, and great abundance of all the necessaries of life.”

Marco Polo, Venetian traveler, describing the Kakatiya kingdom (13th century AD)

Very few of us are aware of Queen Rudrama Devi, who ruled Warangal in the 13th century. She is currently going through a revival of sorts with a stereoscopic 3D Telugu film with numerous special effects released on her this year. In the movie she is projected as a superhero, with the obligatory leaping on maddened elephants to tame them and bend them to her will, and singlehandedly defeating dozens of men in swordfights, clearly the next big thing after fearless Nadia.

This queen did exist in history, much beloved of her subjects, though the flying leaps and waterfall songs are unlikely. She ruled for 40 years and presided over the golden age of the Kakatiyas. She is the only independent female ruler mentioned by Marco Polo in his journey through so many kingdoms across the world. He was mistaken in thinking her a widow of the previous king; she had inherited the kingdom from her father Ganapati deva, who chose her as his heir over other male members of his extended family. There are enough inscriptions, coins and literary references though the centuries to tell us something about her life.

The Deccan had seen the great empires of the Cholas and the Chalukyas battle each other to exhaustion and by the beginning of the 13th century, four major kingdoms had come up, ruled by former feudatories. These were almost coterminus with the linguistic modern states of today; the Seuna Yadavas ruled over the Marathi speaking regions which form modern day Maharashtra with their capital at Devgiri (Daulatabad), the Hoysalas over Karnataka with their capital at Dwarasamudra (Halebid), the Pandyas over Tamil Nadu and some of Kerala with their capital at Madurai, and the Kakatiyas over Andhra, with their capital at Orugallu (Warangal). They incessantly battled each other, totally ignoring the momentous changes taking place north of the Vindhyas, where the Delhi Sultanate had been established by Muhammad Ghori, and was conquering kingdom after kingdom in the north. All these proud Deccan dynasties were soon to be over whelmed and brutally eliminated by the northern invaders.

The Kakatiyas established the first kingdom encompassing all the Telugu speaking lands. They were feudatories of the eastern Chalukyas from around the 8th century. Rudradeva I declared independence from the Chalukyas in 1163, and switched to Telugu from Kannada as the official language. He built the wondrous thousand pillared temple in Hanumakonda to commemorate his independence. A later king, Ganapati Deva, who ruled for 60 years from 1199 – 1262, and is considered the greatest Kaktiya king, built up the capital Warangal, and greatly extended Kakatiya boundaries. He actively promoted foreign trade.

Ganapati deva had no sons, and he brought up his daughter, Rudrama Devi to be a ruler, training her in all the requisite skills. With no precedent of a woman ruler, to improve her acceptability as a ruler, Ganapati officially declared her a son via a Putrika yagna. Her official depictions always showed her in male dress, and referred to her in the masculine as Rudradeva. She attended all public meetings dressed as a man.

She was made a co-ruler with her father under the male name Rudradeva Maharaja in 1259, and Ganpatideva later resigned and let her become sole ruler in 1262. She was however, only crowned to the Chalukya “Lion throne”  in 1269 AD after the death of her father.

She was married to the Chalukya prince Virabhadra, a member of a minor Chalukya branch based in the Vengi area. The Chalukyas had ruled the region before the Kakatiyas. The marriage probably occurred shortly after Ganapati’s conquest of Vengi in 1240. Surprisingly, we do not hear of Virabhadra in any administrative position or playing any public role. They had 3 daughters –  Mummadamma, Ruyamma, and Rudrama who were married to local noblemen. Rudrama designated Mummadamma’s son, Prataprudra as her heir (Not any of her daughters!)

She came to power in troubled times, and they became still more troubled because all her neighbours saw this accession as a good opportunity to annex her kingdom. She also faced a great deal of opposition from her feudatory noblemen, who were horrified at the thought of being ruled by a woman. She was however luckier than her near contemporary; just 25 years before her, Razia Sultan had been designated the ruler of the Delhi sultanate by her father Iltutmish and had found herself in a similar situation. She had adopted the name Jalal at din Sultan, and “abandoned the veil and adopted masculine attire.” A contemporary historian said that she was “sagacious, just, beneficient, the patron of the learned, a dispenser of justice, the cherisher of her subjects, and of warlike talent, and endowed with all the admirable attributes and qualifications necessary for a king.” Inspite of this, the noblemen revolted as they refused to have a woman ruler, and she finally died battling them after a brief beleaguered reign of 4 years, at the young age of 35.

At Rudrama’s accession, the Yadavas attacked from Devgiri, the Gangas from Orissa, and the Pandyas from the south. Also many nobles revolted. She survived the onslaught, though much of her reign was spent pushing back these kings to their original boundaries.

At the outset of her reign, the Seuna Yadava king Mahadeva invaded Telangana and reached Warangal. As per the 18th century  history Pratapachantra by Ekamranatha,   after 15 days of fighting, she chased the army back to Devgiri, and forced them to pay a large indemnity in  money and horses. Though both sides typically exaggerate, Seuna records showing a Yadava victory in which Rudrama is spared by Mahadeva because she was a woman, and Pratapchantra mentioning an indemnity of one Crore, Rudrama’s victory is borne out by inscriptions which have been found in Bidar, which was deep in Yadava territory, with local rulers pledging allegiance to her. The coins were apparently distributed by her amongst her officers, and a horde of seuna coins found in deep in Andhra territory was probably part of it.

A title she adopted after the victory was “Rayagajakesari” – “The lion over the elephant kings.” She built a Rangamandapa in the Swayambhu temple in Warangal to commemorate her Seuna victory, in which she is shown as a warrior mounted on a lion with a sword and shield in her hands. An elephant trunk holds up a lotus to her in submission.

In 1262 itself, the Kalinga Gajapati king Narsimha I marched into the Godavari Delta and Vengi region and occupied it. She was only able to recover it after 15 years. In 1278, her commanders Poti Nayaka and Proli Nayaka fought against Kalinga Vira Bhanudeva I, son and successor of Narasimha I and inflicted a crushing defeat on him. The commanders then assumed the title tangasimha (lion to the rutting elephant, viz. the Gajapati), and ‘Oddiyarayamanamardana’ (the destroyer of the pride of Oddiyaraya).

The toughest challenge she faced was to the south.  In the first two or three years of their joint rule, the kingdom was thrown into confusion and disorder due to Jatavarma Sundara Pandya I’s invasion of the South in which the Kakatiyas were disastrously defeated in the  battle of Muttukur, near Nellore. Her loyal feudatories, the Kayastha chief Jannigadeva and his brother Tripurarideva later reoccupied some of this territory from the Pandyas. However with the succession of their younger brother Ambadeva in 1273, this area was lost as he rebelled against her.

She had to face rebellion from many of her nobles, including family members Hariharadeva and Murarideva as mentioned in Pratapachantran. She defeated them with the help of loyal Nayakas like Gona Ganna Reddi, and Recherla Prasaditya. Annamambika Devi, the wife of  Gona Ganna Reddy, is considered to be one of her best friends.

Through the incessant warfare, she worked on many projects. Rudrama Devi completed the construction of the nearly impregnable Warangal fort which had been built by her father Ganapati. The still preserved fortifications consist of concentric circular walls.  There is a citadel protected by an inner wall 1 km in diameter and made of huge blocks of granite, irregular in size but perfectly fitted without the use of mortar. Rudrama Devi heightened this wall built by her father to over twenty feet. Forty-five massive bastions, from forty to sixty feet on a side, project outward from the wall and into the waters of the moat.  As Amir Khusrau put it ‘ its turrets rose up in air and soared up to the moon while its bottom passing below water reached the fish ‘. An earthen wall surrounding this, 1.5 miles in diameter and surrounded by a moat some 150 feet wide, was built by Rudrama Devi. In the 16th century, a third wall, an earthen rampart nearly eight miles in diameter was added.

There are beautiful temples and buildings, much damaged by invaders, made of intricately carved hard Granite. Most of the pillars, toranas etc are carved out of single pieces of stone.  In fact the name Orugallu means single stone in Tamil, and another name for Warangal is Ekasilanagaram (Single stone city in Sanskrit).

The Kakatiyas also brought large tracts under cultivation which greatly increased their revenue. Before the 11th century, much of the dry Deccan interior was inhabited by herders. The Kakatiyas and their feudatories built more than 5000 reservoirs or tanks by damming small streams. These tanks were often managed by small temples, which were endowed by the nobles. This caused the spread of agriculture and the settlement of the land by immigrants and herders. Most of these tanks are still in use today.

Another change introduced by Rudramma and which carried on into Prataprudra’s time was the recruitment of non aristocratic warriors from diverse castes as officers and land owners. The older feudal families were gradually supplanted and land grants given to new meritocratic officers. This policy was also used in the later empire of Vijayanagara, which was also Telugu in language. A study shows that only 17% of her subordinates were of noble background. The nonacceptance of a woman ruler by the nobility may have something to do with that!  She also created a class known as Angarakshakas, designating warriors who were part of the queens retinue, who then became a new class of warrior lords.

Though Rudramadevi was frankly not very interested in the arts, she encouraged the practice of Perini Shiva Thandavam by the soldiers. Perini Shiva Thandavam was an extremely vigorous and powerful dance done to the beat of drums by the soldiers as a prelude to war, and was part of the training of the royal forces. This dance form nearly died out after the end of the Kakatiya dynasty, and has recently been revived by Padmasri Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna by studying the poses depicted in the Ramappa Temple at Warangal and other sources. The Maoris in New Zealand did the Haka before war, which has been adopted by their sports teams before matches. It’s a thought for our Indian teams!

In spite of the continuous warfare, her kingdom was tremendously rich, not least because it was the only known source of diamond production in the world. (The first diamonds outside India were only discovered in the 18th century.) Anecdotally, while invading Telangana, Malik Kafur did not bother to dig for diamonds as they passed the famed mines – he said that strong warriors dig out diamonds with their swords and not with pickaxes! The Kohinoor incidentally was from the Kollur mines, and is rumored to have been the eye of an idol in Warangal during Kakatiya times. It is supposed to have been carried to Delhi by Malik Kafur and later passed on to the Mughals as part of the Delhi treasury.

Their famed fabrics were an important export, and I must share Amir Khusrau’s description of the fine and glittering fabric he encountered in the Deccan, unsurprisingly far more poetic than Marco Polo’s description.

“The fineness of its cloths is difficult to describe: the skin of the moon removed by the “executioner star” (Mars – Akhtari Jallad) would not be so fine. One could compare it to a drop of water if that drop fell, against nature, from the font of the sun. A hundred yards of it can pass through the eye of a needle, so fine is its texture, and yet the point of a steel needle can pierce through it only with difficulty. It is so transparent and light that it looks as if one is wearing no dress at all but has only smeared the body with pure water.”

Through her forty year rule, the thorn in her side was the rebellion of the Kayastha chieftain Ambadeva in the southern part of her Kingdom. As mentioned earlier, his brothers Jannigadeva and Tripurari had been loyal feudatories of the Kakatiyas, and held the Pandya King at bay. Ambadeva, on his accession in 1272, however, had ambitions to be an independent king. He allied with Kakatiya enemies like Yadavas and Pandyas, and started conquering the territories of his neighbouring Kakatiya feudatories. He is said to have fought with 75 kings, and amassed a substantial kingdom.

An inscription dated 27th November 1289 was found in 1994 in Chandupatla. The inscription was laid down by an army man of Rudramadevi, Puvvula Mamidi, who also donated a piece of land to Somanatha Temple, commemorating the recent death of queen Rudramadevi and her army chief Mallikarjuna Nayakudu. Though there is no mention of the cause or location of her death, it is deduced that they probably died facing the armies of Ambadeva. The Queen was about 80 years old, but clearly still in the saddle.

Rudramadevi was succeeded by her grandson Prataparudra in 1289, who later defeated Ambadeva. He was a great king who reconquered lost territories and was at the zenith of his glory 20 years into his reign in 1309, when he came across a threat unlike any other the Kakatiyas had dealt with.

Allauddin Khilji, who fancied himself a great conquerer – an epithet he adopted was Sikandar Sani (the second Alexander) – turned his eyes south. In 1309, in the first of the many Delhi Sultanate campaigns against Warangal, he sent an army under his favorite slave Malik Kafur (formerly known as Kafur Hazar Dinari). The campaigns are described by Amir Khusrau, who was himself part of a later Tughlaq campaign.  Kafur besieged the strong fortress and with his vastly superior siege machinery, and broke through the outer mud wall. Prataprudra sued for peace. As Khusrau puts it in his inimitable style:

“He sent to the Malik an image of himself in gold with a rope round its neck in token of surrender and a humble request that his life be spared. ‘ If the king ‘. he said, ‘ desires treasures and presents, I have of gold enough to gild all the mountains of Hind, and it is at his service. But if the world-decorating judgment of the king, in its generosity, allows this yellow-faced servant to keep a few of those gold coins, he will be able to preserve his dignity among his compeers. If the object of the king be diamonds and pearls, I have collected so many of them that neither the eyes of the rocks have beheld nor the ears of the fish heard of a similar treasure. Of horses, too, I possess twenty thousands, both bahri and kohi, the former of which would fly like the wind on the sea without wetting their feet, and the latter would make the mountain ridges tremble like the Indian sword with their tread. The reins of all these horses will be tied to the royal stable. Elephants also have I, hundreds of them, which I would gladly send to the sublime threshold. They are the elephants of Ma’bar, not the grass-eating ones, and all young and new-born who are now just growing their tusks not like those whose tusks have become raised up with age or who have become toothless. These elephants have heard the elephant-prostrating noise of the royal forces, and with their ears wide open they draw lines on the ground with their trunks, in humility and repentance, saying that hence-forward they would not turn their faces towards the Ka’ba of Islam except in slavish deference In short this slave, Luddar Deo (which is how the Muslim historians pronounced Rudra Dev), places in one scale of the balance all the wealth, elephants and horses he possesses, and in the other his own life, and the king can choose either of them,” This message was delivered to Kafur by the rajah’s ‘ basiths’ or messengers in eloquent Hindi ‘ more cutting than the sword ‘, and next day the rich presents consisting of elephants, precious stones like emeralds, rubies, ‘nimmanis’, cat’s-eyes and cock’s-eyes,  diamonds, pearls and horses were brought to the royal camp. The Malik, satisfied that the rajah could pay no more, accepted the presents, and returned to Delhi.”

Prataprudra also agreed to an annual tribute, and confirmed himself as a Khilji tributary. Malik Kafur returned to Delhi along with 20,000 horses and 100 elephants. Another description says that there were five hundred mans of gems and gold. Never before had such treasure been brought to Delhi.

Prataprudra however stopped paying the tribute in 1318, and a punitive force was immediately sent by Allauddin. He lost again, and the annual tribute now became a substantial amount of gold and gems, a 100 elephants “as large as demons” and 12,000 horses.

When the Khiljis were displaced by the Tughlaqs, Prataprudra again stopped tribute payment – An army was despatched under the future Muhammad Bin Tughlaq in 1320 which returned unsuccessful. However they were back in 1323, and after many months of siege, finally conquered the fortress. The city was destroyed and much loot was taken back to Delhi. As an aside, the pavilion, whose collapse caused the death of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (supposedly engineered by his son Muhammad bin Tughlaq)  was set up to view the elephants captured from Warangal.

Prataparudra was captured and sent in a cage to Delhi. He is said to have committed suicide enroute by drowning himself in the Narmada. Sic transit Gloria Mundi.

The writer is the President of FLO, the women’s sing of FICCI. One of India’s leading quizzers, she was declared Champion of Champions by BBC Mastermind in 2001. Archana owns and runs a successful gems and jewelry business, Touchstone, which is a pioneer in Indian costume jewellery.

This article was carried in the December issue of the magazine. Get Swarajya delivered to your home – subscribe now.

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