Homage to a woman warrior

November, 2021

Dear Friends

It is not March. It is still November and not known for ‘women related month’. So I thought, until I read that 11th November has a significance and so does 19th November. The latter first. On November 19th, UNDP marks Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a day spearheaded by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization to celebrate and support women in business worldwide. This number is rising and justifiably so. Yet it is not enough when we look at the super capable women folk around us. More need to participate as entrepreneurs themselves or as enablers in the ecosystem. Fortunately a Falguni Nayar successfully listing a Nykaa in her late 50s or a Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat (founder of the hugely successful women-driven Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad) receiving a Padma Shri at the ripe age of 91 (definitely deserved a higher award much earlier) inspire a whole generation of women to plunge into entrepreneurship and the men to stand by them. A day in a year is just symbolic of the life long efforts such women put in !

Well, these are women with fire in their belly. Let me now share with you the significance of 11th November – ‘Onake Obavva Jayanti’ announced by the State of Karnataka. Obavva had fire in her belly and in her eyes too, when she single handedly massacred many of Hyder Ali’s soldiers to protect the fort of Chitradurga, way back in the 18th century. Obavva was not any trained soldier or a warrior queen unlike many other brave women of our history that are coming to light of late. She was the wife of an ordinary guard at the fort’s watchtower, but it was her presence of mind, bravery and love for the land that inspired her to make the supreme sacrifice of life. Her heroic story is mesmerizingly enacted by the well-known Kannada star of yesteryears, Jayanthi in the movie ‘Naagarahaavu’ (remade as Zehreela Insaan in Hindi) which won the actor a national award. A short, gripping role that brought the actor lot of fame. The song which depicts the whole story is so fresh in my memory that I cannot visualise Onake Obavva as anything but Jayanthi, the actor ! Gives me goosebumps even now when I watch the song.

The legendary woman was not born to fight nor was she educated or trained. The story goes that one afternoon as Obavva is serving food to her husband, he asks her to fetch water. She steps out but hears the whispers of enemy soldiers near a hole (kindi in Kannada) in the rocks half-way up the hill. Sensing an attack from Hyder Ali, whom the King, Madakari Nayaka of Chitradurga was planning to counter, Obavva quietly picks up a Onake’ (pestle), tucks her saree between her legs and watches guard at the hole. Not wanting to disturb her husband at his lunch, she does not even alert him. As each soldier crawls through a narrow hole and comes out, she stands at the opening and hits his head with the pestle, using it as a weapon. Unaware of the ‘Goddess of Death’ waiting at the opening, soldier after soldier is bludgeoned by Obavva quietly, blessed by some unknown power and divinity. The Veera Vanithe’ (valiant woman) pulls across the dead soldiers one after another throwing them into a heap of dead bodies. When she doesn’t return with water even after a long time, her husband gets anxious and steps out of his house – only to witness the bloody massacre of enemy soldiers by his fearless wife. He is shocked to see the blood-soaked pestle in her hands and the mountain of dead bodies. He sees the fury in her eyes and the passion in her heart to protect the kingdom in her own way. Obavva continues to slay the soldiers and gestures to her husband to blow the trumpet, signalling a war-cry to the soldiers of Madakari Nayaka. In the meanwhile, one of Hyder Ali’s soldiers realises that none of his men are coming out of the hole and that something is amiss. He soon sees the lady with her ‘weapon’ single-handedly finishing the soldiers, in a ‘Dance of Death’. Unfortunately, unaware of him sneaking from behind her, Obavva succumbs to his attack laying down her life as a true warrior. She is part of our history books, literature, folklore, sculpture, music, drama and films. The Government has taken the right step honouring Obavva with a day dedicated to her and her selfless sacrifice. She represents true Shakthi’ (power) and stands as Karnataka’s pride, a symbol of woman empowerment in an unusual way. Who says a woman is ‘abala’ (weak, fragile) – she can be both compassionate as well as merciless, if required.