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Rani Rudrama Devi
Death: sculptures found in Bollikunta, Warangal, Telangana/ December 2017
Two sculptures depicting Rani Rudrama Devi, one of South India’s valiant medieval warrior queens, have been discovered by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at Bollikunta village in Warangal district of Telangana. The discovery could possibly unravel the mystery shrouding her death.
For long there was a question mark over how the courageous 13th century Kakatiya sovereign met her end, though an inscription gave the place of her passing away as Chandupatla in Nalgonda district. But these two sequential sculptures found now show that she lost her life in a fierce battle with a Kayastha chieftain called Ambadeva.
“The discovery of these two stunning and elegant portrait sculptures are very significant from the archaeological research point of view and most vital for reconstruction of the bloom and gloom in the life of a brave female general, administrator, strategist, trendsetter and philanthropist (who ruled from A.D. 1262–89),” said D. Kanna Babu, Superintending Archaeologist, Temple Survey Project (Southern Region), ASI, Chennai.
He discovered and identified the two sculptural slabs carved in granite in Pochalamma temple in a remote village in Khila Warangal mandal while conducting an extensive exploration and survey to ascertain the antiquity and architectural ascendancy of ancient shrines that flourished under the celebrated regime of the Kakatiyas (11th to 13th Century AD) in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
“Although both the sculptured slabs are very badly abraded due to human neglect and vagaries of nature, the portraits have safely retained Rudrama Devi`s commanding and imperial personality with characteristic gesticulations of a ferocious warrior,” Mr. Babu told The Hindu.
The significance of the sculptures, according to him, lie in the manner “the unknown sculptor, who could have had a ring side view of the happenings of the period before and after the crucial battle, sequentially depicted the life events, more particularly the final moments of her life.”
“The first panel in a rectangular frame superbly represents the imperial personality of Rani Rudrama Devi riding a horse with a sword in her raised right hand and the reins in her left. Her arms and wrists are embellished with warrior shields. A majestic umbrella, the royal insignia, is overhead. She wears the robes of a male warrior with a waist belt and her right leg is placed on a hanging pedal. A decorated strap is fastened around the body of the horse but the other details of this sculpture are abraded,” Mr. Babu explained.
“The second sculpture, in vertical position, depicts a fully tired and sorrowfully seated Rudrama Devi, leaning towards left. She is holding a sword in her raised right hand and the reins in her left. But surprisingly, the horse is standing still and the decorated girdle straps are not shown here. Further, the royal insignia – the stately umbrella – which is mounted over her head in the first sculpture is not there, which indicates that she lost it in the battle after her defeat. A standing figure of a buffalo, the vehicle of Yama (the Lord of Death) facing south at the bottom of the panel suggests Rudrama Devi’s viraswargam, or the final journey to the eternal world,” he said.
Mr. Babu said the patron and the artisan who carved the two panels appeared to have acted with farsightedness by visualising them to serve as commemorative visual aids to Rudrama Devi’s life and times for successive generations. These portraits also reveal, he said, the charismatic qualities of Rudrama Devi, such as her oval face, soft cheeks, wide eyes, slender nose and a tender pair of lips.
The legendary queen who ruled from Orugallu, the present-day Warangal, had no male siblings and was brought up like a “son” by her father Ganapathideva, and even assumed the male name of Rudradeva Maharaja. She wore male attires and took over the reigns at the age of 14 and brought stability to Kakatiya rule by neutralising internal dissent in the form of rebellious cousins and feudatories, won many battles, especially against the Yadavas of Devagiri, and kept the Pandyas and Cholas at bay.
She is credited with completing the Warangal Fort, introducing chain of tanks system of irrigation in Telangana, setting up a string of hospitals, and using the dance form Perini Shiva Tandavam as a training module for soldiers. Marco Polo, who visited Warangal during her time, paid glorious tributes to her rule. Her bravery was captured in the 2015 Telugu film Rani Rudrama Devi.