Rani Padmavati: A Myth?

Hi guys!!! Today I will try to step on the biggest minefield in India right now. No, not the Radcliffe Line. I am talking about “THE” movie of the year, Padmavati, or should I say Padmavat? So, praying that I will live to tell another tale, let me delve deep into the history once again.

Timeline: We will travel back in time to the 13th century, the time of the Second Alexander (Sikander Sani), the one and only Alauddin Khilji. It is assumed that the great Rani Padmavati belonged to this era. However, no written records of any such character could be found in the contemporary works, including those of the greats like  Ziauddin Barani, a writer during the court of Muhammad Tughlaq, Feroz Shah, and Amir Khusrau, an intellectual of Nizamuddin Auliya’s court.

The first ever written record of the queen that could be found was the poem “Padmavat“, written by Malik Muhhamad Jayasi in 16th century. This great gap between the existence and written record of the character has led many to question the existence of Queen Padmavati. So what is the story of Queen Padmavati according to her creator (?) Malik Muhhammed Jayasi? Let’s find out.

  • Padmavati was the daughter of Gandharvsen, the king of the island kingdom of Sinhala (Singhal kingdom, Sri Lanka).
  • She had a talking parrot, Hiraman, who after narrowly escaping her father’s execution order, landed in the hands of the King of Chittor, Ratan Sen, the hero (?) of this story.
  • Moved by the tales of the beauty of Padmavati, that he heard from the talking parrot,  Ratan Sen made a journey to Sinhala, to win the heart of the queen. Oh, and he took 16000 followers with him for the process. Truly regal!!!
  • He then stalked Padmavati for some time, but having failed to talk with her, he attempted to immolate himself. Yes, not only the girls sacrifice themselves in this story.
  • This is where the Gods took entry in this story. Shiva and Parvati then stopped the king from killing himself, and advised to attack the castle instead. I haven’t found any logic in this part. You all are welcome to point out many. The closest I got is maybe they were influenced by their son Kartikeya, or Skanda (the Hindu God of War).
  • SO the king tried, and failed. As expected, Gandharvsen, Padmavati’s father, ordered them to be executed. However, he changed his decision once Hiraman (yes, the talking parrot) tells the king that he is the king of Chittor. Instead the king decided to marry his daughter to Ratan Sen, the person who attacked his fortress.
  • On their return, the Ocean God decided to punish them and called upon a big storm. All died, except of course, our two lovebirds. However, they got separated, and Ratan Sen was tested for his love to Padmavati by Lacchmi, the daughter of Ocean God. He passed the test, and united with Padmavati. All is weel, except of course the 16000 casualties, who almost had zero contribution to this story. But, hey who cares, our heroes survived.
  • On their return to Chittor, the poem depicts the feud between Padmavati and Nagmati, Ratan Sen’s first wife. Oh yes, he was married before he embarked on this quest. But all those bickerings were cut short once Alaudding Khilji arrived in the scene. Ratan Sen was killed in an encounter with another suitor with Padmavati, while Khilji attacked the fortress. Fearing loss of her honor, Nagmati and Padmavati committed self-immolation on Ratan Sen’s pyre, the place that is today known as Jauhar Kund.

So, that was the first written story about Padmavati. Other version exists, including the following:

  1. Hemratan‘s Gora Badal Padmini Chhupai
  2. James Tod‘s  Annals and Antiquities of Rajast’han
  3. Yagneshwar Bandyopadhyay‘s Mewar
  4. Abanindranath Tagore‘s Rajkahin

One story even says that Ratan Sen pursued Padmavati because he was dissatisfied by the cooking of his previous wife.

Was Padmavati real?

So, the question now is maybe, was there really a woman named Padmavati? Even if we assume the reference to talking parrot, and sea gods, were allegorical, the fact remains that the first account of Padmavati was after 200 years of her supposed existence. Some scholars, such as Ashirbadi Lal Srivastava, Dasharatha Sharma, and Mohammad Habib, have suggested that Amir Khusrau makes a veiled reference to Padmini in Khaza’in ul-Futuh. However, there remains multiple others, including,  Kishori Saran Lal and Kalika Ranjan Qanungo, denies such claims.

The life story of Rani Padmini appears in some Muslim Sufi, Hindu Nath and Jain tradition manuscripts with embedded notes that the legend is symbolic. Some of these are dated to the 17th-century, and state that:

  • Chittor symbolizes the human body
  • The king is the human spirit
  • The island kingdom of Singhal is the human heart
  • Padmini is the human mind
  • The parrot is the guru (teacher) who guides
  • Sultan Alauddin symbolizes the Maya (worldly illusion).

So, all in all, it cannot be conclusively decided whether Rani Padmavati is a real historical figure or not. However, recently, we have seen multiple outbursts from some fanatics, in the name of Rani Padmavati, vandalizing places and attacking people, while protesting Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie Padmavati. Real historical figure or not, these hooliganism need to be stopped, for the Hindu Culture is not so fragile, that a mere movie will destroy it from it’s cores.

P.S.: Thankfully J.R.R. Tolkein, was not born in India. Otherwise, 100 years from now, we might have had to deal with fanatics protesting a movie depicting Bilbo Baggins having an erotic dream about Galadriel.

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