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'Padmavati' Controversy - The Past and the Present

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November 18, 2017

 Why in news?

Protests have broken out across the country for alleged erroneous depiction of Rajput queen Rani Padmavati in the upcoming movie 'Padmavati'.

Who is Padmavati?

  • Poetry - The earliest source to mention her is "Padmavat", an epic fictionalized poem written in 1540 CE.
  • It was written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, a Sufi poet and a resident of Jayas in Awadh, a very long way from Chittor, Rajasthan.
  • The story with elements of fantasy portrays her as an exceptionally beautiful princess of the Singhal kingdom (Sri Lanka).
  • Ratan Sen, the Rajput ruler of Chittor, who heard about her beauty went on an adventurous quest, won her hand in marriage and brought her to Chittor.
  • Following this, Alauddin Khalji, the Sultan of Delhi who heard about her beauty laid siege to Chittor to obtain her.
  • Many events occurred during the period of the siege including the killing of Ratan Sen, till the Fort was finally captured by Khalji.
  • But before the capture, Padmavati and her companions committed Jauhar (self-immolation) to protect their honour.
  • After her sacrifice, the Rajput men died fighting on the battlefield.
  • History - According to the poem, Padmavati was born in 1540 which is 224 years after Khalji’s death as per historical records.
  • Khalji defeated the Rana of Chittor in 1303 and died in 1316, but no one by the name Padmini or Padmavati existed then.
  • There are just only two historical facts relevant to the story - i) Khalji’s attack on Chittor, ii) Ratan Sen’s defeat.
  • Oral tradition - Besides the verifiable historical facts, there are other facts, culturally constructed through the oral tradition of telling and retelling stories.
  • For the common people who are untrained to distinguish historical facts from cultural and popular memory, this acquires the status of history.
  • Evidently, this popular memory is subject to quick metamorphoses just as the Padmavati story.
  • The story has travelled place and time from North India and Rajasthan to Bengal from the 16th to the 20th century and has undergone several mutations.

What is the controversy?

  • There are arguments that there were differentiation between historical facts and the popular versions of the story as depicted in the film Padmavati.
  • Khalji - Sultan Alauddin Khalji had earned a reputation among contemporary and modern historians for several achievements.
  • These include-
  1. successful thwarting of Mongol invasions of India
  2. conquest of large territories
  3. strictly enforcing low prices of commodities in the markets for the common people’s daily purchases
  4. declared defiance of the Shariat in matters of governance, etc
  • But Khalji was certainly not known for his lustful pursuit of women.
  • The movie revolving around Khalji's conquest of Chittor for Padmavati undermines the respect for the ruler.
  • Padmavati - For the Rajput women, she is a heroic queen who had committed Jauhar to save her honour against a lusty Muslim invader.
  • She is thus a revered queen and seen as the epitome of sacrifice.
  • But rather than highlighting her sacrifice, the film is criticised of highlighting the romantic angle instead.
  • The visuals of the heroine singing and dancing evidently go against the patriarchal telling of Padmavati’s story, circumscribed by notions of purity and honour.
  • Caste honour - Karni Sena is a self-styled Rajput organisation which is very particular of caste honour.
  • This is now raising anxiety about the film’s scheduled release as it alleges that the film wrongly depicts the traditions in relation with the Rajput clan.

What are the larger implications?

  • Law and order - The UP government has written to the Union I&B Ministry requesting that the CBFC be alerted of the “public sentiment” about distortion of “facts” in the film.
  • The characterisation and depiction of Muslim invaders and Hindu clans in the film could possibly lead to a communal clash.
  • Thus, there is an apprehension that the release of the film would lead to law and order disruption.
  • Freedom of expression - However, as per Supreme Court's earlier verdicts, a mere threat to public order cannot be a ground to suppress freedom of expression.
  • The insistence on demanding accuracy in period dramas is an infringement on creativity.
  • Notably, this is a film based on a work of fiction.
  • However, the controversy now is centred on the question of “historical facts” in connection with the film.
  • Reacting to this in legal terms is like endorsing the notions of Rajput honour and Hindu-Muslim enmity fuelled by random groups.

Quick Fact

Chittor Fort

  • The Chittor Fort or Chittorgarh in Rajasthan is one of the largest forts in India.
  • It is designated as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
  • The fort was the capital of Mewar and is today situated in the Chittorgarh town.
  • It sprawls over a hill above the plains of the valley drained by the Berach River, a tributary of the Banas River.


Source: The Hindu, Indian Express 

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