Lanka’s princess who sparked fierce protests | Daily News
A canvas of valour and beauty

Lanka’s princess who sparked fierce protests

A scene from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’
A scene from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’

Nearly ten months after the movie ‘Baahubali 2’ juggernaut took centre stage, the much awaited movie ‘Padmaavat’ has now come to theatres with a bang. ‘Padmaavat’, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus dedicated to Rani Padmini of Chittor who is believed to be a Lankan princess, has courted so much of controversy in India that nobody believed that it will come to the cinema halls so soon.

According to popular belief Padmini (Padmavati) was a princess from Sinhala desh (Sri Lanka) married to a Rajasthan prince and the controversy in about that is the characters in the story were not properly depicted and disrespect has been shown to Padmini who has now attained a goddess status not just among Rajputs - a warrior class - but also among other classes in India who too have regarded Padmini as the epitome of valour and beauty.

There is more to the legend of Padmini than her tragic end. Lindsey Halan, a retired professor of Religious Studies in United States explores why Padmini was worshipped among women in her book “Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives”. She points out that in popular legend it was Padmini’s heroism which saw her plan an operation to rescue her husband after he is captured by the invader Allauddin Khilji. She writes “in going out to war, Padmini disregards female custom and performs male duty.” She further writes “Treading on male territory, she assumes her husbands command. Padmini is heroic not because she fulfills the codified role of the pativirata (Dutiful wife) but because she departs from it to assume another more urgent role.”

Even in ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ comic series Padmini (Padmavati) is described as the perfect model of Indian womanhood. The root of the controversy around the film is the fact that there is not a single authentic document describing the life and time of Padmini. Director Bhansali has claimed that his movie is based on the poem ‘Padmaavat’ composed by Sufi poet Malik Mohammad Jayasi in 1540. He wrote the poem in Farsi (Persian) script which was at that time the court language of the kingdom of Jayasi.

Literary saga

Even after Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s statement that what has been shown in the movie is neither against nor insulting Padmini, the protests against the movie still continue. He says the story of Padmini is taken from 16th century literary saga by Sufi poet Malik Mohammad Jayasi. Many feel this may be a mythological or factious story, but Staya Narayana historian and retired professor of Osmania University, Hyderabad, says the movie is based on historical events, not a mythological tale and it is there that Allauddin Khilji did invade Chittor of Mewar. The siege of Chittor fort took place in 1302AD.

He further adds “There is always a vision and imagination of a director and the actor to shoot a particular shot and portray it in a particular way. It always depends on the self indulgence of the artistes”. Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali had earlier directed many super hit movies like ‘Devadas’, ‘Ram Leela’ and ‘Bajirao Mastani’. Though controversies surrounded a few of his past movies too, this particular movie is an exception. Right from the day it began shooting the project has courted controversy.

Who was Padmini (Padmavati)? She is the heroine of ‘Padmaavat’, a story written in poetic form by poet Mohammad Jayasi in 1540.

The story begins with prince Ratansen (Ratan Singh) of Mewar on hearing the beauty of Padmini falls in love with her. The Rajput prince crosses the sea to win her over. He later becomes the ruler of Mewar.

Beauty and virtue

Poet Jayasi describes Padmini as the epitome of beauty and virtue. She was only 18 at the time of her marriage and crossed the ocean along with her nephew who was a 12 year old boy to marry the prince of Mewar.

She lived in the fort of Chittor which is in Mewar, and she was popularly know as Chittor’s Rani Padmini. People of Mewar showered love and affection on her as she was considered the daughter in law of Mewar.

Rajasthan is the land of Rajputs, or the land of Kshatriyas (warriors). Rajasthan lies in the hot dry part of North Western India. Rajputs are men with features reminiscent of regal past. They are the descendent of valiant warrior clans. Poet Jayasi had picked this particular story from the songs which must have been living in the collective memory of the people of Rajasthan.

Ratansen (Ratan Singh) of Mewar came to the throne in 1302. His coronation took place at the Chittor fort.

Ratnasen ruled Mewar but for one year, by his side was Padmini, the beautiful princess from Sri Lanka. She was as radiant as the lotus she had been named after, and she was renowned throughout the land. Unfortunately princess Padmini’s fame and beauty had reached the ears of the Mohammedan emperor Aluauddin Khilji who had become the Sultan of Delhi. He was a descendent of an invader from Afghanistan. He was determined to have Padmini for his harem in spite of knowing that she was already married to the prince of Mewar.

Rajput honour

A direct attack on Chittor would have been of no avail for the great front in Rajasthan stood its ground firmly. Allauddin came instead as a friend.

He sent word to the Rajputs that he would be satisfied with a mere sight of the princess, and he would hence forth consider himself a brother to Padmini. Relying on the famed Rajput word of honour Allauddin entered the fort lightly guarded.

Padmini was reluctant to meet him and her husband decided that the sultan would have to make do with the glimpse of her reflection upon the waters of a pond, keeping the queen out of direct line of vision but the reflection itself was bewitching. The 18 year old queen of Chittor was indeed a treasure among women.

A glimmer of desire lit the sultan’s eyes in a flash as gemstone was cast into the water. The ripples broke the spell and the sultan was stunned into recovery. Khilji was still firm in his resolve to capture Chittor.

It is said Khilji had to give up his pursuit with the intention of returning on another day. Khilji invaded Chittor but was beaten back. He was furious and the threatened Chittor with destruction. The sultan made another attempt to capture the princess.

A siege of Chittor began the likes of which had never been witnessed before. The city remained secure as long as its defendants lived but there was no end to the tragic news that kept pouring in. One by one the best warriors of Chittor were lost.

For six months, the fort withstood the siege. Then provisions ran low. A terrible battle followed. It soon became evident that the fort could no longer be saved. Playing to heed to the wounds Badal the nephew of Padmini, who had earlier accompanied her on her journey from Sri Lanka, escaped to announce to the women that Chittor could no longer be saved and it was in despair.

A code of honour was announced, a great fire was lit and “sacrifice” was commanded. Husbands bade farewell to wives and children, promising faithfully to meet them the next day in heaven. A terrible battle raged, the valiant Rajputs fought to the last man, Chittor fell into the hands of the enemy.

Padmini in Bengali

Whether Khilji was successful in his pursuit of Padmini or not is the climax in the movie. The first movie on the life Padmini was released in 1948. It was in Hindi and was based on Rangalal Bandyo Padhyay’s novel ‘Padmini’ in Bengali. Walli Sahib of the Punjab production company was its producer and director. His wife Mumtaz Shanti and Ashok Kumar acted in the main roles. Ghulam Haider was the music director. Then in 1964 a Tamil film ‘Chittor Rani Padmini’ was made. Vyjanthimala acted the main role.

This writer wrote an article based on the life of Padmini in a leading Sri Lankan English newspaper’s weekend edition on May 20, 2012.

I believe that this story should be produced as a movie for the Sri Lankan audience, as this was a story of a Lankan princess. Unfortunately I could not pursue the matter further with the production house in Sri Lanka for various reasons. They were busy with their own production at that time.

Then in 2015 a Bombay based movie production company, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures in which Indian business tycoon Mukesh Ambani has major shares, developed an interest in the story, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali as co producer and director started the production. It was rumoured at that time that Bhansali approached Salman Khan and Aiswarya Rai for the lead roles and it was learnt later Aiswarya had refused the offer because she had issues with Salman at that time. Later Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh were given the lead roles in the movie.

‘Padmaavat’ was the most challenging project for the producers. I hope Deepika has done justice to the role that she has taken up. Padmini is the Pathini of Rajasthan, and now Padmini has come again to battle, this time on the screen with the audience.

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There is 1 Comment

I am a Sinhala person, I have a beautifull wife who is Indain named Batti, as I understand their familly may originate from Rajestan although they are Sheiks. I am proud of our long lost princes her highness Padmini. We need her kind now to replace our corrupt leaders who are at odds with the populace. Answer us the suffering masses or God.


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