Sunday, December 10, 2017

Rani Padmavati: The Woman Behind the Legend

Rani Padmavati died young. The tragedy that took her life and the heroic valour she exhibited on being confronted with certain doom elevated her to the rarefied realms of legend and myth. All her mortal remains including the little flaws and foibles that made her human were consumed by the flames she had willingly entered having opted to perform Jauhar. This was the price paid in exchange for immortality and her elevation to near Goddess stature.

            For the longest time, Padmavati has come to symbolize the perfect woman who is flawlessly gorgeous, virtuous and valiant. If we were to fight our way past the deeply entrenched archetype of the legendary Queen that is so deeply entrenched in the collective subconscious, it is a certainty that at least while she lived, Padmavati was human, endearingly so. Like all mortals, she would have been forced to deal with the fact that life is mostly a crock of crap with a few redeeming moments. Even if she did grin and bear it graciously, it is almost a given that there were moments when she was bugged past bearing.
            Before Padmavati became the Queen of Chittor, there can be little doubt that she was a young girl who dreamed of love, finding the one, making babies and living happily ever after. Or did she wish fervently that she had been born a boy, because her brothers had more fun while she was being trained to be prim, proper and perfect? One wonders about her thoughts on discovering that she was to become the wife of the much married Rawal Ratan Singh of Chittor, whose first wife, Nagmati was the chief Queen who had already borne him a heir. She may have been blasé about it because in that age it was very par for the course to treat women as little more than broodmares whom powerful men saw fit to adorn their seraglios with, in such prodigious quantities that it was usually filled to bursting. Or young Padma may have been tempted to steal a horse and flee for the hills. We will never know.
            As an extraordinary beauty, Padmavati is portrayed as an object of desire. Most women would kill to be in her footwear without realizing that there is a flipside to having too much of anything, including good looks. There would have been too many who envied or hated her outright. The Rawal built a miniature palace for her exclusive use and the move is unlikely to have gone down well with the rest of the scorned women who had been left out in the cold. meaning that many pairs of claws would have been unsheathed. Some would have even wished her dead. It couldn’t have been easy dealing with all the hate, petty jealousy and the intrigues of courtly life.
If that were not bad enough, rumour mongers probably went to town claiming that Padmavati’s exquisite mien was the reason Chittor was at the receiving end of Alauddin’s alarming ambition and avarice. May be her detractors clamoured for her immolation to save the besieged Kingdom. Perhaps Padmavati, beset with strife and the unhappy knowledge that her husband was not strong enough to turn aside the tidal wave of defeat and destruction that was to be their fate wished for a fleeting moment that she had been plain and poor if only to have a moment of blessed peace…

The answers are elusive but the questions regarding her life linger and as long as they do, Rani Padmavati will live on. Of course, one wonders if the person Rani Padmavati had been would have wanted any of this for herself. It is nearly certain that she would have traded it all in a heartbeat for a happy ending. Even if it was a fleeting one. 
This article was written for VogueIndia And if you haven't ordered your copy yet, do me a favor and pick up a copy here.

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