What was great about Rani Padmawati of Chittorgarh?

Rani Padmavati was the queen of Chittor, renowned across Indian land for her bewitching beauty. She was the wife of King Rawal Ratan Singh and the daughter of the contemporary Sinhala king Gandharvsen, according to the epic ‘Padmavat’.

 (Disclaimer: Most Images here are Artist’s impression).

Padmavati (a.k.a Padmini) spent her life in Singhal under the care of her father Gandharvsen and mother Champavati. Her father arranged a swayamvara and invited all the Hindu kings to ask for her hand (request to marry her by showing their eligibility).

In that Swayamvara, Rawal Ratan Singh (a.k.a. RatnaSimha) won the Swayamvara and married Padmavati. He had another queen, Nagmati. He returned Chittor with his beautiful gorgeous second queen, Padmavati.

In 1296, Alauddin Khilji took the reins of Delhi throne. He treacherously murdered Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji, who was also his uncle and father-in-law, to be the next Sultan. He carried Jalaluddin’s head on a spear inside Delhi during holy Ramazan. Alauddin Khilji was one of the most brutal humans to have ever been born on earth.

In 1303, Alauddin Khilji attacked Mewar. Reason being Rani Padmavati, most gorgeous beautiful queen of Chittor. Chittor was Mewar’s capital. When he came to know about her, he launched an attack on Chittor in order to capture her.

                                                                                     In pics: Chittor fort, built on a 152m high hill and spread over 700 acres.

                                                                                                                      (In the above map: Khilji’s empire).

But to his dismay, on reaching Chittor, Alauddin found the fort to be heavily defended. Desperate to have a look at the legendary beauty of Padmavati, he sent a message to King Rawal Ratan Singh that if Khilji could have a glimpse of Queen Padmavati’s face he would return to Delhi.

In order to maintain peace and avoid loss of lives, Rawal Ratan Singh consulted his advisors and agreed to let Khilji see Padmavati’s reflection in mirror. Khilji alongwith his bodyguards entered the fort and after looking at her in the mirror, returned.

                                                                    (Alauddin Khilji looking at Rani Padmavati’s reflection in a mirror).

(According to Rajput version, It was not the Queen herself but her brother in a saree. It was considered a shame to show king’s wife to another man and hence they decided to disguise queen’s brother (who looked similar to her) as a lady and make him sit on the steps of summer palace which is located in the middle of the lake. Alaudin Khilji was surrounded by 4 Rajput guards and made to stand with his back facing the summer palace in a room on the banks of the lake with a window. Alaudin was asked to see the queen in the mirror which was hanged on the wall in front of him very close to ceiling, which showed the last three steps of the summer palace (Padmini Mahal). If he tried to turn back he wouldn’t see her because she is on the lower ground. Also he was not allowed to approach the window to directly look at the queen’s brother disguised as queen. But all other versions say that it was Padmavati herself and not her brother.)

Out of courtesy, Ratan Singh, along with his warriors went to see him off to the gate of the fort. There the deceptive Khilji signaled his soldiers to arrest the King Ratan Singh.

He sent a message through his men that in order to gain release of Rawal Ratan Singh, Padmavati should agree to accompany Sultan to Delhi. If the Queen refuses, Khilji will send Ratan Singh’s chopped off head to her and after that he will attack the fort and kill them all. Everyone was taken aback by this message.

Queen Padmavati at once devised a counter scheme by which she could get the release of her husband and protect her honour as well. She discussed this with Gora, her maternal uncle/military general. Gora agreed and told her not to worry. He would go and bring back her husband and Sultan was not brave enough to stop him. Gora’s orphan nephew Badal who was just sixteen also assured her.

Her reply to Khilji was that if the Sultan could send seven hundred Palkis (Palanquins) for her seven hundred maids then she would accompany him.

                                                                                                                       [A palki (palanquin) with its bearers]

Sultan accepted the proposal and consequently sent her seven hundred Palkis. According to Padmavati’s plan, a warrior in woman’s disguise was made to sit in each palki, which carried arms for six soldiers disguised as footmen of the each Palki. Another demand was that none of Khilji’s soldiers should be allowed peek inside the palki as it would outrage the modesty of the women.

So these seven hundred palkis led by Gora, reached Sultan’s camp and it was conveyed to him that Padmavati wants to meet her Husband for the last time. Sultan agreed, whereupon Palkis moved towards Ratan Singh’s camp. Most of Khilji’s soldiers were busy winding up and preparing for the return journey to Delhi.

When the palkis reached Ratan Singh’s camp, Padmavati’s palki entered the tent, others waited outside. A blacksmith wearing saree came out of Padmavati’s palki and used his tools to release the king from the bondages. Gora asked Ratan to mount the horse and go back to the fort with Badal. Then Gora gave a signal and every rajput came out of the palki and attacked. Using this cover, Ratan was taken back to the fort.

The turn of events took the Sultan and his soldiers completely by surprise and before they could take hold of the situation, the 700 warriors from the Palkis and 4200 footmen turned warriors fell upon the enemy.

According to Rajput version, Gora had fought very bravely and engaged Khilji’s soldiers even when he was surrounded from all sides. When the enemy’s cavalry got too close to Ratan Singh, Badal urged the King to proceed. He and his fellow Rajput soldiers stayed back and barred Khilji’s men from following the King. After beheading innumerable enemies, Gora was slayed from the rear and attained martyrdom, followed by Badal. Ratan Singh was the only one who could come back alive. All the men, including the brave duo of Gora and Badal, fought like beasts and laid their lives to protect their King.

A frustrated Alauddin, seethed in agony to avenge his insult. He ordered his army to attack Chittor again. However, hard as they tried the Sultan’s army could not break into the fort.

Then Alauddin decided to lay siege to the fort. The siege was a long drawn one and lasted for six to eight months. Gradually supplies within the fort were depleted. Finally it was decided that the Rajputs would open the gates and fight to death with the besieging troops.

On hearing of this decision, Padmavati decided that with their men-folk going into the unequal struggle with the Sultan’s army in which they were sure to perish, the women of Chittor had either to commit ‘Jauhar’ (mass self-immolation) or face dishonour at the hands of the victorious enemy. The rulers, their soldiers, the women folk of royalty and the commoners considered death as a better option than dishonour in the face of surrender to the foreign invading army.

The choice was in favour of suicide through jauhar. A huge pyre was lit and all the women of Chittor jumped into the flames after their queen, thus depriving the enemy waiting outside. After this pyrrhic victory, the Sultan’s troops entered the fort only to be confronted with ashes and burnt bodies.

Secret passage to kund: Inside the Chittor fort, Queen Padmavati and all the other consorts of Rawal Ratan Singh, along with wives of army men and every woman present in the state, walked down the secret passage linked from Chittor fort into the Jauhar Kund.

They wailed for their men and sang praises of their bravery and together they jumped into the fire; Queen Padmavati was the first one to jump into the Jauhar Kund. The entire palace was echoed by their cries. By the time, Khilji’s army entered the fort to claim their authority on royal treasure and women; they were welcomed by eerie sounds coming from the Jauhar Kund.

Jauhar Kund: The screams coming out from the Jauhar Kund (in picture above) were so fierce that Khilji ordered to close the tunnel passage.

Women of the palace who committed jauhar perished but their memory has been kept alive till today by songs and tales which immortalised the story of their sacrifice.

(In pic: Painting of Padmavati in Chittor museum).

Disclaimer: Most historians claim that Padmavati was just a legend and there’s no reliable proof of her existence. She was first referenced in the epic ‘Padmavat’, written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Please note that she is a legendary figure and that over years, she came to be seen as a historical figure. But Khilji’s attack on Chittorgarh in 1303 CE and subsequent Jauhar by women of Chittor are well documented facts.

 Jai Hind