Rani Padmini and Alauddin Khilji

After Bajirao Mastani, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali is making a movie Padmavat i.e. about Rani Padmini, the queen of Chittorgarh, and Alauddin Khilji, the ruler of Delhi. According to media reports the film is portraying a love story between Padmini and Khilji.

The popular story is about how Alauddin Khilji attacked Chittor, he fell for Padmini on seeing her reflection in the mirror. This story was woven by a well known Indian poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 A.D. and finds echo in Nehru's Discovery of India.

This article tells you about flaws in the poem and possible scenarios written by historians.

According to the poem ‘Padmavat' (written in Avadhi), Rani Padmavati of Chittor was the wife of Raja Ratansen (a name invented by Jayasi which no reference in Mewar history) of Chittor during the reign of Allauddin Khilji. The correct name of Chittor's then ruler was Rawal Ratan Singh, the 34th descendant of Bappa Rawal.

So what does the poem written by Jayasi say?

There were many talented artists in the court of Ratansen, one of whom was a musician named Raghava Chetan. He was a sorcerer who used his magical powers to target rivals. Once he was caught red-handed while trying to invoke evil spirits whereupon Ratansen banished Raghava from the kingdom after blackening his face. Raghava ran away to Delhi and decided to take revenge by provoking Khilji to attack Chittor.

Raghava knew of a forest near Delhi where Khilji went hunting. One day Raghava played his flute whilst Khilji was hunting. The alluring notes of his flute attracted attention of Khilji who asked soldiers to fetch the flute player. Thus Raghava was taken to Khilji's court. After reaching Delhi Raghava told Allauddin about the unparalleled beauty of Rani Padmini.

That prompted Khilji to attack Chittor but found the fort to be heavily defended. He laid siege to the fort and forced Ratansen to negotiate with him.

Desperate to capture the beautiful Padmini Khilji sent a word to Ratansen that he wanted to meet her. The Raja asked Padmini who flatly refused. However, on being persuaded by her beleaguered husband, Rani Padmini agreed to let Khilji see her in the mirror.

Palace on the right is where Padmini is supposed to have stood.

Next Khilji entered the fort with a group of select warriors who observed the fort's defences on their way to the palace. On seeing Rani Padmini in the mirror Khilji decided that she must be his.

Mirror in Chittor where Khilji is said to have seen Padmini's reflection.

Whilst returning to his camp Khilji deceitfully kidnapped Ratansen and took him as prisoner. Thereafter, he informed the Rajput Sardars that Padmini should be handed over to him if they wanted to see their king alive.

Rajput generals, led by two gutsy warriors Gora and Badal who were related to Padmini, decided to beat Khilji at his own game. They sent out a word that Padmini would be handed over the next morning.

At the crack of dawn one hundred and fifty palanquins (in which royal ladies were carried in medieval times) left the fort and made their way to Khilji's camp. The palanquins stopped before a tent where King Ratansen was held prisoner. To his surprise, armed Rajputs jumped out from the palanquins freed Ratansen and galloped away to Chittor riding the horses grabbed from Alauddin's stable.

Khilji was furious. He ordered the army to storm Chittogarh. However, the army could not break into the fort. Due to a prolonged siege supplies of food to troops were running out. So Ratnasen opened the fort gates and Rajputs rode out to fight. They were overpowered and achieved martyrdom. Rani Padmini and wives of thousands of warriors preferred Jauhar (fire is lit and women jump into the flames) rather losing their honor to Khilji's army.

Place in Chittor where Jauhar was committed

When Khilji entered the fort all that he found were ashes of these brave women. Their sacrifice has been kept alive by Bards in their songs where they praise women who preferred supreme sacrifice to dishonor.

When the author visited Chittorgarh Fort in 2008 and asked the guide about the veracity of the mirror story he said locals did not believe in it.

Having read Jayasi's poem above, let us now read what the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan's book on Indian History says,

"In January 1303, Khilji set out on his memorable campaign for the conquest of Chittor. He received strong resistance from the Rajputs under Rana Ratan Singh. The Rajputs offered heroic resistance for about seven months and then, after the women had perished in the flames of jauhar, the fort surrendered on August 26, 1303." 1

"Whilst later writers like Abu-l Fazl, Haji-ud-Dabir (note these two authors use Padmini not as a name, but as a woman possessing special attributes) have the accepted the story that the sole reason for invasion of Chittor was Khilji's desire to get possession of Padmini, many modern writers are inclined to reject it altogether. They point out that the episode of Padmini was first mentioned by Malik Jayasi in 1540 A.D. in his poem Padmavat, which is a romantic tale rather than historical work. Further, the later day writers who reproduced the story with varying details, flourished long after the event, but their versions differed from one another on essential points."1

Yarn 2 by Jayasi

Muhammad Jayasi wrote in Padmavat was that Padmini was the daughter of Raja Gandharva Sen of Sri Lanka. The Lanka story has many contradictions namely -

One, the name Raja Ganadharva Sen is nowhere found in Sinhalese history. The then Buddhist rulers of Lanka had contacts mainly with the Pandya kings of Tamil Nadu and none with Rajputana. The names of Lanka rulers at that time were Vijayabahu III (1220-24), Bhuvanaikabahu I (1281-83), Interregnum (1283-1302) and Vijayabahu V (1325/6 to 1344/5).

Instead there is a strong possibility that Padmini was a princess of Jaisalmer or of Sinhala, a village near Sojat in Pali district of Rajasthan. In the history of Rajasthan there are many references which indicate that Rani Padmini was the 11th wife of Rawal Ratan Singh among his fifteen wives, as polygamy was prevalent among Rajput rulers then. There is, however, no confirmation of her father being Rana Salsi Tanwar as written in the book ‘The Kingdom of Mewar’ by Irmgard Meininger, a German author.

Two, in Padmawat there is a reference to a parrot who flew all the way from Sri Lanka to Chittor

as a messenger to inform Raja Ratansen aka Rawal Ratan Singh about the beauty of Padmini, daughter of the Sinhala ruler Gandharvasen which made Ratansen travel all the way to the Sinhala kingdom to win the hand of Padmini. This narrative lacks credibility since Lanka never had a king by that name.

Three, Jayasi wrote this poem almost 237 years after Khilji's attack on Chittor. The literature of that era is full of highly imaginative narratives and poets were known to gleefully use metaphors, alliterations and imaginary personifications. There is also a reference in Padmavat to a sorcerer called Raghav Chetan who is believed to have been personified as a parrot.

Some prominent contradictions in Muhammad Jayasi's poem are detailed below..

Amir Khusro, the court poet of Khilji, who accompanied him during the Chittor attack did not write about Padmini nor allude any episode to her in his book ‘Twarikh-e-Allai. To be fair it is possible that Khusro might not want to further spoil the image of Khilji. Hence he ignored reference to Padmini. "According to Prof Habib, there is a covert allusion to Padmini episode by Khusro is his Khazain-ul-Fatuh, where he mentions the Queen of Sheba." 1

Equally important is the fact that Col. James Tod did not refer to Khilji's desire to capture the beautiful Padmini is his book The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan.

There are many instances in history where court poets and writers followed instructions of the ruling kings and wrote history accordingly for e.g. the book Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazal where he was instructed not to write about Mehrunissa's, later known as Nur Jahan wife of Mughal king Jahangir, first marriage with an Afghan Patham, where as there is a sure mention of her in Tuzuk-e-Jahangari as his beloved and how his father had cheated on him.

It would not be wrong to say that Jayasi's poem Padmavat is a figment of his poetic imagination. "It has also been argued that the invasion of Chittor was the natural expansionist policy of Khilji and no Padmini was need for his casus belli". 1

The story of Allauddin watching Padmini’s reflection in a mirror, or in a well, as stated in Discovery of India by Pandit Nehru, could have been based on a later day interpolation by some local poets. It could also be a phoney myth popularised by some imaginative story-tellers.

Having questioned the motive for Khilji's invasion of Chittor, "it should be remembered that Khilji's lust for a Hindu queen is proved by the known instances of Queen Kamala Devi of Gujarat and the daughter of King Ramachandra of Devagiri. The story of Padmini should not be totally rejected as a myth. But it is impossible, at the present state of knowledge, to regard it definitely as a historical fact". 1

In Bajirao Mastani, Bhansali told audiences what a brave general Bajirao Peshwa was. It prompted Col (retired) Anil Athale to write Why Bajirao Peshwa was India's greatest cavalry general. Having assuaged Maratha pride, Bhansali got away with some historical distortions.

In Padmavat Bhansali is trying to do a balancing act and be secular. Thus he might tell audiences how romantic the Sultan of Delhi was - that his love for Padmini was as pure as the holy water of Zamzama and sexual conquest of beautiful Hindu queens was the last thing on his mind.

Bhansali might take refuge under the excuse that the movie is based on a poem Padmavat, whose historical significance is unconfirmed. But in the poem Padmavat there is no mention of the so-called dream sequence. Ultimately Bhansali might change the name of the movie like he done with Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. Will it satisfy the nationalists?

Either way the movie will attract protest as we saw in Jaipur recently. A few things for sure - it will get free publicity, be discussed on television prime time and become the next battleground between the nationalists and votaries of selective freedom of speech.

1. Volume 6 of the History and Culture and Indian People published by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan pg 23
2. Rani Padmini - a legendary beauty
3. Wikipedia

The article was first published Click here to view

All pictures by Sanjeev Nayyar

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