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Padmavati – How Jayasi’s Anti-Feudal tale twisted to support a fascist narrative

NO ALLAUDDIN KHILJI-RAJPUT HONOUR BINARY

It is evident from historical accounts, and a reading of the Mahakavya Padmavat, written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, the 16th century Avadhi poet, that the story of Rani Padmavati does not include the Alauddin Khilji vs Rajput honour binary.

Malik Muhammad Jayasi, the Sufi mystic, wrote Padmavat in 1540 AD. The Chittor incident ‘involving Padmavati’ took place around 1303 AD.

Historical accounts do not mention a word about Padmavati or that Alauddin Khilji attacked Chittor after hearing about the beauty of the legendary queen. Amir Khusrow, the famous Sufi inventor of Hindustani classic music, several musical instruments, the father of Khari Boli, which later evolved into Hindi and Urdu, accompanied Alauddin Khilji during the Chittorgarh campaign. Khusrow was also one of the earliest compilers of history in India.

In Khaza’in ul-Futuh (The Treasures of Victories-1296), Khusrow gives details of Alauddin Khilji’s construction works, wars, and administrative services. According to Khusrow, the ruler of Chittor surrendered before Khilji – and Khilji pardoned him off. This account is confirmed by other historians like Ziauddin Barani who wrote later, in the mid to late 14th century.

‘JAUHAR’ HAPPENED IN RANTHANBORE, NOT CHITTOR

Surprisingly, ‘Jauhar’ of women is part of Alauddin Khilji’s conquest of Ranthambore, not Chittor–and that too in 1301 (Chittor was attacked in 1303)!

One of Alauddin Khilji’s major contributions was preventing Mongols from taking over India. From Baghdad to Europe, Russia and China, Mongols had conquered almost the entire world. First Balban in 1260s, and then Alauddin Khilji in 1290s and early 1300s, stopped Mongol advance into India and shattered the aura of their invincibility.

MUSLIM MONGOLS LED RAJPUTS AGAINST KHILJI

Contrary to what right wingers purport, along with Rajput generals, Muslim Mongols led Ranthambor forces. So much so that Muhammad Shah accompanied Hammira in his last stand. Amir Khusrow and other chroniclers mention ‘Muslim ladies committing ‘Jauhar’ alongside Hammira’s wives and Rajput ladies!’

PADMAVAT: JAISI’S FICTIONAL-ALLEGORICAL EPIC

Around 1540 AD, Jayasi wrote Padmavat, his epic poem, in Awadhi language. Like Anarkali and Jodha Bai, Padmavati is a piece of literature. As literature, Jaisi’s rendition of the Rani Padmavati story blends facts, fiction and imagination to create an emotional-devotional epic of love and the futility of desire, ambition, and in Jayasi’s own words, the irredeemable quality of Maya or illusion. Jayasi seems to blend the Ranthambor Jauhar and the Chittor incident, both involving Alauddin Khilji, with prevalent legends about Padmini, the queen of Singhaldweep (Ceylon).

For Jayasi, Alauddin Khilji represents Maya. Chittor is the body; Rana Ratan Sen is the mind… and Rani Padmini is not just beauty–she is also a symbol of intelligence (Buddhi).

DESIRE, LOVE AND ILLUSION

But even Maya or mind or intelligence are just props–Jayasi in Padmavat ponders upon the world’s transitory nature. How love and illusion clash; how, while love is true, desire is delusional. Desire objectifies or reifies love…sees the subject of love, in this case Rani Padmini, as an object. In this one act, desire transforms love into its opposite.

PADMAVAT, CHIVALRY, FEUDALISM…AND KHILJI’S TRAGEDY

Jayasi projects Alaudin Khilji, not as an aggressor or a savage King, but a normal man, in fact a victim of his desires and illusions, who cannot fathom the higher workings or laws of fate or nature and how his objectification of Padmini destroys the possibilities of him ever having her as his consort!

In Padmavat, Khilji does not get the satisfaction of a duelling with Ratan Sen, Rani Padmini’s husband, for her hand. His desire objectified Padmini as feudal property; no others to seek her hand. Let alone history, even in Jaisi’s Mahakavya, Ratan Sen is killed not by Khilji’s sword, but in a duel with Devpal,  the Hindu Rajput Raja of Kumbhalmer who too is seeking Padmini’s hand!

Khilji comes off, ultimately, as a disillusioned, tragic figure.

KHILJI’S REFORMS AND ‘PRO-HINDU’ TILT

Khilji fixed prices of commodities, created centralised markets and a supply chain of exchange between the town and the countryside.

Anticipating Akbar again, Khilji was the first ruler to marry two Hindu Princesses, Kamaladevi (belonging to the Vaghelas of Gujarat) and Jhatyapali (daughter of Ramachandra, the King of Deogiri).

Initially, in his reign, Alauddin Khilji destroyed both temples and mosques of recalcitrant Hindu and Muslim Rajas. Then, he began a policy of compromise with Hindu chiefs, willing to accept his suzerainty.

In a 1305 document, Amir Khusro mentions that Alauddin treated Hindu zamindars kindly, and granted more favours to them than they had expected. This policy of compromise with Hindus was greatly criticised by a small but vocal set of Muslim extremists, as apparent from Barani’s writings.

LITERATURE INVERTS HISTORY

Jayasi’s Khilji represents feudal desire for property. Ratan Sen and Padmavati typify progressive-bourgeois sentiments. In reality, Ratan Sen marked feudal property sense while Khilji is the moderniser.

Such inversions happen in literature.

Shakespeare imparted a tragic individuality to Brutus and other failed ‘democrats’ in Julius Ceasar, his 16th century Elizabethan era play. But in actual Roman history, the senators who railed against Ceasar represented the old order while the Roman King himself was a moderniser.

ANTI-FEUDAL TALE TURNS PRO-FEUDAL UNDER BRITISH SUPERVISION

At least two other versions on the Rani Padmini legend appeared after Jayasi. But it was James Todd–the dubious ‘officer-historian’ of the colonial school, the one falsifying/re-inventing Rajput history to suit British needs – who moulded Alauddin Khilji as a demonic, Muslim villain. In ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan’, Todd presented, for the first time, Khilji vs Rajput honour binary!

COLONIALISM, FASCISM AND BHANSALI’S PADMAVATI

Fascism imposes feudal values in a modern, bourgeois setting – something which British colonialism did to India, reversing the Mughal-Rajput-Maratha-Awadh modernity and incipient capitalism, to re-install feudalism in land tenure, the economic base, so that the superstructure – culture and society – too reneges on modern values and lends itself, among other things, to communalism!

As such, Bhansali’s Padmavati can be seen as re-inventing history and literature to suit the ruling class politics (communal fascism) of today.

Bhansali does not represent Khilji as a victim of objectified desire. Bhansali’s Khilji is the mindless, irrational, who relishes in his lust and objectification of beauty. Bhansali’s Rani Padmini, is a reified object of fascist times, and neo-colonial-corporate markets that drive those times!

Fascism is a late bourgeois phenomenon when the bourgeois system turns against its own progressivism. Under fascism, subjectivism or individualism, a hallmark of progressive bourgeois values, is crushed and suppressed. Politics takes on the reification of the market. The feudal property sense makes an artificial re-entry by displacing the bourgeois private property. As seen with demonetisation etc, fascism attacks small businesses, ‘money’ held by private citizens, individual rights, autonomy etc.

KARNI SENA/FASCIST HAMMERING OF PADMAVATI

While purveying certain fascist values, Bhansali’s Padmavati falls prey to fascist machinations itself. A tool of fascism, it is being hammered by fascism doubly, as a tool.

Bhansali and Karni Sena are two sides of the same coin. They both               peddle Alauddin Khilji as the barbaric, ‘Muslim’ other! Their collision is for mutual benefit!

This is the ultimate grotesque tragedy of Bhansali, and the price he has to pay for turning Jayasi’s modernising ode to love and illusion, into a fascist aesthetic of gaudy grandeur of the villainous other.

THE ‘RSS-RAJPUT’ ANGLE

Politically, the film Padmavati is being used by Sanghis to mobilise Rajputs into a conspiracy against democracy.

BJP is losing Gujarat…it will be the beginning of the failure of fascist forces to sustain power through democratic means. The ultimate goal of Sanghis is to stage a coup against Indian democracy and the Republic.

Rajput royals carry a narrative of Rajshahi–they claim that when the British left they gave India to princely states. And that Nehru brought in democracy and spoiled their game.

Big Rajput houses of Rajasthan are funding Karni Sena, the outfit that is ‘attacking’ the film. The Sangh too, is supporting Karni Sena.

Bhansali’s Padmavati unites Sanghis and Rajput royals in a temporarily alliance against Indian democracy.

As the release date draws nearer, more violence and riots shall occur. One arm of BJP run State power will support Bhansali. The other arm will encourage the Karni Sena.

Gujarat has a large percentage of ‘fallen Kshattriyas’–groups who claim Rajput status but are actually closer to OBCs. A big Rajput backlash in Rajasthan will impact Gujarat. This is, at least, what the RSS is planning.

The UP Govt too has jumped into the fray. As per reliable sources, Home Secretary, Uttar Pradesh, has written to the Central Govt that the release of the film will lead to widespread ‘unrest’! Local body polls in UP are due in late November.

The Muslim festival of Barawafat also falls around November end. BJP is not expected to do well in UP polls. A controversy on Padmavati will help BJP in UP. Or so they think…

 Amaresh Misra

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