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TOI’s attempt to trace the timeless story from early chronicles, through various retellings and by evaluating historical sources, including manuscripts and books, and speaking to experts…
Controversies surrounding the Bollywood film, ‘Padmaavat’, have renewed public interest in the life and times of the Chittor queen. Available literature has merged fact and fiction seamlessly to create a persona that makes it difficult to delineate one from the other. So, searching for facts on Rani Padmini or Padmavati in history books is of little help. Moreover, the narratives that exist have evolved and changed over the past 700 years, adding to the prevailing confusion and varied claims made about the queen. While Rani Padmini is claimed to belong to Pugal in Bikaner, popular belief is she was from Sri Lanka. Similarly, history remembers her for the act ‘jauhar’, the popular poem Padmavat shows her committing sati.
*INSCRIPTION AT DARIBA, RAJSAMAND, 1301AD
The earliest mention of Rawal Raja Ratan Singh, formally referred to as Ratnasimha, as the king of Chittorgarh is found in the inscriptions on one of the pillars of a temple of a Goddess in Dariba, Rajsamand. The date mentioned in the inscription is 1301, which is two years before the fall of Chittor in 1303. The stone inscription is the oldest acknowledgement of the prince of Chittor. It only speaks about the prince and there’s no mention of a queen.
In his 1936 work, ‘Udaipur Rajya Ka Ithihas’, famous historian Gauri Shankar Hera Chand Ojha says that the pillar was discovered by the British Archaeology Survey Department of India in 1930. According to historians, this inscription could be an oath taken by a new employee of the Raja Ratan Singh, and reads: “Samastharajawlis Mangalkrit Maharaja Kul Ratan (Ratna) Singh Dev Kalyan Virajya. Tanitritahmah. Srimaharani samsasthmu draivya paraprarhth” (Kings line up before you. Oh descendants of Maharana Raja Ratan Singh. I will dutifully perform commerce duty…).
Several other historians have claimed that he ascended the throne in 1302 and have also found some coins issued by Ratnasimha.
*KHAZAIN UL-FUTUH (TREASURES OF VICTORY) – 1307AD
Author: Amir Khushro, war reporter of Alauddin Khilji
The detailed account of the 1303 Chittor war between Turk Alauddin Khilji and Rawal Ratan Singh has been written by the former’s official writer and Sufi poet, Amir Khushro, in his book ‘Khazain ul-Futuh’, which is an account of Khilji’s military campaigns.
The book recounts Khilji’s conquest of Ranthambhore (1301), including the ‘jauhar’ (selfimmolation) committed there, and Chittor (1303).
Khusro was in Chittor between January 1303, when the siege began, and August 1303, when Chittor finally fell. But significantly, he does not have any mention about the war resulting from Khilji’s infatuation for Rani Padmini or about the ‘jauhar’ (self-immolation) committed by Rajput women.
The book does not also mention Ratan Singh, but only the word ‘Rai’, which was commonly used for a king. Here’s how Khusro describes the king’s surrender in his work: “On the day the yellow-faced Rai sought refuge in the red canopy from fear of the green swords, the great Emperor (May his prosperity continue!) was still crimson with rage. But when he saw the vegetarian Rai trembling with fear, like the trampled and withered grass under the imperial tent — though the Rai was a rebel, yet the breeze of royal mercy did not allow any hot wind to blow upon him.”
After the siege was over, Khusro claimed that Khilji pardoned ‘Rai’ but ordered the killing of 30,000 others.
“The book (Khazain ul-Futuh) explained the Chittor territory as ‘Heaven of Hindus’, a place which had abundant resources while describing the siege of the fort city from January 1303 to August 1303,” says historian Dr A K Mittal, Gorakhpur University, in his book ‘Bharat ka Rajnetik’ and ‘Sansthan Ithihas’.
Mittal also says that the word ‘Rai’ was used to describe a king during the period. Khusro’s account forms the basis of claims made by Rajput organizations that Khilji didn’t attack Chittor for Padmini.
Other historians and scholars of the Sultanate era—Khajawa Sadr Nijami, Maulana Sadruddin Offi, Minhaj Siraj Tajudin Iraqi, Saifuddin, Fakruddin and Imamudin Raza and Abdul Haqim—are also silent on Padmini. Meanwhile, the same period saw the penning of epic love sagas ‘Laila-Majnu’ and ‘Sheeren-Farhad’.
While it remains an undisputed fact that Rajputs ruled over Chittor before 1303 and from 1336 to 1557, Rani Padmini or any other queen does not find any mention in the Rajput history of Mewar.
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*CHITAI CHARITRA, 1480AD
Author: Narain Das, poet based in Gwalior
Another mention of Rani Padmini can be found in the 15th century text ‘Chitai Charitra’, authored by Narain Das of Gwalior state. It mentions Rani Padmini as the queen of Chittor and the wife of Rawal Ratan Singh. She is said to have committed ‘jauhar’.
Author: Malik Muhammed Jayasi
The most popular account of Rani Padmavati and the fall of Chittor surfaced in the epic poem by Awadhi writer Malik Muhammed Jayasi around the period of Sher Shah Suri.
In the poem, Rani Padmavati is described as coming from ‘Singhal Dweep’ or Ceylon (Sri Lanka). There’s an elaborate explanation of her background. Ratan Sen, as Ratan Singh was named by Jayasi, married her in a ‘swyamvar’ in Ceylon, where he goes to after hearing about her beauty from the parrot ‘Hiraman’.
The poem further introduces Khilji as a ruler of Delhi, who learns about the beauty of Padmavati through a banished courtier of Rawal Ratan Singh who found refuge in Khilji’s court.
Khilji lays siege to Chittor. Ratan Sen refuses his demand to surrender Padmavati. Following a truce, Ratan Sen allows the Sultan to enter the fort, where Khilji sees Padmavati’s reflection in a mirror. He then traps Ratan Sen into accompanying him to the foot of the fort, captures him and returns to Delhi.
After being rescued from Delhi by his two brave warriors—Gora and Badal—Ratan Sen reaches Chittor to learn that the neighboring king Devpal had sent a marriage proposal to Padmavati. An upset Ratan Sen goes to fight Devpal and the two kill each other in a combat.
Ratan Sen’s two wives—Nagmati and Padmavati—immolate themselves on his pyre (Sati) before Khilji’s army reaches Chittor and the battle begins.
There is neither the mention of ‘jauhar’ or Ratan Sen dying while fighting Khilji.
The author calls the work a ‘kavya’ (poem), a fictional piece, according to historians. Chandra Shekar Sharma, a history professor in Udaipur and an expert on Mewar history, says, “The philosophical element of the book is ignored by historians. In the book, Rani Padmavati represents ‘atma’ (soul) and Rawal Ratan Singh ‘parmatma’ (God). It portrays Khilji as a villain. It should be seen only as a fictional poem. It has taken historical characters but has a fictional plot.”
*THE ANNALS AND ANTIQUITIES OF RAJ
Author: Col. James Todd 1829-32
The most popular narrative, which everyone has heard or learnt about, is James Todd’s ‘The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan’.
The book follows the narrative of Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem ‘Padmavati’. Elaborating the mirror incident, it states: “According to Muhammadan historians, Ratan Sen was the ruler of Chittor during the reign of Alauddin, and the husband of Padmini… At length, he restricted his desire to a mere sight of this extraordinary beauty and acceded to the proposal of beholding her through the medium of mirrors.”
The narrative, which mentions jauhar became a subject of plays and part of the mainstream narrative and remains the most popular one.
*BENGALI RENAISSANCE AND PADMAVATI
The Bengali renaissance of the early 19th century saw Bengali works in a variety of subjects, ranging from social reforms to politics and history, influenced by the idea of shaping present historical narratives.
The first such account in the Bengali language on Padmavati was by Yagneshwar Bandyopadhyay in his book titled ‘Mewar’ (1884). It gives a detailed account of ‘jauhar’ committed by Padmini in 1303. The minute details in the book about ‘jauhar’ has formed the basis of plays on Mewar and Padmini. The book has been criticized for not having any reference to original sources. The most popular play on the incident, which inspired movies, literature and was used as a political tool, was Kshirode Prasad Vidyavinode’s ‘Padmini’ written in 1906. The play elaborately describbs the drama before the ‘jauhar’, the dialogue between the queens, their dilemma and readying like brides for self-immolation.
*NCERT & OTHER BOOKS
After independence, the ‘popular narrative’ of Khilji attacking Chittor over Padmini, the mirror episode and ‘jauhar’ became part of NCERT books and state textbooks. A video uploaded on the official YouTube channel of NCERT on May 26, 2016 claims that Khilji saw Rani Padmini in the mirror, and the commentary narrates the entire episode. While the revised Rajasthan textbooks make only a passing reference to the fall of Chittor, private publications, textbooks followed by other schools refer to the ‘popular narrative’.