I thought it would be nice to do a little series on Indian stories. These have been shared with me by friends of various communities. Each community, each caste, and each individual have their own interpretation of the same story so I will do my best to recall the details each individual has shared with me in order to be true to each of my friend’s beliefs.
India is full of interesting and exciting (though often gory) stories. Some are from centuries ago. A form of “Chinese whispers” passed from generation to generation (gyan ko agli pidlu ke liye bachana), based on folklore, legends or exaggerate events. Then there are some which are historical fact woven into a tapestry of tales that are both an insightful and an honest representation of the times.
A recent revival has taken place in India. Bollywood has tapped into the some of the folk stories and historical events in order to create big budget movies based around the princesses (raja kumari) of Rajasthan and the Rajput community (Warrior Caste).
There is a bit of an uproar within this community as they feel the reputations of their ancestors are at stake and threat that their princesses will not be represented accurately. A fair assumption considering the Bollywood director had originally put a love scene which depicted an enemy king fantasising about a particular Rajput princess in his dreams, but that is showbiz.
That is a different story, though. Today I will tell you of a little princess, Krishna Kumari, daughter of Maharana (king) Bhim Singh who ruled Mewar from Udaipur during the 18th century.
Krishna Kumari: Mewar’s Blessing
Krishna Kumari was an infant when she became engaged to Maharana Bhim Singh of Jodhpur.
Her father (also named Bhim Singh) had inherited the thrown when he was 10 years old after his 16-year-old brother, Hamir Singh II, had an ill-fated event when a rifle exploded in his hands.
As a result, Maharana Bhim Singh was not very well equipped to rule Mewar and was in desperate need of allies. So when his chief queen bore him a daughter (Krishna), it was clear that her destiny was to save the state of Mewar and restore her father’s reputation. This is exactly what she did, but not in the way anyone would have imagined.
Little Krishna was 9 years old when Mewar was plunged into grief. Her fiancée, the Maharana Bhim Singh of Jodhpur, had been tragically killed in battle defending his throne from his brother Man Singh.
While the rest of the Maharaja’s wives threw themselves on the funeral Pyre (a custom know as Sati, where if a woman’s husband dies her life is considered worthless so she is encouraged to throw herself on the fire which is cremating her husband) little Krishna was spared but widowed so young she destined to live only a half-life (as her fiancée was the other half), alone.
A Turn of Events
You can only imagine how elated the kingdom was to find that Maharaja Sawai Jagat Singh of Jaipur, had asked the 12-year-olds family for her hand in marriage. The state of Mewar celebrated. Every street vender, every chai wali, every man, woman, and elephant celebrated that little Krishna was free of her widowed fate.
Alas, it wouldn’t be that simple. A rebel chieftain, Sawai Singh of Pokaran (from Jodhpur) had sought refugee in Jaipur. On hearing that the princess of Mewar, who was once promised to his king (Maharana Bhim Singh of Jodhpur), thought it was a great opportunity to taunt the new king of Jodhpur, Maharana Man Singh.
Humiliated by the taunts, Maharaja Man Singh sent the self-proclaimed Mogul king, Amir Khan to Mewar to rattle a few cages.
Amir Khan certainly had a vicious reputation and when he announced to the courts in Udaipur that either the girl was to marry Maharana Man Singh, the man who murdered her fiancée, or she was to die. Amir Khan then emphasised that he would single handily take great pleasure in seeing Mewar burn to the ground.
The Maharana of Jaipur, on hearing the threats made by his nemesis the Jodhpur king, retaliated with a similar threat to the state of Mewar. Either Krishna was to marry him, or he would burn Mewar to the ground. Either way, the marriage of little Krishna would end in the downfall of Mewar.
The wedding to the Maharaja of Jaipur was cancelled while the state of Mewar deliberated on little Krishna’s fate.
Infuriated, the Maharaja of Jaipur saddled up and marched his army to face the powers of Jodhpur. As karma would have it, the Maharaja of Jodhpur was let down by his Rathore (warrior) chieftain’s at the very last minute and was prevented from committing suicide before fleeing to Mehrangarh where he held himself up for 6 months before the army of the Jaipur king gave up and went home.
An Unspeakable Solution
On July 21, 1810, the court of Udaipur called on Krishna Kumari to ask her a crucial question. Was she willing to die to save the people of Mewar? The now 16-year-old princess conceded.
Yet someone so important in the hierarchy of Mewar could not just be subjected to a traditional death, or whatever that means. She had to have her life taken by someone of equal or greater status. Her father begged his trusted friend and nobleman Daulat Singh of Karjali to carry out the action.
The dagger was placed in his hand and the girl was brought before him.
Daulat Singh trembled, dropped the dagger and turned to his king crying, telling him that any person who gave such an order should have his tongue cut out.
Finally, it was up to the women of the Rawala (Harlem) to carry out the act.
Krishna quietly went down to the garden at the back of the palace to prepare herself and to pray for her father’s longevity. A cup of poison was made up and brought to her in her father’s name. She drank the poison and fell to her knees. Yet the cup did not have the desired effect. She continued to pray while another cup was brought down. She drank the second up, but again, the desired effect did not take place. A third cup was brought, but death was somewhere else.
One can only imagine the effect the poison would have had on the child’s agile body. Death may not have been evident but the suffering she would have endured would be unbearable.
Finally, a cup of opium was made up and the girl drank it with a smile. Soon she fell into a deep sleep. Once which she would never wake.
Her father was relieved but emotionally distraught by her passing. He turned her area of the palace into a shrine, dedicated to the memory of her courage and persistence.
She chose death to save her people and Udaipur and the Mewar state would not be what it is today had it not been for the princess.
Today you can visit Rajakumari Krishna’s shrine in the City Palace at the centre of Udaipur’s old city. Her walls are covered with traditional Mewar paintings, originals from the 18th century when she lived in the palace with her family.
The stories of India are far from the fairy tales we would tell our children in the west, yet they are shared and passed between men, women and children alike. Knowing and understanding the suffering of their ancestors, of their queens, and princess gives them greater pride and appreciation for their own lives.