Friday, November 24, 2017

Arab historians and the legend of Padmini

A new controversy over Padmini, the legendary queen of King Ratna Simha of Chittorgarh, is raging in media these days.The trigger for the controversy  has come from a film, yet to be released, that is themed on this legendary queen.  The legend of Padmini, as we know it today, is based on an epic poem ‘Padmavat’ written in year 1540 by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in the Awadhi language. It is the oldest extant text among the important works in Awadhi and is considered a famous piece of Sufi literature from the period.
According to this legend, King Ratna Simha of Chittor married princess Padmini after a quest. After hearing about her beauty, Sultan of Delhi Allauddin Khalji, invaded Chittor to obtain Padmini. King Ratna Simha was captured by the Sultan’s forces, but his Rajput warriors rescued him on Padmini's request. While he was in captivity, his Rajput neighbour - Devpal of Kumbhalgarh - sent a marriage proposal to Padmini. Ratna Simha fought with Devpal to avenge this insult, and the two Rajput kings killed each other in a single combat. Allauddin then invaded Chittor, but before he could capture the fort, Padmini and other women immolated themselves.
I thought that it would be an interesting exercise to find out, whether, Arab historians, who have provided detailed narratives about Delhi Sultans, mention this legend and if so how they describe it? The outcome turned out to be quite interesting.
The earliest historian, who describes Allauddin’s campaign against Chittor is Amir Khusro (1253-1325), a Sufi musician, poet and scholar, who accompanied Allauddin on this campaign. He narrates this battle in his book “Tarif-i-Alla” or “Khajanau-al-Futuh” in this fashion.
On Monday, the 8th Jumda-al- thani, AH 702, (28th January 1303) the loud drums proclaimed the royal march from Delhi, undertaken with a view to the capture of Chittor. The author accompanied the expedition. The fort was taken on Monday, the 11th of Muharram, AH 703 (27th August, 1303 A.D.). The Rai (Rajput King) fled, but afterwards surrendered himself”. Amir Khusro comes up with a strange narrative here that is very difficult to explain. He says. “And (the Rajput King) was secured against the lightning of the scimitar (curved sword). The Hindus say that lightning falls wherever there is a brazen (Brass) vessel, and the face of the Rai had become as yellow as one, through the effect of fear”. This comment perhaps can be explained in this fashion. The battle was fought in such ferocity that the sunlight reflecting from the blades of the curved swords, flashed like strikes of lightening. The intense battle was so fearsome that the face of the Rajput King turned yellowish. Khusaro compares this with the Hindu belief that brass vessels attract flashes of lightening. This denigration of  Rajput Kings, who are generally known for their bravery and courage appears, far removed from reality and an exercise in sycophancy to please Sultan Allauddin.   Khusro continues further," After ordering a massacre of thirty thousand Hindus, he bestowed the Government of Chittor upon his son, Khizr Khan, and named the place Khizrabad. He bestowed on him a red canopy, a robe embroidered with gold, and two standards—one green, and the other black—and threw upon him rubies and emeralds. He then returned towards Delhi”.
According to Khusaro’s description, the battle appears to have been a fought in a decisive way, in which thirty thousand Rajput’s were massacred but he makes no mention of any loss on other side. . Perhaps we can excuse him for not having described the losses suffered by Sultan, because, after all, he himself was part of the expeditionary force.
Writing a few decades later, Ziauddin Barani (1285–1357) disposes off the battle in just one line. He says. “The Sultan then led forth an army and laid siege to Chittor, which he took in a short time, and returned home”. However, more important are his further comments. He says. “New troubles now arose on account of the Mughals in Mawaru-n nahr (Transoxiana, region north of Oxus River). They had learned that the Sultan had gone with his army to lay siege to a distant fort, and made but slow progress with the siege, while Delhi remained empty. The Sultan now returned from the conquest of Chittor, where his army had suffered great loss in prosecuting the siege during the rainy season. They had not been in Delhi a month, no muster of the army had been held, and the losses had not been repaired, when the alarm arose of the approach of the Mughals. Affairs were in this extraordinary position; the Sultan had just returned from Chittor, and had had no time to refit and recruit his army after his great losses in the siege”. This narrative gives us a better insight about the battle of Chittor as it tells us that and even though 30000 Rajputs were killed, Allauddin’s losses were also probably much higher.
We find another mention of this battle in the work of Mahomed Kasim Firishta, who compiled his history book by end of Sixteenth century. He writes. “Allauddin about this time sent an army by the way of Bengal to reduce the fort of Warangal in Telangana, while he himself marched towards Chittoor, a place never before attacked by the troops of Mohamad. After a siege of six months, Chittoor was reduced in the year AH 703. Year and the government of it conferred on the King's eldest son, the Prince Khizr Khan, after whom it was called Khizrabad”. Fisrishta’s account tells us that the siege of Chittorgarh had lasted for six months, which must have taken a heavy toll on Allauddin’s army.
Surprisingly, none of these accounts even mention the name of Queen Padmini, which possibly means that either the entire legend is imaginary or secondly, the most likely possibility is that the Padmini episode was a kind of defeat or slap on face of Sultan, and any mention of it was to be avoided.   
There is no romantic angle in the story of life of Sultan Allauddin. He was a cruel and whimsical despot, who took pride in abducting wives of kings defeated by him, adding them to his harem. In 1892 he defeated Karan Deva II of the Vaghela dynasty, the main ruler of Gujarat. His queen, Kamla Devi, fell into the hands of the invaders and was sent as booty to Allauddin. Karna Deva himself, along with his very young daughter Deval Devi and other surviving followers, fled to the Deccan.  Much later, when Deval Devi had come of age, she was captured and was sent to Delhi, where she was reunited with the mother (Kamla Devi), who she had not seen since childhood. Shortly afterwards, at the insistence of the mother, Deval Devi was married to Allauddin's eldest son Khizr Khan (her mother's step-son)
Amir Khusro found the story of Deval Devi, a fit subject for “Ashiqi”, a kind of epic or historical poem, having for its main subject, the loves of Deval Devi, and Khizr Khan, eldest son of Sultan Allauddin. From the historical account mentioned above, Amir Khusro’s  “Ashiqi” appears to be only an imaginary work with no historic basis.
Amir Khusro, in spite of being a poet, was a staunch Sunni Islamist. He writes. “Praise be to God that he so ordered the massacre of all the chiefs of Hind out of the pale of Islam, by his infidel-smiting sword, that if in this time it should by chance happen that a schismatic should claim his right, the pure Sunnis would swear in the name of this Khalifa of God, that heterodoxy has no rights”.
Sultan Allauddin was no hero. At the time of the battle for Chittorgarh, he was 37 years old, an age that was the average lifespan of Indians at that time, and had a grown up and married son. He was bad tempered, obstinate, and hard-hearted. He was a man of no learning and never associated himself with intellectuals. He could not read or write a letter even. He was however very fortunate. His plans and schemes were generally successful, which made the world smile upon him. As a result of his success, he became more and more reckless and arrogant. It would be very wrong to make an attempt to give him a romantic or awe inspiring look.
Sultan Allauddin was a staunch believer of Islamic tenets as proscribed by the prophet. He hated any heterodox principles of religions. He was very harsh on Hindu subjects from his territories. He asked  the Kazi and other wise men from his court   to come up rules and regulations by which  he  could ground down the Hindus, deprive them of that wealth and property, which according to him, fostered disaffection and rebellion. The Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left unable to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life. No Hindu could hold up his head and in their houses, no sign of gold or silver or money was to be seen.

References: -

1. The History of India by its own historians: By Sir H.M.Elliot: Volume iii: pp. 76, 189, 549
2. History of rise of Mahomeden power in India: translated from original Persian of Mahomed Kasim Ferishta: By John Briggs: Vol i: pp. 321 ff
3. The Imperial Gazetteer of India: The Indian Empire: Vol ii: pp. 430-31

24th November 2017

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