Queen Padmini : The truth behind the veil of poetic imagination

The following passage enclosed within parenthesis is an excerpt from the translation of Khusro’s work, taken from: Medieval period, The collected works of Mohammad Habib Vol 2 ( New Delhi: People’s publishing house) Page no 188-190.

“The army of Solomon dealt strokes, like those of David, on the fort that reminded them of Seba. On Monday, 11 Muharram, A.H. 703, the Solomon of the age, seated on his aerial throne, went into the fort, to which birds were unable to fly. The servant (Amir Khusro), who is the bird of this Solomon, was also with him They cried, ‘Hudhud! Hudhud!’ repeatedly. But I would not return; for I feared Sultan’s wrath in case he inquired, ‘How is it I see not Hudhud, or is one of the absentees?’ and what would be my excuse for my absence if he asked, ‘Bring to me a clear plea’? if the Emperor says in his anger, ‘I will chastise him’, how can the poor bird have strength enough to bear it?”

In the above words Amir Khusro, the imperial chronicler of tyrant Khilji, describes his predicament –

Having been tasked with the object of obtaining the surrender of Padmini after the fort of Chittor had been breached, and its heroes had perished at the hand of their inexorable foe, but in which enterprise he totally failed owing to the high moral courage of that matchless Rajput heroine, he now but shudders at the very thought of presenting himself before his sovereign, who is teeming with anticipation of happy tidings.

This is the clincher that had hitherto been wanted to establish the historicity of the legendary queen, with whose memory the tradition of Mewar is still ripe, and whose timely act of valour is still looked upon by Rajput women as an epitome of Rajput womanhood.

On the very face of it, this narration appears to have been clearly influenced by the famous Quranic story, where Hudhud, the bird, brings the news of Balquis, the queen of Seba(Yemen) to Solomon. The author, in order to give expression to the post-conquest events and his own impending predicament, has employed the essential symbology from the Quranic story in his account. And aptly so.

The author is the bird Hudhud, the tyrant Khilji is the modern Solomon, but who is Bilquis here? Could be anyone’s guess! But this is not the obverse and reverse of it. It must be asked what made the author invoke this story from Quran? Such an invocation would be unwarranted unless there must be some common ground between the two situations. In the Quranic tale, the bird was dispatched to find a place from where water could be obtained with profit, but instead, it ends up bringing the news of a beautiful queen ruling a prosperous land.

That there exists situational consanguinity between these two accounts is unmistakably true; such being the case no one could interpret these cryptic words of Khusro without admitting that they are clearly pregnant with the obvious but implicit allusion to queen Padmini.

Interpretations that seek to establish anything without taking account of this obvious relation between these accounts would be inherently fallacious.

From the foregoing discussion, it follows naturally with reasonable certainty that Amir Khusro, the Hudhud, was tasked with paying a visit to Chittor in the cloak of a ‘wise man’, but with a covert aim of gathering intelligence for his master who had set his eyes upon that most powerful of erstwhile Hindu kingdoms in North India.

However, Khusro, the Hudhud, returned to his sovereign with more than what was expected of him. And after having acquainted himself with the account of Padmini’s celestial beauty, that Khusro might have heard at Chittor, that evil-minded Khilji resolved to occupy that most excellent of kingdoms along with its celestial damsel with even greater lust.

In the aftermath of the conquest, when the heroes of Mewar had been overcome, Khusro, the Hudhud, was again hastily dispatched to that fort nestled among the high hills to secure that effulgent one for his lustful sovereign. In vain, he entered the confines of that doomed mansion, the lustre from its walls had gone, the aroma in the air that would charm its visitor had turned pestilentious; the soul of the mansion had vanished. The garden of the fair had turned into a cold graveyard of the dead; where auspicious incantations would ring through the air, there prevailed now but a scary silence. The fair host had vanished from the scene. The chaste queen seeing none able to protect her honour, her consort with all his kinsmen having been slain in battle, summoned her otherworldly father for protection.

Upon this continual summoning, Agni the Lord of all things fiery, that immortal one who is ever-present within all beings, and who gives effect to the workings of immortals within the mortal beings, appeared in his fiery aspect before her to take her away with all her cognates to the protection of his supernal realm. And while they were rushed to that excellent realm even their earthly bodies were not left unattended. Nothing but a heap of ashes was all that remained behind.

On his arrival, Hudhud, finding no signs of Padmini or any of her fair consorts was overcome by fright. In disdain, he exclaimed thus: “This could not be! What became of the fair stock! How could that divine goddess of beauty just vanish? This cannot be true! This must be a nightmare! How will I ever show my face to my master, now that I could not bring him the object of his desire?”

The construct developed above is totally in keeping with the campaign notes of Amir Khusro, and in all probability recounts the events appropriately as they did take place. The initial object of the tyrant was the kingdom of Mewar, the knowledge of the existence of Padmini coming through Khusro inflamed him further. After a long siege, Chittor finally fell after Rajput men had perished fighting to the last man. Queen Padmini, along with other Rajput women ascended the funeral pyre and immolated herself. Khusro was sent to the fort first with a mandate to bring Padmini to the tyrant, but the courage of the queen failed this enterprise, which made him frightful of the consequences that he might have to bear should he take the unpleasant tidings to his master. And through a veiled language, see the note produced above, he did convey this fear. Eventually, when the news was broken before the tyrant, in a fit of rage, he ordered everything living in the fort to be put to the sword. It is recorded that more than 30,000 Hindus were slaughtered in cold blood, by the forces of Khilji, after they had occupied the fort of Chittor.

The invasion of Chittor, the valour of Rajputs, the self-immolation of Padmini and others are all real historical events. The campaign notes of the imperial chronicler, Khusro, who accompanied Khilji on that conquest, when interpreted properly, as has been attempted here, bear out the truth of Padmini in no uncertain terms.