How Rani Bhavashankari Defeated Pathans and Retained Hindu Supremacy in Bengal
Rani Bhavashankari Roy! She is a complete stranger to crores of Indians from the east to the west, north to the south, except Bengal. This brave daughter of Bharat Mata from Bengal retained Hindu supremacy in her region after defeating the Pathans in the 16th century. She was also called Roy Baghini (Roy Tigress) for her bravery. Folklores and ballads of Bengal plenteously glorify her tales of valor.
Bhavashankari was born as Bhavashankari Chaudhuri; she was a Brahmin by birth. She was born in Pendo in the Bhurishrestha kingdom of Bengal. She was the daughter of Dinanath Chaudhuri, a Nayak who served under the commander of Pedo fort of the Bhurishrestha kingdom ruled by Raja Rudranarayan. She lost her mother when her brother was born. She grew up under the care of her father. Dinanath Chaudhuri, who was highly trained in the art of warfare, himself led armies to battle. He not only trained people under him, but also his daughter in warfare. In the premises of the Pedo fort, were she was born, Bhavashankari soon became an expert in horse riding, swordsmanship and archery. Dressed as a soldier in battle, she often accompanied her father during his military campaigns. The young warrior daughter took lessons in different subjects, ranging from politics, sociology, philosophy to war, diplomacy, and theology.
(Note: In the current context, with rising crimes against women, it is necessary that women get trained in defence. They should be trained in the use of swords and guns including other handy weaponry. This training will instill confidence in them and resist any sort of attacks.)
Bhavashankari had pledged to marry the man who would defeat her in a sword fight. But this pledge was never fulfilled. Instead of getting married to a commoner, she was married to Rudranarayan, the king of Bhurishrestha. There is an interesting incident of bravery that led to the consummation of Bhavashankari’s marriage with the king. She often went hunting to the forests. One day while hunting a deer with a spear, she was attacked by a herd of wild bisons. Raja Rudranarayan happened to pass by that route, but unnoticed by the brave warrior girl. The king was awestruck seeing Bhavashankari singlehandedly killing all the bisons with the spear in no time. The sight enthralled him. The king at once decided to marry her. And the royal marriage took place soon after.
The Bhurishrestha kingdom, also called Bhurshut, comprised of the present Howrah and Hooghly districts. It was earlier ruled by Sur kings followed by rulership by different feudatory kings including the Dhibar dynasty. In the late 15th century, the region fell under the rule of Roys, a Brahmin family. Krishna Roy established the Brahmin dynasty in Bhurishrestha in 1583. From his maternal side, he was the grandson of Raja Chaturanan Neogi of Garh Bhawanipur kingdom, who dethroned the last Dhibar king. From his paternal side, he belonged to the Mukhti royal family of Phulia. He ruled only for a year and was succeeded by his son Shivanarayan. Raja Rudranarayan was the grandson of Krishna Roy.
Bhavashankari’s dwelling after her marriage was the royal palace at Damodar, just outside the fort of Garh Bhawanipur. The king started seeking her advice on all matters related to administration and the military given her expertise in the said subjects.
Bhavashankari was a staunch devotee of Goddess Chandi, another name of Maa Durga and Mahadev. The goddess was her kuldevi. It is believed the queen received a sword as boon from the goddess. Bhavashankari offered prayers to the goddess with a wish that no man would ever be able to defeat her in a battle. She remained on fast seeking blessings from the goddess. On the third day, a divine hearing from the goddess led the queen end her fast. Following the instructions of the divine hearing, she took a bath in the lake near the fort where a sword gifted by the goddess lay at the bottom. The queen accepted the sword.
Since that day, the inhabitants of Bhurishrestha started worshipping Goddess Chandi as the patron goddess. Today, she is worshipped in the Hoogly and Howrah region as Betai Chandi or Melai Chandi. Bhavashankari built several temples of the goddess in her kingdom. One temple built outside the bordering moat of the Chhaunapur fortress in Bashari village was connected to the fortress by an underground tunnel that also served as an escape route during emergencies. A residence in the temple premise served as her abode during her regular visits to the fort.
Herself a trained and skilled soldier, Bhavashankari regularly visited and looked after the army and their training. She had a dedicated female battalion, all well-trained. Under her tutelage, upgradation and modernization of military infrastructure took place. She also renovated existing forts and built new garrison fortresses along the boundaries of Bhurishrestha. Garrisoned troops were stationed at Khanakul, Chhaunapur, Tamluk, Amta, Uluberia, and Naskardanga to readily counter any possible enemy attacks.
During Rudranarayan’s rule, the Mughal Empire emerged powerful in Delhi so were Islamic rulers in the neighboring provinces. There was always a lurking threat from the Islamic invaders. Rani Bhavashankari encouraged the subjects of Bhurishrestha to undergo military training so that they could easily defend themselves in any such possible attacks. She made recruitment to the military compulsory from every family of her kingdom.
(Note: In the current context, India has had border issues with Pakistan and China leading to wars with both the countries. There is every possibility of war in the future if China and Pakistan do not stop fighting on the border issue. Besides, almost every day our soldiers are martyred at the border. Then there are Naxalite forces, who are destroying the country from within. Huge number of selected civilians should undergo military training; they should stay prepared with adequate training to help the army when the need arises).
Rudranarayan, during his reign, expanded his empire and consolidated his control over south western Bengal. Bhurishrestha thus not only included Howrah and Hooghly but also the southern part of Burdwan, East Midnapore, and major parts of West Midnapore. He organized and reinforced the navy, stationing a strong naval force along the Damodar and the Ron river banks of his territory.
In alliance with the Hindu kingdoms of Bihar, Orissa (Gajapati Mukundadeva was king then) and other kingdoms of Bengal, Rudranarayan decided to counter the rising Pathan Sultanate of Gaur. Sulaiman Karrani was then the Sultan of the Gaur kingdom. The combined army under the brave and well-built Oriyan general Rajib Lochan Ray (also called Kalapahad because of his huge built) defeated Sulaiman Karrani in 1565 at the Battle of Tribeni.
Till Rajib Lochan Ray was there with the allied forces, no one could defeat them. Karrani devised a plan. He won Rajib Lochan Ray to his side by treacherously trapping him into a love affair (which is termed love-jihad in today’s context; this trap has been continuing since several hundred years) with his daughter Gulnaaz. Rajib Lochan Ray, a Brahmin, converted to Islam under a new name – Muhammad Farmuli, and married Gulnaaz. Farmuli tried to reconvert back to Hinduism, but was refused. He took revenge by attacking Orissa and defeating king Mukundadeva besides destroying many temples including Jagannath temple of Puri and Konark Sun temple. Rajib Lochan Ray ultimately died soon by drowning.
(Note: Converts who wish for a Ghar Waapsi, reconverting back to Hinduism, should never be refused. They should be readily welcomed back following the required rituals and ceremonies. Had Kalapahad been readily welcomed, the History of Orissa would have been different.)
After the death of Sulaiman Karrani, his son Daud Khan Karrani became the Sultan of Bengal. He sought the help of Raja Rudranarayan to fight against the Mughals. Rudranarayan refused to help. Seeking revenge, the Sultan’s forces under Kotlu Khan attacked the Bhurishrestha kingdom from the west, as all other sides were heavily guarded. Rudranarayan’s forces killed Kotlu Khan and badly defeated the Pathan forces.
Bhavashankari soon became a mother; she gave birth to prince Pratapnarayan. She became a widow when her son was only five years old. A grief-stricken Bhavashankari attempted to commit Sati, but was stopped by the royal priest. The priest advised her to look after the affairs of the kingdom as the heir to the throne was a child. He advised her to nurse and train the prince to be an able king in the future. The queen agreed, but remained aloof from the affairs of the kingdom for around three months.
The Pathans under the leadership of Osman Khan were once again geared up to attack Bhurishrestha. Meanwhile, entrusting the affairs of the kingdom to two of her most trusted nobles – Chaturbhuj Chakravarti, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and Durlabh Dutta, the revenue minister, Bhavashankari with her young son left for the Mahadev temple at Kastasangrah. She was accompanied by a group of the strongest and able female bodyguards. The celebration at the temple included worshipping of Mahadev every day, kirtan, giving alms to beggars, and a feast to Brahmins and beggars every day. This was to continue for several days. At night the widowed queen engaged in sadhana (meditation) for Mahadev in front of the Shivalinga.
Bhavashankari knew of a possible attack by Pathan forces, hence she used to be clad in war attire most of the time and armed with weapons. During worship she wore the war armor beneath her worshipping attire. While in deep meditation at night, the female bodyguards kept guard outside.
India has a track record of her own people becoming traitors by supporting enemies. It was because of such traitors that Bharat Mata was under enemy rule for several centuries and most of her treasuries looted, women raped, temples destroyed, and lakhs converted. Chaturbhuj Chakravarti joined hands with Osman Khan, the leader of the Pathan forces to fight against the Mughals and in return with the Sultanate’s help become king of Bhurishrestha. They together also planned to capture Bhavashankari and her son Pratapnarayan. Following Chaturbhuj Chakravarti’s plan, Osman Khan along with many well trained Pathanis disguised themselves as Hindu saints followed by 200 more Pathanis, entered the Bhurishrestha territory.
The queen’s spies could identify few of the Pathans at Amta. They immediately sent the news to the queen. The queen in turn summoned a detachment of 200 guards from the nearest garrison. The soldiers spread themselves in the forests of Kastasangrah where the Mahadev temple was located. Bhavashankari could not stop her celebration or her Shiv sadhana at night. As usual, dressed in war attire, she sat for meditation in front of the Shivalinga, with the armed female bodyguards keeping guard outside. She knew she might be attacked; hence she was all ready for it without interrupting her devotion for Mahadev.
Bhavashankari surmised right. The Pathan troops attacked her. A fierce sword fight followed. Soon hundreds of Pathans were butchered by Bhavashankari’s troops. There was a Shaiva akhara at the nearby forest. A fresh contingent of Pathans attacked the akhara in the wee hours. The brave warrior saints, all devotees of Mahadev, at the akhara, bravely retaliated. They killed all the Pathans.
Had Bhavashankari not taken action at the right time, Bhurishrestha would have lost its sovereignty to the Pathans. She returned to the capital early in the morning the next day and took control of the administration and military affairs. Due to lack of evidence, she could not punish Chaturbhuj Chakravarti. Instead, she demoted him to a lower post, as under his commandership, Pathan forces breached security and entered the Bhurishrestha territory. She appointed Bhupati Krishna Ray as the new commander-in-chief.
Bhavashankari’s coronation as the ruler of Bhurishrestha was to take place at the Bhavani temple in Bashuri near Chhaunapur fort as per tantric rites. Meanwhile, Chaturbhuj Chakravarti again joined hands with Osman Khan in a conspiracy against the queen. Once a traitor, always a traitor! Bhavashankari should have executed him, so that elements of traitorhood were ripped at the bud. (Rajput prince Chain Singh killed the traitors of his kingdom; these traitors sided with the British against their own Matribhumi! Chain Singh did the right thing, but not all traitors were caught and not all were punished earlier or later. And traitors exist at present too. Traitors who are all geared up to divide and break India, destroy India culturally, economically, and socially! The govt. should take stern measures to punish them.) They planned to capture the queen on the night of her coronation when there will be only few bodyguards.
Going by the plan, Osman Khan entered Bhurishrestha territory with a troop of hundreds of Pathan soldiers. They reached a little distance away from Chhaunapur fort and camped in the forests. A hunter saw them and reported about it to the Bhurishrestha army. Bhupati Krishna Ray was then away from the capital fort and Chaturbhuj Chakravarti was the acting commander-in-chief. He dismissed the incident as a false alarm. The news reached Krishna Ray. Following Ray’s orders Chaturbhuj Chakravarti marched towards Bashuri. Meanwhile, at the same time, the traitor sent word to Osman Khan to attack Bhavani temple towards the end of the night after the coronation.
Bhupati Krishna Ray was quick to send a messenger to Bhavashankari, notifying her about everything. The coronated queen was quick to react. She could not trust Chaturbhuj Chakravarti though he was advancing towards Bashuri with troops. She immediately deployed troops from three nearby garrisons including the female battalion at Bashuri. This included an infantry of 500, cavalry of 500, and an elephant brigade of 100, all ready for battle. Bhupati Krishna Ray marched with a troop to check Chaturbhuj Chakravarti and his troops. Meanwhile, the local Chandal and Bagdi people joined Bhavashankari to fight against the Pathan forces.
A fierce battle between the Pathans led by Osman Khan and the Bhurishrestha forces led by Bhavashankari herself took place at Bashuri. Bhavashankari marched forward fearlessly against the enemy forces seated atop an elephant and armed with her hand cannon Rudragnishakti. With the blessings of Bhavani, she fought like Goddess Durga, butchering the enemy soldiers fiercely, one by one fast. The superior warfare skills of Bhurishrestha army, who were all trained by the queen herself, were no match to the Pathan soldiers. In no time the Pathans were decimated. Osman Khan fled the battlefield. He could flee the Bhurishrestha territory in the guise of a fakir.
Akbar was then the Mughal emperor. Do you know Akbar accepted the sovereignty of Bhurishrestha? All because of the valor and courage displayed by Bhavashankari in decimating the Pathan forces! The Mughals never interfered into the affairs of her kingdom.
After Pratapnarayan came of age to be able to rule the kingdom of Bhurishrestha, Bhavashankari facilitated his marriage and coronated him king. She then retired for a spiritual life and spent her remaining years in Kashi.
It is unfortunate that the glorious legacy of the past is ignored at present in Bengal.
Salute to the brave warrior Bhavashankari! Har Har Mahadev! Jai Maa Chandi!
Featured image courtesy (representation purpose only): gazabindia.in and quora
1. Paschim Banger Sanskriti, Binoy Ghosh
2. Birottove Bangali (Heroism of the Bengalis), Anil Chandra Ghosh
3. Land and Local Kingship in Eighteenth-Century Bengal, John R. McLane.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely of the author. My India My Glory does not assume any responsibility for the validity or information shared in this article by the author.