Finally I read through Malik Muhammad Jaisi’s epic work, Padmavati. Written in 1540′ Padmavati predates Tulsidas’s Ramayana by about 40 years. Both are experiments in Awadhi poetry and represents milestones in writing in the vernacular. Like Tulsidas   decades after him, Jaisi too trained in Sanskrit, studying the language from the best of Pandits in Benaras. The purpose behind studying Sanskrit was to get the rhythm and the tone of the language so that the poetry written in Awadhi could have similar grandeur of the metaphor. But there was yet another similarity behind both the poet’s purpose and that was to imagine a Purushottam. For Tulsi it was Rama but for Jaisi it was Rana Rattan, the man who was infatuated by and eventually took Padmini as his second wife, he being already married to one Nagmati. Padmini was exquisitely beautiful, Padmini being a generic name for a particular kind of woman. The other types are heerni, Hastini, hansini, mrinalini and so on. Padmini is supposed to be the most beautiful form of women. Most probably, Padmavati was the name of this Padmini’s name. Her father was a ruler in Sinhala by the name of Gandharvasena, one who would invoke the jealousy of the mighty Ravana. By the time Gandharvasena ruled Ravana was dead but Vibhishana was alive and the Rakshasas seemed to be rather envious of him. In fact when Ratansena was carrying Padmini across the seas, Lakshmi, the Goddess instate of Lanka conjured up a vile storm that nearly fatally rocked their boat.

Padmavati’s beauty in a large measure drew from the beauty and the bounty of the land she was born into, namely Sinhala. Sinhala was not only high economy but it was high culture as well. Sinhala therefore constituted perhaps the dreams of the Rajasthani, a dream which they partially fulfilled by providing generous employment to the cultured Bengalis. Bengalis were employed in the royal courts as purohits, Pandits, generals, accountants and ministers. Indeed, Swami Vivekananda too was sponsored by the royal family of Kota, his costume too being designed in Rajasthan! The search for wealth and opportunities brought the Marwaris into Bengal as early as the 16th century. So, for the Rajasthanis it seems that Sinhala was their El Dorado.

Rana Ratan, or Ratansena gets to know of Padmavati through Hiraman. Hiraman is Padmavati’s parrot who escapes her custody and falls into a series of misadventures but eventually finds a place in the royal palace of Chittor, a colloquial name for Chitradurga, or the painted fort. Hiraman plays politics when he openly praises Padmavati to the queen, Nagmati. Nagmati in a fit of jealousy asks Ratansena to get rid of Hiraman but unfortunately he falls deeply in love with this magical woman who he can only dream of. Ratansena beset by his love for Padmavati renounces his kingdom and becomes a yogi. With an army of thousand yogis sets forth for Sinhala and on reaching Gandharvasena’s fort camps outside its walls for days. Padmavati hears of the infatuation and falls deeply in love with Ratansena. However, once Ratansena gets the impression that Padmavati may accept him as her lover, he with his yogi compatriots scale the walls of the fort and enters the campus. He is arrested and is about to be impaled. It is upon his gallows that Padmini sees Ratansena for the first time and she signs in the pardon for him. Gandharvasena is bound to release the yogi and give his daughter away to him as a bride. Padmavati comes away to Chittor with her large retenu of female companions and reunites with Hiraman. This is about two thirds the story.

In the palace Padmavati must encounter Nagmati through ugly scenes of quarrels and fights revealing her not a woman of grace but of one who is haughty and intolerant of incumbent queens. Smart people are often rude and hurtful, so was she. Ratansena was nonetheless clear that Nagmati would remain the principal queen while Padmavati remained his love. He would therefore spend nights with Nagmati. This did not faze Padmavati who seemed to be getting used to the ways of the palace. There are indications that Padmavati remained a virgin, the King being too enamoured to even attempt to touch her. The king’s infatuation is not lust but pure wonderment of beauty and a complete surrender to her, as if she were a Deity.

Only towards the end comes in the Sultan. Jaisi does not mention who that Sultan was except that he was a Muslim conqueror in India. Like Ratansena he too camped outside Chittor with the view of seeing Padmavati. But Ratansena went like a yogi, the Sultan came like a marauder. Ratan wanted to give up his life as a tribute to the lady, the Sultan came to pare down the fort and take her as a captor. Padmavati saw Ratan as he was about to be burnt at stake, but the fact that the Sultan caught a glimpse of her through the mirror was enough for Fate to condemn her to be burnt alive on the pyre. Ratan scaled the walls to surrender to Padmavati, the Sultan broke down the walls to subjugate her to him. Jaisi brings in the Sultanas a contrast to Ratansena, to reveal to us the low lines of lust and the nobility of love. Till such a point no one faults Jaisi with his bias against Muslims but when he starts describing the elaborate feast that Ratan makes for the Sultan and his cohorts which is a grand spread of meats of all kinds of animals who weep tears of blood and look stunned at the people who loved them and raised them and now want to kill them for flesh, the poet brings about non vegetarianism as cruelty against the world and raises it to the overall metaphor for killing, something that the Sultan has come to do. Lust for Padmavati is merely an extension of his lust for eating animal flesh. Jaisi contrasts the ethos of the Hindus against the ethos of the Muslims saying that the Muslim conquerors have torn asunder the dharma of the grand land of beauty and love only to replace it with greed and lust.

While Jaisi eagerly stereotypes the Muslim as an invader, unauthorized and illegitimate entrant into India, he refrains from ennobling all Hindus. The two characters namely Raghav Chetan, the court poet and Depaval the ruler of a neighbouring constituency are the ones who create trouble for Chittor out of spite and of envy. Raghav Chetan has lusted for Padmini and as he is ousted from Ratan’s kingdom he promptly goes over to the Sultan and provokes him to Chittor. Depaval is jealous of Ratan for the great surrender for love that he is capable of and the great reward he has got from Padmavati because of such a surrender attacks Chittor mercilessly when Ratan’s soldiers are away fighting the Sultan. On Ratan’s death Padmini alights the fire.

Jaisi took the tale of Padmavati from a local Rajasthani folk lore. A poet Hem Kanta has written on Padmini as well where Padmini is very much a queen, almost ascending to the position of the chief queen. Prabhavati and not Nagmati is the incumbent queen and while they avoid each other, Padmini assumes the role of the chief queen. There is a problem of the stepson who might well be the guy to have incited Depaval against an errant father. Hem Kanta’s Padmini was born in Poogal in the kingdom of Bikaner. The Sultan now bears the persona of Alauddin Khiljee who attacks Chittor to snatch Padmini. Rattan and Padmini discuss Khiljee and are very careful to say that what he reveals are characteristics of a vicious marauder and neither of a King nor of a Muslim. Khiljee is no longer a Muslim stereotype, he is the stereotype of a ruler who follows no dharma.

Jaisi’s tale is tragic and fatalistic, Rattan is a tragic hero because he is beaten despite the nobility of his soul; he is a target of jealousy and envy. But he is also the Purushottam because infatuation for him is not lust, nor greed, nor the desire to possess but it invokes in him the supreme sacrifice of his life, death and martyrdom. Padmini reciprocates with her own death, death and death complete the circle of love. Nagmati, Depaval and Raghav Chetan stand out as surpluses, having no redemption for they have envied and thus literally have no liberation. Alauddin lives on as the grand reality principle of history, for there is no denial that the Khiljees did indeed rule in such a despicable way.

Jaisi’s poetry has all the structural properties of becoming universal and eternal. Padmavati and Ratansena complement each other, one offering to be impaled and the other immolating herself for him. Nagmati and Padmavati are opposed to each other and so are Rattan and Sultan. Hiraman the parrot which brings Padmini to Ratan by narrating tales of Padmini to the king and Raghav Chetan, the court poet who separates the lovers by exciting the Sultan with Padmini’s stories, constitute a pair. Depaval kills Ratansena and Nagmati wants to see Padmavati dead, are a pair. Hindus and Muslims are a pair, so are kings and yogis. The story thus acquires a symmetry and because of this symmetry the story can balance on its own, away from the politics of its times, away from the narrowness of its own events, into a realm of transcendence where we only remember the sublime beauty of Padmavati and the intense love of Ratansena for her. This is Jaisi’s story, much different from Hem Kanta’s tale of kings and queens, battles between the Rajputs and the Muslims and Padmini as a part of the politics of war and annexations.












































About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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