Born a girl, Rudrama Devi took on a male persona in order to access the throne in 13th-century South Indian region of northern Telangana in the Deccan Plateau but her achievements as a queen left their mark on the whole of Indian history.
Rudrama Devi was installed as a ruler by her father Ganapathideva, who reigned over the Kakatiyan kingdom between 1199 and 1262. Left without a male heir, he decided to raise her daughter Rudrama Devi as if she were a son and designated her as such through an ancient rite called the “Putrika Ceremony”.
She ruled jointly with her father for about a decade until Ganapathideva passed away and she fully accessed the throne. Many a contemporaries disapproved of having a woman as a ruler and tried to dismiss her authority. She would ultimately crush their rebellion and show her people that her legitimacy was real and uncompromising.
Apart from internal dissensions, she was confronted with external perils as the eastern Ganga dynasty and the Yadavas attempted to invade her country. Her prowess in warfare and her ability as her strategy-maker led her to successfully expel them from her territory, although she was unable to counter the claims Kayastha chieftain Ambadeva made on the southwestern area of Andrha in modern-day Guntur district.
Rudrama Devi was known as a fair ruler during her reign as she implemented new policies that would redefine the structure of society. She recruited as warriors many people who had been restricted to do so by past rulers only prone at enrolling members of the nobility and granted them rights they had never been able to benefit from, such as land tax revenue.
Other sources indicate her good ruling with infamous explorer Marco Polo even writing a rather flattering portrait of the queen during his visit to India. Rudrama Devi is also said to have completed building the Warangal fort along with capturing several other forts.
Ruthless in battle and a fierce warrior, she is believed to have succumbed on the battlefield in 1289, although some historians’ work point towards an ulterior death around 1295. Mother of two daughters she had conceived with her husband Veerabadhra, a member of the Chalukya dynasty who left little to no trace on history, she was succeeded by one of her grandsons.
India saw other women rule over its vast territory but Rudrama Devi remains one of their most prominent examples to this day, her disputed accession to the throne and her need to put on a male guise to prove her worth reminiscent of the struggle many women still face to be fully recognized for their merits.
She is remembered because she was an inspiring pioneer who ruled as fairly as any of her male counterparts and prefigured the rise of countless strong and independent women in her home country. As a matter of fact, an Indian movie in telugu paying tribute to her story was released in 2015.
You can take a look at the trailer here: