Garhwal's Rani Karnavati Panwar - Queen of Himalayas

You might have heard of the Rajpur Canal that flows through Dehradun. It is said that it was built by Rani Karnavati of Garhwal, the Queen of Garhwal in the third decade of the 17th century. Along with this canal, the queen's identity is her courage, before which the Mughals kneeled, Queen Kanavati became famous in history since then as 'Nak Katti Rani'.



Story of Maharani Karnavati


It begins after the untimely death of her husband and Raja Mahipat Shah of Garhwal. Mahipat took the throne in the year 1622 after King Shyam Shah drowned in Alaknanda. Considered a brave warrior, Mahipat, apart from challenging the authority of the Mughals, also attacked difficult land like Tibet thrice. After ruling for nine years, he died on the battlefield in 1631. His son Prithvipat Shah was seven years old. Clearly, the responsibility of handling the kingdom fell on the part of Uttarakhand's Queen "Karnavati".





Belonging to a royal family of Himachal, Karnavati was taught the art of ruling. Apart from places like Dehradun and Mussoorie, she carried out many agricultural and social welfare works throughout the state.

But, then the rule of women in any state was seen as a great weakness. It used to be difficult to avoid such a state from the eyes of the enemy. It is said that the then Kumaoni king Baj Bahadur Chand had good relations with the Mughals. He told Najabat Khan, the Mughal officer appointed in Kangra, that there could be no better time to attack Garhwal than this. Baj Bahadur promised that he and the king of Sirmaur would support the Mughals in that attack.




The matter went well with Najabat Khan. He prepared the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for the attack. Najabat Khan with 30 thousand soldiers crossed the river Ganges and pitched his camp at a place called Raiwala near Dehradun. This is about the year 1635.


The message of the Mughal emperor was sent to Rani Karnavati, either pay a tribute of 10 lakh rupees or be ready for a big attack. Fortunately, there were well-known and experienced advisors and ministers like Madho Singh Bhandari, Daulat Beg and Banwaridas in the queen's court. He had every moment of the Mughal invasion.


At the behest of these advisors, the queen gave one lakh rupees immediately and promised to give the rest of the amount soon. However, the remaining amount was not sent. Enraged by this, the Mughal general Najabat Khan started moving towards Srinagar with the army. Srinagar used to be the capital of the princely state of Garhwal.




A traveller named Nicolao Manucci came to India from Italy in the 17th century. He also wrote several large treatises on the Mughal history. He has narrated the story of Karnavati and the struggle of the Mughals in detail.

As the Mughal army began to climb up the Shivalik foothills towards the mountains, it faced a guerrilla-style attack by Garhwali soldiers. These soldiers, hidden in the innumerable rocks built between the Shivalik hills below Devprayag. When the entire Mughal army was well surrounded among the hills, the roads on both sides were closed on the orders of Queen Karnavati. And then there was a situation when Mughal soldiers could neither go up nor down.


Nicolao Manucci wrote, "Finding himself in this crisis, General Najabat Khan sent a peace proposal. But the queen replied that her proposal was late".

On the other hand, there was a shortage of logistics in the Mughal camp. An atmosphere of chaos was building all around. Seeing this, Najabat Khan asked the queen for permission to open the way and let him take back his army. At that time, if the queen wanted, she could kill every single Mughal soldier. But, instead of doing so, she decided to teach the Mughals a lesson that would be remembered in the upcoming days.




Rani Karnavati sent a message to Najabat Khan that he could take back his soldiers if he wanted. However, his soldiers will have to have their noses cut off. Instead of giving life, the queen was asking him for his respect. Finding themselves trapped in dire circumstances, The soldiers thought it appropriate to save their lives and surrendered. He threw away his weapons and headed back with his nose cut off.


Nicolao Manucci further records that the emperor Shah Jahan, embarrassed by this incident, decided that he would never again attack Garhwal. On the other hand, Najabat Khan, the commander-in-chief, was so ashamed of his defeat that he committed suicide on the way. After this incident, Queen Karnavati was addressed as Nakkti Rani, that is, the queen who cut off the enemy's nose.

Since then, many writers, and lyricists have written a lot in the glory of Karnavati. She has been called Mata Karnavati in the 'Saanvari Granth', a very popular book of the area related to Tantra-Mantra. This story has been written in the book 'Maasir-ul-Umra', which records the accounts of the Mughal courts and in the accounts of the European historian Tavernier, of Karnavati removing the arrogance of the Mughals.




The famous English scholar Edwin Atkinson, who wrote the Gazetteer of the Himalayas, has written that Queen Karnavati was facing her enemies by staying at the Binsar temple on the top of the Doodtoli mountain range in Garhwal. When their position began to weaken, suddenly the hailstorm started. The enemy was forced to flee. The queen considered it to be the blessings of the temple's deity i.e. Vineshwar incarnation of Lord Shiva and got that temple renovated. The queen, who took a special interest in construction works, not only built the canal of Rajpur but many modern villages and localities of Dehradun city are also settled by her. These include Ajabpur, Karanpur, Kaulagarh and Bhogpur.

In 1646, Karnavati's son Prithvipat Shah became the king and he got many copper plates made in the glory of his mother and kept fighting with the Mughals. It was another matter that the son of this son of the brave mother, who cut the nose of the Mughals, Medinishah, the grandson, thought it better to compromise with the Mughals and he became a sycophant of the then emperor Aurangzeb. Maybe that is why the tales of Rani Karnavati's valor did not get the place it deserved in the history of Mughal India. If you ever go towards Dehradun, then turn to Nawada, where the ruins of the palace built by her still tell her story.


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