Khusrow couldn’t openly say that Khilji, his master, wanted Padmavati in his harem. Did he, however, leave subtle hints instead?
“She was a peerless beauty, the perfect replica of an ideal Indian woman. The Sultan lusted for her, and wanted to set her up as a showpiece in his harem. She, however, chose the pyre to the comforts of his harem, and decided to embrace the flames.
“The fire of Jauhar was lighted in a subterranean cavern, which still exists, and the Rajput ladies led by Padmini , jumped into the flames. The fair Padmini closed the throng which was augmented by whatever of female beauty or youth could be tainted by the Tartar lust. They were conveyed to the cavern and the opening closed upon them, leaving them to find security from dishonor in the devouring element,” says James Tod in Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan.
This is how the 14th century Rajput Queen Padmini of Mewad is remembered in common memory even today, as an embodiment of the ideal, virtuous, self respecting woman. It is not surprising that the contemporary chronicler, Amir Khusrow, admires the faithfulness and devotion of a Hindu wife to her husband. He says in his text, Nuh Sipihr (Nine Heavens):
It is awe inspiring that a Hindu thinks nothing of sacrificing his life by sword or by fire. A Hindu lady immolates for her husband out of her own free will and a Hindu male sacrifices his life for his deity or his king.
He continues: "In Islam such things are not allowed, but see what great deeds these are. If such kind of acts had been allowed by the shariat, many virtuous people would have gladly sacrificed their lives for the sake of their love and devotion."
She has been there in our memory since a long time but here we are to analyse if we can trace her origins in 'history'. Modern historians are divided about her historicity and it is a topic of debate with a host of seemingly genuine reasons to lend weight to the argument negating her existence in flesh and blood. The most prominent among them is that, she is a product of imagination of the Hindi poetic epic Padmavat in Awadhi dialect by Malik Muhammad Jaisi. The work was completed in 1540, almost 237 years after the attack of Alauddin Khilji on Chittorgarh (1303 AD). However, we find the existence of Padmini vis-a-vis Alauddin in another poetic work pre dating Padmavat - that is Narain Das’s Chhitai Charita, completed in 1526 at Sarangpur.
The motive of this three article series is to enquire about the historicity of Padmini, taking into consideration all the respective accounts and opinions of scholars, and the manner in which the Chittor garrison offered fight to the Khilji king. We shall also see the fate of Rawal Ratan Siṃha and also who carried on the struggle against Khilji after the Rawal 'departed' from the scene.
We shall also focus our realm of inquiry to Amir Khusrow, who was present along with Alauddin while Chittorgarh was besieged for almost seven months (Jan 1303 - August 1303). Khusrow's contemporary Persian account, Khazainu-l Futuh is the first work which is said to contain references to the existence of Padmini but it has not received adequate attention. But, before we begin to read his account of the siege, we have to understand the circumstances under which Khusrow and his contemporaries wrote. This article is slightly lengthy by standards of present generation but there is no substitute to it, else the quality of content would be compromised.
Compulsions Of The Chroniclers
There were certain bitter truths, which the historian could not record, lest he might have invited the wrath of his patron and fall out of his favour. In such circumstances, the maximum which could be expected of them is told to us by another nearly contemporary historian named Ziau-d din Barni, who says in the introduction of his celebrated 14th century work, Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi: "A historian should always be truthful, honest and fearless. If he is unable to express rightly and describe facts openly, he should try to convey his ideas through implications and suggestions."
Khusrow also points to similar constraints. His ethics of writing history is best illustrated by his remarks in his short masnavi (poem), Miftahu-l futuh or ''Key to Victories”, which he composed in the honour of Alaudin’s father in law and uncle, Sultan Jalalu-d din Firoz Shah Khilji. Khusrow writes:
When I began this poem and prepared my pen to write, I adorned it (with various artifices), for that is indispensable in writing verse, but when I thought of adding what was untrue, truth came and held my hand. My mind also did not relish the idea of mixing lies with truths, for although false exaggerations may impart charm to a poem, truth is an admirable thing.
Khusrow admits, he sometimes felt tempted to record falsehoods but he always adhered to truth, for 'truth is an admirable thing'. Basically, he is a reliable narrator, but his definition of truth includes half truth also. He did not mind washing an ugly truth in a manner that its essence remained intact while the whole thing would not sound offensive to his patron. Similarly, he was quite adept at leaving facts hidden in between the lines. Interests of his career as a courtier at times counselled him to gloss over the mistakes and high-handedness of a future patron. He subscribed to the view that silence was golden in some situations, and thus, never reported the gruesome murder of his patron, and a kind master Jalalu-d din at the hands of his own nephew and son-in-law, Alauddin, Khusrow's next patron. The incident related to Queen Kamala Devi of Gujarat having been forced into the Alauddin harem was also not recorded by him till the Sultan breathed his last.
The Malleable And Co-operative Khusrow
We need to understand Khusrow well before we began to extract the truth out of his account which is to follow below. Khusrow, sheltered his saintliness in a quiet corner of his heart, and knew how to survive, keep the patron happy and still record pieces of truth in the least offensive manner. He lived for over three quarters of a century and saw the rise and fall of 10 rulers of the Delhi Sultanate, and having served during the tenure of eight of them, in some capacity. The list can be read at the end of the article.
Amir Khusrow did not believe in personal loyalties, except for his strong attachment to his Pir Nizamu-d-din Auliya. Accession of Kaiqubad in 1287 had led to the murder of his earlier master's (late Prince Mohammad's) son Kai Khusrow, but he managed to find favour with the new Sultan and even wrote a masnavi eulogising Kaiqubad's reunion with his father Burgha Khan, and eventually got raised as the poet laureate of the empire.
On the disgraceful departure of Kaiqubad, Khusrow didn't suffer despite hands exchanging power. He wrote another masnavi, Miftahu-l futuh, to memorialise the life and victories of the next Sultan Jalalu-d din Firoz Shah Khilji. A brilliant example of how Khusrow survived so many change of guards would be evident from the fact that he smoothly switched his allegiance yet again. When Alauddin ascended the throne over the corpse of his father in law and uncle, Sultan Jalalu-d din, after sinfully murdering the highly affectionate man, Khusrow's pen not only skipped to make a mention of this most foul murder of his previous patron but also began to write praises of his new Sultan Alauddin.
Khusrow disliked, but did not air his views in his writings about the eunuch Malik Kafur who rose to the position of Naib Sultan, and had usurped the throne after death of Alauddin in 1316. Another of Alauddin’s son, the queer minded and licentious Qutb-ud-din came to throne after murdering Kafur and his other brothers in cold blood in Gwalior prison. Khusrow, however, praised him to skies and called him "Shadow of God" on earth. Khusrow, again rose, when he was able to pull on well with the next Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din, who even exercised dislike for Khusrow's Pir Nizamu-d-din Auliya. This is one aspect of Khusrow's personality.
However, he was a great poet who loved this land. Mughal Emperor Babar found nothing good in India except it being a big country full of gold but Khusrow could never stop eulogising this land, its people, resources, customs, languages, smells, sights, sounds, philosophy, skills, science, arts, architecture, and almost everything, earning him the epithet of Tuti-yi-Hind, meaning, the "trumpeter of Hindustan". In Nuh Sipihr, he writes:
"Even the poor in Hindustan do not have a greedy attitude. They feel content with whatever little they happen to have.
“Only those who do not believe in the existence of the divine being can be dubbed as kafirs (unbelievers) ; Hindus are very much the pantheists as they admit to his eternal presence and his capacity to create out of nothing.
“Hindus, undoubtedly, worship various objects like the Sun, stones, cattle (cow, for instance), and plants (Tulsi or Basil) - but they do it because they take these to be the divine creation and, in fact, see God in everything. Their prayers are ultimately directed to him only. "
Khusrow's Account of Alauddin’s Chittor campaign
The above account of Khusrow's life under various Sultans might help us in understanding him as a person and what cryptic information he has left behind in his Persian account Khazainu-l Futuh, which contains the victories of his patron Alauddin. He seems to have hidden something between the lines. He could not present outright lies, as that was not his personality. But he could go silent on uncomfortable points and conveyed his points by "implications and suggestions" as suggested by Barni. Let us now read the English translation of the portion of Khazainu-l Futuh, pertaining to Chittor campaign.
"On Monday, 8 Jamadi II, AH 702, [i.e. on 28 January 1303], Sultan (Alauddin Khilji) having firmly resolved to conquer Chittaur, the moons of the flags got moving. (The writer is, of course, alluding here to the insignia of the moon on the flags of the Sultanate.) The royal canopy of black color was trying to reach for the clouds. The Sultan reached Chittaur at the head of his army. The two wings of the army were ordered to be deployed on 2 sides (east and west), of the (elliptical shaped) fort. The imperial pavilion was pitched in the doab (dry space) between the two rivulets (Gambhiri and Barach flowing by the fort). The flood of the flashing swords of the Sultān's army could reach no farther than the waistline (the foothills) of the fort for as much as two months. The fort was then ordered to be pelted with stones shot through the minjaniqs (catapults). This also failed to make any impression on the fort. The Sultan had set up his command post on the hill known as Chittauri (on a corner of the hill feature on which the fort stands) and issued operational commands from under his white colored canopy that gave the look of the splendid sun. He continued organising tournaments among the wrestlers of his two commands in the east and west (to keep his soldiers occupied, active and in good state of morale).
“On Monday, the 11 Muḥarram, AH 703 (i.e. 25 August 1303), the Solomon of the Age (Sultan Alauddin) entered the fort where even a fluttering sparrow could not go. Khusrow, his hudhud (the favorite bird of Solomon who first brought him information about the charming Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba and was later sent with a message for the Queen to surrender to him) followed into the citadel behind him. They shouted, "Hudhud, Hudhud" again and again. But I would not return; for I was afraid of the Sultan's wrath. Just in case, he enquired, "How is it that I cannot see Hudhud around ? Is he one of the deserters?" What would be my excuse for absence if he demanded, "Bring me a clear plea?" If the Emperor declares in his anger, "I shall chastise him”, how could the delicate bird have the strength to take the punishment?
“Having been singed from top to toe with the lightning of the Sultan's wrath, the Rai (Rawal Ratan Siṃha) streaked through the stony gate like a spark from a stone and dashed to the royal pavilion while getting drenched on the way. This way, he saved himself from the swords flashing like lightning. Hindus believe that brass utensils attract lightning. The Rai's face, then, looked pale like brass (out of panic). It is certain that he would not have remained safe against the lightning of the swords and arrows (of the Sultan's army), had he not made it to the gate of the royal pavilion (for begging mercy). The cool breeze of the royal mercy saw to it that no hot wind of hostility blew by him.
“However, thirty thousand Hindus became the victims of Sultan's wrath and they were mown down like dry grass. The royal anger, thus, destroyed all the mukaddams (civil officials) and rid the land of this durangi (double mindedness) to the great relief of peasantry that never have any thorny instincts. Chittaur was renamed as Khiẓrabad. A red canopy was raised over the head of Prince Khiẓra Khān. The apparel that he wore on the occasion was studded with diamonds. Two flags, one of green and other of black colour, were unfurled. His durbar was decorated with small flags of two colours. After bestowing these honours on Prince Khiẓra Khan, he returned to Siri. He commanded the army under the royal flag to march towards Delhi after 20 Muḥarram (i.e., 3 September 1303 AD). "
Khusrow's Pliability And Shortcomings
Now let us analyse the account given by Khusrow.
The heavy frontal assaults launched on the fort for the first two months had come a cropper, followed by a silence of around four months, and then all of a sudden the Sultan is said to have entered the fort after its fall. There is something incomplete in this. We are not told what really happened during this period except that Alauddin kept his troops engaged by organising wrestling bouts. We are left wondering how the resolute resistance of the garrison broke down suddenly. We do not even have any word from the writer if the garrison had run short on provisions or had they finally lost the nerve.
The silence on the part of the court laureate is intriguing. There is something which Khusrow has not been able to tell us. We should, however, be sure by now that what has been left unsaid was of such nature as needed to be glossed over. In other words, it was something that did no credit to the Sultan.
Secondly, Khusrow's assertion that Rawal was treated well by the Sultan on his surrender while 30,000 men in the Rajput fort were slaughtered is half truth. He has failed to mention that it was only the initial reaction of the Sultan because Ratan Siṃha was humiliated later when he was of no use for the Sultan. We will see this towards the end of this series.
Thirdly, Khusrow's claim that Sultan killed only the mukaddams on compassionate grounds, to shield the oppressed peasants is far from truth. Khusrow is trying to whitewash the slaughter of his master. This is similar to Abu- l Fazl's attempt at justification of massacre of Chittorgarh, after the fall of castle in February 1568, when he said: "The reason of so many being killed was that on the former occasion on 3 Muḥarram 703, 16 August 1303, when Sultan Alauddin took the fort after six months and seven days, the peasantry were not put to death as they had not engaged in fighting. But on this occasion they had shown great zeal and activity. Their excuses after the emergence of victory were of no avail, and orders were given for a general massacre. But a large number were made prisoners."
The fact is, both Akbar and ALauddin were infuriated by the stubborn resistance offered by the Rajput garrison at Chittorgarh that inflicted heavy casualties on their armies, and hence they ordered a general massacre in retaliation.
Rani Padmini - Khusrow's Bilqis
Let us come to the main point of this article, which pertains to the invocation of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, by Khusrow in his narration of Chittorgarh war.
That, Khusrow was a poet par excellence is known to us, and whatever he wrote was written with complete responsibility. Perhaps, his conscience made him convey an unpleasant truth in this cryptic language. He picked up a Biblical story which matches Padmini. Let us understand this story first.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common origin and have lot of prophets. According to the Quran, one among them was the Ethiopian prince Solomon, the son of David. He set out in an expedition accompanied by a vast retinue including soldiers, animals and birds of which hudhud was one. While he was encamped near a desert, he found the hudhud missing and angrily declared that he would punish it severely, unless the bird could explain his absence satisfactorily. Hudhud appeared immediately and informed that he brought in the news of the land of Sheba and its queen Bilqis who worshiped the Sun. Bilqis was a superb beauty who the prince liked to have in his harem. An infatuated Solomon at once sent hudhud with a letter asking Bilqis to submit herself to him. She assembled her advisers and upon counsel, instead, decided to send an envoy with rich presents to Solomon who, however, declared that he would not be satisfied with anything else than the personal submission of the beautiful Queen Bilqis.
Now let us compare. There are three characters in the above story - Solomon, Hudhud and Bilqis. Khusrow has referred to Alauddin as the Solomon of his time and himself as the Biblical hudhud. Amir Khusrow who is the bird of this Solomon (Alauddin) was also with him. They cried, "Hudhud! Hudhud!" repeatedly. But i would not return; for I feared Sultan's wrath in case he enquired. "How is it, I see not Hudhud, or is he one of the absentees? And what be my excuse for my absence if he asked, "Bring me a clear plea"? If the Emperor says in his anger, "How can the poor bird have strength enough to bear it.”
Isn't Padmini’s presence ringing loud and clear in his cryptic information furnished by Khusrow? As suggested by Mr Habib, and observed by historian Subimal Dutta, the analogy between Alauddin’s operations against Chittor and Solomon's expedition against the land of Sheba would be justifiable only if Bilqis had a prototype in Chittor. Apparently, Amir Khusrow implies that Alauddin insisted on the surrender of a woman of the ruling family at Chittor.
Khusrow's Reluctance And Fears Come True
Following his narration further, Khusrow entered the fort along with his patron Alauddin, then went missing. He was reluctant to appear before the Sultan and at the same time he could not be absent. The task of this Hindi knowing accomplished poet laureate, in all probability, was to exercise his charms on the beautiful lady and put her at ease so that her submission to the Sultan could be consensual, and not an event of compulsion. This must have appeared very much possible when her husband had already capitulated. Alauddin dreams met the wall when the lady reduced herself to ashes thereby making the victory of Sultan worthless.
This explains why Khusrow was so reluctant to report to his master. He knew this news would put his master in an awfully bad state of mind and it did. The fall of the Rajpūt fort was followed by the massacre of 30,000 non combatant civilians.
Earlier, Rawal Ratan Siṃha was treated kindly but now he was badly humiliated. The lustful demand for the Queen ('Padmini') and her subsequent jauhar, must have been a humiliating experience for Alauddin.
Therefore, Khusrow, thought it would be wise not to talk about these events openly, and hence conveyed the event through implications and suggestions, as this part of the story signifies a 'defeat' for the Sultan. One theme runs constant in the chronicles of Sultanate era. The successes would be reported with great pride, but the reverses altogether omitted.
The account of Chittor campaign given by Khusrow is important as it is the testimony of a truthful eye witness who affirmed to the high standards of history recording, despite compulsions beyond his control. His decorative style of conveying the story can be easily decoded.
This article, with all its references included, can be read here:
The article will be continued in the next part, where we shall see the contents of Padmavat and Chhitai Charit. Thereafter, pros and cons of arguments offered by modern historians to reject Rani Padmini as fiction, would be analysed.