Mr. Pattnaik, let me begin by admitting that I am not a reader of your numerous books. So I will refrain from commenting on them. I have however, read your tweets and the recent ones about Rani Padmini of Chittorgarh have compelled me to write this letter to you.
You seem to be disgusted by the fact that the people of Mewar and a large population of india regards Rani Padmini as a brave woman worthy of immense respect because she chose self immolation over dishonour. This kind of reverence to a queen who lived 700 years ago for an allegedly “regressive and patriarchal” decision and “celebration” of her sacrifice seems to have outraged your liberal, progressive ideology. Mr. Pattnaik, please allow me to demystify some myths (pun intended ) for you.
Rani Padmini was the wife of Maharawal Ratan Singh who was the ruler of Mewar when Alauddin Khilji decided to conquer the Chittorgarh fort. Now, romanticism and popular culture has made us believe that Khilji attacked Chittorgarh because be wanted to “have” Rani Padmini. This is where all the confusion originates. Because your disillusionment about why Rani Padmini didn’t “choose life” also roots from this confusion. Because this idea that Khilji wanted to “have” Rani Padmini gives rise to the notions that why then she didn’t just let him “have” her and then continued to “Survive and thrive” (your words, not mine)?
Unfortunately Mr. Pattnaik, medieval warfare was a little more complicated than that.
Chittorgarh is not a mere fort. It’s a massive 700 acres of fortified city. Formidably built on a 180 metres high mountain top. That’s huge even by medieval standards. The citadel was the seat of power in the region since 7th century and reasonably so. The citadel is massive, difficult to access and most importantly it’s designed to be self sustainable when faced with prolonged siege. The water reservoirs and lands within could sustain an army of 50,000 for almost a year. Considering the dry, sandy landmasses of north western India, you can imagine why the citadel was so coveted. Yes, Chittorgarh means power. Whoever held the fort, held absolute power in the region. It should now be evident why Alauddin Khilji was so interested .
Mr. Bhansali seems to have tried his best to picture Khilji as a roughed, beareded romantic but as any true historian worth his salt would tell you he was no such thing. He was a barbarian who liked killing infants over the heads of their mothers and used to boast about making towers of 60,000 ‘kaafir‘ skulls. As far as sexual orientation goes he was a known homosexual and paedophile. Now if this all powerful sultan had coveted only Rani Padmini don’t you think he would have tried to have her kidnapped and smuggled out? But medieval warfare was more complicated than Bollywood’s twisted romanticism.
The war between Maharawal Ratan Singh and Alauddin Khilji resulted in a 8 month long siege of Chittorgarh. When finally they fought full frontal battle, the Maharawal died fighting. Now, what do you think would have happened then? Let me clarify further. When an invader intent on destroying another kingdom attacks, he does much more than just killing the ruler. Wars are fought more on psychological level than by swords and shields. Why do you think Mr. Pattnaik that even modern nations fiercely protect the family members of their heads of states?
Now how do you think Khilji would have proceeded after he had killed the Maharawal and most of his generals and lead warriors? Yes he would capture the fort. How do you think he would have awarded his battle worn, travel worn and hungry foot-soldiers? He would have ordered them to go berserk on the citadel’s residents. Rape any woman they find, loot anything they can lay their hands on. Mr. Pattnaik, medieval armies where known to even rape and defile corpses.
Now how would he ensure that not a single living soul would dare to resist him further? The answer is obvious. He would hold the royal women and children captive. How he would ensure that the morales of the people of Mewar is broken to such extent that no one would dare an attack on him while he stays there? He would torture his captives and set examples.
Rani Padmini was the queen of a fierce warrior clan. Don’t let the Romanticism and cheap popularization of Bollywood’s film makers fool you into painting Rani Padmini as the naive, demure, fancy doll. Rani Padmini knew what is going to be the fate of herself and hundreds of other women inside the citadel. They would have been raped, brutalised in every way possible, first by the sultan and his chief generals then gradually in decreasing order of military ranking. They would have been flogged, stripped naked and paraded around. Any infants and children would have been killed before their mothers’s eyes and this would go on endlessly till the sultan had absolutely made sure not a single male rajput is left alive and motivated enough to start an uprising. The women who survived would then had been transported to his harems to be sold and resold as sex slaves as long as they live. Think Mr. Pattnaik, what would it have done to the morales of the vanquished people of Mewar who have lost family members in the long war to see their queen and her royal companions flogged through the streets and raped everyday?
Rani Padmini knew better. She made sure that the Rajput flame for vengeance had to be kept burning. She knew she and her companions would have nothing but misery, torture and diseases if they are captured alive. She knew the brutes storming their walls do not even spare corpses in their desparate lust and bid to humiliate. She knew she can’t have her people see her defiled dead body. So she made a choice.
Yes Mr. Pattnaik, a choice. The choice of a queen who deserves every bit of the goddess like reverence she commands amongst her people till date. She decided that the brutes who have killed her husband and his gallant warriors will have nothing but a pile of ashes when then breach the walls of her citadel. She decided that she will not allow herself to be defiled and insulted. She decided that she will not let her people down. She knew that her life was not merely her own but belonged to the people of Mewar who would one day rise again to avenge their beloved queen.
She could not have been more right Mr. Pattnaik, because Chittorgarh did not perish after Khilji captured it. Rani Padmini had kept the flame burning, merely a decade or so after that, Rajput Sisodiyas regained control of the citadel. Chittorgarh saw lionhearts like Rana Sangram Singh, Rana Udai Singh, Rana Kumbha and many other great Hindu rulers who kept on the glory of Mewar touching unfathomable heights.
Mr. Pattnaik, Rani Padmini did not choose death. She chose immortality.
A proud Indian.