Padmavati, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and History

Was Rani Padmini of Chittor romantically inclined towards Alauddin Khilji? We do not know. Sanjay Leela Bhansali who is making the film Padmavati would not reveal his story. This has infuriated Karni Sena of Rajasthan. Karni sena vandalised set of Padmavati, man handled Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In the end, Sanjay Leela Bhansali decided to take his shooting crew out of Jaipur.

Assault on Sanjay Leela Bhansali is condemnable. I think Karni Sena should have taken legal recourse, if they had a genuine grievance. This assault also brings to focus the issue of artistic freedom. Are creative people not allowed to take liberty with established facts and create a fictional account based on their interpretation? More so with the character of Padmavati, whom historians / history do not consider to be a real person. According to history, the first written account of Padmavati emerged from the writing of Malik Mohammad Jayashi, who penned Padmavat in 15th century, nearly 200 years after original Padmavati was believed to have died.

Much concerted effort is being made to project Hindu icons, including Rani Padmavati, as mythical figures. It is even suggested image of a brave general, that is Alauddin Khilji, is being sullied by branding him as a person enamoured by beauty of a Hindu queen. It is important to consider a few points : 

  • First written account has come from Padmavat penned by Malik Mohammad Jayashi. In the poem itself all principal characters remain intact. Namely Alauddin Khilji, Rana Rattan Singh and Rani Padmini. In Padmavat of Malik Jayeshi, all principal characters were included. There was Alauddin Khilji, Rana Rattan Singh and Rani Padmini. If Padmini was fictional, then so were Sultan Alauddin and Rana Ratan Singh. But history states otherwise.
  •  Wikipedia documents history of Suryavanshi Sisodiya dynasty from 1326 onwards. Alauddin Khilji invaded Chittor in 1303 for the second time. It is evident that a kingdom existed before 1326, a king was there and an invasion happened. Tracing Suryavanshi genealogy  lead us to Bappa Rawal, who conquered Chittor in 8th century. Several generation later Rana Rahapa started Sisodiya dynasty. Rulers before 1326 do not find mention in regular history books. Does that mean, these people never existed?
  • A concerted attempt is being made to project Rani Padmini / Padmavati did never exist.  It has been argued that Padmini is a figment of right wing Hindutva imagination. As early as 1820, British writer James Todd had compiled the Legends of Rajasthan. He presented Padmini as a historical figure. Later on, Abanindranath Tagore presented Padmini as a historical figure in his novel Rajkahini. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru also wrote about Padmini in his book “The Discovery of India”. All these people were not right wing fanatics. 
  • Jauhar is an act where women sacrifice their lives by jumping in burning fire. A Jauhar kund still exists in the palace of Chittor. In the history of Chittor, Jauhar has been performed three times. When Rajputs lost to Sultan Alauddin Khilji in 1303, Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1535 and  emperor Akbar in 1568. 
  • History is the interpretation of events as seen and interpreted by victors. Historians that travelled with Alauddin Khilji, namely Amir Khusrau and later Barani, have not endorsed the view that Alauddin Khilji was enamoured by Padmini. That interpretation can be that of victorious Sultan not necessarily that of vanquished Rajputs. In Britain, children are not taught how Britain treated Indian people during their 300 year rule. Does that mean, British never came to India? Also, can we neglect work of James Todd on The Legends of Rajasthan?
  • Much history in India used to be conveyed by word of mouth by bards. Because it was an Indian cultural tradition of Shruti. Events may be embellished based on who is narrating the story. Yet, the story of Rani Padmini, that has survived over seven hundred years and spread across length and breadth of a vast country, in the absence of any modern means of communication, must have some element of truth. 

Many in India have grown up listening tale of bravery of Rani Padmini. A queen who sacrificed her life rather than surrendering to invading army. If such an act bravery is trivialised by potraying that queen had a romantic inclination towards invading general, in the name of artistic freedom, then it is natural that people may get angry. 

India is a continuing civilisation. It is possible that people from Suryavansh dynasty may be living in present day. Indians are emotional people. In the face of repeated onslaught to show anything from Indian past is a myth and cooked up history, we may not react in a very rational manner. It was  imperative that film company had quashed any false rumour by being open and upfront and by talking to protestors.. 

1. Who Is Rani Padmini? A 10 Point-Guide To The Padmavati Row › All India

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