India is famous for the beauty of her women. Many ballads hail the beauty of our Indian queens, however they are known for their valor, chastity and never-give up spirit. Rani Padmavati or Rani Padmini is one such beautiful and brave queen. There’s a fact about history, that we are never sure what exactly happened, because often, the facts get altered with the ravages of time and travel.
There are many, versions to the history of Rani Padmini and I am going to write about all these versions. However, there’s one thing that was common in all the versions – a woman of great beauty and the ‘Johar Kund’. The ‘Johar Kund’ in Chittorgarh where Rani Padmavati performed ‘jauhar’ (custom of self-immolation by Kshatriya women) is a place as significant in our history. It is very surprising to note that in the earlier versions of the story, Alauddin Khilji’s conquest of Chittorgarh has no mention of Rani Padmavati at all. The first mention of the queen is in the epic poem written in Awadhi language by Malik Mohammad Jayasi called ‘Padmavat’.
The jauhar of Rani Padmini presented her with a goddess-like stature in the history of our country, where chastity of our women was worshipped. The antagonist, is the lusty invader Allauddin Khilji who attacked Chittor and led to the martyrdom of both Padmini and Rana Ratan Singh.
According to Jayasi, she was the daughter of the king of Singhal or Sri Lanka. She was famous for her beauty and her archery skills. She had a talking parrot Hiraman, and the king hated their friendship, So, the parrot was ordered to be executed. However, it somehow escaped and managed to reach the palace of the king of Mewar Rana Ratan Singh. The parrot praised the beauty of Rani Padmavati and Rana Ratan Singh who was enchanted by her beauty was determined to marry her. He reached Singhal and he married her after he fulfilled her vow of defeating her in a duel. However, his first wife Nagmati refused to accept her.
There was a Brahmin courtier in the court of Ratan Singh called Raghav Chetan. He was banished from the kingdom by Ratan Singh for fraud. Raghav reached Delhi to the court of the cruel and lusty Sultan Alauddin Khilji. He praised the beauty of Rani Padmavati and the womanizer that he was, Alauddin decided to obtain her and hence, attacked Chittor. However, he failed to conquer Chittor and offered a fake peace treaty to Ratan Singh and deceitfully captured him. However, a sequence of events followed and the brave Rana was released from his captivity by his loyal men, Gora and Badal who entered the fort by disguising as Rani Padmavati while they sat inside the palanquin. In a battle Rana Ratan Singh was martyred and Alauddin then attacked Chittor. The brave women of Chittor led by Padmavati committed Jauhar to save their honor from the lusty Islamic invaders.
There is another version of Jayasi, that had a different story. Rani Padmini was well-trained in war strategies and battleship. This made her adept at the art of swordsmanship. During her swayamvar, she kept a condition that whoever would defeat the designated fighter in a sword battle would win her. However, the designated sword fighter was Padmini herself. Many princes and kings lost to her and it was only king Rawal Ratan Singh who won and she had to marry him.
Raghav Chetan was an artist in the royal court of Chittor and was secretly a sorcerer who killed many for his purposes. Once, Ratan Singh caught him red-handed and he was banished from the kingdom. This led him to Alauddin Khilji, praising Rani Padmini in front of him and Alauddin besieging the kingdom of Chittor. In this version, he only saw Padmini in a reflection as she didn’t allow him to see her face-to-face. Alauddin deceitfully captured Ratan Singh. This led to the women of Chittor prepare for Jauhar while the fight was still going on. As many soldiers of Chittor’s army died, Ratan Singh also died while fighting beside his men.
The women walked down a secret passage within the fort that led to the Jauhar Kund. Padmini was the first to jump in the Jauhar Kund while other women followed. Their cries and wailings were so loud that Alauddin ordered the passage to be closed permanently and it was reopened only after many years by the king of Chittor to honor the brave women. The second version is more popular than the first.
Lieutenant-Colonel James Todd was an officer of the British East India Company and was a great Oriental scholar. His version is quite different from the other versions. Padmini was the daughter of Hamir Sank, the Chauhan ruler of Ceylon, and, Chittor was ruled by Lachhman Singh. Padmini married Bhim Singh and Alauddin besieged Chittor because he had heard many praises of her beauty. Alauddin treacherously captured Bhim Singh who was rescued by Gora and Badal. However, the rescue operation led to the death of a very large number of soldiers and as a result, the women of Chittor, alongside Padmini, committed self-immolation. This version is not that popular.
As with other stories, there are many controversies in this story too. Many historians believe that Rani Padmavati was mythical and if she existed was born somewhere around 1500s and was approximately two hundred years after Alauddin Khilji. The version of Jayasi of the story of Padmavati are questioned by historians around the world. There is also a possibility that ‘Padmavat’ was only fiction having no roots in history
Another surprising version by Aziz Ahmed stated that it was Ghiyasuddin Khilji of Malwa who had taken a fancy for Rani Padmavati and not Alauddin Khilji. This theory is also backed up by an inscription in Udaipur that stated Ghiyasuddin had been defeated by Gora and Badal, the Rajput chieftains.
Whatever the version I believe Rani Padmavati was a great queen of India known for her beauty and valor.