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Rani Karnavati: The Brave Queen of Garhwal Who Defeated the Mughals

Uttarakhand, a beautiful Himalayan state of India, is often referred to as ‘Dev Bhoomi’ or the land of gods. But it is also the land of brave warriors who defended their homeland from foreign invaders.

One such warrior was Rani Karnavati, also known as Nak-Kati Rani, a lion-hearted queen who had a sharp mind like the edge of a sword. She ruled the kingdom of Garhwal in the 17th century and drove away the Mughal army by cutting off their noses. Her inspirational story is a testament to the courage and intelligence of women in Indian history.

The Rise of Rani Karnavati

Rani Karnavati was the wife of Mahipati Shah, who ascended the throne of Garhwal in 1622. He shifted the capital to Srinagar, a town on the banks of Alaknanda river. He also expanded his territory by capturing Kalsi, Bairatgarh, and Sanar from Sirmaur (a kingdom in present-day Himachal Pradesh). He was a powerful ruler who refused to submit to the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who wanted him to visit his court in Delhi.

However, Mahipati Shah died young in 1631, leaving behind a seven-year-old son Prithvipati Shah as his successor. Rani Karnavati decided to take charge of the kingdom as a regent until her son came of age. She proved herself to be a capable administrator and a protector of her people. She increased the number of soldiers on the borders and sent troops in all directions. She also fixed the drawbacks of her kingdom and made it prosperous.

The Mughal Invasion

Shah Jahan was determined to invade Garhwal after Mahipati Shah’s death. He thought that a woman on the throne would be an easy target. He also coveted the rich silver, copper, and gold mines of Garhwal. He sent a large contingent of about 30,000 soldiers under General Najabat Khan (or Kirodi Mirza according to some historians) to attack Garhwal in April 1635.

The Mughal army easily captured Shargarh, a town on the east bank of Yamuna river. They then crossed Haridwar and marched towards Srinagar. They faced little resistance from the local people who were either scared or bribed by them.

The Battle of Lakshman Jhoola

Rani Karnavati was well aware of the Mughal advance. She instructed her commander Dost Beg to build hurdles on the route from where the Mughal army was marching. On every mile, the Mughal army had to cross a wall of stones and fallen trees. This slowed down their progress and exhausted them.

Rani Karnavati also resorted to psychological warfare by sending spies to spread rumors among the Mughal soldiers that she had a huge army waiting for them at Srinagar. She also sent messages to Najabat Khan that she would not surrender and would fight till her last breath.

The Mughal army finally reached Lakshman Jhoola, a suspension bridge over Ganga river near Rishikesh. Here they were confronted by Rani Karnavati’s army who fought bravely with bows and arrows, swords and spears. The Mughals were not used to fighting in the hilly terrain and were at a disadvantage. They suffered heavy casualties and were forced to retreat.

The Humiliation of the Mughals

Rani Karnavati did not let them go easily. She sent a message to Najabat Khan that she would release them only on one condition: they had to chop off their noses or die. This was a humiliating demand for the proud Mughals who considered themselves superior to others.

The Legacy of Rani Karnavati

Rani Karnavati earned the title of Nak-Kati Rani (the queen who cut noses) for her daring act of humiliating the Mughals. She also sent a message to Shah Jahan that if she could chop off their noses, she could also chop off their heads. This was a bold challenge to the mighty emperor who had conquered most of India.

The Mughal army returned to Delhi with their noses cut and their pride wounded. Shah Jahan was furious and ashamed of this defeat. He vowed to take revenge on Rani Karnavati and sent another army under Ali Mardan Khan to attack Garhwal. However, this army also met with a similar fate and was repulsed by Rani Karnavati’s forces.

Rani Karnavati thus successfully defended her kingdom from the Mughal invasion and preserved its independence and sovereignty. She ruled for 25 years until her death in 1656 CE. She was succeeded by her son Prithvipati Shah who continued to resist the Mughals.

Rani Karnavati is remembered as one of the bravest and most intelligent women in Indian history. She is a source of inspiration and pride for the people of Uttarakhand and India. Her story is narrated in folk songs, poems, and novels. She is also honored with a statue at Lakshman Jhoola and a museum at Srinagar. She is a symbol of women’s empowerment and resistance against oppression.

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