Five Great Women In The History Of Ancient India


From time immemorial, women have played an extremely important role in shaping the history of India.

Some of them may be mythological but their influence on society and culture cannot be overlooked. We choose five of them as role models.

  • Ravana captures SitaSita

Sita in Valmiki’s Ramayana does not typically represent Vedic stridaharma. To begin with, she chooses her own husband in a competitive svayamvara – only the strongest and the smartest prince will do.

Again, after Kaikeyi’s intervention, when Rama goes into forest exile, she insists on accompanying him. Sita’s strength and self-possession are apparent. She is dutiful, indeed, but she has to argue her case in order to do what she knows is right.

She is not an obedient servant to a godlike husband; she has a will of her own and her relationship to Rama is governed by love for him, rather than obedience to his orders.

She shows her determination and independence throughout the years in the forest; her insistence that Rama get the gold-spotted deer and her command that Laksmana come to his rescue, eventually leads to her abduction by Ravana.

She doesn’t give in to Ravana’s will. On being freed, she defends herself whole-heartedly against Rama’s accusations. Her ability to stand through all trials and tribulations with fortitude make her an icon of fidelity and chastity.

  • Savitiri saves SatyavanSavitri

Savitri, who is mentioned among godly women, took Satyavan as her husband knowing full well that he would not live long. When he was left with only four days to live, she undertook a vow to defeat death.

On the fourth day Satyavan died with Yamaraja (the God of Death) walking away with his vitality. Savitri walked after Yamaraja. As they were walking, one behind the other, a conversation ensued.

Yamaraja was very much impressed by the gentle behaviour of Savitri, her wisdom, her single-minded devotion to her husband. Pleased, he granted her a boon.

Savitri asked for the well-being of both her father’s and her husband’s families and compelled Yamaraja to return the vitality of Satyavan.

  • Draupadi

Draupadi is a strong personality in Mahabharata. When Arjun won her hand at a Swayamvar, she was never ready to compromise on either her rights as a daughter-in-law or even on the rights of the Pandavas and remained ever ready to fight back or avenge high-handedness and injustice meted out to her and them.

Draupadi disrobed in the MahabharatDraupadi had unconditional faith in Krishna, who came to her rescue while she was being disgraced by the Kauravas.

Following an exile in the jungle, Draupadi, with a view to fulfill her vow (to tie her untied hair only after washing them with the blood of Dussasana) and to punish all those who had perpetrated the offence against her, nurtured the fire of revenge burning in her heart, in the hearts and minds of Pandavas.

The refulgence (glow) of Draupadi’s lustrous prototype of womanhood will always be a source of inspiration for the women of India. She is one of the rare examples of polyandry in Indian mythology.

  • Rani DurgavatiDurgavati

Durgavati was a brave woman of India during the 47th century of Kaliyugas i.e. 16th century A.D. who fought with alien invaders with utmost courage and heroic bravery.

Lest her living body may be vilified with the touch of the aliens she, with her own sword, sacrificed herself and attained Viragati.

After the death of King Dalpatishah of Gadha Mandala, there came a crisis over the state. The Mughal ruler, Akbar, sent a huge army to capture the state of Gadha (fort) Mandala.

Mounting an elephant, Maharani Durgavati fought with utmost bravery and provided constant encouragement and inspiration to her army. Unfortunately, because of internal disunity and her army being too small in comparison with the invaders, she did not succeed in self-defence.

Among the brave women who resisted, retaliated and acted towards the Mughal thirst for empire-building, Maharani Durgavati occupies a prime spot.

  • Ahilya Bai Holkar

After the death of Malhar Rao Holkar (1694-1766), founder of the Holkar dynasty, he was succeeded by his daughter-in-law, Ahilya Bai Holkar.

Ahilyabai HolkarShe ruled from 1767 to 1795 with great skill and understanding. She governed the state from a palace fort at Maheshwar on the northern bank of the Narmada river.

Though Ahilya Bai never stayed in Indore, it is in her reign that Indore grew up into a city. Indore was an island of prosperity in a sea of violence. Her rule came to signify justice and wisdom.

She contributed a lot to the heritage of India by establishing several religious edifices remarkable in architecture – the Kashi Vishweswar temple at Varanasi being notable among them.

Her unique pan-Indian outlook is reflected in the fact that she built Dharmashalas at Badrinath in the north and Rameshwaram in the south, established Anna Chhatras at Dwarka in the west, Jagannathpuri in the east, and at Omkareshwar and Ujjain in central India.

She also established charitable institutions at Gaya, Varanasi, Ayodhya, Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar and Pandharpur. She was at heart a queen of entire India, rather than that of the Holkar kingdom. She died at Maheshwar where a large mausoleum stands in her memory.

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