Kashmir has been under the ascendency of various rulers who have ruled the land and extended its frontiers.
However, there are very few instances in the history of this country wherein a woman took charge.
Kalhana, a renowned poet from the 12th century has in his work mentioned at least three queens who ruled over the country for a while; Yasovati of Gonda dynasty, Sugandha (904-906 AD) of the Utpala dynasty and Didda (1003-1320 AD) of Lohara dynasty.
However, the fourth and the last woman to rule was Kota Rani (1338-39 AD).
Significant recognition of Kota Rani was put forward by a Kashmiri historian Jonaraja in Dvitiya Rajatarangini which is a continuation of Kalhana’s Rajatarangani.
In Dvitiya Rajtarangini, he writes about the decline of Hindu rule and the rise of Islamic era. Hence, establishing the fact that Kota Rani was the last Hindu ruler of the Kashmir Valley.
Kota Rani’s lineage of the Second Lohara Dynasty was commenced with Ucchala (1101-1111 AD), the eldest nephew of King Harsha (1089-1101 AD) of the First Lohara dynasty.
Ucchala mounted an attack on Harsha and deposed him as a sovereign.
The extent of the Lohara dynasty revolved around the northern part of the Indian subcontinent which includes the present-day regions of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
Kota Rani was the daughter of Ramachandra, an able prime minister of King Sahadeva (1300/1-1319/20 AD) who ruled the land and maintained social order, often assisted by his beautiful and intelligent daughter Kota, writes PNK Bamzai, a Kashmiri scholar and historian, in his book Political and Cultural History of Kashmir.
The Mongol invasion took place in Kashmir during the reign of Sahadeva the country.
Kashmir was attacked by Dulcha, a Tatar chief from Central Asia.
Sahadeva fled to Kishtwar leaving the country in the hands of his prime minister who soon rose himself to power and eventually, the throne.
He was assisted by Rinchen and Shah Mir.
Rinchen was a prince of the royal bloodline who had taken refuge in Kashmir due to the civil war in Western Tibet wherein Kalmanya Bhuteas attacked and killed the ruler and then started a hunt for his kith and kin.
Shah Mir on the other hand was a traveller from Swat (a district in Malakand Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan) who had travelled to Kashmir in pursuit of a dream wherein he was told by a holy man of being crowned as the king only if he travelled to Kashmir with his relatives.
The reign of Ramachandra ended after he got murdered by Rinchen who then ascended the throne.
Interestingly, Kota Rani married the newly crowned king Rinchen.
While it was unusual for a woman to marry a man who killed her own father, she did not hold back and hence she was crowned as the queen of Kashmir.
Soon after the death of Rinchen in 1320 AD the throne of Kashmir remained vacant as his son Haider was still a minor at the time of his father’s death. Udyanadeva, (1323-1338 AD), the brother of Sahadeva on realizing this sought to attack Kashmir.
Kota Rani, recognizing the threat to lose her position, offered the throne and married him.
They soon had a son who was named Bhola Ratan. With reference to Udyanadeva’s accession, Jonaraja says, “Shahmera (Shah Mir) bestowed on Udyanadeva, the country of Kashmir together with Queen Cri Kota”.
We come to comprehend from different sources that Kota Rani was a strong woman, well versed with strategies involving diplomacy and having a good sense of administration.
This aspect was reflected when the country was again attacked by Mongol under the leadership of Achala.
According to Jonaraja, Achala was employed by the lord of Mughdapur who also gave him access to his soldiers. The invader, Achala, is believed to be a Turko-Mongol soldier who was possibly employed by a muslim chief from Delhi or Punjab. Udyanadeva, like his brother, fled the country while Kota Rani stayed back.
She was successful in encountering the invaders with the help of Shah Mir. She persuaded people to stay united against the invaders and hence, gathered support from all the rajas.
She reminded her subjects of the wrath of previous invasions such as the one led by Dulcha and appealed them to defend their land against Achala.
Hence, with the new wave of patriotism and vigour, the people of the Valley were able to defeat Achala. She defeated Achala by offering him the throne of Kashmir.
On his arrival, she broke her word, captured him and his small detachments of troops, and had him beheaded, states PNK Bamzai whereas GMD Sufi in his book Kashir, Being the History of Kashmir, mentions that the forces were made to retreat peacefully.
After Udyanadeva’s death Kota Rani ascended the throne as the sole ruler of Kashmir (1338-39 AD).
A woman ascending a throne in such an instance was unheard of, hence, there is a possibility that she didn’t gather much support from her subjects after becoming the sole ruler.
At the same time she was well aware of Shah Mir’s high regard and respect amongst her subjects for successfully defending the country against Achala. She did not want to compromise her authority over Shah Mir’s influence and impact over the people.
On adhering to the throne, Kota Rani became envious of Shah Mir and saw him as a threat to her position. Hence, in an attempt to reduce his influence she appointed Bhatta Bhishana as her Chief Minister which Shah Mir took as an offence.
He was also appointed as the guardian of her second son Bola Ratan bestowing various titles upon him. Kota Rani, aware of the fact that Shah Mir was the only competitor to her throne, made generous donations to her ministers for their constant support. She even made efforts to please her subjects by bestowing wealth upon them.
Moreover, she publicly disowned her first son Haider who was under the guardianship of Shah Mir.
Shah Mir realising the threat, sought to execute Bhatta Bhishana. He pretended to be sick and when Bhatta Bhishana paid a visit to him, he attacked him leaving him dead and eventually dethroning Kota Rani. He then established himself on the throne and assumed the title of Sultan Shams-ud-Din (1339 – 1342 AD).
Even so, Kota Rani’s ambitious character did not allow her to retire. Shah Mir established himself on the throne with the support of his subjects. Interestingly, he then tried to form a matrimonial alliance with Kota Rani.
She first declined the king’s proposal but then accepted it much later.
Many are of the view that she might have married Shah Mir not just in pursuit of power but also to protect her sons, Haider and Bhola Ratan or she had to submit to the will of the sovereign which is unlikely of her character.
The resulting submission might be the reason for her tragic death.
The instances that led to her eventual demise are not very clear. Jonaraja states that the queen spent only one night as Shah Mir’s wife before she was dethroned and imprisoned. During her imprisonment, she proceeded to commit suicide, states GMD Sufi.
While PNK Bamzai states, when she was called to the bed chamber by Shah Mir, before he could draw her in his arms, Kota Rani stabbed herself to death. He goes on to write, “after coming under his power she realised that she would not get a fair deal. Shorn of her dignity, she seemed destined to be a forgotten and forlorn woman”.
There are many different opinions regarding queen Kota.
Some historians put her in a negative light as they blame her for being the reason behind the end of the Hindu rule in Kashmir as she was the last Hindu ruler.
However, it is important to understand that certain sources have the possibility of being biased.
Kota Rani was indeed power-hungry and ambitious. She knew diplomacy and had the ability to handle authority which was perhaps due to the exposure she received from a very young age.
While some see her as a vengeful and maleficent figure in history, others see her as a woman struggling to maintain her power and influence in a patriarchal society.
Manan Shah is currently pursuing an Honours Degree at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda in Archaeology and Ancient History.