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Row over Padmavati: A Case of Wounded Civilization

Sunday November 12, 2017 11:02 PM, Syed Ali Mujtaba,


The character of Padmavati is a cocktail of facts and fiction which now made into a film. The film is slated to release on December 1 but it continues to be mired in controversy.

There are groups and individuals who allege that the film distorts historical facts and any denigration to the character of Padmavati is intolerable because they worship this queen.

Such groups are protesting against the film primarily because a Muslim ruler of Delhi had cast an evil eye on this Rajput beauty who preferred to jump in fire (jauhar), than to submit herself to the conqueror of her kingdom.

Padmini, also known as Padmavati, is a legendary 13th-14th century queen. She is believed to be alive some time in years 1296 -1315 AD.

The earliest source to mention is ‘Padmavat’, an epic poem written by a Muslim poet, Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 AD, some 250 years after the fictitious legendry queen passed into history.

The poem which features elements of fantasy, describes the story of Padmavati as an exceptionally beautiful princess of the Singhala kingdom from Sri Lanka. If that is true how a Buddhist did became Rajput queen?

The poet further say that Ratan Sen, the Rajput ruler of Chittor, heard about the beauty of Padmavati from a talking parrot named Hiraman. Can this be believed?

This prompted Ratan Sen to make an adventurous journey to Sri Lanka. How did he go to Srilanka via Tamil Nadu or Gujarat, this is unknown? What is known unlike Ravana who kidnapped Sita and took her to Sri Lanka, Sen somehow was able to marry Padmavati and brought her to Chittor.

After Padmavati came to Chittor, there were two kings who were enamoured by her beauty and both wanted to get her by hook or crook.

One was Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi who heard about her beauty of Padmavati, and wanted to obtain her. The second was Devpal, the king of Kumbhalner who was also enamoured with Padmavati's beauty.

There is nothing unusual about this because such things were not uncommon in medieval ages. Both the claimants attacked Chittor to claim Padmavati, but the poet Jaisi, does not mention who was the first one to do that.

However, Jaisi mentions that Devpal, the king of Kumbhalner had a battle with Ratan Sen over this and in a combat he killed the ruler of Chittor. What happened next, did Devpal got hold of Padmavati or he left making her a widow, the poet is silent on this. There is no fuss made bout this part of the poem but its Alauddin Khhilji part that has courted controversy from ages.

According to historical records, Alaudding khilji was born in Birbhioom district of West Bengal in 1250. He ruled from Delhi and his reign was from 1296 to 1316. He died in 1316 and was buried at Qutab complex where his grave survives.

The poet Mohmmad Jayasi says that it was for the sake of Padmavati that Alauddin Khilji attacked Chittor and before he could capture Chittor, the courageous Rajput lady along with her companions committed Jauhar (self-immolation).

This act of valour has made Padmavati an icon worthy of worship. Now this fact and fictitious poem that was written in 1540, some 250 years after the event and how much could be true is subject to interpretation.

However, several subsequent adaptions of the Jaisi's poem that sketches legendry character of Padmavati, a Hindu Rajput queen, who defended her honour against a Muslim invader has become immortalized.

There are people who believe that the character of Padmavati is true. They do not like to see anything wrong about her in cinema. Its such people who are letting loose the hell to stop the screening of the film. They had even approached the Supreme Court to ban the film but the apex court gave them thumbs down.

Meanwhile, the film maker Sanjay Leela Bansali is issuing clarification that he has not done any wrong and the character of Padmavati is intact as popular perception, but those protesting are hardly convinced.

This is not the first time that such kind of controversy over historical character in film is seen in India. Ashutosh Gowarikar's magnum opus Jodhaa Akbar too ran into similar controversy. The same sections of the Rajput community in Rajasthan had raised an objection on the film. According to them Gowarikar had hurt their sentiments and they threatened to prevent the film from being released.

At the heart of both these controversy is the communal divide in our country. To borrow author Naipaul’s phraseology of wounded civilization trying to write history with pulp fiction. They want others to accept that Alaudding Khilji was a thug who came to India from outside and he attacked chittor to get Padmavati. The act of self-immolation by Pdamavti as told by Mohammad JaIsi was an act of valour and such she was worthy to be worshiped.

The protest against the movie Jodha- Akbar was also in the same vein as those people do not like to accept that a Muslim ruler can marry Hindu princes Jodha Bai. It hurts them and their protests come from such anguish and cry of a wounded civilization.

However, why can’t people understand that historical wrongs cannot be corrected and fighting with history is not going to serve any purpose?

People should look at the film as an art form that is mostly factious in its narratives. They have no semblance to reality and this is true of movie 'Padmavati' as well. It’s a figment of imagination of a story teller and there is no truth to it since its originality. When such fictions are made into films then where is the case of hurt sentiments?

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at]

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