New Delhi: The tale of Rani Padmini or Rani Padmavati has been passed down through successive generations in Indian society, enabling it to stand the test of time and remain in the collective consciousness of people. When Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat was released in 2018, the life and accounts of Rani Padmini once again surfaced in the mainstream narrative.
Who was Rani Padmini?
Padmini is said to be a queen of Mewar, the powerful Rajput kingdom in medieval India. There are several versions of her life, and she was first mentioned by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in his epic poem ‘Padmavat’. According to Jayasi, Padmavati was an extremely beautiful princess of Sinhal (present-day Sri Lanka). The Rajput king of Chittor, Ratan Sen heard about her beauty from a talking parrot and decided to marry Padmavati.
Ratan Sen embarked on a quest to win Padmavati and after a series of adventures, he succeeded in marrying her. Meanwhile, Ratan Sen banished a Brahmin named Raghav Chetan from his court, and he went to Alauddin Khilji and told him about the legendary beauty of Padmavati. Khilji besieged Chittor but failed to capture it, and by trickery imprisoned Ratan Sen. During his days in captivity, the king of Kumbhalner Devapal fell in love with Padmavati and proposed to marry her. In the meantime, Ratan Sen was freed from Khilji’s prison by his loyal soldiers and he came to Chittor and invited Devapal for a duel. In the fight, both of them killed each other.
Alauddin came back and tried to conquer Chittor once again to obtain Padmavati. With defeat imminent, Padmavati and all the other women of Chittor committed Jauhar, the practice of self-immolation prevalent at that time and protected their honour. It elevated the status of Padmavati from a beautiful woman to a woman who gave up her life to protect her honour from the hands of the enemy, an example of bravado and courage.
Did Padmavati exist?
Many versions of Padmavati’s life exist, making her one of the most celebrated queens in Indian history. Over the years, Padmavati has become a historical figure to the people of the Indian society and there are many novels, plays and movies based on her. However, historians have refuted the claim that Padmavati was indeed a real character in history.
It is interesting to note that the early accounts of Khilji’s siege of Chittor like those by Ziauddin Barani and Isami did not mention Padmvati. She was first mentioned in literature by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Even though 16th-century historians Haji-ud-Dabir and Firishta were among the earliest writers to describe Padmini as a historical person, they differing accounts of her life.
Moreover, historians have pointed out the disparity in the timeline between Padmavati and Khilji and several scholars have explained the loopholes in Jayasi’s immortal creation. Even the celebrated historian of medieval India Amir Khusrau had not mentioned anything about Padmavati. According to some historians, Jayasi possibly got confused between Alauddin Khilji and Ghiyasuddin Khilji of Malwa Sultanate who had a roving eye. It is said that he once attacked Chittor and was defeated by Gora and Badal. Incidentally, Ratan Sen had Rajput chieftains of the same names.