Queen Didda of Kashmir

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Queen Didda (924 – 1003 CE) – the Catherine of Kashmir (by Pt. Ravi Dhar)

History is dotted with names of men and women who become epicenters of debate for generations to come. Kashmir history, in particular, being an intersection of many faiths and cultures, has given rise to legends and situations that have become topics for discussion from time immemorial. Queen Didda is one such figure who has been discussed concerning her sharp political skills, her hunger for power, and her ruthlessness. Kalhan’s Rajtarangini is the principal source of information about this enigmatic Queen of Kashmir.

Didda was the daughter of Simharāja, the king of Lohara (today’s Poonch); her mother belonged to the Hindu Shahis’ of Kabul. She was very beautiful but had a lame foot – Kalhan calls her Charanhina (footless, lame)! In 950 C.E, Kshemagupta, King of Kashmir, from the Parthagupta dynasty offered to marry her. It was more a marriage of convenience for the ‘wine and woman’ loving king as this move strengthened his kingdom. He soon became so smitten with Didda’s beauty and sharp intellect that his people nicknamed him “Diddakshema”! The King got coins minted in Queen’s name – a rarity in history! Didda was blessed with a son named Abhimanyu but her husband died in 958 CE. As Abhimanyu was still a child, Didda acted as Regent and effectively exercised sole power; expectedly, she started facing strong opposition power centers in the court, particularly, from Kshemagupta’s sister’s sons, Mahiman and Patala. They gathered many allies and came charging into the vicinity of the temple in Pampore. Didda sent her son to a monastery in Srinagar for safety and used her ‘diplomatic skills to win over the rebels, either with a bribe or by force. With help of her faithful minister Naravahana, Didda won a famous political victory by defeating the challengers! She ruthlessly had some of the rebels killed, including her husband’s nephews, but forgave those she thought would be of use to her in the future. Kashmir then had a wise Prime Minister (Sarvadhikara) named Phalguna who had been appointed by King Kshemagupta himself and exerted a great influence in the power circles of the kingdom. Didda had Phalguna exiled after a few years to strengthen her grip on power.

King Abhimanyu died in 972 CE and was succeeded by his son, Nandigupta, still a young child himself, with Grandma Didda as Regent; this caused restlessness among the Dāmaras, who were feudatory landlords. Kalhana writes that Didda got Nandigupta eliminated by witchcraft in 973 C.E. She then installed her other grandson Tribhuvana on the throne in 973 C.E, but had him killed in the same fashion in 975 C.E. Finally, she installed her last grandson Bhimagupta to the throne in 975 C.E. Bhimagupta, however, had begun to understand his grandmother’s ways and grew wary of her. When Queen came to suspect this, on the advice of ‘Devakalasa’, one of her close ministers, she had the young King imprisoned. The desire for absolute power kept on increasing and she arranged for Bhimagupta to be tortured to death and thereafter assumed unfettered control over the throne.

By then, Didda had taken a young shepherd named Tunga from her native Poonch area, as her lover. Didda took full control of the throne in 980 CE and appointed Tunga as her Prime Minister. Didda reigned as sovereign for 23years (980-1003 C.E.) and ruthlessly put down all rivals, executing captured rebels and exterminating their families. Queen Didda died in the year 1003 and the throne of Kashmir was passed on to her nominee, Samgramaraja (1003-28), one of Didda’s nephews. From his rule arose the Lohara dynasty of Kashmir.

How does one judge Didda?
A girl abandoned by her parents because they thought she was disabled and a harbinger of bad times?

A disabled princess who fought all odds to become the most feared warrior queen?

A woman almost forced into Sati by her trusted prime Minister?

A mother whose son brands her as a witch?

This is the story of Queen Didda, the forgotten Hindu queen of undivided Kashmir. She eventually went on to rule the unified Kashmir encompassing the Lohara kingdom and Kashmir for a period of forty-four years, taking it to glorious heights and making it the most powerful kingdom in medieval India of her time. The foundation laid by Didda helped Kashmir defeat the dreaded warlord, Mahmud of Ghazni, twice (Mahmud attacked Kashmir 10 years after her death but was repulsed, twice!). History is often unkind and cruel to women, especially women who wield power. Trampled by wars and religious crusades, lies hidden the story of a glorious woman who went on to become a legendary savior of Srinagar. Didda: the warrior queen of Kashmir is the untold story of a woman’s rise to power during the tenth century. The legend of Didda is entwined with a life of solitary struggles against prejudice and patriarchy.

Special Thanks to;
Pt. Ravi Dhar (Pilani) for providing the painting of Queen Didda of Kashmir

Comments

    • Suniel Kumar Dhar
      Suniel Kumar Dhar

      Kashmiri Pandit Community has a rich past of 5000 years, and these anecdotes of our past history will provide vast information to our community members regarding our history !

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