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So, who was Padmavati?

Padamavati appears in a text only in 1540, 224 years after the death of Alauddin Khilji, the Delhi sultan who ruled from 1296 to 1316.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Nov 26, 2017, 01.23 AM IST
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The second part of Jayasi’s poem is about Alauddin Khalji, who hears about Padmavati’s beauty, attacks Chittor and demands the queen. Ratnasen refuses.
The second part of Jayasi’s poem is about Alauddin Khalji, who hears about Padmavati’s beauty, attacks Chittor and demands the queen. Ratnasen refuses.
No Record in Contemporary History
Ramya Sreenivasan, an associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of a book on Padmavati, The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen: Heroic Pasts in Indian History c. 1500-1900 (Permanent Black), writes: “Amir Khusrau (1253–1325) provides the earliest account of Alauddin Khalji’s victory over Chitor in his Khazainul Futuh (Treasuries of Victories: completed 1311–12). As the sultan’s court poet and panegyrist, Amir Khusrau accompanied his patron on several military campaigns, including the siege of Chitor. His eyewitness account does not mention Padmini.”

Sreenivasan says that even Ziauddin Barani, who chronicled Khalji reigns, does not mention Padmini/ Padmavati while describing Khalji’s conquest of Chittor in his Tarikh-i Firuzshahi. Barani writes: “Sultan Alauddin came out of the city with his army and marched to Chittor, which he invested and captured In a short time and then returned to Delhi.”

200 Years Later
Padamavati appears in a text only in 1540, 224 years after the death of Alauddin Khilji, the Delhi sultan who ruled from 1296 to 1316. She is the heroine of Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem Padmavat, written in Awadhi. The story begins with a king, a princess and a parrot. Singhal princess Padmavati has a pet parrot called Hiraman. But Padmavati’s father gets enraged by their closeness and the frightened bird flies away and reaches the palace of Chittor king Ratnasen. Hearing the parrot describe Padmavati’s beauty, he falls in love with her. He crosses the seven seas to win her over. The parrot plans a rendezvous of the young couple. But the king misses the princess when she arrives and prepares to immolate himself. Shiva and Parvati exhort him to attack the Singhal palace. But Ratnasen is routed by the Singhal king, who, eventualy marries off Padmavati to him.

Eh, Padmavati Didn’t Commit Jauhar Because of Khalji
The second part of Jayasi’s poem is about Alauddin Khalji, who hears about Padmavati’s beauty, attacks Chittor and demands the queen. Ratnasen refuses. Khalji, catching a glimpse of her, captures the king and drags him to Delhi. Soon Ratnasen’s loyal warriors Gora and Badal disguise themselves as Padmavati and an attendant, reach Khalji’s fortress and spirit Ratnasen back to Chittor. Meanwhile, another Rajput king Devpal falls for Padmavati. An angry Ratnasen duel with Devpal and both get killed in the combat. Padmavati and Nagmati, Ratnasen’s queens, throw themselves on his pyre. By the time Alauddin conquers Chittor, it is a desolate fort.

So, who was Padmavati?

It Wasn’t Alauddin Khalji!
Aziz Ahmad, a Hyderabad-born writer and historical researcher who was with the University of Toronto, has a different reading in his paper “Epic and Counter-Epic in Medieval India” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society: “Historically the story of Alauddin Khalji’s love and pursuit of Padmavati is not related by any Muslim historian before Abul Fazl, who has borrowed it from Jaisi or from other cognate Rajput legends. None of the historians of the Sultanate mentions it, not even (Abdul Malik) Isami who hardly ever misses a chance to introduce romantic material or Khusrau….”

So, who was Padmavati?He writes: “An examination of the historical material of Jaisi’s allegorical epic yields interesting results. Ratan Sen (1527-32), the Rana of Chitore, was a contemporary not of Alaal-din Khalji but of Jaisi himself and Sher Shah Suri. The ruse of warriors entering an enemy fort in women’s palanquins, though a motif paralleled in epic and romance, had also some historical basis as it was used by Sher Shah to capture the fort of Rohtas. In 1531, nine years before the composition of Padmavat, a case of mass sati by Rajput noblewomen had occurred in a Rajput fort sacked by Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat to avenge the dishonour of two hundred and fifty Muslim women held captive in that fort.

There might have been a conscious or unconscious confounding in Jaisi’s mind of Ala al-din Khalji with Ghiyath al-din Khalji of Malwa (1469–1500) who had a roving eye, and is reported to have undertaken the quest of Padmini, not a particular Rajput princess, but the ideal type of woman according to Hindu erotology. Ghiyath al-din Khalji, according to a Hindu inscription in the Udaipur area, was defeated in battle in 1488 by a Rajput chieftain Badal-Gora, multiplied by Jaisi into twins. It, therefore, seems that Jaisi… incorporated several near-contemporary historical or quasi-historical episodes in the original legend. Jaisi himself confesses at the end: ‘I have made up the story and related it.’”

Amar Chitra Katha Fantasy
But in the Amar Chitra Katha version of Padmini, Vol 605, there is no mention of Devpal or the duel. Instead, a heavily bearded, evil looking Khalji attacks Chittor and “Padmini led the Rajput ladies to jauhar, the great sacrifice by self-immolation”.
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