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Indian Women in Combat and Martial Arts in Ancient and Medieval Era

“Nijabhujadanda nipatitakhanda

Vipatitamunda bhataadhipate

Jaya Jaya he Mahisasuramardini ramya

Kapardini shailasute”

This hymn dedicated to Goddess Durga depicts how she cuts down her enemies to hundred pieces. She has torn apart the demons with her sastras and brought down the toughest of demons. These lines depict a small perspective of Indian minds towards the female role in combat.

Ancient India has given rise to many male warriors of great fame and valor. Songs and poetry have been written on them. But what about the Indian women? Do we hear about them in combat roles and in warfare? Diving deep into the depths of our ancient history is the answer.

In Vedic era, we see the advent of the Goddesses like Durga and Kali who yield weapons; they were skilled warriors and considered as invincible in the warfare. The ideology of female in warfare was thus imprinted long time back. It is interesting to note that once ‘Bharatvarsha’ was having a matriarchal society in pre Vedic era, where the females were responsible to keep the household safe and secure and they were considered the head of the family. However, this concept gradually degenerated in the Vedic ages and women took the backseat. Though we get to know some Indian women warriors like Vishpala, who was helped by Ashvins in battlefield. Her badly injured limbs were replaced with legs of iron and she kept on battling.

During the Ramayana and Mahabharata period, we see minor characters like Lankini (the keeper of Lanka) and Shikhandi (it is said that he was born as a female) who were well versed in the art of warfare. In Jaimini Bharatam written in Kannada, Arjun visits a land that belonged only to warrior women, something in the line of Amazons from the Greek mythology. Here, Oueen Pramila captures the Ashwamedha horse of Arjun. The prince finally marries her and she accompanies him in the rest of the journey. We again get a reference of this mythical land of Indian women in the tales of Nath Gurus, Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath.

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