Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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The Siege of Chittor

Dr. M. V. Kamath

My dear Gauri,

We do not know the exact origins of the Rajputs though they themselves claim to be descendants of the Sun and the Moon. That seems to be a tall claim, for surely, the Sun and the Moon are not human! The general belief is that they are the descendants of the Kshatriyas, the warring class of Vedic people or of Gurjars or other similar foreigners. What is important is that they settled in what is now Rajasthan and had a code of honour and chivalry unique to them. It is part of the Rajput sense of honour that no Rajput would surrender. Of course this tradition has not always been observed and many Rajputs did make peace with the Mughals, especially Akbar, and gave their daughters to Mughal princes. But essentially, we think of Rajputs as brave warriors and their women as ladies who put honour above everything else-including life itself'!
I will give you just two examples of what I mean by the Rajput code of honour and chivalry. One concerns Padmini, the queen of Chittor and the other, two young Rajput princes who fought Akbar.
Padmini was the wife of the Rana of Chittor and was reputed to be very, very beautiful. The Sultan of Delhi Allauddin Khilji desired her and was driven by lust. He wanted to get her at any cost and he laid siege on Chittor Fort, which is perched high up on a hill and is not easy to capture.
The siege lasted several months, but the brave Rajputs would not surrender. Allauddin thereupon proposed to the Rajputs that he would lift the siege if only he was allowed to look at the radiant beauty of Padmini. The Rajputs agreed-they were running short of food and water-but on condition that the Sultan could only see Padmini's face as reflected in a mirror. That condition was accepted.
Allauddin was allowed to enter the fort in accordance with the classic rules of Rajput chivalry which forbade any harm being done to an unarmed enemy. He was led to a small palace beside a pool and shown a reflection of Padmini descending the steps from the first floor of the palace, after which he was escorted back to the ramparts by Rawal Ratan without the benefit of guards. That, too, was in step with Rajput chivalry.
But Allauddin was not a man who respected Rajput rules of chivalry. His men, who were hiding, pounced upon Rawal Ratan and took him prisoner and sent word to the Rajput nobles that he would be released only if Padmini was handed over to the Sultan!
This was treachery that the Rajputs were not accustomed to. They now decided to fight to the last man and die, if necessary, to save the honour of Padmini and the other Rajput women. A terrible battle ensued in which the superior forces of the Sultan defeated the Rajputs but not before the latter had also inflicted terrible losses on the invaders.
Meanwhile, within Chittor Fort, the servants of the Rajput court had prepared a huge kund in which a roaring fire was lit. Led by Padmini herself, one after the other, the Rajput princesses jumped into the fire and were burnt to death. This was known as jauhar the Rajput women's way of upholding their honour and chastity. Padmini had decided that she was not going to be a member of a Muslim ruler's harem.
The battle won, Allauddin's soldiers entered Chittor fort and ransacked it. This was in A.D. 1303. Allauddin might have won a battle, but the Rajputs had maintained their honour.
In the next two hundred years, Rajput princes continued to fight the hated aliens and the story of their chivalry has been narrated by the British historian Colonel James Tod in his famous Annals of Rajasthan. King after Rajput king like Rana Sangram and Rana Kumbha fought the rulers of Delhi and Chittor Fort was repeatedly sacked. But the brave Rajputs would never give up. Honour and patriotism were more precious than life.
Akbar himself attacked Chittor twice. A French writer, Francis Brunel, has recounted events as follows:
The second attack, in 1568, once again saw the rocks of the citadel stained with the blood of the fine flower of Rajput soldiery. Each rock, indeed, could be inscribed with the name of one or other of the combatants, men and women alike, who perished.... But two names were to be immortalized: the young Lords Jaima1 of Badnore and Patta of Kelwa, only just 15 and 16 years' old respectively. In the absence of the Rana, they led the resistance. In the front line Akbar shot and killed the already wounded Jaimal. Patta took command, clad in saffron, his young wife and mother at his side. All three died fighting.
For the third time, the sacrificial fire johar (or Jauhar) was ordered. Eight thousand Rajputs donned their saffron tunics. Nine queens, five princesses and the families of all the noblemen and chiefs present in Chittor perished with the Rajputnis in the flames or in the hand-to-hand fighting that followed the johar. For the third time Chittor was sacked.
Akbar rejoiced in his victory no doubt, but he could never forget the bravery of the Rajputs and he had the gate of his palace flanked with two large statues of Jaimal and Patta, each on an elephant. Francois Bernier when he visited the spot later was struck by the impression of terror and grandeur they produced.
That final tragedy marked the end of Chittor as the capital of Mewar. Jewel of the immortal legendary heroism of Rajasthan, it stands shrouded in silence, witness to the past.
Sometime in 1980, Gauri, I myself visited Chittor; even seeing it from a distance makes one's hair stand on end. I entered the fort, saw the old palace of Padmini, saw the mirror at the foot of the stairs (it was still there though I am not sure that, that was the original mirror into which Allauddin, the lecher, saw Padmini as she descended the stairs), saw the kund in which Rajput princesses immolated themselves and was stunned. Some day you must visit Chittor yourself; seeing it is like reliving ancient history.
In my next letter I shall write about the great Vijayanagar Empire.
Your Loving,
Ajja

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