Rani Padmini or Padmavati was a legendary queen, known for her strength of character, beauty, and valiancy, across Rajasthan and even abroad. Long ago, she had become a symbol of feministic power, which no matter how subtle, is something that is impregnable by force.
The first ever mention of the legendary queen was made in 1540 C.E. when an Awadhi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi wrote a poem on her exquisite features that led to a renowned historical tragedy. In his poem ‘Padmavat’, Jayasi stated that it was the ethereal beauty of the queen that had incited the Turkish sultan to attack the fort of Chittorgarh.
The story was retold so many times since then, through the medium of theatrical plays, poems, stories, movies, and the famous opera Padmâvatî, that it has now become more of folklore in the area, and the citizens of Chittorgarh are proud to tell it to all the eager visitors.
The tale began in the early 12th century from the Chittorgarh court of Rawal Ratan Singh, a noble ruler of the kingdom of Mewar. Rawal had fourteen gracious queens, the youngest one being the celebrated Rani Padmini.
It was said that the youngest queen of the Rawal was more gorgeous than the Indra’s celestial nymphs, her pallor was so radiant that anyone passing by her, could not help but stare at her magnificent form, bedazzled by her glorious glow equivalent to that of twelve suns, her skin was so transparent that when she would drink water it could be easily seen through her throat. Though these things might as easily be dismissed as being hyperbole, it cannot be denied that the queen must have been a real beauty.
So back to the narration, the Rawal was a great patron of arts and would regularly invite artists from across the world to perform in his court. One such performer was musician Raghav Chetan. The musician was not really that good a musician, but sensing a lack of better altenatives he was kept as the royal performer for many years.
However, after some time it was brought to the Rawal’s notice that apart from being a musician, Chetan was also an evil sorcerer. He used his wicked skills to keep his rivals down so that he can enjoy his stay at the royal court despite his lack of skills.
Apparently, he was dismissed from the court right afterward and was severely insulted for his sinful activities. On this fateful day, Rawal had created an unyielding enemy, who will soon become the cause of his short-lived reign’s ruin.
For some time, succeeding this incident, Chetan spent his days and nights wandering in the forests, strengthening his resolution to take his revenge on the Rawal. Once while roaming about he entered the premises of the Kingdom of Delhi. There he came upon the hunting party of, then, Turkish Sultan - Ala-ud-din Khilji.
In the Sultan’s presence, he started playing melodious tunes on a flute, ameliorating it, of course, using his extraordinary mystical powers. Sultan was duly impressed by the performance and invited him to his court.
At this moment, the musician could have chosen a way to lead a happier life in the court, but being blinded by the desire of revenge, he rejected the proposal.
He said to the enchanted Sultan, in his poetic manner, that why should he be interested in such a trivial beauty of art, when beauty’s incarnate itself can become his to own. Intrigued by this statement, Sultan asked him to explain what that beauty might be and how can he obtain that.
“She is the youngest queen of the Rawal of Mewar”, said Chetan, “and is the most beautiful woman in the whole of the universe. And since, Thou art the most powerful warrior in the universe; it is your right and duty to own that beauty for yourself”. Chetan then detailed the Padmini’s pulchritude in the most prosaic manner, and in the end, was succeeded in inciting the unblenching Sultan.
He decided to set attack Chittorgarh right after reaching his capital. With huge armed forces, he went thither to set a siege on the fort.
Now Chittorgarh had a great architecture and was completely prepared for any such assault, as such military attacks and sieges were not an uncommon thing in those times.
So the siege continued for months, without affecting the life of the residents to any extent. Sensing that siege the soldiers of the Turkish army are weakening because lack of resources and sitting idle for so long, Sultan decided to send a friendly message to the Rawal stating that he would immediately return with his army, leaving the fort and the kingdom to his possession only if he sent his youngest wife Padmavati to become the Sultan’s mistress.
Now, Sultan was gravely mistaken in his perception of the established Rajput rulers, as for them the dignity of their ladies was far more precious than their whole treasury and even the kingdom.
So the Sultan’s messenger was immediately returned, with an aggressive denial.
Sultan, now more perceptive of the situation, and also more determined to obtain Rani Padmavati, sent his messenger with a kind request to just have a glimpse of this beauty queen of Mewar.
Now, being aware of the previous request, Rawal hesitated and discussed the matter directly with the Queen herself. At first, Rani immediately declined even shew her shadow to that man who had considered taking her as Harem. But then contemplating the safety and well-being of the Chittor’s subjects she agreed to allow the Sultan to have a glimpse of her reflection.
A scheme was arranged that the Sultan would be allowed entry inside the walls of Chittor, and taken to a castle situated on the shore of the tank, amidst which laid the palace of queen Padmavati. Then the mirrors in both the places were arranged in such a way that when the queen would appear in front of the mirror of her palace, her reflection will create a reflection in the mirror of the shore castle, wherein the Sultan can have his wish of catching a glimpse of her excellence.
The messenger was sent back to the Sultan with the particulars of the scheme. After listening to the details carefully, Sultan immediately agreed and set off, with a few selected bodyguards, and entered Chittor, passing through all the seven guarded gates and portcullises.
In the castle, he was cordially welcomed by the Rawal who entertained him with all the formal hospitalities. Then he was taken to the room where the mirror was placed. In there, he saw the reflection of the queen and was instantly enamored by her. He praised the Rawal for having such an extraordinarily beautiful lady for his wife and swore that he had never seen such a beautiful creature in his entire life.
Afterward, both the Sultan and Rawal fell in alleviating conversations, at the end of which Rawal felt so hospitable that he went till the last gate of the fort to see Sultan off. However, when they both came out of the fort, all the impressions of friendliness flew from the appearance of the Sultan and he gestured his waiting soldiers to capture the Rawal.
The Rawal was then taken to the camps of the Turkish army, which were erected right outside the security area of the fort. There he was kept as a prisoner, and a messenger was sent to the Chittorgarh, that in ransom of Rawal, Sultan had demanded that queen Padmavati is sent to him.
The messenger did not carry just this message but the nemesis of the Chittorgarh’s royal family. Upon reaching in the castle, messenger conveyed the message to the queen, who fell on the floor realizing that there is no way, she can escape this dilemma. She could not leave her husband to die at the hands of enemies; neither can she disgrace the decorum of Rajput royal family by realizing this boorish wish of the Sultan.
He immediately consulted it with her maternal relatives, who happened to be in the palace at the time. Her Uncle Gora along with his nephew Baadal concocted a plan. They decided to enter camps of the Sultan guising themselves as the queen Padmavati and her maids, and then free the Rawal from thither.
At the stipulated time, a hundred and fifty palanquins were raised and departed from the castle. They all reached the campsite in the night and were gladly allowed to enter by the guards of Sultan. On reaching there it was proposed that the queen wished to have the last conversation with her husband in the privy.
The wish was granted and the queen’s palanquin was carried to the place where Rawal was kept as a prisoner. Upon reaching there, the indweller of the carriage saw the crestfallen Rawal, who think that it was actually the queen who had come to the encampments of the rival felt unshakeable remorse.
However, it was Baadal who had come in the palanquin to release his King. He was helping Rawal to escape the rival grounds, but in the meantime, Sultan became aware of the treachery and started the onslaught to keep the Rawal from escaping. A great struggle ensued, in which brave Gora died protecting the retreat of his King. Baadal along with the Rawal and a few of the soldiers managed to escape and enter the grounds of the Chittorgarh.
Enraged by this deceit, Sultan ordered his complete force to attack the fort full strength. Now the task would have been difficult, almost impossible, had not the clever warriors of the Sultan, who had accompanied him in his visit to the castle, made a clear scrutiny of the mechanisms of the insidious walls. But since this was not the case, the long-established fort had now lost its secrets and was vincible in the hands of the rivals.
Understanding this fact, and also that they were heavily outnumbered, all the ladies of the royal court decided to perform Jauhar, whereas the warriors started their preparation for Saka.
The soldiers purified themselves by taking their last bath, wore saffron (a color associated with sacrifice, and salvation) robes, and set out to fight their final combat. The ladies inside the fort started dressing up as though for a very special occasion. In fact, all of them were wearing their wedding apparels and were adorning themselves with all the ornaments to look as radiant and dazzling as a newlywed bride.
Thus prepared, each of them took a Kalash (a pitcher pot) in their hands filled with a little water and topped with a coconut and few mango leaves. Holding the Kalash they sang auspicious songs and led by queen Padmavati entered the room of Jauhar kund. In the room, pundits (Hindu priests) had prepared the kund with magnanimous fire and were chanting holy mantras of liberation from Rig-Veda.
That day the fort witnessed epitome of valor and sacrifice when several men died in the suicidal combat and the women committed self-immolation by jumping down in the fiery kund, burning themselves alive, all in the name of honor.
The heroic ladies of the Chittorgarh had chosen the path of destruction and deification over that of life and disgrace, and for that are still revered by the denizens of Mewar, Rajasthan.
Rani Padmavati, the personification of beauty and virtue, had died that day only to be immortalized in the pages of history. The denizens of Chittor commemorate their late queen by singing ballads on her sacrifice.