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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Padmaavat - story behind the story, when fiction becomes reality.

So much hell is raised in India about the film as though it is real, it was a story written some 500 years ago and it has become a reality to many, particularly a group from among the Rajputs. Did anyone tell them that, arey baba a film hai, kyoon pareshan ho rahe ho?

Please do read two other accounts of the film.

Padmaavat: Where are the Muslim protesters by Aijaz Zaka Syedhttp://mikeghouseforindia.blogspot.com/2018/01/padmaavat-where-are-muslim-protesters.html

And one of the best articles on Misogyny and Gender Pluralism by Swara Bhasker
I would be pleased to share more stories, but substantial and worth reading at this blog.

Mike Ghouse

Courtesy - Daily Times

When fiction becomes reality

The current controversary in India about the Bollywood Hindi film, Padmavati, has brought a new spotlight on a relatively lesser-known Muslim sufi poet, Malik Muhammad Jayasi, on whose epic poem, Padmavat, the film is based on.
Jayasi was born more than five centuries ago in a small town in the district of Amethi in present-day Uttar Pradesh, India. Definitive details about his life are shrouded in the mists of time. However, he is believed to have lived during 1477 to1542 AD, when North India was ruled by late Lodhi and early Mughal dynasties. He was brought up in the old sufi traditions, had a religious upbringing, an ascetic life style and had studied Sanskrit grammar and linguistics under Hindu teachers. A century after his death, Jayasi acquired the status of a sufi saint and his tomb near Amethi has become a pilgrimage site, drawing people of all faiths seeking blessings and spiritual fulfilment.
A prolific author, Jayasi is reputed to have created 25 works of literature, most of which are not extant. He wrote poetry in his native Owadhi language as well as Persian, drawing inspiration from Muslim sufi saints and ancient Hindu scriptures and writings of Kabir Das.  His most famous poem, Padmavat, written probably in Persian in 1540 just before his death, narrates a fictional account of the siege in 1303 AD of the Chittorgarh fort in the present-day Rajasthan state, India, by Sultan Alauddin Khilji (1250-1316). The story has several versions. According to one, the Sultan had heard stories of the exceptional beauty of Padmavati, princess of Singhalese, or Sri Lankan origin, who was married to the Rajput ruler of Chittorgarh, Raja Ratansen, (also named Ratnasimha or Ratan Singh).The Sultan enamored by reports of her beauty and accomplishments was determined to possess her.
While the story of Padmavati may not be authentic, in today’s climate in India legends involving past Muslim rulers assume a perception of reality. Some partisan groups in India are trying to rewrite the history, resurrecting millennia-old historic grievances and injustices, real or imagined, to create a negative narrative about Muslim rulers
On Ratansen’s refusal to surrender her, the Sultan sent forces to capture Chittorgarh and Padmavati. The siege of the impregnable fort lasted for months, until a peace agreement was negotiated. Under its conditions, the Sultan was permitted to visit the fort and have a glimpse of the fabled queen, which, alas, did nothing to attenuate his passion for her. He captured Raja Ratansen, and brought him back to Delhi as a prisoner.
Ratansen’s imprisonment, however, did not last long. Using some ingenious tricks, Rajput warriors were able to free him and bring him back to Chittorgarh. That, nevertheless, was not the end of the Raja’s troubles. He was slain in a dual with another rival, who was also seeking Padmavati. The queen was so devastated by the loss of her husband that she threw herself on his funeral pyre, committing Sati, following the ancient Hindu practice.
The Sultan’s armies, meanwhile, renewed their siege of Chittorgarh. The Rajput fighters, certain of defeat, came out for a final do-or-die battle and perished, while the women folk fearful of falling in the hands of the Muslim army committed mass self-immolation (Jauhar), also an old Rajput custom. [Sati was eventually eradicated in India by the British. The then Governor-General Lord William Bentinck, who described the practice as “revolting to the feelings of human nature,” outlawed it by law on December 4, 1829.]
Jayasi ends his allegory on a poignant note, rendering a powerful lesson in the futility of all pyrrhic conquests. As he picked up the ashes of Ratansen and Padmavati, the Sultan was full of remorse, concluding that, “The human desire is insatiable, permanent, but this world is illusory and transient. Man continues to have insatiable desire, till life is over and he reaches his grave.”
Although the Padmavati legend has fascinated generations, any evidence about its authenticity is lacking. Jayasi, who wrote the poem nearly two-and-half centuries after the battle of Chittorgarh, emphasized that the story was an allegory, entirely made up by him. His assertion is also supported by absence of any mention of it in contemporary historic documents, such as Khaza’inul-Futuh’ (the treasures of victory) authored by Amir Khusrau, who was alive during the reign of Alauddin Khilji.  Similarly, the medieval historian, Ziauddin Barani, who lived from 1285 to 1357 AD, wrote a comprehensive treatise of the Delhi Sultanate (Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi), also made no reference to the legend nor of the self-immolation, (Jauhar) of the women in Chittorgarh. Only Muhammad Qasim Firishta in his Tarkih e Firishta, completed more than three centuries after the alleged event, gave a sketchy account of the episode, probably borrowed from Jayasi’s earlier work..
Immortalized by Jayasi, the character of Padmavati has over the years been the subject of a number of plays and movies, the latest being the Indian Hindi film, Padmavati, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The director has displayed a special talent for making movies based in historical fiction, amply enriched with pageantry and grandiosity. Padmavati, however, has become a problem for him. Even before it was released, it ignited a storm of opposition, and the director was subjected to personal and verbal abuse. It is not known how faithfully the film reflects Jayasi’s script; however, India’s Central Board of Film Certification, after much hesitancy finally approved its release, scheduled for late January 2018. Importantly, the Indian Supreme Court recently overruled all injunctions and permitted its general release.
The reasons for opposition to the film by some groups are not entirely apparent, especially since only a few have seen it. Whatever information has leaked out suggests that it presents Sultan Alauddin Khilji in an unflattering light, as a lustful invader, who captured the fort and committed atrocities against the population, while the fictional Maharani Padmavati emerges as a heroic victim, who sacrificed her life to save her honor. This portrayal of the two protagonists may be consistent with Jayasi’s own narrative as presented in his epic poem. And, that may be the reason why there has been only muted opposition to the film from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters in India. The main opposition seems to have come from some members of Rajput community, Rajput Karni Sena.  It was rumored, mistakenly, that the film included a scene in which the Sultan was shown making love to Rani Padmavati. The producers have denied emphatically that any such scene was included. In fact, the lead actors, Ranveer and Deepika, who play the roles of Alauddin and Padmavati, do not even appear together anywhere in the film.
While the story of Padmavati may not be authentic, in today’s climate in India legends involving past Muslim rulers assume a perception of reality. Some partisan groups in India are trying to rewrite the history, resurrecting millennia-old historic grievances and injustices, real or imagined, to create a negative narrative about Muslim rulers. Contrary to the depiction, Sultan Alauddin Khilji was one of the most talented rulers of medieval India, who is credited with saving the country from the Moghul onslaughts that had wasted countries of Central Asia in the 13th and 14th centuries.
It may be beneficial to remember that in the Medieval times all rulers, Muslim and non-Muslim, exercised absolute power, and were accountable to no one. Thus, their policies and actions need to be judged in the context of the norms prevailing at the time.
The writer is a Health Scientist Administrator at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland and an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Medical School with a PhD from the University of Birmingham, England

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