Women rulers have been few and far between in Indian history, as also in world history, but that still leaves hundreds of women who have ruled, and whose stories haven’t been told. In Women Who Ruled India: Leaders. Warriors. Icons., Archana Goradia Gupta writes about the lives of 20 such women rulers. Gupta states in the beginning of the book that history is replete with tales of women who influenced their husbands or sons, and have been immensely powerful, but she has included only those who ruled directly, and not through an agency, with the exception of Nur Jahan. So, from the queens of Bhaumakara dynasty, which ruled for 200 years between the eighth and 10th centuries CE, mostly in the present-day Odisha; to the heroines of Chittor , some of whom flouted the norm in choosing not to commit Sati, the practice that had Hindu widows self-immolate upon the death of their husbands, Gupta shines a light on the women rulers’ lesser-known lives and their fearlessness. What’s interesting is that Gupta never puts the women she features on a pedestal. In the beginning itself, she makes it clear that the portraits are “warts and all", and the accounts are “not hagiographies—because these women were not saints." They were strong and courageous but essentially flawed heroes who, “sometimes lied and cheated in their quest for power." But above all, they were leaders.

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