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Story of Rani Padmini - Sati system and Child marriage

(Note: While telling the story of Rani Padmini's sacrifice, we should highlight what kind of sacrifices have been made to keep our civilization alive. Also, discuss how the system of Sati and child marriage came in to being during the Islamic rule in Northern Bharat. Children in America read about these topics in their school text-books or in the western media coverage of India. The following write up would clarify some of the questions on its origin and its prevalence today.)

Reference: http://hindubooks.org/sudheer_birodkar/hindu_history/practices1.html

Sati (Self-Immolation by a widow)

Sati i.e. self-immolation by a widow would normally be looked upon as a negative aspect of culture. When confronted with questions as to why such a practice should have existed, a student of history with misplaced national pride would try to explain away such practices.

According to Hindu mythology, Sati the wife of Dakhsha was so overcome at the demise of her husband that she immolated herself on his funeral pyre and burnt herself to ashes. Since then her name 'Sati' has come to be symptomatic of self-immolation by a widow.

Today Sati is illegal. It is also generally looked down upon but one still does hear of stray incidents of woman being forced to or trying to commit Sati. The country owes the abolition of this deplorable practice to the crusading efforts of Raja Rammohan Roy, the 18th century social reformer.

In the medieval ages Sati was given the status of an act of honor. This was mainly so among the Rajput martial caste of northern India among whom Sati took the form of a collective suicide after a battle in which male members had suffered death at the enemy's hands.

Sati was even committed by women before their husbands were actually dead when their city or town was besieged by the enemy and faced certain defeat. This form of Sati was more popularly known as Jouhar. The Jouhar committed by Rani Padmini of Chittor when faced by the prospect of dishonor at the hands of a Sultan from Delhi has been immortalized in Indian history.

In those days North India was under foreign subjugation. The most powerful kingdom set up by the invaders was the Sultanate of Delhi.

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But in Rajputana, the Rajputs had defiantly preserved their kingdom by resisting the Delhi Sultans. One such Rajput kingdom was at Chittor. Chittor was under the Rule of King Ratnasen, a brave and noble warrior-king. Apart, from being a loving husband and a just ruler, Ratansen was also a patron of the arts. In his court were many talented People one of whom was a musician named Raghav Chetan. But unknown to anybody, Raghav Chetan was also a sorcerer. He used his evil talents to run down his rivals and unfortunately for him was caught red-handed in his dirty act of arousing evil spirits.

On hearing this King Ratansen was furious and he banished Raghav Chetan from his kingdom after blackening his face with face and making him ride a donkey. This harsh Punishment earned king Ratansen an uncompromising enemy. Sulking after his humiliation, Raghav Chetan made his way towards Delhi with -the aim of trying to incite the Sultan of Delhi Allah-ud-din Khilji to attack Chittor.

On approaching Delhi, Raghav Chetan settled down in one of the forests nearby Delhi, which the Sultan used to frequent for hunting deer. One day on hearing the Sultan's hunt party entering the forest, Raghav-Chetan started playing a melodious tone on his flute. When the alluring notes of Raghav-Chetan flute reached the Sultan's party they were surprised as to who could be playing a flute in such a masterly way in a forlorn forest.

The Sultan despatched his soldiers to fetch the person and when Raghav-Chetan was brought before him, the Sultan Allah-ud-din Khilji asked him to come to his court at Delhi. The cunning Raghav-Chetan asked the king as to why he wants to have a ordinary musician like himself when there were many other beautiful objects to be had. Wondering what Raghav-Chetan meant, Allah-ud-din asked him to clarify. Upon being told of Rani Padmini's beauty, Allah-ud-din's lust was aroused and immediately on returning to his capital he gave orders to his army to march on Chittor.

But to his dismay, on reaching Chittor, Allah-ud-din found the fort to be heavily defended. Desperate to have a look at the legendary beauty of Padmini, he sent word to King Ratansen that he looked upon Padmini as his sister and wanted to meet her. On hearing this, the unsuspecting Ratansen asked Padmini to see the 'brother'. But Padmini was more wordly-wise and she refused to meet the lustful Sultan personally.

But on being persuaded she consented to allow Allah-ud-din to see her only in a mirror. On the word being sent to Allah-ud-din that Padmini would see him he came to the fort with his selected his best warriors who secretly made a careful examination of the fort's defenses on their way to the Palace.

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On seeing Padmini, in the mirror, the lustful 'brother', Allah-ud-din Khilji decided that he should secure Padmini for himself. While returning to his camp, Allah-ud-din was accompanied for some way by King Ratansen. Taking this opportunity, the wily Sultan treacherously kidnapped Ratansen and took him as a prisoner into his camp and demanded that Padmini come and surrender herself before Allah-ud-din Khilji, if she wanted her husband King Ratansen alive again.

On seeing Padmini, the lustful 'brother' decided that he should secure Padmini for himself. While returning to his camp, Allah-ud-din was accompanied for some way by King Ratansen. Taking this opportunity, the wily Sultan treacherously kidnapped Ratansen and took him as a prisoner into his camp.

Allah-ud-din showed his true colors and demanded , that Padmini be given to him and in return Ratnasen was to get his liberty. Word was sent into the palace about the Sultan's demand.

The Rajput generals decided to beast the Sultan at his own game and sent back a word that Padmini would be given to Ala-ud-din the next morning. On the following day at the crack of dawn, one hundred and fifity palaquins (covered cases in which royal ladies were carried in medieval times) left the fort and made their way towards Ala-ud-din's camps The palanquins stopped before the tent where king Ratansen was being held prisoner. . Seeing that the palanquins had come from Chittor; and thinking that they had brought along with them his queen, king Ratansen was mortified. But to his surprise from the palanquins came out, not his queen and her women servants but fully armed soldiers, who quickly freed Ratansen and galloped away towards Chittor on horses grabbed from Ala-ud-din's stables.

On hearing that his designs had been frustrated, the lustful Sultan was furious and ordered his army to storm Chittor. But hard as they tried the Sultans army could not break into the fort. Then Ala-ud-din decided to lay seige to the fort. The siege was a long drawn one and gradually supplied within the fort were depleted. Finally King Ratnasen gave orders that the Rajputs would open the gates and fight to finish with the besieging troops. On hearing of this decision, Padmini decided that with their men folk going into the unequal struggle with the Sultan's army in which they were sure to perish, the women of Chittor had either to commit suicides or face dishonor at the hands of the victorious enemy.

The choice was in favor of suicide through Jauhar. A huge pyre was lit and followed by their queen, all the women of Chittor jumped into the flames and deceived the lustful enemy waiting outside. With their women folk dead, the men of Chittor had nothing to live for. They charged out of the fort and fought on furiously with the vastly powerful army of the Sultan, till all of them perished. After this victory the Sultan's troops entered the fort only to be confronted with ashes and burnt bones of the women whose honor they were going to violate to satisfy their lust.

These women who committed Jawhar had to perish but their memory has been kept alive till today by bards and songs which glorify their act which was right in those days and circumstances. Thus a halo of honor is given to their supreme sacrifice.

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But this halo of honor has to be seen in the light of the above compulsions of alien rule in India during the medieval ages. From the 13th century onwards up to the coming of the British, the position of women was insecure under the rule of the Sultans of Delhi. Their insecurity increased after the demise of their husbands. This compulsion which was resultant of a particular age was by far the most important reason for the prevalence of Sati during the middle ages.


Child-marriage is another 'blessing' of the medieaval age and it was born from the same compulsions that perpetuated Sati. Child-marriage was not prevalent in ancient India. The most popular form of marriage was Swayamvara where grooms assembled at the bride' s house and the bride selected her spouse. Svayam-vara can be translated as self selection of one' s husband, Svayam = self, Vara = husband. Instances of Swayamvara ceremony are found in our national epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Various types of marraiges were prevalant in ancient India Gandharva Vivaha (love marriage), Asura Viviha (marriage by abduction) etc., But among these there is no mention of child marriage.

There are many reasons to believe that this custom originated in the medieval ages. As mentioned earlier in the turbulent atmosphere of the medieval ages, law and order was not yet a universal phenomenon and arbitrary powers were concentrated in the hands of a hierarchy led by a despotic monarch. In India the Sultans of Delhi who held the place of the despotic monarch, came from a different type of culture. They were orthodox in their beliefs with a fanatical commitment to their religion and a ruthless method in its propagation. Intolerant as they were to all forms of worship other than their own, they also exercised contempt for members of other faiths.

Women as it is are at the receiving end during any war, arson, plunder, etc. During the reign of the Delhi Sultans these were the order of the day and the worst sufferers were Hindu women. During these dark days were spawned customs like child-marriage and selection of women from the rest of the society, wearing of the Ghungat (veil). Amidst the feeling of insecurity, the presence of young unmarried girls was a potential invitation for disaster. Hence parents would seek to get over with the responsibilities of their daughters by getting them married off before they reached the marriage age. The custom of child marriages with the 'bride' and 'groom' still in their cradles was a culmination of this tendency. This way the danger to a growing girl's virginity was somewhat reduced.

Sati, Child-marriage, Ghunghat, etc were largely caused by the arbitrary tyrannical rule of the Sultans of Delhi.

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