The Unsung ‘Sheroes’ of Ancient Odisha

Bhubaneswar: Odisha has been witnessing the phenomena of empowered women leading from the front for ages while most of the legends have been less talked about. Here’re some unturned pages from the history of ancient Odisha that talk about the unsung ‘Sheroes’ of the time.

Women from Shailo Bhava dynasty: This dynasty witnessed women rulers who were not just excellent in the fields of arts and culture, but were also philanthropists. They donated villages but never stepped in for administrative affairs.

The Bhaumas (736 AD to 945 AD): They were the non-Aryan tribe with roots from Odisha. The women of this tribe enjoyed great freedom. They were considered to possess superior abilities than men and were hence given the reins of administration. They were trained in warfare as well. Bhauma women were given high stature in the society and were also allowed to succeed their deceased husbands. Six widowed queens and one unmarried princess ruled during the era. Tribhuvan Mahadevi was known to be the first queen in 845 AD. The others like Prithvi Mahadevi, Bakul Mahadevi, Gauri Mahadevi and Dharma Mahadevi succeeded one after another. A striking feature was that none them adopted a son to succeed them.

Sumitra Devi of Mayurbhanj (1803 AD to 1810 AD) was known for her bravery and intelligence while Rani Suka Devi of Banki displayed immense courage in safeguarding her territory.

Women Poetesses: The Khurda Itihas (History of Khurda) slates talented poetesses like Madhavi Devi, Brundabati Devi and Rani Nisank Ray who through their poems fought against social evils such as child marriage.

Women in military and social reformation: Suka Devi, the queen of Bankigarh was a legend in the 18th century due to her bravery and magnanimity in field of warfare which later inspired women of the succeeding generation.

Reba Roy and Rani of Khallikote played vital role in spreading female education in the beginning of 20th century.

The most significant effort came from the Utkal Mahila Conference of 1924. It brought together social reformers like Sarala Devi, Rama Devi, Malati Devi, Annapurna Devi and Godavari Devi who fought against various social evils and worked for the upliftment of the society at large. The movement later turned an integral part of freedom struggle.

Transformation during Freedom struggle: Between 1885 and 1905, Odia women leaders withdrew from Congress due to negligence of the party leaders towards the issues of Odias. Women writers like Kuntala Kumari Sabat and Sita Devi Khadanga used their writing skills to prove that they were as capable as men in any domain of creativity.

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