Tale of Padmavati

Alauddin Khilji : Time and Wars

Tapas Piplai

Openly beheading threats have been issued to the actresses, actors and directors for participating in the film 'Padmavati'. The sets have been ransacked. Offers are issued to the perpetrator for the successful accomplishment of stalling the work will entail good award value. This too has been emphatically announced by the political dignitaries in open media. Film release board is keeping an uncanny silence so as the parliament and major political parties. All parties are perhaps waiting to watch first, the people's mandate in the ensuing state elections. They want to play safe and do not want to speak the truth lest their party goes against the public sentiment, if any.

The Rajputs are up in arms against this film as it hurts their sentiments. But ironically earlier Jodha Akbar or Bajirao Mastani have been screened successfully with lots of historical deviations like Rajput dance etc and with full of present day entertainments typical to Bollywood films!

The current issue is—'Padmavati' film has hurt the sentiments of the Rajput valiant stories. The story has been composed originally in bardic lore, devoid of any historical truth. It is nothing but a narration of romantic episode that too by a Muslim king Alauddin Khilji with a so-called Hindu girl Padmavati. Interestingly no body has seen the film till now as it is yet to be released!

No such queen as per proper history has ever existed in flesh and blood as queen of Rana Rattan Singh of Mewar. Chittor, the capital of Mewar which was captured by Alauddin on 26th August 1303 as per Amir Khusrau, the Persian poet who accompanied the sultan. Mewar was the second important kingdom after Ranthambore. Amir Khusrau who accompanied the sultan has not mentioned any thing about Padmavati or any other iota of comments on such alleged romanticism or infatuation. Therefore, it is believed that the story has been added by bardic folks. Later the colonial historians for their own imperialist interest picked it up for painting a wrong perception about Muslim Sultanates.

Alauddin came to Chittor from Ranthombre and he finally won the battles. Alauddin vacated Chittor afterwords and handed over the kingdom to his eldest son after formalising the tributes arrangement to Delhi exchequer.

'Padmavati' is just an epic lore composed in prose by a Sufi poet Jayasi in 1540. It is around 237 years later to Alauddin Khilji's Chittor invasion, the folktale is born. If one takes 30 years as one generation, the folk lore was composed after eight generations from Alauddin! The Sufi poet Jayasi performed lots of miracle in order to come to fame. It is stated that the princess of Ceylone was exquisitely beautiful and she was in a habit of continuous speaking to her own parrot Hiraman most of the time. The king of Ceylon, her father, became angry on the parrot and wanted to kill the bird.

The bird flew to Delhi and sent the message to the sultanate about her exquisite beauty. By that time she got married to Rajput Rana. Hearing this Alauddin got infatuated and angry and set out to conquer Chittor. Incidentally, no historians so far painted such infatuated character of Alauddin, rather he used to be called a 'no nonsense' and very strict administrator king.

The same lore has gone through several changes by the folk poets as per writers' fancy like the epic Ramayana. It is basically a story to highlight the valiant self-immolation story of the Rajput ladies to protect their bodies from other males.

These folk tales later had been documented by Todd in his Annals & Antiquities of Rajasthan (another story book) and he added more literary fabrics to this romantic tale.

Delhi Sultanate & Plunder
Alauddin Khilji reigned Delhi Sultanate and died in 1326 AD. When Arab empire collapsed, after the death of Khaliphas in Baghdad, the Muslim Governors under Khaliphas, in all the small areas outside Arab became virtually independent. These small kingdoms were actually tribal settlements, and gods were like Sun, Air, Sky etc. They thereafter got converted into or covered by Islam under the influence of Arab. After the collapse of Arab Khaliphas these governors took the title of Amir or Sultan. But they were more inclined to Persian and Iranian culture departing from Arab culture because of their Samanedes descendants. These were the two prevailing streams of legacy within Muslims.

Mahmud of Gazhni is one such example. He was a descendent from Sabuktagin, chieftain of a small kingdom in Afghanistan.

These chieftains were keen, like any other king, to conquer more kingdoms for increasing the wealth and tributes to their own exchequer. By nature they liked war adventures.Naturally the plunder of wealthy places attracted their notice.

During that period India was one such place which had been growing steadily in maritime trade and on agricultural tributes. Indeed there were lots of feudatories and despotism too who used to fight amongst themselves for adding the agricultural expanses to their kingdom.

The outside trade was not so great later on, because of collapse of Roman Empire as well as Arab empire. But the tributes to the Brahmins and temples were enormous from the agricultural land. Even these temples used to control vast areas of land which they got as gift from the king. They were very methodical in exhibiting magical mysticism by showing the different forms of idols and deities.

The invasion of Mamud on temples and surrounded settlements opened the eyes of central Asia about the wealth, India had in its treasuries like—temples and with nobilities. Slowly within two hundred years the Sultanate regime started in Delhi. In order to make fortunes one finds lots of Central Asian tribes relocate themselves in and around Delhi. The Capital got shifted from centralised administration of Kanauj to Delhi. Naturally it attracted the eyes and interests of the outside kings too and tribal chieftains. But the beauty of such initial invasions resulted into the settlement of such outsiders in India through marriages and thereafter through cultural exchanges. It was a perpetual feature. But it was mainly centred around kingdom. The village society by and large remained independent. The feudal populace in the countryside was least perturbed with these changes and was not much affected by the religion change of the kings, origin of kings and their posterity. The fight between the kingdoms used to end with tax payable to Sultanates in Delhi or routine destruction of crops in the villages by the armies.

Prior to the invasion in India by the outside tribes, the country was full of temples. The pujaris and nobilities were extremely rich and luxurious so as the idols and deities. The entire rich fortunes were by and large confined in the temples and in the hands of rich people who were the followers of prevailing religions.

Actually, all these tribes got converted or adopted from their own gods to Shiva and Vishnu worships during this time. Slowly it got a name of Hinduism and so as the Muslims. The rise of Shankaracharya gave impetus to this Hindu identity—and the religion.

The focus of plunder was cantered around the existing temples and Buddhists religious places which were at their pinnacle of wealth treasure, though the Buddhist monasteries were in decline because of their too much theoretical discourses and arguments. Hindus and their temples were by far richer. Temples used to control a big portion of land revenues gifted to them by the kings.

It is not well substantiated whether the idea of invasion was directed towards temples for any religious bias. It was supposedly mainly to plunder wealth hidden inside the temples and to break the myths behind the miracles of the idols for attracting people to pay the tributes. They by conquering new areas wanted to expand the land tax base as well.

The social mobility started to take some formation in the city sites. The Muslims became two distinct classes in society amongst the nobles or who were aspiring to become a member of nobility.The relocated tribes from central Asia who were actually below the sustenance levels and poor in their own places of origin became Muslim and tried to stake their claim in court as the preferred race. The Indian Muslims, who got converted after the arrival of Sultanates also staked their claim simultaneously. These classes were apart from the continuing Hindus. They were also in the fray. Till Alauddin took the throne the nobility used to be judged by the family origin, therefore it used to be confined within a defined circle.

Alauddin was the nephew of Delhi sultan Jalal Uddin. He was Turk by origin and they hailed from Ghur, a small and obscure place in Afghanistan.

He was never known in history as an infatuated Sultan towards other ladies rather known as a strict administrator.

When Alauddin assumed the throne he was preoccupied with the threats from the neighbouring states like Gujarat, Rajputs, Malwas and Chauhans. Out of them Rajputs were war loving communities. The common people were in frequent distress by their war games. There were time to time unrest and conspiracy by the nobles in the court. Distant threat was from Kanauj. Over and above the Mongols who were unstoppable towards invasion, were another menace from outside. Mongols by that time occupied almost full of Asia through invasion and plunder and reduced the well cultured and flourished kingdoms and its cultures to ashes apart from butchering millions of ordinary people. They occupied upto Kashmir but could not proceed much into India because of Alauddin’s war excellence. Mongol’s attempts to invade India was a constant threat to Delhi crown.

They attempted six times but failed in front of Alauddin. Otherwise Indian civilisation whatever flourished till then, would have gone back by 400 years!

As per historical documentation, Khilji actually thwarted the invasion move of Mongols six times who came to plunder and to ransack India and its treasures. He renovated and armed all the small forts enroute and ahead of Delhi to prevent Mongols to march forward.

Alauddin was clear in his vision. He wanted to install a state which should serve the interest of the empire without any bias. He himself was no doubt a Muslim but his priority was to build up a state with right people. He defied the Holy Shariat several times for extending proper justice favourable to state.

He broke the previous rules to appoint the nobles in his court. He brought in the factor called skill and behaviour as the criteria for nobility selection. It was because of this, lots of so-called lower caste people got the upward mobility in the towns and cities and as a result merchandise flourished, karkhanas established to promote trades and develop low cost machineries. He made lots of roads and shelters on the route to facilitate rest for the traders . In fact trade enhanced between the countries and between states. The social mobility accentuated.

The religious animosity was bestowed on his tenure by the colonial historians taking the cues from outside India.

This was all hidden by the political leaders and his virtues had never been explored and highlighted by the colonial historians. Modern sultans in Delhi are just following their writings to again recreate the old 'divide and rule 'policy. Later on the nationalist historians like R C Majumdar and others unveiled his virtues.

PS : Against the aforesaid background, how a bardic lore alone can get supremacy over historical facts and determine the authenticity of Rajput valiance? Why Sultanate period will be called as dark age in spite of so many contributions. How the artists are barred to act in a film if it goes against the sentiments of some polarised sections of people. Should people not do a proper historical evaluation of a Sultan against the then social background? Are people living in Democracy where the truth can not be uttered without a fear in mind!

1.      Advance History—RC Majumdar
2.      Medieval History, part-I—Satish Chandra
3.      Medieval India 1—edited by Irfan Habib
4.      Contemporary various writings in ET and Indian Express.
5.      The Wire Magazine—various articles
6.      Somnath—Romila Thapar

Vol. 50, No.27, Jan 7 - 13, 2017