As a lover of history, the story of Rani Padmini of Chittor is one that still fascinates me. If you loved reading the Amar Chitra Katha comics, then you would definitely have heard about the tale of Rani Padmini, a legendary tale of valour, sacrifice, tragedy, honour and deceit.
Rani Padmini was the queen of King Rawal Ratan Singh of Chittor. Her extraordinary beauty was legendary and spoken of in kingdoms and courts across Hindustan. Tales of her beauty had also reached the ears of Alauddin Khilji from the Sultanate of Delhi. Although historians are divided over the veracity of the story, this one has stood the test of time.
King Rawal Ratan Singh was not just a noble Rajput warrior, he was also a just ruler, a loving husband and a patron of the arts. Raghav Chetan was a talented musician who used to frequent the court. But this musician became besotted with Rani Padmini and she also came under his spell. When the king learnt of this liaison, he banished Raghav Chetan from his kingdom but before doing so, he humiliated him by blackening his face and making him ride a donkey. Raghav Chetan could not stomach this insult and swore revenge. He made his way to the court of Alaudin Khilji with the aim of inciting the Sultan to attack Chittor.
On his way to Delhi, Raghav made his way to a forest which Khilji used to frequent for hunting. One day, when he heard the sounds of the Sultan’s hunt party approaching, he began to play his flute. On hearing this, the Sultan summoned the canny musician and asked him to come to his court. Raghav then told the Sultan about Rani Padmini and Khilji was convinced that the queen deserved to be in his harem.
When Khilji reached Chittor, he was dismayed to see the fort was heavily guarded. But he was desperate to have a glimpse of the queen and requested the king to allow him a glimpse of the queen who he considered his sister. The king allowed Khilji to see a reflection of Padmini in the mirror although this was considered a dishonourable practice as women were to be veiled at all times. When Khilji made his way to the palace to see her, he made a note of the fort’s defences.
After seeing Padmini, as Khilji was being escorted out by the king, he grabbed his chance and had the king arrested and asked for Padmini. The king’s generals decided to play along and sent word that Padmini would be handed over in the morning. In the morning, 150 palanquins descended upon Khillji’s camp but out jumped not the queen but soldiers who freed the king and headed back to the fort.
Khilji then laid siege to the fort and supplies soon ran out. The soldiers decided to fight and perish and the women of Chittor decide to perform Jauhar or mass suicide. Rani Padmini jumped into a huge pyre and all the women followed suit. The men led by the king fought to their death. When the victorious Khilji marched into the fort to be greeted with the still smouldering ashes of Padmini and her subjects, it was only a pyrrhic victory.