“Their King has lost his mind, the Kingdom is chaotic, their soldiers have no impetus and they are ruled by a Woman; it is the right time to take over their land”, said the Sultan of Bijapur.
The Woman pushed sword down the throats of hundreds of his soldiers.
“You must at once turn up Rajaram, our enemy; or be ready to face the wrath of Mughal Army”, thus said the letter from Aurangzeb.
The Queen’s army slaughtered his men and sent the remaining back to their abode.
A history biased towards men as great Kings, was to take another turn with birth of this noble lady in a humble family of Siddappa Shetty from the town of Kotepura. Keladi Chennamma is not just another story of rags to riches, but an unparalleled tale of transformation of a beautiful, kind hearted woman into a fierce ruler, unprejudiced, unbiased administrator and a savior of the history the way we know it today.
Glory finds its heroes; so it did. When Somshekhara, King of Keladi, met Keladi Chennamma at the Rameshwara fair; spellbound with her grace, dignity and enchanting beauty, he sent out a proposal to Chennamma’s family for marriage which was gracefully accepted.
The Kingdom of Keladi was flourishing under the reign of Somashekhara with Rani Chennamma as its Queen, justice, kindness and generosity had become a norm across the Kingdom. However, this was not to last long. Under spell of the royal dancer, Kalavathi and her black magician father Bharame Mavute, the King had lost interest in running a Kingdom that resulted in chaos, whispers and conspiracies around the state.
Sensing an ignorant King and an apparently weakened Kingdom ruled by a Woman, the opportunists had started to play their ploy; among those was the Sultan of Bijapur, who sent Jannopant to negotiate with Rani Chennamma when she was struggling between managing a strangled King and a scrambled Kingdom. Rani had sensed this war threat early on, and decided to rise up to the occasion to be the ruler that the Keladi needed. The metamorphoses began with shedding the bangles and raising the swords, learning war craft and use the wisdom of running a kingdom that she had acquired working closely with Somashekhara.
The challenges were internal as much from the outside. Keladi Chennamma did not have an heir. Many ministers like Thimanna Nayaka threatened her of non-allegiance if she did not adopt an heir of their advice. But for a woman she was, she went with her instincts and chose Basappa Nayaka, whom she trained and prepared to be a great King.
“Great warriors of Kannada Land, we either live on this land by virtue of victory or we shall perish. The fate of Keladi is in our hands, a new chapter in the history has to be written and the choice is ours, how should we be remembered”. From the fort of Bidanur, words from Rani echoed as war conch, invoking patriotism and courage across the populace that had started to lose hope.
Jannopant was handled tactfully by paying rupees three lakhs and buy some time to prepare for the upcoming war. Jannopant however, conspired with Bharame Mavute and murdered Somashekhara. Bharame and his henchmen further helped Sultan of Bijapur to besiege the fort of Bidanur; this forced Chennamma to take shelter at Bhuvangiri. The very thought of her beloved husband succumbing to conspiracy and leaving the Bidanur Fort shook Rani Keladi Chennamma. She was determined now than ever; she ordered to move the treasury from Bidanur Fort to Bhuvangiri and secure all Chieftains from the Fort.
The prayers were heard, resolution responded and dreams converged. Thimanna Nayaka, who had parted earlier for his differences with the Queen soon realized his mistake and joined back, so did others. Chennamma had set an example that patriotism supersedes the rest. For a forgiving and stately lady she was, Rani welcomed him back and went on to build an army using best of soldiers from Keladi and marched towards Bidanur to reclaim its glory. The determination and magnificence of Chennamma led to the defeat of Bijapur army amidst dense forest. The Fort was reclaimed and faith reinstated. Rani Keladi Chennamma was welcomed as a Queen who had brought victory to the state. Jannopant and Bharame were sentenced to death, justice was served, resolve was fulfilled and the brave rewarded.
Rani took over administration of the Kingdom and the splendid state of Keladi flourished yet again.
It was during this time, when Rajaram arrived at Keladi for shelter.
“My brother Sambhaji has been assassinated by the Aurangzeb’s army. The great Kings of all other kingdoms have refused to support me now out of fear. If your counsel can’t offer shelter to me, I will understand since it will be a great risk to your kingdom as well”, said Rajaram.
“Serving its guests has been a long tradition at Keladi, what if the state may have to fight with a big army like that of Aurangzeb, it will serve its duty, its honour. You are most welcome to be our guest for as long as you please”, said the Queen. The Chieftains in the room knew the risk Queen was taking and so did Rajaram. They had witnessed the courage of a Woman, her respect for tradition and devotion to service unparalleled to Kings whose praises have filled pages in books often by paid historians.
While Rajaram occupied Fort of Jinji, Aurangzeb sent a message asking Keladi Chennamma to turn up Rajaram, for they had no enmity between them. To this Rani replied, “The people of this land are happy to extend friendship to the Mughal, but what you seek in exchange is something we cannot offer. Rajaram is not in Keladi, yet as it is known, he passed through this land.”
The sharpness and valour of Keladi Chennamma infuriated Aurangzeb; his army lead by Prince Azamath Ara had closed in Keladi. The moment had arrived; Aurangzeb, the Alamgir, had long dreamt of ruling the South after his conquers in North.
The state of Keladi feared of what has come on to them. Aurangzeb had been invincible and this shall be end of an era for a kingdom that was home for happiness. Their fate had been rested in the hands of Gods.
The route to Keladi passed through dense forests, which made it suitable for battle for those who knew them well, the Keladi army. The rain had further muddled the Mughals and they found it difficult to march ahead. The Keladi soldiers seized the opportunity with slaughter further dispiriting the Mughal Army. Azamath knew he would be beheaded should he retreats; left with no choice, he held his men together and continued to struggle. Chennamma’s soldiers had been victorious of sheer courage she had instilled in them, to fight for pride, to fight for just.
Aurangzeb came to know that Rajaram had reached the Fort of Jinji, he sent for Azamath Ara conveying that he should now move towards Jinji.
The battle was won, Mughal army had retreated.
Rajaram continued his fight against Mughals and the Maratha Empire expanded ever since. Had it not been the gesture and commitment of Chennamma, possibly the Great Marathas could not have repelled the Mughals later on, the history would have been different.
Keladi Chennamma spent her years strengthening trade relations with Portuguese, Dutch, English and Arabs, rebuilding Forts that were in ruins and expanding her Kingdom. When Basappa Nayaka came of age to be a suitable King, she went for pilgrimage, gifting lands and gold for temples, charity. Rani held respect for all religions and extended her support for works of harmony and peace.
A girl from a modest background goes on to become queen of a rich kingdom. She loses her husband and King to conspiracy, faces the enemies with courage; later goes on to become a hero by saving the nation from intruders and withholding its pride and tradition.
Chennamma’s life and her reign of 28 years is an unbelievable story of courage, grandeur and dignity.