A bourgeoisie sees history as it is being told to him by another bourgeoisie. He neither cares to read a book to give significance to many politically, religiously, and socially motivated versions of an event that may have happened behind closed doors more than 700 years ago, nor does he understand the mindset of a writer who indulges in writing romantics, poetry, and thus playing with history for the pleasure of fiction and storytelling. Rani Padmini’s story, widely known to everyone via the great story of ‘Padmavati’ written by Malik Mohammad Jayasi, is a proof of how a poet, a Sufi, a romanticist can play with his immense knowledge of history to bend it the way it pleases him. The reality is that it was more easy to do so in the past under the patronage of ruling monarchs rather than today, under the open sky and the free world. Today, if I plan to write a story involving Maharana Pratap and one of the nautch girls in his kingdom, I may be killed before I even think of the exciting plot and perfect thrilling story involving the love life of one of the greatest Hindu kings in recent times. The cults have grown over time and today, it feels like Hinduism is defined only by cults, the cult of Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Prithviraj Chauhan, Lord Shiva, Lord Krishna, societal communities, the nationalist cult, and others. When did we forget that we love them all and we also love those who tell us different stories involving the lives of the cult heads? When did sex become a taboo and not a real thing happening in the lives of all humans and Gods?
Malik Mohammad Jayasi, a Muslim Sufi Saint, wrote the story titled, Padmavat, and he named his protagonist queen of Chittor, Padmavati (not Padmini, the original name of the queen on whose life the story was based on). Please note the change of names and thus the writer’s proud bugle that the story was the creation of his own mind. But can everybody understand that? Jayasi must have been influenced by the concept of Jauhar among Rajputs, must have held the self-pride and valor of the small Indian community as a matter of respect for them, and was also influenced by Hindu epics like Ramayana. Thus, he wrote one of the greatest epics involving the most successful Sultan of India, Ala-ud-din Khilji, only second to the Mighty Akbar (who hadn’t yet arrived in the world when Jayasi was writing the epic), and the tiny Rajput Kingdom of Chittorgarh. His character of the Rani of Chittor was somewhat influenced by Sita Mata from Ramayana. The King of Chittor, Ratnasena (another changed name in the story) frees the princess from her oppressive father and the king of Sinhala who had held captive his own daughter. The story in its later half talks about the attempts of Ala-ud-din Khilji to induct Rani Padmavati in his harem. Ratnasena (the fictional king of Chittor) categorically refused the demands. The story also includes the famous story of Ala-ud-din Khilji looking once at Rani Padmavati through a mirror. I have been to the palace of Padmini (real Princess of Chittor) in Chittorgarh and was mesmerized by her beautiful and grand palace which survived the demonic circle of time. Charmed by her beauty and madly in love with her, Sultan of India from Gujarat to Bengal, charged on the small Rajput Kingdom of Mewar to snatch the most beautiful women in all India. He began a long siege of Chittor, which later resulted in the defeat of Rajputs, the martyrdom of Ratnasena and other Rajputs, and the Jauhar of Padmavati along with other queens. A Bollywood blockbuster! Isn’t it?
This is how Padmavat, the great epic from early 16th century, written almost 300 years after the actual war between Chittorgarh and Delhi Sultanate in 1302-03 unfolded, and this is the story that undoubtedly later influenced other writers like Ferishta and Abdul Fazl from the Mughal Period. Since then, most historians hardly cared for what really happened and only counted the story by Jayasi as the real story of that time. Well, this is how fiction inspired by real events become a myth for some and the truth for some. It has happened not once but a million times in India, a country where Hindu writers rarely indulged themselves in writing history before foreign invasions but believed in romanticizing everything to produce stories, poems, and works of art. We are a culture of bards, singers, and poets creating embellished oral renditions pronouncing the living as the legends and the dead as immortals. It doesn’t end here, the Indian love for exciting stories, singing, dance, music, legendary characters can be easily witnessed in the almost 100 years of recent history of Bollywood. I feel proud to be a part such a culture but I do not hesitate from realizing that we have gained from the cultures of Islamic and British colonizers. We learned and we grew. We accepted everyone with open arms to become an inclusive society accepting multiculturalism. Indian culture lets other cultures immerse in its vast oceans of existence. Though, we also adopted the bad from other cultures. Some of us deviated from who we were, and years of colonization and political oppression at the hands of Islamic and British rulers divided us into shelled communities living on the principle of survival of the fittest. It brought skepticism and doubt on their minds and today, those shelled communities, realizing their independence want to make sure nobody adds a single new page in their culture and traditions. Well, this is not who were and this should not be what we become. Our Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and other books on philosophy and ways of life are a living proof of the transition in our culture over time.
The change is constant but are we ready to come out of the cult to adopt the change?
Everything that comes to a historian is a biased account influenced either by politics or religion. Or it turns out to be a work of art (historical fiction) inspired by the real events. A historian’s job is to preserve all of it and celebrate their existence. Finding out what really happened can be tricky and has fooled the greatest historians ever lived on earth.
What we know about the Ala-ud-din Khilji is that he had already annexed the mighty kingdoms of Gujarat and Ranthambore in 1299 and 1301 AD. There are also hints that Mewar didn’t allow Khilji’s armies to pass by the land of Mewar when they were riding on Gujarat and Ranthambore. This was an act of defiance during those times since Delhi Sultanate was the only herculean kingdom in India stretching all over North, East, and West India. It is written by analysts that this angered Khilji and he vowed to take revenge with Chittor later, after annexing Ranthambore and Gujarat. Khilji defeated Ranthambore, the almost impregnable fort in all India and later in 1302 he rode for Chittor which had gone rogue in open defiance of the Sultanate. Khilji maybe also wanted to annex Chittorgarh because of its herculean fort and strategic importance in the area. So, the case of Rani Padmini never comes in. Amir Khusraw (from the time of Khilji) wrote that 30,000 Rajputs (exaggerated figure) were killed (highly unfortunate and a reality of barbaric medieval battles fought all over India) after the battle which may also be a case for no after-battle Jauhar in the castle. But as I said before, we can’t be sure, these are only theories and expert judgments on the basis of information and data available, it is exactly like predicting the future using big data and information available (Engineers and Marketeers would understand that!). Also, I am not saying that Rajput women never performed Jauhar. It was in their tradition and there are many noted Jauhar performed by royal Rajput women during the bloody 600 years of rule of Islamic civilizations in India.
In an unfortunate recent incident, the eminent filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his crew were beaten in the Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur. The hooligans, who belonged to a group named Rajput Karni Sena, thought they are doing their cultural duty by throwing Sanjay Leela Bhansali out of the fort. But were they? It happened because the rumors of an intimate scene between Rani Padmini and Ala-ud-din Khilji in a dream sequence reached their ears. They hadn’t watched the movie. They didn’t even have access to the script. They had rumors and they acted on it. Without any doubt, it was a publicity stunt to tell the artists to stay away from the history of “supposedly their” ancestors.
What is more worrisome is the post-incident story. Police came and made sure that the ‘sentiments’ of Rajput Karni Sena were not offended. The news reports claim that Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his entire crew were made to apologize and asked to pack up and leave the fort. This is the picture of establishment/government failing at the most basic levels of democracy, providing security to its citizens following the law. Rather than providing security to Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his crew, throwing them out of the fort and forcing them to issue an apology is where many Indians lost the confidence of security in the Indian state and decide to move to another country where police would provide security to those targeted by bullies.
Bullies are everywhere but only the Indian police bow their heads to the bullies.
To people reading this essay, kindly do not indulge in violence and hooliganism even if you think somebody’s work may hurt your sentiments. Please talk and try to solve the matters peacefully. Please be open to different versions of history and be more tolerant of thousands of different kind and category of communities in India. Because that is what India is, united states of communities and societies who speak different languages, have a different history, often a history in which they fought with each other to establish control over the country.