An Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary Indian Woman

Obavva showed legendary courage in the face of trouble. This is her story.

Hindu temple and market road ruins inside Chitradurga fort. By Ms. Sarah Welch from Wikimedia Commons

Chitradurga, which is situated amidst towering boulders and hillocks, is a small town in Karnataka, India.

The Nayaka Dynasty once ruled this rocky terrain for about 250 years between the 1550s and 1700s. During the late-1700s, the Chitradurga kingdom lay in between two great powers — the Maratha kingdom in the north, ruled by Peshwa Madhav Rao, and the Mysore kingdom in the south, ruled by Hyder Ali.

During the reign of the last Nayaka ruler of Chitradurga, Hyder Ali tried to lay siege and attacked the fort multiple times. The fort was so well built that it was impregnable, and the initial attacks by Hyder Ali were unsuccessful.

One day, a soldier in Hyder Ali’s army saw a person entering the fort through a small crevice between the rocks surrounding the fort. The hole was big enough for only one person to crawl through at a time. With this piece of information, Hyder Ali decided to attempt another siege by sending his soldiers through this crevice into the fort.

A sentry of Chitradurga was guarding the crevice inside the fort. His name was Kahale Mudda Hanuma, and his wife’s name was Obavva.

An opening in the rocks of Chitradurga fort that was used by Hyder Ali to send his soldiers. By Krishnaraj Barvathaya from Wikimedia Commons

Obavva’s story

One afternoon when Kahale Mudda Hanuma was at home for lunch, Obavva went out to fetch a pot of drinking water.

On her way back, she saw one of Hyder Ali’s soldiers entering the fort from the crevice. Thinking quickly, Obavva took an Onake or a pestle (a long wooden device used for pounding paddy and other grains) and struck him on his head, killing him instantly.

Anticipating more soldiers, Obavva hid the dead soldier’s body and stood guard at the crevice. A lone woman with no prior training in the art of war did not deter her from this situation.

True to her anticipation, more soldiers crawled into the fort through the crevice. She struck every soldier one after the other, as they entered through the hole, and dragged each dead soldier’s body aside.

Unknown artist. Source: Reddit

When Kahale Mudda Hanuma returned after lunch, he was stunned to see a bloodied Onake in Obavva’s hand and a pile of dead soldiers on the side. He immediately sounded the war alarm and warned the others to prepare for battle.

Obavva died the same day of this incident, but the actual reason for her death remains unknown.

Although Obavva’s heroic act delayed Hyder Ali’s siege on the fort, the last Nayaka ruler lost to Hyder Ali. And Mysore conquered the Chitradurga fort.

Neither losing the war, nor Obavva’s death could mar her achievement. Obavva had no prior experience in warfare. But, she rose to the situation, used whatever little resource she had, and displayed exemplary resolve and courage to prevent enemies from entering the fort. In doing so, she has given us a lesson not to get discouraged and face any challenge thrown at us with courage and determination.

History refers to her as Onake Obavva. The crevice she was once guarding is now called Obavvanna Kindi (Kindi means crevice in Kannada), and Chitradurga has a stadium named after her. The legend of Onake Obavva continues to marvel both kids and adults alike.

This story was first published on on June 17, 2020.

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