Chand Bibi of Ahmadnagar and her evolution as a “Warrior Queen”: a glimpse into the popular representations from the 16th to 21st centuries

Rida Khan, Institute of Business Administration

Abstract / Summary

This thesis is an investigation into the popular narratives surrounding the figure of Chand Bibi, a 16th century warrior queen from the Deccan in Central India. Neither the historical figure of Chand Bibi nor the numerous popular representations of her produced in India from the 16th to 21st centuries have received much attention in academia. In one of the few pieces of scholarship on Chand Bibi, Katheryn Hansen has written about her as a warrior queen. However, in the earliest historical sources, concentrated mainly in Ahmadnagar and Bijapur from the 16th to 18th centuries, one does not find Chand Bibi primarily characterized in this role. There is a basic skeletal story that allows for Chand Bibi to fit into the role of a warrior queen later, but her contemporaries did not think of her as such: rather, she was known for her beauty, valor, and piety, all together. Chand Bibi’s figure was then reinvented in artistic and literary circles in Hyderabad Deccan under the rule of the Asaf Jah Nizams. In the miniature paintings, Chand Bibi is found hawking, much in the style of the Mughal rulers. The ensuing literature regarded her as identical to Queen Elizabeth I and Empress Nur Jahan. Chand Bibi’s persona, therefore, began to be centered on her royalty, rather than her beauty or piety. What followed were the representations of Chand Bibi produced during Crown Raj. A parallel was drawn with Shivaji in art, theatres, and cinemas from Calcutta to Pune, against the backdrop of the anticolonial movement. In Bombay, she was depicted as a warrior styled after the Mughal rulers, within the framework of the Congress-led freedom struggle. Meanwhile, in London, she was likened to Joan of Arc, in the context of the suffragette movement and the Great War. Chand Bibi’s portrayal from this era is focused on her martial prowess, transforming her to a warrior queen. This image persists to date. In this thesis, I explore how Chand Bibi’s public image evolved from being a royal figure recorded in a few select sources to becoming popularly known as a warrior queen.