We are only too familiar with the name of Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, who was one of the leaders of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Some thirty years before the Mutiny, Rani Chennamma of Kittoor, a small kingdom in Karnataka, had risen in revolt and fought the mighty British army, unsuccessfully though. Rani Chennamma, who ruled Keladi, another small kingdom in Karnataka, more than two hundred years earlier, had come face to face with the Mughal army, which eventually retreated after losing several captains, horses, and war material.
The story goes how Emperor Aurangzeb wanted to annex Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Maratha kingdom, which was then being ruled by his son Rajaram, who offered a stiff resistance. The advancing army, by dubious methods, managed to kill Rajaram’s brother, Sambhaji. Rajaram was forced to run away donning different disguises. When he was refused asylum by the neighbouring rulers, he proceeded to Keladi, where Chennamma offered shelter and later gave him escort to reach the fort in Jinji. Word reached the emperor that Rajaram was under the protection of Chennamma. He sent her a message, along with some rich gifts, asking her to surrender Rajaram. Chennamma consulted her ministers and sent a reply, saying Rajaram had only passed through Keladi, she did not know where he had proceeded to, and Keladi had no enmity with the Mughals.
Though the reply was couched in polite terms, Chennamma could very well guess that the Mughal army would already be heading to Keladi. Her spies proved her right, and she got ready to offer a fight. The way to Keladi was through a thick forest. So, Chennamma and her soldiers waited for the enemy in the forest itself. The Mughal soldiers found the forest terrain difficult to cross, as they were used to the dry level ground of the north. To make matters worse, it started raining, too. The Mughal army was under the command of the emperor’s son, Prince Azamath Ara.
Chennamma and her soldiers fought a relentless battle. When the Mughal commander realised that they were losing ground, he himself came forward to encounter Rani Chennamma. Sword met sword, and the Prince did not have to wait for long to realise that he was no match to the Rani. He did not wish to suffer humiliation at the hands of a woman. At the nick of the moment, he retreated. To save the situation, he received a message from the emperor that he should proceed to Jinji after entering into a pact with Chennamma.