Tilu Rauteli is revered along with immortal and powerful women like Rani Jhansi, Durgavati, Chandbibi, and Jhalkari Bai. Born to Bhup Singh on 08 August 1661, Tilu Rauteli (originally called Tilottama Devi) was a Garhwali warrior and folk heroine. She hailed from the village of Gurad Talla in Chaundkot (in present-day Garhwal/Uttarakhand). She mastered horse riding and sword fighting under the guidance of Guru Shibu Pokhriyal. Tilu Rauteli is perhaps the world's only female warrior who fought seven wars between the age of fifteen and twenty.
When she was 15 years old, she was engaged to Bhavani Singh from Ida Talla (near Srikotkhal) in Pauri Garhwal district. At the time, Uttarakhand was controlled by the Katyuris. Kumaon's Katyuri soldiers were constantly attacking the Garhwal Kingdom. The Chand Dynasty ruled in Garhwal and Kumaon, with Pawar in Garhwal and Katyuris in Kumaon. The Chand Dynasty gradually became more powerful in Kumaon, and the Katyuris began to disintegrate. They began to sow discord by looting and causing havoc around the city. When the Katyuris attacked Khairagarh, though Bhup Singh fought the invaders heroically, he was martyred along with his two sons and Tilu's fiancée in this battle.
A few days later, it was time for the annual Kauthig (country fair) in Kanda, and Tilu Rauteli expressed her desire to go for it. Seeing her persistence, her grieving mother who had been left bereft by the loss of her husband and sons, expressed her anguish by saying:
“O Tilu! What are you! Don’t you miss your brothers? Who will avenge your father's death? If you want to go somewhere, it should be the battlefield…. Can you go? Enjoy your Kauthig after that!”
Tilu Rauteli was shaken by her mother's taunt. It left such an indelible impact on her mind that she abandoned her desire to visit the Kauthig.
Tilu Rauteli, who was only fifteen years old, took command of her father’s forces. With the help of her maternal uncle Ramu Bhandari, advisor Shivdutt Pokhriyal, and companions Devaki and Belu, she put together an army. Sri Guru Gaurinath, the Maratha General of Chhatrapati Shivaji, was given charge of the army. Thousands of young people received training and mastered guerilla warfare tactics under her direction. Tilu Rauteli is said to have fought the enemy in Kalinkakhal and thereby avenged her father's death by defeating the Katyuri army's general in Saraikhet, the place where her father was killed. Her revenge for the martyrdom of her father, brothers, and fiancée, was a reflection of her bravery and courage at such a young age.
Over the course of seven years, she is said to have conquered around 13 forts, some of which were Khairagarh, Takauligarh, Indiakot Bhaunkhal, Umragarhi, Saltmahadev, Masigarh, Saraikhet, Ufraikhal, Kalinkakhal, Dumailgarh, Bhalangbhaun, and Chaukhutia.
It is said that on 15 May 1683, Tilu was returning home when she spotted the Nayar river. She went down to bathe in the river keeping her weapon on the bank. Ramu Rajwar, a Katyuri soldier, surreptitiously attacked her from behind and killed her. The life of this young warrior of Uttarakhand who fought the enemies till her last breath thus came to an end.
Tilu Rauteli’s story of bravery, courage, and valour at such a young age is inspiring and motivating. In the year 2006, the Government of Uttarakhand instituted the ‘Veerbala Tilu Rauteli Award’ - which is given to women and girls for their extraordinary performance in their respective fields of work.
In memory of Tilu Rauteli, the residents of Kanda village and Bironkhal region organize a Kauthig every year, when the idol of Tilu Rauteli is worshipped along with Dhol-Damau and Nishan. Although the state of Uttarakhand hails her, and many books and plays have been written about the valour of young Tilu Rauteli, she remains an unsung hero for the rest of the country.