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Queen of Earth by Devika Rangachari: a book review

History of Odisha hidden in the tale of Queen Prithvimahadevi

A culture is as good as its history and history has been unkind towards women. Ranging from the downtrodden and even to the queens and princesses. Their contributions are often brushed under the carpet, sidelined. The prevailing patriarchal society belittled women to a point that their mere existence was not welcomed in certain cases.

Queen of earth is the story of one such princess who decided not to bend down and accept all the decisions, but rather question and analyze everything. Prithvimahadevi was the Somvanshi princess of 9th century Odisha, then known as Kalinga. Her father Janmajeya was one of the powerful rulers of Kalinga. The period was marked by small kingdoms that were often feudatory in nature and always in war with the neighboring states.

Medieval India was marked with various ritualistic practices, reducing the worth of a woman to a second-class citizen and the high-class women were expected to follow sati pratha. The period also saw the rise of Buddhist kingdoms with completely different take on society and women. One such kingdom was that of the Bhaumakaras. Prithvimahadevi was married off to the Bhaumakara kingdom as a result of political negotiations. This also sheds light on the system where women were treated as political gifts for peace treaties. As the story goes on, Prithvimahadevi found complete polarities in the system of administration and household, where women were treated as equal, and often ruled the kingdom when situation demanded. Living in a new kingdom, she experienced a culture shift. From the indifference of her husband to getting exposed to a new society where she could rule the kingdom, she came a long way.

Written in a fashion that Prithvimahadevi herself is telling the tale, the book is more of a biography yet narrated in a fictional manner. On cross checking the facts it turned out the author paid very close attention to each and every detail. Be it the garments, rituals, kingdom boundaries, or inscriptions. The book lies somewhere between history, fiction, and young adult literature. This particular series by Devika Rangachari starting with the “queen of ice”, “queen of earth”, and the upcoming “queen of fire” is a perfect starting point for budding readers to learn about the Indian queens who were pathbreakers in defining the identity of women and womanhood.


Prithvimahadevi is the daughter of the powerful Somavamshi king of Kosala. Her life is circumscribed by the rules that govern the existence of women of her royal family. She can only hope that she will marry a king whose power matches that of her ambitious father.

Instead, she is married to her father's enemy, the Bhaumakara ruler, Shubhakaradeva, whose way of life she finds alien and austere, and who worships strange gods. There seems to be no hope for her to fulfill her dreams of becoming a great queen-until suddenly one day, there is . . . But is she willing to play the game of sacrifice and betrayal that this will entail?

The story of this ninth-century queen of Odisha by award-winning historical novelist Devika Rangachari will keep you riveted.

This book is published by Duckbill, an imprint of Penguin. You can buy your copy here.


Dr. Devika Rangachari is an award-winning children’s writer whose book, Queen of Ice, was on the White Raven list, won the Neev Young Adult Book Award, and has been optioned to be made into a movie/ television series. She is also a historian who has conducted post-doctoral research on gender in early medieval Indian history. Devika is inordinately fond of reading (especially historical fiction), chocolates, potatoes, and exploring bookshops and libraries. She would happily spend her time among her four loves were it not for her lovely-but-stern editors who occasionally compel her to write.

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