Princess Krishna Kumari's Tragic Tale

The story of princess Krishna Kumari is a blot on India's colonial history that cannot be erased by laying blame at the door of the British Raj. It is no wonder then, that unlike mythopoeic tales of eternal love and gallant narratives from the colonial past, this is a chronicle which has found a lack of both documentation and retelling in popular culture. Lost to the archives of wartime history and buried quietly under the burden of cultural shame, Krishna Kumari’s tragic death at the young age of sixteen reveals the ideological darkness underlying the celebrated ideal of honor.


Krishna Kumari was a Rajput princess born in the year 1794 to Rana Bhim Singh of Mewar. In her girlhood days, her hand was promised to her father’s namesake, Raja Bhim Singh of Marwar. Unfortunately, her betrothed passed away when she was only nine years old and thus began a wretched string of events, each more submerged in misery than the last. 


Princess Krishna Kumari's Tragic Tale
From one man's possession to another


Looking for a suitable husband for his daughter, Rana Bhim Singh arranged for an engagement with Jagat Singh, the mighty king of Amber. Things would have gone smoothly if not for the intervention of Man Singh, the brother of Krishna’s recently deceased husband-to-be. He was infuriated with Bhim Singh’s decision, arguing that he had inherited the right to marry the princess upon his brother’s passing. He had every intention of challenging his rival for Krishna’s coveted hand in marriage. Caught in a bind, Jagat Singh appealed to none other than the British for aid but was turned away as they were too preoccupied with Napoleon at that moment.


It was the Marathas who swooped in to the rescue. With the Shindes (or Scindias) on one side and the Holkars on the other, hostilities reached a boiling point and conflict escalated to a full-fledged war around 1806. Pathan Amir Khan Pindari of Tonk who had sided with Holkar and Jagat Singh at first soon changed his tune and marched to Man Singh’s clarion call upon being offered increased remuneration. At this time, the East India Company was closely monitoring the outbreak of war, noting how the Rajputana was quickly sacrificing lives and monetary resources in the name of a fair princess. 


Princess Krishna Kumari's Tragic Tale
The princess's fate is now that of a pawn in the wars of men


The princess in question - who was at the heart of a bloody battle ripping through the lives of her subjects - had grown up as if with a sword swinging ominously over her head since childhood. The death of her betrothed Raja Bhim Singh of Marwar had spiraled in a most unpredictable manner, becoming the deciding factor in the destruction of the Rajputana years later - and sweeping Krishna Kumari’s whole life with its strong current. It was in 1810, when Krishna had just turned sixteen, that Amir Khan invaded Udaipur and razed its villages to the ground. Having the upper hand in terms of military power, he gave Krishna’s father an ultimatum - wed his daughter to Man Singh or put her to death. 


It is said that Rana Bhim Singh had no choice but to pick the latter, considering that marrying his daughter to Man Singh would be a serious blot on the escutcheon of Udaipur’s royals. Historically, this figure of the father has been absolved of all blame with the excuse of honor in his favor, placing the burden conveniently on the shoulders of Amir Khan. Early chroniclers depict the princess with a blissful smile on her lips as she drank the poison administered to her, endlessly brave in the face of adversity and proud to defend the prestige of her household.


Princess Krishna Kumari's Tragic Tale
Honor and duty collide in the princess's tragic demise 


The unacknowledged truth, of course, is of the sacrificial figure of the woman. Krishna was tokenized as a tool of aggression used to further what was really only a clash of male egos. Her father, along with her two suitors constantly made erroneous decisions fueled by the need for possession - of territory as well as the feminine. Unfortunately, they played right into the hands of a colonial stratagem. The British, having defeated Napoleon, were now free to further their agenda on the checkerboard of India. The war for the princess’ hand had considerably drained the collective Rajput resources and sadly, within a decade of Krishna’s poisoning - all parties involved had accepted British suzerainty.




Leave a comment