Thursday, 23 June 2016

Greek Lady Commandos! Women Empowerment in Chandragupta Times?

For Illustrative Purpose Only
VERY recently we were treated to the news that the Indian Air Force has inducted woman fighter pilots. Women in the Air Force were only allowed to pilot helicopters and transport aircraft. This step was being touted as recognition of parity between men and women in the armed forces. There have been queens and warrior princesses in Indian history. Rani of Jhansi Lakshmibai springs to the mind, but one of the earliest examples would be that of the lady commandos of Chandragupta Maurya.

In one of my earlier blogs I have already spoken about Helen daughter of the Greek regional satrap Selukos. Helen became the second wife of Chandragupta after his first wife died while giving birth to Bindusara. But Helen did not come alone! She was accompanied by her own set of guards and to everyone’s surprise they were female commandos! The journey from being personal commandos of Helen to becoming the personal commandos guarding Emperor Chandragupta and being the Royal Guards is an interesting one.

Chandragupta had a lot of enemies. His life was always in danger. Chanakya was Chandragupta’s guide, mentor and the force behind his accession to the throne and he had taken certain steps to safeguard the emperor’s life. One of the steps was that Chandragupta’s palace would have many bedrooms and all of them would be reserved for the king. At the last moment a bedroom among those available will be chosen for the night for the King to sleep in. Thus his location would be irregular and any assassination attempt would be difficult. But this arrangement created another problem for Helen. She found it demeaning and insulting that every night she would have to ask the guards for which bedroom to go in and she could never do any special arrangements! This created the need for more subtle handling of the King security keeping in mind the Queen’s emotions.

All visitors to the King were thoroughly frisked for concealed weapons. Since the Kings security was handled by men and most visitors were men this did not create any issues. Also the threat of women carrying weapons was perceived to be very low. But two instances changed this perception.

A woman astrologer came to the Emperor and said that she would read out his fortune. Since she had come recommended by some of the Queen’s acquaintances the security was a bit lax. After studying the horoscope she said that she would like to read the palm of the King as well to get a more accurate fortune reading. The King obliged and went near the astrologer and extended his palm. The lady quickly drew a short poisoned blade from her clothes to strike the King. Chandragupta was quicker and blocked her hand while the security slit the woman’s throat.

The second instance was when a party of women horse traders from the Kashmir region came down to sell fine horses to Chandragupta who was known as a connoisseur of horses. The King and three of his security team along with Chanakya went down to the stables where the horses were kept. The woman traders suddenly drew weapons and blades hidden in the straw and under the horse’s saddle and started to attack the party. While the security and Chanakya fought the women, Chandragupta leapt onto horse and rode away.

Both the security breaches were due to insufficient frisking or relaxed threat perception as women were involved. To address the dual problem of frisking lady visitors and the perceived inconvenience and embarrassment to the Queen in communicating about sleeping arrangements and bedrooms with male guards, Chandragupta came up with a solution that his closest line of defense needs to be women guards. The guards of Helen fit the bill perfectly. Thus the prominence of Helen’s commandos increased and they were assigned to be the Royal guards.

Even in Chandragupta’s time the role of Helen and her item it intentions were suspected and palace whispers were that these attempts on the Emperor’s life were designed so that she and her guards could come into prominence.

But did Helen really love Chandragupta? What was the ultimate role of the lady commandos? Was she a spy or an assassinate to kill Chandragupta at the appointed hour? Or was she the latest pawn in search of the secrets of ancient India? Secrets, that had Alexander come down to India in the first place?

To find out this and much more, read the book “The Indus Challenge”. Hitting the bookshelves soon….

1 comment:

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