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    Default Raid of The Mongols

    Raid of The Mongols

    In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

    In the seventh century of Islamic history an event occurred that changed the world. Had this episode of history not been documented they say it would not have been believed! The Mongol army headed west into the Muslim lands and Baghdad and attacked the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate.
    Among the many incidents that occurred during this time was the infamous sacking of Baghdad, which was left in a state of utter ruin.
    The famous historian Ibn Al Athir said, “For some years I continued averse from mentioning this event, deeming it so horrible that I shrank from recording it and ever withdrawing one foot as I advanced the other. To whom, indeed, can it be easy to write the announcement of the death-blow of Islam and the Muslims, or who is he on whom the remembrance thereof can weigh lightly? O would that my mother had not born me or that I had died and become a forgotten thing before this befell! Yet, withal a number of my friends urged me to set it down in writing, and I hesitated long, but at last came to the conclusion that to omit this matter could serve no useful purpose.
    The Invasion of the Tartars into the Muslim lands was an event that was noted for its ruthlessness and devastation. In this course we will look at what were the circumstances that surrounded this time in history and the lessons that can be learnt.

    Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 |Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 |Part 13 | Part 14 | Course E-Book |


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    India Should Be Grateful to Alauddin Khilji for Thwarting the Mongol Invasions

    At a time when most of the medieval world was laid waste by the brutality of the Mongol armies, Khilji kept India – and its culture and civilisation – safe.

    by Seshadri Kumar

    Depiction of the Mongol siege of Baghdad, 1258

    For the past month, Rajasthan has been convulsed by a controversy over the Bollywood movie, Padmavati, based on Padmavat – a prose-poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 CE which uses Alauddin Khilji’s conquest of Chittor in 1303 CE and his supposed obsession with Rani Padmini of Chittor as a backdrop for its fictional tale.

    None of the politicians and activists accusing the film maker of denigrating the honour of the Rajput queen of Chittor, Padmini, and glorifying the “Muslim conqueror Khilji” has even seen the film yet.

    Much of the controversy is fuelled by ill-feeling towards Khilji, based on the fact that he was an oppressive ruler to his subjects, who were mostly Hindu. So the possibility of romance – or even unrequited love – between a Muslim “villain” and a Hindu queen being depicted on screen, even as a fantasy, as has been rumoured, infuriates Hindu right-wing groups.

    A portrait of Allauddin Khilji, made in the 17th century.

    What is not well-known, however, is that Khilji, for all his faults, saved India from a fate much worse than even his own oppressive rule – that of the murderous Mongols, who tried to invade the Indian subcontinent six times during his reign as the sultan of Delhi, and failed miserably, thanks to his brilliance as a general, the quality, discipline, and bravery of his army and its commanders, and their superior military tactics.

    What the Mongol invaders inflicted on Persia, the Caliphate of Baghdad, Russia, and elsewhere is well documented – genocide, the destruction of infrastructure, and the destruction of native culture, literature, and religious institutions. Their habit of leaving conquered countries as wastelands that would not spring back for at least a hundred years, and their tendency to rule even the regions they settled in, such as Russia, in an exploitative and backward way, are well-known to historians and laypersons alike.

    Against this backdrop, one can safely argue that Alauddin Khilji, for all his faults, actually saved the syncretic culture of the Indian subcontinent of that time – which included Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jain subcultures – from enormous destruction, even if preserving the culture of India may not have been what motivated his resistance to the Mongols.

    Indeed, Khilji is a classic study in the layered and complex nature of historical figures whom it is impossible to portray in the black-and-white terms that modern politics seems to demand. Khilji is rightly viewed negatively for his cruelty and brutality; but he should also, in fairness, be seen as the saviour of Hindustan that he unwittingly ended up being, by repelling the formidable and ruthless Mongol hordes.

    The Mongols, scourge of God

    The Mongols were largely illiterate, so much of their history was written by the people of the territories they conquered, such as the Islamic lands of the near east, and of China and Russia. Much of what we know about them is based on the writings of scholars such as Rashid al-Din and other Islamic scholars who lived in the time of the Mongols.

    The Mongol dynasty was founded in 1206 CE, when a council of Mongol tribesmen elected the warrior Temujin as their leader and conferred upon him, at the age of 44, the title of Genghis – meaning “Mighty” – Khan. In the Indian subcontinent, he is known as Changez Khan. Radiating outwards from Mongolia, the Mongols, first under Genghis and, after his death in 1227 CE, under his sons and grandsons, embarked upon a plan of global conquest that resulted in the largest land empire in history – conquering China, Russia, Central Asia, Persia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and eastern Europe (parts of Hungary and Poland), and left a trail of death and destruction behind them.

    The map below shows the extent of the Mongol empire in 1294 CE, which is just two years before Alauddin Khilji ascended the throne of Delhi.

    The extent of the Mongol empire, circa 1294

    Upon Genghis Khan’s death, the Mongol empire was partitioned into four parts. Eventually, these became the Yuan dynasty in China, famous for Genghis’s grandson Kublai Khan; the Golden Horde in Russia, which was founded by Genghis’s grandson Batu Khan; the Chaghatai Khanate of Central Asia, headquartered around Uzbekistan, founded by Genghis’s son Chaghatai Khan; and the Ilkhanate of western Asia, founded by Genghis’s grandson Hulagu Khan. The Mongols were the dominant military power in the world from the rise of Genghis Khan until at least the middle of the 14th century. With the exception of a few minor defeats involving small forces in battle, such as the Battle of Ayn Jalut, no military could defend itself against their onslaught.

    The Mongols, being nomads, usually did not settle in the lands they conquered. Their goals were simple: exact tributes and treasure from the kingdoms they had conquered, and take from them the latest technology they possessed, in addition to the most beautiful women for their harem and the most able-bodied men for their military. They would demand all this from any nation before actually attacking them. If the ruler accepted their suzerainty and paid the stiff tribute demanded, the Mongols would leave his kingdom unharmed. If he refused, they would raze that kingdom to the ground and leave behind a wasteland. As Curtin describes it, “The Mongols destroyed every living thing; even the cats and dogs in the city were killed by them.”

    The Mongols themselves had no unique religious identity, and the Mongol nation was a fairly secular multi-ethnic meritocracy from the time of Genghis Khan. Hence, religion was not a strong motivating factor in their attacks. As an example, Hulagu was a mixture of the traditional Mongol religion of Tengrism and Buddhism, and his wife was Nestorian Christian.

    The Mongols did not just invade and conquer; they exterminated civilisations.
    To give just an idea, during Genghis’s invasion of the Persian Empire, these were the number of people put to death in some of the cities overcome by the Mongols in 1222 CE: Urgench, 1 million; Merv, 700,000; Nishapur, 1.7 million; Rey, 500,000 (an estimate based on the order that every male should be killed in a city of approximately a million people); and Herat, 1.6 million. That’s nearly 6 million people just from these cities, at a time when the world population is estimated at 400 million. In other words, the Mongols are said to have killed 1.5% of the world population in a single campaign.

    When Hulagu Khan – known in the Indian subcontinent as ‘Halaku’ – sacked Baghdad in 1258, he is believed to have killed several hundred thousand people. His own estimate of the death toll was 200,000. He single-handedly ended what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. Ibn Iftikhar, quoting Islamic scholars, writes, “the Mongols stormed the country and killed everyone they were able to find, including men, women, children, old, young, sick, and healthy. People would try to hide inside wells, gardens, and they even fled towards the hills and mountains. However, the Mongols would continue on, finding even people on the rooftops of their homes and inside the mosques. The streets ran blood ‘like rainwater in a valley.’

    He also reports, “The Mongols destroyed mosques, palaces, grand buildings, hospitals, and libraries. The Mongols raided the House of Wisdom itself. The Tigris river ran black from the ink of the books that were thrown into the river, mixed with the blood of the slain.” The destruction the Mongols wreaked on the Muslim world was so great – it came close to wiping out Islamic civilisation – that most Muslims of the time viewed it as a form of divine retribution for the sins they had committed.

    The Golden Horde under Batu Khan invaded Russia in 1238-1240 CE with the same brutality as in the other cases described above. Entire populations of towns like Ryazan and Kiev were massacred. But what is even more interesting about the Russian invasion is the effect of Mongol rule on a country in which they actually settled and ruled for 250 years. As Cicek explains,

    “Soviet historians argued that the Mongol invasion greatly delayed Russia’s economic development. Tribute payments and the destruction of commercial centers delayed the growth of a money economy. The town economies based on handicrafts were completely destroyed, throwing Russia back by several centuries. The economy of Europe, however, flourished in this period, preparing the necessary ground for the industrial revolution. The Mongols also prevented the agricultural development of Russia, which further worsened the commercial position of Russia, especially in comparison to the West. Russia not only lost the vital trade route of the Dvina River but also lost some of its territories in the west to Lithuania, Sweden, and the Teutonic Knights. To summarize, the net effect of the Tatar yoke on the Russian economy, according to Soviet historians, was overwhelmingly negative. The Mongols gave nothing but destruction and looting to the Russian people.”

    The sacking of Suzdal by Batu Khan.

    What they did was plunge Russia into its ‘Dark Age.’ Another destructive legacy of the Mongols in their 250-year rule of Russia was the institution of serfdom.

    Khilji’s repulsion of the Mongol invasions of India

    Alauddin Khilji was born in Delhi in 1266 CE, lived his entire life in the Indian subcontinent
    , and ruled as sultan of Delhi from 1296 CE – 1316 CE. By any definition, he would have to be called an Indian monarch, not a foreign invader. As a ruler, he would prove himself to be one of India’s greatest warrior kings and one of the world’s great military geniuses.

    Historical details about the Khiljis are obtained from fundamental sources such as Ferishta, who lived during the time of the sultan of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, and Ziauddin Barani, who lived at the time of Mohammad Bin Tughlaq and Firuz Shah Tughlaq. These accounts are well-summarised in the works of eminent contemporary historians such as K.S. Lal, Satish Chandra, and Peter Jackson.

    Khilji greatly expanded the empire that he inherited from his uncle, Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji, after killing him. Many of his conquests were of kingdoms ruled by Hindu kings, including Chittor, Devgiri, Warangal (from where he acquired the famous Kohinoor diamond), Gujarat, Ranthambore, and the Hoysala and Pandya kingdoms. He was able to do all this not because these other kingdoms were weak, but because he was a great soldier and general with a well-trained and disciplined army, using superior Turkic cavalry and infantry tactics, and had built a solid economic base which provided him with the resources to finance these campaigns.

    During Khilji’s rule, the Mongols of the Chaghatai Khanate under Duwa Khan repeatedly tried to invade the Indian subcontinent. The attacks that occurred during the reign of Alauddin Khilji were not the first time that the Mongols had invaded India. But, as Lal puts it, “All these were minor invasions as compared with those that occurred in the time of Alauddin; and it was the good fortune of India that the most tremendous assaults were delivered to this country when a strong monarch like Alauddin was the ruler.”

    Khilji, by his military brilliance, managed to defeat the Mongols not once, but five times, and avoided defeat a sixth time even when taken by surprise, as the Mongols attacked with massive forces.

    The first invasion attempt was carried out in 1298 CE, and involved 100,000 horsemen. Alauddin sent an army commanded by his brother Ulugh Khan and the general Zafar Khan, and this army comprehensively defeated the Mongols, with the capture of 20,000 prisoners, who were put to death.

    In 1299 CE, the Mongols invaded again, this time in Sindh, and occupied the fort of Sivastan. Alauddin despatched Zafar Khan to defeat them and recapture the fort, which he did, even without the need for siege machines.

    The Battle of Kili

    This humiliating defeat prompted Duwa Khan to attempt another full-scale assault on India in 1299 CE, and he sent his son, Qutlugh Khwaja, with 200,000 soldiers, determined to finish off the Delhi Sultanate once and for all. The Mongol army came fully equipped for this assault on Delhi and for a long campaign, with sufficient food provisions. Alauddin’s own advisors were panic-stricken and advised him not to confront the dreaded Mongols who had come in such force.

    It should be mentioned here that Alauddin’s predecessor, Jalaluddin, had averted war with the Mongols in a previous attack by agreeing to humiliating demands from them. But Alauddin was determined to fight to the end. As Lal describes it, he told his advisor,

    “How could he hold the sovereignty of Delhi if he shuddered to encounter the invaders? What would his contemporaries and those adversaries who had marched two thousand kos to fight him say when he ‘hid behind a camel’s back’? And what verdict would posterity pronounce on him? How could he dare show his countenance to anybody, or even enter the royal harem, if he was guilty of cowardice, and endeavoured to repel the Mongols with diplomacy and negotiations? … ‘Come what may, I am bent upon marching tomorrow into the plain of Kili, where I propose joining in battle with Qutlugh Khwaja.’”

    Alauddin met Qutlugh Khwaja at Kili
    , and the day was won by the bravery and martyrdom of his general Zafar Khan. (That the Mongols retreated because of Zafar Khan’s actions is the only explanation postulated by Barani, and quoted by Lal and Chandra; however, Jackson doubts this explanation and says the real reason the Mongols withdrew was that Qutlugh Khwaja was mortally wounded in the battle, a fact confirmed by other sources.) The defeated Mongols went back to their country without stopping once on the way.

    Representation of Allauddin Khilji from the early 20th century.

    After Chittor, a surprise challenge

    However, Duwa Khan was not satisfied. In 1303 CE, he again sent a huge force of 120,000 horsemen to attack Delhi, under General Taraghai. This was, unfortunately for Alauddin, immediately after his long battle with and victory over the kingdom of Chittor. That Alauddin was busy with his attack on Chittor was known to Taraghai, and was one of the key factors in his planning. Alauddin was taken completely by surprise. His army was greatly depleted and had suffered great losses in equipment in the battle for Chittor. He tried to get reinforcements from other parts of the empire, but the Mongols had blocked all the roads to Delhi.

    Yet Alauddin did not lose heart, and fought a gallant defensive battle. Lal explains it thus:

    “Sultan Alauddin gathered together whatever forces he had in the capital, and arrayed his forces in the plains of Siri. As it was impossible to fight the Mongols in an open engagement with so small an army, Alauddin decided to exhaust the patience of the besiegers by strengthening his defence lines. On the east of Siri lay the river Jamuna, and on the south-west was the old citadel of Delhi, although by the time of Taraghai’s invasion it had not been repaired. In the south lay the dense jungle of Old Delhi. The only vulnerable side, therefore, was the north, where the Mongols had pitched their camp.”

    Alauddin dug trenches and built ramparts and created a strong defensive position that made it impossible for Taraghai to defeat him. After two months of trying hard to break Alauddin’s defences, Taraghai lost patience and returned home. This was clearly brilliant generalship under extremely adverse circumstances which would have meant certain defeat for anyone who was not as resolute and as resourceful.

    This close shave made Alauddin realize the need for stronger defence of the capital, and he took various measures, such as constructing a wall, repairing forts, and the like. As a result, Delhi was never again at risk of conquest by the Mongols.

    In 1305 CE, seeking to avenge their previous defeats, the Mongols invaded again, under the leadership of Taraghai, Ali Beg, and Tartaq, with a force of 50,000 horsemen. Taraghai was killed in a preliminary clash even before arriving in Delhi, but Ali Beg and Tartaq pushed on. Knowing Delhi to be strongly defended, they started plundering the countryside of Avadh. Alauddin sent a force of 30,000 to 40,000 horsemen with the general Malik Nayak to meet the Mongols and inflicted a crushing defeat on them on December 30, 1305. Twenty thousand horses belonging to the enemy were captured, and most of the soldiers were slaughtered. 8000 prisoners of war were brought to Delhi, including the two generals, who were subsequently beheaded.

    The last attempt to invade the Delhi Sultanate was made by Duwa in 1306 CE, just before his death, when he sent the generals Kubak and Iqbalmand with an army of 50,000 to 60,000 horsemen. Kubak advanced in the direction of the Ravi river, and Iqbalmand advanced in the direction of Nagor. Alauddin dispatched his favorite general, Malik Kafur, to deal with the Mongols. Kafur defeated Kubak in a battle on the Ravi and captured him alive. He then intercepted the second force at Nagor and defeated that as well. Only 3000 or 4000 soldiers remained of the Mongol invasion force.

    Thus, Alauddin Khilji achieved what no other ruler in the world, east or west, had achieved. He repeatedly repulsed and defeated large-scale invasions by the Mongols, who had been an unstoppable force wherever they had gone — Russia, China, Persia, Iraq, Syria, Europe. He was able to repel forces of up to 200,000 Mongol horsemen. In comparison, the force that Hulagu took with him to Baghdad and used to completely destroy the Caliphate had only 150,000 horsemen.

    The Mongols had not become weak and feeble since the sack of Baghdad in 1258 – this was not the reason for Alauddin’s success. As an illustration, his uncle who preceded Alauddin as Sultan of Delhi preferred to “make a settlement, giving the Mongols very favourable terms”, to use Lal’s words. Alauddin’s own advisors advised him in 1299 CE to submit rather than fight the feared Mongols; but Alauddin Khilji proved superior to his formidable Mongol foes.

    The Alai Darwaza in delhi, commissioned by Alauddin Khilji.

    Khilji’s legacy to the Indian subcontinent

    From the knowledge of how other countries fared under the Mongols, it is fair to say that had the Mongols conquered India, India would have likely been set back at least two or three hundred years in its development. A large part of the knowledge and culture that had been accumulated in India over millenia might well have been destroyed. Every library, school, temple, mosque and even home would have likely been burnt to the ground. As the Russian experience shows, even if the Mongols had settled down in the Indian subcontinent (an unlikely proposition, given the hot Indian weather), the consequences for India would probably not have been savoury.

    So the Mongols were not like any other invader. If Khilji had lost to the Mongols, the outcome would not have been as benign as when Ibrahim Lodi lost to Babur. In that case, one ‘foreign’ ruler who had recently made India his home was replaced by another, but the Indian subcontinent itself did not suffer greatly. If the Mongols had won against Khilji, they would probably have wiped a large percentage of India’s cultural heritage off the map of the world. If we have ancient traditions in India that survive to this day, a large part of the credit for that has to go to Alauddin Khilji, one of history’s greatest warrior-kings.

    By all accounts, Alauddin Khilji was not a benevolent king to his subjects. But he also was a brave soldier and a brilliant general who saved the Indian subcontinent from certain destruction. Of course, Khilji did not resist the Mongols to save Indian culture and civilisation; he did what he did to save himself. But that is true of every ruler who defends their kingdom against a foreigner, whether that be Shivaji, Rana Pratap, or Laxmibai of Jhansi.

    These days, it is becoming increasing common to paint one-dimensional portraits of people: “Hindu hero,” “Islamic tyrant,” “Islamic hero,” etc. But the problem with such stereotypes is that people are not monolithic — they are complex and layered. The man you hate as a Muslim bigot may also be the reason you are a Hindu today.

    Was Alauddin Khilji a bigot?

    The story of Alauddin Khilji shows us that we need to understand history in its entirety. Just as most Indians are unaware of Alauddin Khilji’s role in stopping many Mongol invasions, even the image of Khilji as someone who persecuted Hindus is based on an incomplete understanding of history.

    To be sure, Khilji was an extremely cruel, suspicious and vindictive man, and meted out barbaric punishments to those who antagonised him. But his cruelty was impartial, and made no distinction between Hindus and Muslims.

    Historians are generally agreed that while Alauddin Khilji was a cruel despot, he was not a bigot. He was a pragmatist.

    One statement that has been widely circulated in recent times as proof of Alauddin’s bigotry comes from Ziauddin Barani, who mentions (Kulke and Rothermund) that Alauddin asked wise men to “supply some rules and regulations for grinding down the Hindus, and for depriving them of that wealth and property which fosters rebellion. The Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left unable to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life.”

    The first thing one needs to understand about this statement is the source. As Peter Jackson explains, Barani himself was an extreme bigot, writing in his Tarikh-i-Firuz-Shah that Hindus should be looted and enslaved and the Brahmins, in particular, should be massacred en masse. Some of what Barani writes about Alauddin, therefore, reflects his own prejudice more than Alauddin’s. In fact, there are many places where he disapproves of Alauddin as having been too soft on Hindus.

    The next thing to understand is that the main revenue of the state came from agriculture, and most of the farmers were Hindus. Alauddin needed to finance his expensive military campaigns, and for this, he levied heavy taxes on the farmers — and hence the Hindus. This was rightly viewed as oppression; but the motivation for the oppression was fiscal, not religious.

    An additional motivation for Alauddin in impoverishing the farmers was that there was a constant threat of rebellion against him. This threat arose both from the wealthy farmers as well as from the Muslim nobility. Alauddin acted with equal brutality in suppressing both threats. A poor farmer was not a threat.

    Other instances of brutality that Alauddin engaged in were during his conquests. It just happened that many of his conquests were of Hindu rajas and, as Lal explains it, “It is true that during the process of conquest, atrocities were committed, but in times of war suffering is inevitable. With the establishment of peace and order, no organised persecution of Hindus was possible.”

    That religion and religious doctrine were anyway secondary to administrative policy for Alauddin are clear from an exchange that Barani notes between Alauddin and the cleric Qazi Mughis, in which Alauddin says:

    To prevent rebellions in which thousands perish, I issue such orders as I conceive to be for the good of the state, and the benefit of the people. Men are heedless, disrespectful, and disobey my commands. I am then compelled to be severe and bring them to obedience. I do not know whether this is according to the sharia, or against the sharia; whatever I think for the good of the state or suitable for the emergency, that I decree.

    Even the much-reviled religious tax, the jaziyah, was levied rather inconsistently, as Chandra points out: “Jaziyah as a separate tax affected only a small section in the towns. As such, it could hardly be considered a device for forcing conversion to Islam.”

    In conclusion, it seems clear from various historical sources that the rule of Alauddin Khilji was not characterized by bigotry. And it would not have been practical, in any case, to indulge in large-scale discrimination against the Hindu majority — not only for Alauddin, but for any sultan, for the rulers were in the minority. As Barani says, Iltutmish, one of Alauddin’s predecessors, once explained to his clergy that Muslims were as scarce in India as “salt in a dish of food,” and hence he could not afford to be too harsh with the Hindus.



    He was not an oppressive ruler to his subjects, especially Hindus, as this Hindu writer claims. As the last section shows, he rightfully punished those who started rebellions against his rule. At the time there were city-states in India (like elsewhere in the world) and each city state fought with the cite-states (as in other countries) until they reduced in numbers to the point that one country emerged.

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    Rani Padmini: A Classic Case of How Lore Was Inserted Into History

    The ‘historical’ Padmini is no more than a symbolic manifestation of the fusion of bardic imagination and colonial ethnography.

    by Rajat Datta, a professor at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies

    As a professional historian, I am very concerned with the implications of the controversy which has erupted over the movie Padmavati. This is not merely a question of artistic licence, historical veracity or otherwise; it’s a question of an agitation based on a particularview of the past which combines upper caste aggressive views of Hinduism, Islamophobia and gender biases, and posits these as both issues of historical and contemporary relevance. Other equally pressing matters have taken a backseat because of the discursive thrall imposed upon the society by the memory of a queen called Padmini/Padmavati and her embroilment with a Muslim Sultan, Ala-ud Din Khilji, who conquered vast areas of Rajasthan in the late 13th century.

    It would be easy for professional historians to stay away from this storm by taking shelter behind ‘relevant’ contemporary sources to deny the historicity of this character. They could also point to the methodological fallacies of using a literary, highly romanticised and an elaborately ahistorical text like the Padmavat as a historical document in order to consign this figure to a figment of a poet’s imagination. But to do so would be perilous. Whether the characters in the middle of the controversy existed or not is a moot point. What matters is the way they have been resuscitated at this juncture, and the way its symbolism is being valorised as part of history which had serious implications in an unfolding contemporary political discourse. Understandably, historians haven’t kept aloof. They have jumped into the fray, as they did during the demolition of the Babri Masjid, to try and establish the correct historical protocols involved in controversies like these. But as it has turned out, denying the historical existence hasn’t been able to remove the existence of that individual in consciously constructed past, which a certain community has assigned to itself by recourse to tradition, folklore, cultural mores and politics. These are all very powerful ingredients, and whether historically valid or otherwise, we know how an admixture of these four variables has been fundamental in shaping social identities in contemporary India.

    As expected, criticisms have come from right-wing Hindu ideologues, and ironically, from some liberal intellectuals too. For the right-wing, historians who question authenticity hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus. Here, belief is equated with the fact of existence. No further proof is required. The liberal critique is that historians have muddied waters by trying to question the historical verifiability of Padmavati, thus allowing sentiments and emotions to take centre stage. Both criticisms are fundamentally wrong.

    The right-wing Hindu approach is wrong because it valorises an upper caste, historically anachronistic angst as a national sentiment. This then rides roughshod over the historical moorings and the cultural aspirations of large sections of marginalised and subaltern, social groups who were consciously kept away from being a part of mainstream history. The liberal critique of historians is also flawed because it undervalues the centrality of history as the only discipline which can provide a verifiable approximation (as distinct from certitudes) of the past, and by doing so, marginalises the voice of the professional historian as a person in possession of certain unique resources to bring this verifiable past to the public eye. The liberal critique is more damaging because by denying the historian’s ability to unravel this verifiable past, it constrains a historically informed counter-attack on the right-wing view, and thus has landed up serving the interests of those who trump sentiments over historical verifiability.

    Paradoxically, such critiques have only succeeded in emphasising the pressing need for historically nuanced interventions in order to provide a judicious historical perspective on the dispute. Historical evidence is not about unshakeable certainties, but about acceptable provenance; and this quest for an acceptable provenance makes a historian look for contemporary evidence – both textual and artefactual. Therefore, as far as this controversy goes, a historian would be constrained by the requirements of the discipline to look for such evidence from the early 14th century or thereabouts to look for an explicit or even an implicit reference to the person in question. We know that Khilji’s attack on the fort of Chittor occurred around the year 1303. Apart from one direct contemporary Persian narrative of this invasion (the Khazain-ul Futuh of Amir Khusrau), we have a relatively proximate source from Rajasthan which describes the invasions of the Sultan from Delhi. This is Nayanchandra Suri’s Hammira Mahakavya, a text written a century or so after the fall of Chittor. This text provides significant details of the Chauhan rulers of Ranthambhor who fell to the same Sultan in the late 13th century. The text mentions princess Devalla Devi, daughter of Hammira, whose hand was unsuccessfully sought in marriage by Khilji; but it makes no mention of Padmini or Padmavati, even in passing. In fact, the most detailed description of the fall of Chittor comes from Khusrau who was an eye-witness, but once again without reference to Padmini as a factor in that battle. In fact, Padmini surfaced for the first time in Malik Muhamamd Jayasi’s Padmavat, written in Awadh around 1540, and then began to periodically appear in the bardic literature of Rajasthan. She surfaced in Hemratan’s Gora Badal Chaupai (1589), Mohta Nainsi’s Khyat (1660), Sisod Vamsavali (c. 1657), and Rawal Ranaji ri Vat (ca. 1691). However, the most explicit flourish to this narrative, and possibly the one which gave Padmini her physical existence was James Tod’s Annals and Antiquities Rajasthan (1829), and herein lies the crux of today’s controversy.

    What is observable from the evidence is a post-dated embodiment of Padmini over three centuries since its first imaginary conception in 1540. Therefore, it is logical to conclude from the timeline that she was a later insertion into the history of one Rajput clan, most likely done by bards who picked up the story made viral by the popularity of Jayasi’s narrative. A legend was invented, and then inserted as history. Since bardic accounts were panegyric and tended to reproduce each other, this was the most likely way by which by a mythical persona, which was created in Awadh, found a fertile ground in Rajasthani royalist narratives. A myth became a legend, and a legend became reified as historical narrative by constant repetition over a century of reproductions between 1589 to 1691.

    Colonial intervention converted this circulating legend into a historical ‘fact’.
    Tod’s Annals imparted to it a timeless authenticity by making it an integral part of an emerging colonial ethnography of the Rajputs as a ‘martial race’. Significantly, bardic accounts, which in general underplayed an explicitly Muslim element in such narratives, and focused more on battles against ethnically ‘Turushka’ or ‘Turkan’ invaders, were transformed by Tod as instances of resistance to ‘Tartar’ lust and barbarism.

    Padmini was henceforth reified as a symbol of opposition to the sexual aggression of the Muslim conqueror
    . At one stroke, the fact that vanquished Rajput warriors made their women commit mass suicide, ostensibly to protect their virtue, by ritually burning them alive (jauhar), was morphed into a glorious act of feminine resistance to the sullying touch of Islam. Calibrated gender violence and mass murder of women by upper-caste, warrior aristocracies, were henceforth sanctified as acts of honour. This helped in masking the frequent incidents of defeat at the hands of the Sultans of Delhi, and later the Mughal emperors, into stereotypes of Rajput masculinity and valour. The job which the bards had been paid to do in the courts of Rajput kings was now being done by the colonial system, but with an intention and an outcome completely different from that which had motivated the bards.

    Therefore, the ‘historical’ Padmini is no more than a symbolic manifestation of the fusion of bardic imagination and colonial ethnography. History had no role to play in her making, but you still need historians to tell you that.



    The Tartar's "lust and barbarism" is also a myth and as is the "sexual aggression" of the Muslim conquerors. While this hindu professor tries to correct the lies in Indian history, he seems to be influenced by the colonizers himself in that he repeat these lies of theirs that they used to taint the Muslims because of their own defeat and weakness.


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