Riders of the Tempest - A series
N°1 | Onake Obavva | The Pestle Warrior
I am excited to share with you the announcement + launch of Berkana’s new series ‘Riders of the tempest’. Keeping Berkana’s main vision of retelling obscure truths in focus, this series is engineered to add another dimension to this newsletter. This series celebrates the spirit of courage that has continued to be the constant theme of Berkana. In this series, I will narrate some crisp and invigorating stories of badass women who ‘rode the tempest’ or in other words depicted fortitude in face of death. I have planned to release one newsletter per month for this series. The element of surprise shall be the weekend on which you can expect this newsletter and the woman of the month. Just so that I am clear about my offerings - this series is in addition to the usual Berkana cultural deep dives and not instead of it. I hope you will stick around and cheer me on, as I experiment more with the Berkana flavors!
Today’s Storm Rider is an extraordinary woman of ordinary birth.
The legends of the 18th-century kingdom of Chitradurga (now Karnataka) consist of stories of political upheaval due to constant invasion attempts made by the Mughal allies, and that of the elusive hidden treasures of the Nayaka kingdom. One such deeply buried treasure is the story of Onake Obavva. Situated far south of the Indian subcontinent in the arid and rocky terrain was the kingdom of Chitradurga. With the Mughals reigning the majority of Hindustan, the grip of the Hindu kings on their respective territory was slipping. Hyder Ali, the tenacious Sultan of the neighboring city of Mysore was determined to siege the Chitradurga fort to further strengthen his position among the Dravidian rulers. However, an ominous fate was lurking within the walls of Chitradurga for Ali’s men.
Obavva was an ideal and hardworking housewife who fetched wood and water, cooked and cleaned, and cared for her husband. One day her husband, who was also the guard of Chitradurga fort, came home early for lunch. When he asked her for a glass of water, the dutiful Obavva walked from the inner city to the pond located near the borders of the fort. On her way back she discovered that a battalion of men was trying to break into the fort through a small tunnel within the rocks. Legend has it that the quick-witted and fiercely protective Obavva ran down the hills to throw herself between the deceptive troop of Hyder Ali and the rest of the Chitradurga. She held a position near the end of the tunnel that opened inside the city and planned to strategically eliminate the men entering the city without raising suspicion of the ones who followed. She made an immediate weapon of an Onake or pestle (kitchen equipment to pound grains) available to her and attacked the soldiers.
It is said that Obavva killed about 100 men that day. When her husband found her later she stood still, her eyes blazed with wild rage, and her pestle covered in blood. He was beyond shocked looking at the barbaric form of his otherwise cultured and gentle wife. Obavva succeeded in protecting her beloved homeland from an invasion that day. However, Chitradurga eventually fell. The kingdom was not strong enough to withstand the blow unleashed by Hyder Ali, who was infuriated after losing about 100 men to the strength of one ordinary woman. Obavva lost her life on the day she saved Chitradurga, leaving behind two important legacies. One is the example of awakened ferocity, which lays dormant in the soul of every woman. Another is the question of why the king’s army was incapable of holding the fort against the enemy when an untrained woman protected the entire city on her own? Did they lack a woman's passion for her home or her uncorrupted intention to die for what she values?
Obavva is still remembered through folklores and is celebrated in the state of Karnataka as a symbol of feminine fortitude. As a homage to her tale of valiance, an important Karnataka police task force is named - The Obavva task force.