Padmavati row: The real challenge with the narrative on Rani Padmini and Rajput identity

Confessions first, I am not a historian. I have no degree in history. I also hate to go on on historical issues as they are rarely about facts — always about inferences and ideologies. The trouble with all the narratives out there in newspapers and online magazines is they are derived from ideologies. The silliest one I have read is from Scroll that questions not just Padmavati but goes on to question the identity of Rajputs.
Questioning the identity of any caste or tribe is easy — after all even a fool can ask a question. Generally, journalism is about seeking answers to questions, and not just asking them. It becomes especially dangerous in today’s time to question identities as egos are fragile, social media gives fire to fragility and can ignite violent riots.

History is about facts from sources that are respected or trusted by historians. Al Tabari, the famous Mughal historian, said: 'Let the sources speak for themselves'. A statement that applies to journalists, although, unfortunately, today's writers and 'journalists' even when writing about history do not want to let the sources speak.

Members of the Karni Sena, which claims to represent Rajputs, protest against the shoot of Sanjay leela Bhansali's Padmavati in Jaipur. PTI photo

Members of the Karni Sena, which claims to represent Rajputs, protest against the shoot of Sanjay leela Bhansali's Padmavati in Jaipur. PTI photo

To quote Al Tabari, “Let him who studies this book of ours know that in everything I say about the subjects which I have decided to recount there, I rely only on what I transmit from explicitly identified reports (akhbār) and from accounts (āthār) which I ascribe by name to their transmitters. I do not achieve understanding through rational proofs nor do I make discoveries by intuition (fakr al-nufūs), save to a very limited degree. For knowledge about the men of the past and current news about men of the present cannot be obtained by one who has not himself witnessed these men or whose lifetime does not reach back to theirs. [In the latter situation knowledge can be obtained] by the statements of reporters and transmitters, not by rational deduction of intuitive inference.”

Al Tabari wrote the seminal text History of the Prophet and Kings or as the Persian title said, Ta’rīkh al-Rusul wa’l-Mulūk.

Al Tabari is important not just because of his reference to the way history should be written but also because he recorded both the Mughal and Rajputs. I will come to reference of the Rajput identity in a bit; first, let me address the sources of Al ul din Khalji's military campaign. Amīr Khuṣrau’s Khazā’in al-Futūḥ is the only contemporary account of ‘Alā’ al Dīn Khaljī’s campaigns that exists today. Two British historians — Elliot and Dowson — made the first partial English translation in their multi-volume work, The History of India as Told by its Own Historians, published between 1867 and 1877. Muhammad Habib published a translation in 1931 under the title The Campaigns of ‘Alā’u’d-Din Khilji being the Khaza’inul Futuh (Treasures of Victory), followed by Mohammad Wahid Mirza’s complete translation of the Khazā’in al-Futūḥ in 1975. Now these are all academic texts that have become the source of what we know of history during this period. Amir Khusrau’s text is the original source for all these texts. Khusrau wrote about military campaigns and was a court poet, hence more panegyric in his recantations rather than being historically accurate. Which is why there might be no reference of Rani Padmavati by Khusrau, but as Al Tarabi said, only those who were there can confirm it.

Now to the question of the Rajput identity. There are three words here: rājaputra, rāuta, and ṭhakur that have been used over the last 1,500 years or more as a connotation of Rajput identity. Most historians have confused these words and some dispute the synonymous nature of these words with the word Rajput.

Most western historians base their study of the Rajput identity on two texts during the Mughal period: the ‘Rajput’ social and warrior identity was first expressed in two 15th century texts, Nayacandra Sūri’s Hammīra Mahākāvya and Padmanābha’s Kāṇhaḍade Prabandh. But remember the word Rajput in a social and warrior identity was expressed in these two 15th century texts — before rājaputra, rāuta, and ṭhakur was used. The wise ideologists of today’s time would like us to believe that the identity therefore did not exist before 15th century: this is their inference and their interpretation. One of the worst things that any historian can do with sources is to interpret it and present it as a fact.

Another reason both these texts are not believed to be the definitive ones with respect to Rajput identity is because of the narrative. In the Hammīra Mahākāvya, for example, a Mongol Muslim by the name of Mahimāsāhi not only becomes a Rajput, but he competes with Hammīra as the text’s protagonist. The Kāṇhaḍade Prabandh similarly contains a lengthy episode at the end of the text in which Fīrūza, the daughter of the Delhi Sultan ‘Alā’ al-Dīn Khaljī, recognises her previous existence as a Hindu married to Kāṇhaḍ De’s brother and commits satī. They are written from a Mughal point of view and try to create the Mughal identity as a paragon of Rajput virtues.

Now please go read these original sources and make up your own mind instead of believing the drivel that is being served to you. If you can’t read then please don’t pretend to know about history or historical fact and show your ignorance.

Updated Date: Jan 30, 2017 15:47 PM

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