Queen Kota Rani Inspiration for Millennials

Dr Vinay Thusoo

“History, if [it] used with care; can present us with alternatives, help us to form the questions we need to ask of the present and warn us about what might go wrong.”
—Margaret MacMillan

More than a landscape, Kashmir has been a mindscape or rather an ideogram representing an amalgamation of varied cultures whose meanings echo far beyond its physical borders even in distant lands. In the glorious years of the ancient past of Kashmir, women have played a significant role in shaping Kashmir and Kashmiri culture, yet seldom have their contributions received the recognition they deserve. One such outstanding woman is Kota Rani, who ruled the hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir and even today remains embedded in the larger sub-consciousness and the Kashmiri psyche.
Kota Rani was an exceptionally beautiful woman who besides being valiant was also a great administrator and a military strategist in the 13th Century AD. She protected Kashmir against the central Asian invaders and used her warrior spirit with a lot of perseverance who threatened Kashmir. The last Hindu ruler of Kashmir Rani Kota had to face intrigue and deceit most of her time as ruler. There was a consistent effort by her opponents to capture and seize the State but she and her loyal ministers acted as obstructions and resisted takeover to a large extent during her tenure. She did partly succeed in her mission of not allowing the kingdom to slip away. But many people do not know the circumstances under which she came into prominence and played her role perfectly. Kashmiri historian Jonaraja in his Sanskrit poem Dvitiya Rajatarangni, which is a continuation of Kalhana’s Rajatarangni showers praises on Kota Rani:
“ As the canal nourishes cultivated fields with water, so did the Queen nourish the people by bestowing much wealth on them. She was to the kingdom what the moon is to the blue lotus, and is to the enemy she was what the luminary is to the white lotus.”
Kota Rani’s father, Ramchandra was Prime Minister and commander-in-chief of King Suhadev of the Lohara dynasty. This was also the time when Ladakhi prince Rinchan in the war of succession lost the battle to his uncle and fled Ladakh. Suhadeva, not only gave him a refugee but also appointed him as a minister. Shah Mir from Swat (now in Pakistan) in search of greener pastures landed as one of the councils in the court of Suhadeva. As Soon Rinchan and Shah Mir became good friends, their togetherness changed the political, cultural, and religious contours of the history of Kashmir.
When Kashmir was invaded by the Mongol leader, Zulju (Dulacha), Suhadeva was defeated and he fled to Tibet. Because of extreme weather conditions and heavy cost to maintain expenditure of his large army, Dulcha left behind Kashmir in chaos and destruction, and sensing the mood of the public, Ramachandra, occupied the throne and appointed Rinchan as an administrator, but Rinchan betrayed him. His men, in the guise of merchants, killed Ramachandra and took his family as prisoners. Following the deceit, Rinchan took over the throne of Kashmir and appointed Shah Mir as his most trusted courtier. Aware of his limitations, Rinchan tactfully won support from Kashmiris. So, first, he won over Ravanachandra, the son of Ramachandra, and appointed him as his chief advisor, bestowing on him the title of Raina, and offered him Ladakh and Lar as his jagir (property). He also compelled Kota Rani, Ramachandra’s daughter to marry him. Kota Rani was practical enough to understand the situation on the ground and, therefore, was wily enough to consort with her father’s killer and transmuted her curse into vengeance. Rinchan expressed his desire to convert to Hinduism and felt aghast as the head guru of the Brahmin community refused to accept him as a Hindu convert because of his involvement in Ramachandra’s murder, although there are many diverse views on this.
Rinchan was killed in a rebel attack in 1323 AD, and dowager Queen Kota Rani married his fugitive husband’s brother Udayanadeva. But it was virtually Queen Kota Rani who became de facto ruler of Kashmir. Around that time, Kashmir was once again invaded by a Mongol-Turk, Achalla, and Udayanadeva fled to Tibet. Kota Rani fought and killed Achalla and drove away his troops. After Udayanadeva died in 1338, Kota Rani became the ruler of Kashmir in her own right. She appointed Bhatta Bhikshana as her prime minister. She was a very brave and able ruler. Kota Rani is credited with constructing a canal, called KutKol, named after her, to save the city of Srinagar from frequent floods. The canal receives water from River Jhelum at the entry point of Srinagar and merges back with River Jhelum beyond the city limits.
In 1339, when Shah Mir deceitfully floated rumours of being sick, Kota Rani out of concern delegated his Prime Minister Bhatta Bhikshana to enquire about his health. But deceitful Shah Mir sprung out of his bed and killed him. After killing him, he staged a coup and announced his intention to marry Kota Rani. According to the historian Jonaraja, Kota Rani committed suicide and offered her intestines to Shah Mir as his wedding gift. Jonaraja writes:
“Even as fire burns grasses, all masterpieces of architecture produced by the Kashmiri Shilpa Shinas/architects were destroyed and pillaged. There was no city, no town, no village, no wood where the temples of the Gods were unbroken after the death of Kota Rani.”
And even in the times of the famous humane King Zain-Ul Abe-din, who is known to “Kashmiris as Badshah, the pathshah (the most benevolent King) temples were demolished to construct the King’s mother mausoleum and to rebuild the banks and bunds of the Vitasta,” writes Mohini Qasba Raina in her book Kashur -The Kashmiri Speaking People-analytical perspective. With the death of queen Kota Rani, the special status enjoyed by queens and the freedom of women, in general, got a death knell. Women were gradually and increasingly deprived of the privileges that they have acquired and enjoyed over a thousand years.
(The author is official spokesperson incharge
media University of Jammu)