Did we know that world’s first Commando force, World’s first Counter Intelligence structure, World’s deadliest war strategy – the Guerrilla warfare – were all created by an Indian woman and more specifically a daughter of undivided Kashmir ?. Did we know that world’s first account of a disabled athelete and the first woman to refuse the horrific Sati was a daughter of Kashmir ?. Trapped and almost forgotten in the pages of history, India’s greatest Hero relives her exemplary life to inspire generations in author Ashish Kaul’s new book ‘Didda- The Warrior Queen of Kashmir’. The book not only gives us an insight of how patriarchy controls the writing of history and suppress extraordinary women but also gives a new paladin — Didda, the tenth-century queen of undivided Kashmir, Lohar and Shahi Dynasty encompassing Afghanistan and Iran.
Didda: The Warrior Queen of Kashmir is the untold story of a woman’s rise to power in the land of Kashmir during the tenth century. A girl abandoned by her parents, a disabled princess who fought all odds to become the most feared warrior queen. The legend of Didda is entwined with a life of solitary struggles against prejudice and patriarchy. She eventually went on to rule the unified Kashmir encompassing Lohar and Kashmir for a period of 44 years, taking it to vibrant peaks and making it the most powerful kingdom in mediaeval Asia. The foundation laid by Didda helped Kashmir defeat the dreaded warlord Mahmood of Ghazni twice. Imagine – we never read of the valour of our women and especially a woman who would have defeated such deadly marauders. Didda The Warrior Queen of Kashmir raises an important question – why have we not corrected our glorious heritage and history ? Why have we been force-fed fabricated history that has ridiculed our women, men and history in equal measure ?.
It is interesting to read how Didda, through various debacles time and again, challenged age-old patriarchal stereotypes to emerge with her own rulebook. This book encapsulates Didda’s eventful life journey from being just an undesired handicapped girl to becoming a king’s wife and then his widow, and finally to becoming the ruler of a kingdom and winning wars for it through Guerrilla warfare strategies. There are many such examples. While on a hunt, Didda’s husband, KshemGupt lost his life, which in turn revolutionized that of Didda. On one hand, she was heartbroken and was expected to fulfil the Sati Pratha and on the other, she had to fulfill her duties as a mother and a regent who was bound by an oath to ensure integrity of the Kingdom of Kashmir. In a way she was perhaps the first one to refuse Sati. She challenged age-old patriarchal stereotypes to emerge with her own rulebook. It is incredible to read how Didda while accepting the Sati Pratha, used it to eliminate her enemies in a master stroke thus giving an insight into her intelligence and through her those of the women of Jammu & Kashmir. It takes us through her insightful contribution to creating world’s first commando force called Ek Anghi that was also entrusted with counter – intelligence and fighting in unison as one unit. We also witness how her own son, her reason to be alive, throws her out of the palace but that does not stop her from being loved by her people, building temples for them, creating trade ties with the rest of Asia and protecting our borders till Iran, thereby taking us to that epic era in the history of our country, one that has remained under oblivion for very long.
What makes Didda an exceptional reading is the depth of a whole canvas of characters that emerge thus elevating the screenplay with their unique morals. Phalgun – the all powerful Prime Minister of Kashmir who has his eyes set on the throne and how he sacrifices his own daughter into Sati hoping to depend on the throne of Kashmir. Narvahan – the loyal friend and confidant of Didda’s husband KshemGupt who helps Didda gain control of the Kingdom and bring it back from verge of disintegration; eventually his fall when he proclaims his love for Didda and how he hangs himself unable to bear Didda’s rejection. King SimhRaj, Emperor BheemShah, the brave Commander-in-Chief of Lohar VikramSen, Abhimanyu the Son and then their is the loyal servant Valaja who raises Didda from childhood as her own daughter. Didda The Warrior Queen of Kashmir is an intense spectrum of outstanding characters that come alive page after page and take you on a journey through a time glass into the ruthless world of palace politics and that of a girl who used every hurdle to climb to a greater glory. The part where Didda trains to be a solder, her encounter with a tiger and above all her passion for athletics brings forth a woman like never before thus paling every Indian Hero that history has taught us. That is not to take away from their glory but Didda is the first complete and real superhero that the world has not known. When seen from the current perspective of Kashmir and the plight of women in general ; Didda The Warrior Queen of Kashmir is the bravest tribute to the power and glory of Indian women that was eradicated by powerful men who could not handle such powerful women.
Our society has witnessed female icon far and few like Rani Laxmibai and Razia Sultan who have made a focused contribution. The need for new role models in the society is evident by the fact that the book was second-ranked in Amazon bestsellers in just one week of its release, taking the literary circles by a storm. The Battle of Afghanistan against King Wushmageer is a tribute to the greatness of a warrior and makes one swell with pride to read how over 38000 soldiers are defeated by a mere 500 soldiers led by a Kashmiri woman Didda. Wushmageer feed the battle and his military commander was crushed under the feet of Didda’s elephant. Imagine the fear psychoses that this incident created in the hearts of enemies – no foreigner ever dared to attack India during Didda’s rule.
As Paralympic champion Padamshree Deepa Malik, writes in the foreword of this book, ‘this is not just an inspiring story, it is a stereotype-buster. It does not just showcase the potential of a woman but takes us through the upward climb of a woman to stand as equal among men in our society. It took five years of Ashish Kaul’s life to materialise this book, taking the author to libraries and people across the borders.
To summarise, the book is an attempt to re-introduce the women role models to Indians at large before the remainder of historical evidence and knowledge about these legendary women completely disappears.
The story of Didda’s extraordinary life, Kaul’s heavy research on the subject, simple and easily communicative language and easy and steady flow of the story make this book worth reading. Most importantly, Didda The Warrior Queen of Kashmir is by far the greatest tribute to the great state of Jammu & Kashmir and the women of India by the son of soil. As Ashish Kaul says “ Didda is an example of the glory of Indian woman and an exemplary beacon of how a woman must be – where a hurdle is only a stepping stone to glory”.