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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Padmavati & Manikarnika: Two Valiant Indian Queens, Two Sacrifices

Padmavati and Manikarnika… Prior to 2018, these were two names that one would find in books, documentaries or television serials.

However, the Hindi film industry has presented these two stories on celluloid.

This has made the world aware of how there have been two brave queens in Indian history and who have fought for their honour and nation.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat narrates how the legendary Maharani Padmavati gives her life to preserve their Rajasthani culture and honour.

Krish’s Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (which is yet to release) is based on the life of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and her war against the British East India Company, during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Both stories exude female empowerment, patriotism (to a certain degree) and honour.

But what they are strongly remembered for, is their sacrifices in attaining their motives and consequences. 

Filme Shilmy reflects on the sacrifices of both Padmavati and Manikarnika and how these stories are relevant to today.  

Maharani Padmavati: Rajasthan’s Legendary & Beautiful Queen

Sanjay Leela Bhansali brought Rani Padmavati’s story to celluloid and the film is a mesmerising piece of cinema.

Deepika Padukone’s portrayal of Padmavati has been loved by critics and audiences alike, across the globe.

Undoubtedly, Padmavati’s story emanates female honour and valour.

Rani Padmini aka ‘Maharani Padmavati’ was first sourced in the Padmavat, an Awadhi language poem, penned by Muhammad Malik Jayasi.

In the text by Jayasi, Padmavati was described as an immensely beautiful woman.

The poem itself highlights the relationship between King of Chittor – Ratan Sen, Queen Padmavati and the Sultan of Delhi – Alauddin Khilji.

Ratansen’s banished musician, Raghav Chaitanya told Khilji about the Queen’s beauty, as an act of revenge against the Chittor King.

Curious and tempted by Padmavati’s appearance, Khilji headed to Chittor to gain the Maharani. But what happens next, has been subject to much debate.

Old texts imply that Alauddin Khilji’s request to meet Rani Padmavati was rejected as the Rajput culture prohibited women from meeting unknown men.

With his ego hurt, Khilji decided to declare war against Chittor, but could not capture the throne. Tragically, Ratansen was killed.

Eventually capturing the Chittor kingdom in 1303, Khilji stormed inside to search for Padmavati.

But by then, the Maharani performed mass suicide through ‘Jauhar’, in order to preserve her and the other women’s honour.

Padmavati’s Sacrifice for Female & Rajputi Honour

A war without violence, but a battle which has one inevitable consequence either way – death.

‘Jauhar’ the Hindu custom of mass or self-immolation.

This was practised by women in parts of the Indian subcontinent, to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by any foreign conquerors, when facing certain defeat during a war.

The method of this custom usually required women to jump into a pit of fire.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s depiction of this custom gave goosebumps and is a sight that one cannot unsee.

But besides that, it makes one realise how much pain the Maharani and 16,000 Rajput women must have endured by jumping into the fire.

Reading about this sacrifice makes one feel repulsed at the fact despite us being humans from the same planet, one group had to suffer at the hands of others.

It is distressing to realise that women had to die in the most excruciating way, just to preserve their honour and save even their corpses from being exploited.

Truly, “Rajputi Kangan Mein Utni Hi Taaqat Hai, Jitni Rajputi Talvaar Mein Hai.”

Manikarnika – ‘Rani Laxmibai’ of Jhansi – The Courageous Queen

Kangana Ranaut’s avatar as Manikarnika has caught everyone’s attention.

The teaser, which recently released, showcases the courageous and yet emotional side to the Queen of Jhansi.

As such, Jhansi Ki Rani is a well-known chapter in history. It is a story of bravery, patriotism and female power.

Rani Lakshmibai, named Manikarnika (nicknamed ‘Manu’), was born in the holy town of Varanasi into a Marathi Karhade Brahmin family.

Manikarnika’s father worked for a court Peshwa of Bithoor district who brought her up like his own daughter.

She was educated at home and was more independent in her childhood than others of her age.

Her studies included shooting, horsemanship, fencing and mallakhamba with her childhood friends Nana Sahib and Tatya Tope.

Manikarnika was married to the Maharaja of Jhansi, Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar and was thereby called Lakshmibai (or Laxmibai) in honour of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.

She gave birth to a boy, later named Damodar Rao, in 1851, who died after four months.

The Maharaja adopted a child called Anand Rao, the son of Gangadhar Rao’s cousin, who was renamed Damodar Rao, on the day before the Maharaja died.

After the death of the Maharaja in November 1853, because Damodar Rao (born Anand Rao) was an adopted son, the British East India Company, under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, applied the Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Damodar Rao’s claim to the throne and annexing the state to its territories.

As such, he demanded the surrender of the city and threatened to destroy it if his command was refused.

When she was informed of this she cried out “I shall not surrender my Jhansi”.

Her Participation in Rebelling Against the British Empire

After due deliberation, the Rani issued a proclamation:

“We fight for independence.

In the words of Lord Krishna, we will if we are victorious, enjoy the fruits of victory, if defeated and killed on the field of battle, we shall surely earn eternal glory and salvation.”

For the Battle of Jhansi, she departed in the clothes of a soldier, mounted on her charger, with the body of her close Muslim friend lying next to her (aged 22) and was buried in Phool Bagh, Gwalior.

During the war, the queen was badly wounded.

However, she wished against the British to capture her body, so she told a hermit to burn it.

After her death, it is believed that a few local people cremated her body.

Manikarnika defended Jhansi against British troops till the very end, not giving up at any point.

Sir Hugh Rose may have besieged Jhansi on 23 March 1858, but her spirit remained resolute.

Even during an era where a woman was restricted to domestic responsibilities, however, this did not restrict Rani Laxmibai from fighting strongly for her state and India as a whole.

Despite facing tragedies and sadness in her life, she continued to tussle till her very last breath.

Why are these Examples Relevant Today?

Both Padmavati and Manikarnika are examples of how women (in India and as a whole) have suffered a lot to fight for their honour and rights.

Interestingly in both situations of Padmavati and Manikarnika, the two queens had to endure atrocity by powerful foreigners in their own land and country.

Both of these historical narratives are reminders of India’s torturous past and the number of atrocities it faced as a nation.

Today, it is a matter of pride that we see women standing strong against all forms of abuse and sexual harassment.

Campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp play a huge role towards this, as such positive propaganda help and encourage women and people, in general, to speak out.

Furthermore, the Bollywood industry has also opened doors to inspire female-centric/social films like Kahaani, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Veere Di Wedding and Pink, to name a few.

It is important that the stories of Padmavati and Manikarnika are not just limited to history and now in cinema.

These past stories should be used to help construct a better today and subsequently, a glorious future.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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