The politics over Padmavati has deep roots in Gujarati history

The politics over Padmavati has deep roots in Gujarati history

By Sheela Bhatt | NEW DELHI | 26 November, 2017

For the Bharatiya Janata Party, the opposition to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati is not just about protecting Rajput honour and sentiments, especially in this election season. It is primarily about Alauddin Khilji and the loss of Gujarati glory in the hands of the Delhi sultan. The Bhansali film may not have focused on the Gujarat part of Alauddin Khilji’s story, but both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, apart from BJP’s Gujarat based politicians, are well aware of what happened in history. It’s a story that stirs Gujarat’s collective memory.

Alauddin Khilji is infamous in Gujarat as the Turkic invader who, in 1305, killed Karan Vaghela, the last pan-Gujarat Hindu king, and abducted his daughter Deval, also known as Duval. The Vaghela dynasty ruled from Anhilwad Patan, then the capital of Gujarat.

The story of Karan Vaghela, the last Hindu ruler of Gujarat, was also the central theme of Karan Ghelo, Gujarati literature’s first ever novel, written by the reformist Nandshankar Tuljashankar Mehta, and published in 1866. Khilji’s character is an intrinsic part of Gujarati folklore because after he defeated and killed Karan Vaghela, for 650 years either Muslims or the British ruled large parts of Gujarat.

The fall of Anhilwad Patan and that of the Vaghela dynasty started when Vaghela fell in love with Roopsundari, the wife of Madhav, his prime minister. When Madhav was away on some work, Vaghela decided to abduct her. In the bloody conflict that ensued, Madhav’s brother died while defending his sister-in-law. His wife Gunsundari committed sati. Roopsundari reached Vaghela’s palace but immolated herself before Vaghela could exploit her.

Seeing the horrific devastation of his family, Madhav decided to take revenge and went to Alauddin Khilji’s durbar in Delhi. Khilji was more than ready to help Madhav. Persian historian Ziauddin Barani wrote in his book on Khilji, “At the beginning of the third year of the reign, Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan, with their amirs, and generals, and a large army marched against Gujarat. They took and plundered Nahrwala (Anahilwad Patan, capital of Gujarat from where Vaghela dynasty ruled large parts of Gujarat) and all of Gujarat. Karan, Rai (king) of Gujarat, fled from Nahrwala and went to Raja Ram Deo of Deogir. The wives and daughters, the treasure and elephants of Rai Karan fell in the hands of the Muhammadans. All Gujarat became prey to the invaders…”

Vaghela lost the battle. His wife, Kaula Devi, also known as Kamla Rani, was taken to Delhi where Khilji made her his concubine.

Vaghela and his two daughters escaped to Baglan, now in Maharashtra, with the help of King Ramdeva of Devgadh. Meanwhile, in Delhi, Kaula Devi’s beauty won Khilji’s heart. After a few years, she asked Khilji to get her daughter Deval to Delhi. Khilji’s army went on to attack Vaghela in Devgadh.

According to Nandshanakar Mehta’s Karan Ghelo, while in exile, Vaghela had reluctantly agreed to get one of his daughters, Deval married to Shankaldev, the prince of Devgadh to save her from falling in Turkic hands. The novel describes Deval’s pain and longing for love, succinctly. But Khilji’s attack was ferocious and Vaghela fought unsuccessfully, once more, and was killed. Deval was taken to Delhi, where Khilji’s eldest son, Khizr fell in love with her, but his mother was opposed to the union.

Aamir Khusrow wrote a masnavi (romantic poem) on Deval Rani and Khizr Khan. The story of love flowering between a Turkic prince and a Hindu girl, in adverse circumstances, was termed as a work of fiction by many in the last century. But it nevertheless became an unalterable part of Khusrow’s writing. Khusrow’s narration depicted in detail the “profound love” between Deval and Khizar. Khizar was killed by his father’s confidants, who wanted to grab power after Khilji’s death. Khusrow narrates how in those lonely and difficult days, a Gujarati woman stood heroically behind her Turkic husband.

In Gujarat, the mention of Khilji, for obvious reasons, revives memories of tumultuous times and the fall of the glorious Patan, and the loot by Khilji’s army of Cambay, Surat and the temple of Somnath. 

Bhansali’s film Padmavati is about Rajput history, but in Gujarat, the BJP doesn’t want to forget, more so in the time of election, the two Gujarati women—Kaula Devi, who was added to Khilji’s harem and Deval Rani, who was “won away” from her father and presented as a “trophy” to the Khilji clan. And this is the reason why Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has decided not to let the film release in Gujarat. It is a different matter that the Congress is yet to react to the BJP’s game. Also, behind the scenes, BJP leaders are making their displeasure clear about the “love story” of Khizr and Deval, which, according to many of them, comes in the category of love jihad and much more.

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