The History of India: The Sacrifice of Rani Padmavati The History of India: The Sacrifice of Rani Padmavati

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Sacrifice of Rani Padmavati

The story of Rani Padmini / Padmavati of Chittor is a blend of historic facts and folklore. It is the story of the courage, medieval chivalry and sacrifice exhibited by the Rajput warriors, both men and women.

Though the historic facts behind the story can only be clearly ascertained of Ala-ud-Din’s conquest of Chittor in 1303 with the defeat of the king Ratan Singh (as told in Khaza’inul Futuh (English title: A Treasury of Victory: The Campaigns of Ala-ud-din Khilji) by Amir Khusrau), I will tell the story as narrated in Khuman Raysa, the great chronicle of the Guhilot and Sisodia Rajputs (recompiled during 1572-1597 during the reign of Maharana Pratap Singh) and as it exists in today’s folklore.

In 1296, Ala-ud-Din Khilji the nephew as well as son-in-law of Jalal-ud-Din Khilji (Sultan of Delhi and the first emperor of the Khilji dynasty), killed his uncle and marched on to Delhi with his head on a pike and proclaimed himself king. Then he started the process of consolidation of the Delhi Sultanate which over time would make him the most powerful ruler in the history of the sub-continent and the second unifier of the Indian subcontinent after the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. At the peak of his rule, he dreamt of becoming a world conqueror and prefixed the title of Sikandar Sani which means the Second Alexander. He is also known as one of the very few emperors in history who repeatedly defeated the plundering and warring Mongol armies.

Fort of Chittor
During that time, Mewar was the strongest Rajput kingdom and a bitter opponent of the Delhi Sultanate. The seat of Mewar was the formidable fort of Chittor, the largest fort in the sub continent. The fort had been constructed in the 7th century AD by the Mauryans and had never been sacked in its history. Spread across 700 acres the fort was situated on a hill top and was extremely well fortified.

During Ala-ud-Din’s reign the king of Mewar was Rana Ratan Singh. He married Rani Padmini whose beauty and wit was famous across the Rajputana. In his marriage, Ratan Singh also received a large dowry as a gift from his father in law. Two of Ratan Singh’s brothers, Raghav and Chetan, who were also his courtiers, demanded a part of the dowry from the king. Angered by their demands Ratan Singh expelled them from his court and banished them from Mewar. Sulking after this humiliation, Raghav and Chetan made their way towards Delhi with the aim of trying to incite Ala-ud-din Khilji to attack Chittor. There in the Sultan’s court, Raghav and Chetan praised the beauty of Padmavati to the extent that Ala-ud-Din’s lust was aroused. He had been planning to conquer Mewar for a long time but his desire to take Padmavati as his mistress proved to be the deciding factor that shifted his immediate focus towards Mewar and the fort of Chittor.

It was January 1303 when Ala-ud-Din marshaled his army, marched south, and laid siege to Chittor. But seeing the fort and realizing that the breaching its defenses would be a near impossible task Ala-ud-Din came up with a devious plan. He sent an emissary to Ratan Singh that he would return to Delhi with his army if allowed a glimpse of the famous beauty of Rani Padmavati. Trying to avoid a war, Ratan Singh agreed, however consented only to allow Ala-ud-Din to look at Padmavati’s reflection in a mirror.

The sultan came with his most trusted and experienced generals who, while they waited keenly examined the fort’s defenses in order to prepare for their attack on Chittor. Meanwhile on seeing Rani Padmavati’s reflection Ala-ud-Din was awed by her beauty and his desire for her increased. On the way back to his camp, he was escorted by Ratan Singh to the gate of the fort. There, Ala-ud-Din’s soldiers ambushed and captured the king. He was taken as a prisoner to the sultan’s camp. The sultan then sent message to Rani Padmavati and the nobles of Mewar demanding Padmavati in exchange of Ratan Singh.

Rani Padmavati discussed the proposal with her uncle and his son, Gora and Badal, who were also the leading generals in Ratan Singh’s army. Together they came up with an ingenious plan. A message was sent to Ala-ud-Din that Padmavati, along with her serving maids and her retinue would come to his camp in the morning. When dawn arrived, 200 palanquins left the gates of Chittor. Each palanquin was carried by four men from the Rajput army disguised as palanquin bearers. Inside each palanquin sat four more men carrying swords and other weapons for themselves and their disguised friends. Gora and Badal had handpicked the fiercest warriors and were leading the assault themselves. When the procession reached Ala-ud-Din’s camp the Rajputs jumped out from the palanquins and attacked the sultan’s unsuspecting soldiers. Though the Rajputs suffered heavy losses and both Gora and Badal perished, Rana Ratan Singh was rescued and
returned safely to the fort. Ala-ud-Din then lay seize to the fort.

By August, after a long drawn seize, the resources within the fort decreased and Ratan Singh planned an all out suicide attack on the would-be invaders as they could hold out no longer. The womenfolk then resident within that fort decided to collectively committed suicide rather than risk personal dishonor at the hands of the victorious invading army. On 26th August, 1303, a huge pier was lit within the fort and Rani Padmavati, along with other noblewomen belonging to the court committed Jauhar. The Rajput men then wore saffron turbans as a mark of performing saka, rode out to meet Ala-ud-Din’s army in battle and perished to the last man.

The first written version of the legend appeared nearly 250 years after the event in a long narrative poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. The epic poem was written in Awadhi around 1540 AD during the rule of Sher Shah Suri.

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