“When kings and rulers of bigger kingdoms refused to help me, you bravely gave me shelter and helped to protect Hinduism. I can never forget this bravery and generosity of yours. May Goddess Bhavani give you all happiness! I pray to God that your land may be a home of happiness. Your son, Rajaram”Rajaram, the son of Great Shivaji Maharaj to Rani Chennamma of Keladi
This article is about Chennamma (rani of Keladi), who fiercely fought against the Bijapuri forces, followed the principle of Rajdharma in order to protected Rajaram (son of Shivaji Maharaj) from Aurangzeb (Alamgir), defeated the sultan of Bijapur and the ruler of Mysore. She was the queen of Keladi (situated on the coast of Karnataka)
Rani Chennamma- From a Trader’s Daughter to Queen
Initially the kingdom of Keladi was founded by Chowda Nayak in 1499. After the disintegration of Vijaynagar Empire in the battle of Talikota their vassals established small independent kingdoms. These small kingdoms were constantly under threat from the Portuguese, Bijapuri forces and the Mughals.
Somashekhara Nayaka became the king of Keladi in 1664. After seeing Chennamma at Rameshwara fair in Keladi the king decided to marry only her and in 1667 the weeding took place in the city of Bidanur.
With the help of king Someshwara Rani Chennamma received education in the field of politics, statecraft, warfare, literature etc.
But when the king was treacherously murdered by Bharame Mavuta, who was the father of Kalavathi (royal court dancer) Rani Chennamma ascended the throne and adopted Basappa Nayaka as her son.
During the time when the king fell seriously ill the queen took control of the administration department of Keladi. The queen successfully resisted the traitors who wanted to capture the throne.
Astounding Victory Over Bijapuri Sultans & Alliance with Shivaji Maharaj
The news of vulnerable keladi and power struggle among the nobles of kingdom gave the Bijapur sultan an opportunity to invade kingdom of Keladi.
Initially the sultan sent his agent Jannopant to negotiate with the Keladi queen. This was a trap as their agent was followed by an army. It is also believed that Bharame Mavuta also conspired with the sultan of Bijapur to capture Keladi kingdom.
Rani Chennama offered rupees 3 lakhs to Jannopant in order to buy some time for the preparation of war. The queen decided to move the entire army along with precious wealth and all other resource from Bidanur fort to Bhuvanagiri fort.
This tactic was somehow similar to Scorched Earth warfare in order to starve the invading forces and demoralizing their morale. When the sultan’s army reached Bidanur fort they found it completely empty with no useful resources.
At Bhuvanagiri fort Rani Chennamma gathered her outnumbered army and followed the advice of her minister and military commander to conduct Guerrilla warfare against the Bijapuri invaders.
The already demoralized sultan’s forces marched towards Bhuvanagiri. Although heavily outnumbered ,Chennamma’s army ambushed the invading forces. The Bijapuri army was completely destroyed and badly defeated.
After the battle the victorious queen executed the traitor Bharame Mavuta and Jannopant along with their deciples.
Later Rani Chennamma built strong relation with the Portuguese and exported spices and rice from the Keladi ports. She also made truce with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and in return he offered her protection against the Adil Shahis and the Portuguese.
Due to pepper trade between Keladi kingdom and the Portuguese the Portuguese called her Reina de Pimenta (the Pepper Queen).
The king of Mysore Chikkadevaraya Wodeyar attacked Keladi but the brave daughter of India resisted all the attacks and courageously protected her kingdom. A total of 3 battles were fought between them which resulted in a peaceful truce.
Giving Shelter to Shivaji Maharaj’s Son & Standing against Aurangzeb to follow her Rajdharma
But the incident for which Rani Chennamma is remembered today is that when she gave shelter to Son of Shivaji Maharaj and stood against the wrath of Alamgir (Aurangzeb).
After the death of Shivaji Maharaj in 1680 Aurangzeb invaded Bijapur in 1686 and Golconda in 1687 respectively. He then focused to subjugate the Marathas and was able to capture their king Sambhaji Maharaj.
The Mughal under Aurangzeb brutally tortured Sambhaji to death. After the death of Sambhaji 19 years old Rajaram Ram Bhonsle was crowned as the Maratha chief at Raigad.
The Mughal laid siege on Raigad. The brave Marathas were able to let Rajaram escape. He reached the fort of Keladi and asked for shelter and requested for safe passage to Jingi fort (in Tamil Nadu).
The queen of Keladi was well aware of the situation and knew that if she gave shelter to Rajaram then Alamgir Aurangzeb will definitely invade her kingdom.
The queen bravely followed the code of Rajdharma and prepared for war against Aurangzeb’s Mughal army. When Rajaram left Keladi Aurangzeb sent a letter to Rani Chennamma demanding to hand over the Maratha chief to him.
The queen replied that Rajaram had already left her kingdom and rejected the Mughal Emperor’s offer. After this the Mughal’s invaded Keladi under Azamath Ara.
The Mughals entered Bidnur during monsoon season and were not capable in conducting warfare under these climate. This gave Keladi forces an advantage over their enemy.
Following Guerrilla tactics the Keladi warriors butchered the invaders. Keladi forces were able to capture large number of Mughal resources including horses and logistic materials.
Due to Rani chennamma’s military tactics Alamgir called her “Female Bear”
The war continued for few days and resulted in a peace treaty. It is also believed that the Keladi force were able to kill half of the invading army.
After the battle the Mughal army planned to siege Jinji fort.
Rajaram after reaching Jinji fort wrote to Rani Chennamma and thanked her for support.
She ruled Keladi until her death in 1696 and handed the administration to Basappa Nayak( Keladi Basavraj).
Signifance of Rani Chennamma on Indian History
Although she was the ruler of a small kingdom, her act of defiance against the mighty Aurangzeb to follow her Rajdharma and to save the son of Chatrapatti Shivaji Maharaj is a turning point in medievel India’s history. Had she not given passage to Rajaram , Aurangzeb would have definitely captured and killed him. This would mean that the huge & mighty Maratha empire that later decimated the Mughals would never form and History would have taken a totally different course.
For this reason, it is important to remember Rani Chennamma’s contribution to the Hind Swaraj that Chatrapati Shivaji dreamed of and his later successors made possible.
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