Padmavati : Fight Over Fiction

It’s been several days since the movie director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was assaulted by a communal group of Rajputs on the set of his under-production film, Padmavati. The reason the attackers gave was that they are trying to stop the defamation of a Rajput Queen, Rani Padmini and thus are trying to protect the ‘pride’ of Rajputs. I do not want to go into the debate of freedom of expression or intolerance or terrorizing people with different opinions here as a lot has already been said about that and repeating that would be just like shouting into a noise. Since all the brouhaha about the issue have been subsided and there are already reports of brokerage of peace between the makers of the film and the communal group, I think it’s time that we discuss the issue of distortion of history, particularly in this case.  And to do that, first we need to check whether it’s indeed a part of the history or not.

The first written account which mentions Rani Padmini was a Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s  epic poem Padmavat, which was written in 1540 (more than a century after the events mentioned took place) . It’s the tale of Padmavati, an exceptionally beautiful queen of Chittor who commits Jauhar (self immolation) to protect herself from becoming the sex slave of the then Sultan of Delhi and the invader of Chittor, Allauddin Khilji. This is a fantastical piece of literature which includes conversation with a parrot and sorcery. So it is clearly a work of fiction and definitely can not be treated as a historical account.  However this work of Jayasi is based on folktales that existed way before Padmavat  was written. Now, it is really hard to establish the genuinity of a folk-lore. The belief of people in it is the only thing that is keeping it from being stated as a made-up story.

If we concede to the popular belief and agree that it was indeed an historical event we still can not possibly claim it to have happened with the glory that we are told about it. On the contrary it will be inhuman and misogynous to call the Jauhar of Rani Padmini glorious. This brings me to my next point and that is about the way we are made to look at this story right from our childhood. It was told to us like a tale of bravery and righteousness. But was it? It’s about a woman, rather a big number of women, who HAD to burn themselves to death to protect themselves from being sexually violated. That was horrific and a glimpse to the disgustingly misogynistic social structure of that time. Yet we were never told this story from this perspective. For most of the people it’s the story of the courage of women of Chittor while it was their brutal oppression. We must also keep in mind the fact that this folktale has served as an justification of Sati in India for many centuries. It’s a blot which will never go away yet we are kept from seeing it in that light. So, before you dare to raise questions on the distortion of history, you need to examine whether the history that you know is already distorted or not.

 

*Featured image taken from Wikipedia

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