Strongly intervening in the “violent controversy" raging around the legend of Padmini, veteran Indian historian Prof Irfan Habib has said that this is just “the latest example of our fixation with the medieval past”, underlining, “We seem to have completely, and deliberately, blurred the distinction between what is history and what is only lore or fiction.”
Professor-emeritus of the Aligarh Muslim University, Habib asserts in a strongly-worded commentary, “Padmini was not a historical character, and the story around her is a fictional legend, no more.” He adds, “It is a known fact that the character of Padmini was conceived and created by Malik Mohammad Jayasi in 1540.”
The character appears in his “famous poem called Padmavat, written in Awadhi but in Persian script”, says Habib, adding, “Jayasi's Padmini was a princess from Simhala-dvipa (Sri Lanka). In modern terminology, it was a historical fiction, which had historical characters like Alauddin Khilji and Rana Rattan Singh.”
Pointing out that “no medieval historical record alludes to her existence before Jayasi's Padmavat”, Habib says, “Amir Khusrau, who accompanied Alauddin Khilji in his expedition against Chittor, does not refer to it. Even Jayasi never claimed that he is chronicling history.”
Habib says, “No contemporary historian, including the most authoritative ones on Rajasthan like Gauri Shankar Ojha, mention anything about Padmini.” He quotes well-known conservative historian RC Majumdar as saying about Padmini that "it is impossible, at the present state of our knowledge, to regard it as a historical fact".
“It is no surprise that Padmini acquired great prominence in the bardic chronicles of Rajputana”, says
|Padmini in a story book depicted as performing|
"jauhar" to escape Khilji's clutches
He insists, “This is not the first time that we have outraged on filmmaking about the past. We have done that earlier several times and, given the direction some of us are traversing, will surely do that again. It is one thing to study and learn from the past but to live in the past is a dangerous game. It is immaterial whether that past is historical or fictional.”
Habib believes that the root of this “dangerous game” could be found in the way the British colonialists looked at Indian history – starting with James Mill 200 years ago, they divided Indian history into three periods: Hindu civilisation, Muslim civilisation and the British period.
Sarcastically calling it “one of the many gifts the colonial British left behind for us”, Habib says, “They projected 2,000 years of golden age for the first, 800 years of despotic tyranny for the second, and a supposed modernisation under the British”.
He adds, “This division also assumed Indian society as made up of separate religious monoliths – Hindu and Muslim – who were always mutually hostile. This periodisation and characterisation became axiomatic to the interpretation of Indian history. It worsened from the early 20th century onwards, with the emergence of communalism and the final Partition of the country in the name of religion.”