The histories are of marked by men or women who become the epicentres of debate for generations to come. Kashmir history in particular, being an intersection of so many faiths and cultures, has given rise to legends, allegories and realities which have set dais for discussions from time immemorial.
Virtue or Vice, the history needs to be presented the way it was and that sets history apart from folk-lore and fiction.
Queen Didda is one of such figures from past who has been discussed with respect to her sharp political skills, her hunger for power and her ruthlessness.
The details about her rule have been mentioned in an intricate way in Kalhana’s Rajtaranghni.
The translation by Auriel Stein is available in any good bookshop and can be referred back to by those who want to know more about the “Catherine of Kashmir”
As late historian P.N.K. Bamzai writes: “In his history there are no heroes or heroines”
Kshemagupta’s, who belonged to Parthagupta dynasty, rule lasted from 950 to 958 C.E. He had been a pleasure loving dissolute, who loved wine, women and drinking. Sensing a discontent among his subjects and in order to legitimise his power, he offered to marry Didda who was a daughter of Simharāja, the king of Lohara, and belonged on her mother’s side, to the Shahis of Udabhanda (Ohind).
The wedding took place in 950 C.E and Didda came to Kashmir, to the beautiful Shrinagara.
The marriage thus united the kingdom of Lohara (currently in Lohrin, Poonch) with that of her husband.
She was physically disabled. In Book 6 of Rajatarangini, she has been labeled as Charanhina (foot-less, lame) in the verses 226, 276 and 308.
Some scholars describe the word as her ‘incapability’ and ‘lack of morality’. Some others opine that the word ‘lame’ is actually in reference to Didda’s ‘physical’ incapability.
However, the stronger opinion is the latter of the two, that she was actually disabled by her foot. Though she could walk, she had a woman called Valga who would often carry her about. Didda would later built a math called Valgamath for her.
As Kalhana mentions in verse 308:
“Valga, a porter women, who used to carry about on her back the lame queen at games which required running, caused the ‘Valgamatha’ to be erected.”
After the marriage everyone soon started realising what a shrewd politician Didda was, and the king himself came to be known by the derogatory nickname “Diddakshema” by the populace.
He was spellbound by Didda and in rare instances of history, the King got coins minted in Queen’s name. These coins are a treasure for numismatic collectors and even now their price runs in lakhs. Didda had a son with the king called Abhimanyu.
Didda was clever, manipulative, ruthless, and ruled Kashmir for more than half a century. When Ksemagupta died following a fever, referred to as ‘luta’, which he contracted after a hunt in 958 C.E, he was succeeded by Abhimanyu.
As Abhimanyu was still a child, Didda acted as Regent and effectively exercised sole power and in this she faced opposition from Kshemagupta’s sister’s sons, Mahiman and Patala.
They gathered many allies, especially Brahmins from Lalitadityapur (Lethpur). The army of enemy with glittering weapons came charging into the vicinity of temple in Pampore, eager for battle.
Didda sent her son to a monastery in Srinagar, and and tried to win over the rebelling Brahmins either with bribe or by force. She gave away plenty of gold to Brahmins and thus broke up the league of her enemies. During the negotiations, she managed to bribe some of the supporters, like Yoshadra (whom she would latter kill), with power over army and her faithful minister Naravahana won victory over the rest.
She ruthlessly killed off some of the rebels including her husband’s nephews, but forgave those she thought would be of use to her.
Kalhana says: “The Lame Queen whom no one had thought capable of stepping over a cow’s footprint got over the host of her enemies just as Hanuman got over the ocean.”
Kalhana has often described her as a lady with suspicious character. He has disparaged her as someone who was unsure of herself and would get carried away by flattery which her supposedly close allies would use to their own benefit.
Hence, Queen Didda was woman of unscrupulous but forceful character. She governed the unhappy country for half a century. She was Queen Consort from 960 to 958 C.E. and a Regent from 959 to 980 for Abhimanyu. Abuimanyu’s reign is shown as from 958 to 972 C.E, during which a terrible conflagration destroyed great many buildings from the market-place to the shrine of Vishnu.
Didda displayed a ruthlessness in executing not only the rebels who had been captured but also their families. She executed all those ministers and nobles whom she considered troublesome.
When Abhimanyu died in 972, he was replaced by his son Nandigupta, who was Didda’s grandson. According to Kalhana she killed Nandigupta by witchcraft in 973 C.E. She then installed her other grandson Tribhuvana at the throne in 973 C.E, but killed him in the same fashion in 975 C.E.
Finally, she installed her last Grandson Bhimagupta to the throne in 975 C.E.
Bhimagupta was a wise King, though very young. He had begun to understand his grandmother’s ways and had grown suspicious of her. When Queen came to suspect this on the advice of ‘Devakalasa’ one of her close ministers, she openly imprisoned him. The desire for absolute power kept on increasing and she arranged Bhimagupta to be tortured to death and thereafter assumed unfettered control over the throne.
All this while, she would feel alone and took a lover called Tunga to feel secure.
‘Tunga’ was the son of ‘Bana’, whose native village was ‘Baddivasa’ in ‘Parnotsa’ (Poonch). He had come as a herdsman of Buffaloes. When he had reached Srinagar, he had taken to the job of a “Lekhrakha” or letter carier.
Kalhana writes that, “she had the youth brought up secretly by a messenger, and took, as fate willed, an affection for him, though she had already many paramours.”
When Didda took full control of the throne, she appointed Tunga as her Prime Minister. The previous Prime minister (Sarvadhikara), Phalguna, had been appointed by King Kshemagupta himself, and thus exerted great influence. The commander-in-chief (Kampanesa) Rakka (who would later help Didda in lot of bloodshed) had become resentful of Phalguna’s power and had embittered Queen Didda about him. He had insinuated that Prime Minister might usurp the Kingdom from the Queen. He was thus exiled by Didda.
Phalguna died in exile and this emboldened Didda to exercise cruelty over her grandsons. When Didda reigned as sovereign for 23 years (980-1003 C.E.) she ruthlessly put down all rival parties executing captured rebels and exterminating their families.
Her close associates enjoined impunity of every kind.
Tunga was raised above above all the ministers and nobles and became insolent and cruel towards all he suspected of malcontent against himself and the Queen.
During her reign even her own nobles would often meet a similar fate. She sent a warrior, called Yashodhara to subdue the ruler of a neighbouring Kingdom of Shahi descent.
Yashodhara won and came back expecting a hero’s welcome, but instead there was a failed attempt by Didda to arrest him. The win had made Didda insecure. Yashodhara and his associates rebelled against the Queen but were easily exterminated by Didda.
Queen Didda died in year 1003.
The result was that the throne passed without opposition to Samgramaraja (1003-28), a nephew of Didda, whom she had nominated in her own lifetime. From his rule arose the Lohara dynasty of Kashmir. He was a weak ruler and during his rule Tunga became powerful and was seen as a threat by the King, who got him murdered by his own brother Naga.
Being history of Kashmir by M. D Sufi
Rajtranghni by Kalhana, translated by Auriel Stein
Khawar Khan Achakzai is a published author, a medical Doctor by profession, and student of history.