“It is said that here Rana Ratan Singh showed a glimpse of legendary beauty of his wife Padmini to Alauddin Khilji through a mirror. After which, Alauddin Khilji went to the extent of ravaging Chittaur in order to possess her,” reads a board by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the entrance to ‘Padmini Palace’ in Chittorgarh.
The room, where Singh is said to have showed Padmini’s glimpse to Khilji, and which overlooks the ‘Jal Mahal’ where Padmini was claimed to stay, now stands sealed. For the past few weeks, three security personnel have been guarding it round the clock. In March, Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS) had vandalised the mirrors inside, reasoning that no mirrors existed in 1303, and that the ones in the room were installed by the ASI before Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit about 60 years ago.
Forced by the SRKS, as well as outfits such as the Shri Rajput Sabha (SRS), an influential Rajput body, and Jauhar Smriti Sansthan (JSS), which are leading the protests against Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film ‘Padmavati’, other changes are in place around the Chittorgarh fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The JSS, Karni Sena, SRS and several other organisations in Rajasthan say there was no interaction between Khilji and Padmini, and hence no question of making a movie with both of them in it.
Guides at the fort have now edited their tales to leave out the mirror story. Claims Prahlad Nil Many, 58, “a guide for nearly two decades”, “I have always told tourists that the current Padmini Palace was a ‘VIP’ guest-house… and Khilji never saw her.”
While fact and fiction aren’t easy to separate from the story of a woman who is believed to have first made an appearance in Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s 1540 poem ‘Padmavat’, around Chittorgarh fort, for people who have long lived by, and off, selected parts of that story, this matters little. Residents assert she remains their “queen”, “goddess”, “mother”.
“Every child in our village knows about her,” says Ram Dayal, 62, who runs a small grocery store within the fort premises. Like many others here, he used to work as a guide. He had to give it up after he fell ill. “I regret never having taken my wife for a tour of the fort,” he says.
“Rani Padmini is our devi. The Mughals were obsequious to the English and hence their versions gained prominence… (Alauddin) Khilji and no foreign man ever saw her,” adds Ashok Kumar, 48, purchasing tobacco from Dayal. The first major English version by Colonel James Tod is said to have lent credibility to the mirror version, though Tod’s works are known to be sympathetic to Rajputs.
“She is like a mother. It’s important to be cautious about how we portray her for the next generation,” declares Maya, who lives a few houses from Dayal’s store.
“The 16,000 women didn’t die without reason,” says her son Himanshu Salvi, 21, referring to the number of women who are said to have performed jauhar or killed themselves along with Padmini to avoid capture by Khilji’s men.
“We are still her praja (subjects),” adds Suresh Sen, 46, whose “seven generations” have lived “on the same spot”.
Not very far away, at Padan Pole, the first gate of the fort, an “indefinite” sit-in protest is on by JSS leaders from “sarva samaj (all communities)” against Bhansali’s film. The JSS says it has chosen the site so that “international tourists also get to know about the bravery of Padmini”.
On November 3, when the JSS called a bandh against the film, other castes too extended support, and most private institutions and offices in Chittorgarh remained shut.
The opposition to the film has lasted since January, when Bhansali was assaulted in Jaipur by Karni Sena members during filming. Rajasthan’s Rajput leaders were then assured by the filmmaker that there was nothing objectionable in the movie. However, they have found grounds to object now in the film’s trailers and songs, released recently. The state government has constituted a committee to look at these objections.
The Rajput leaders have also been shifting the goalposts. In January, after Bhansali Productions agreed to meet their demands, a joint press conference was called by Shobha Sant, CEO of Bhansali Productions, SRS chief Giriraj Singh Lotwara and the Karni Sena’s state president, Mahipal Singh. Mid-conference, Mahipal demanded that the film’s title be changed.
The SRS, that calls Khilji “our all-time worst enemy”, has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to impose a countrywide ban on the film as well as demanded an FIR against “habitual offender” Bhansali. They have also asked the PM to “warn” I&B Minister Smriti Irani for “formally supporting the film”, saying she may “be a bit careful in such important matters and withdraw her remarks”.
Apparently referring to the song ‘Ghoomar’ in the film, the SRS says, “If people see Padmini dancing like a stage actor, who will cherish the historical saga of Jauhar, a rarest of rare incident of history?”
Chand Mal, 77, a local, gives the example of the last Mewat ruler, Maharana Bhupal Singh. “When he and his wife used to go for hunting in their car, the queen was always in a veil. I never saw her face,” he says.
Next to him, at a small grocery shop within the Chittorgarh fort, owner Mangilal Jayant, 88, a retired revenue officer, is clear what would happen if the film is released. “I will burn the cinema hall which shows that movie,” he declares.
Kishan Chand, the owner of Chandralok cinema hall in Chittorgarh, is more pragmatic. Pointing out that distributors themselves are fearful, he says, “We can think about releasing the film only once we get it.” As for calls of a ban, he smiles, “If it is duly censored, we will screen it.”