Padmini, also known as Padmavati, was a legendary 13th-14th century Indian queen (Rani). The earliest source to mention her is Padmavat, an epic poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 CE. The text, which features elements of fantasy, describes her story as follows: Padmavati was an exceptionally beautiful princess of the Singhal kingdom (Sri Lanka). Ratan Sen, the Rajput ruler of Chittor, heard about her beauty from a talking parrot named Hiraman. After an adventurous quest, he married her and brought her to Chittor. Alauddin Khalji, the Sultan of Delhi also heard about her beauty, and attacked Chittor to obtain her. Meanwhile, Ratan Sen was killed in a combat with Devpal, the king of Kumbhalner who was also enamoured with Padmavati's beauty. Before Alauddin Khalji could capture Chittor, Padmavati and her companions committed Jauhar (self-immolation) to protect their honour.
Several subsequent adaptions of the legend characterised her as a Hindu Rajput queen, who defended her honour against a Muslim invader. Over years, she came to be seen as a historical figure, and appeared in several novels, plays, television serials and movies. However, while Alauddin Khalji's siege of Chittor in 1303 CE is a historical event, the legend of Padmini has little historical basis and modern historians have rejected its authenticity.
The earliest source to mention the queen Padmini or Padmavati is the Awadhi language Padmavat (1540 CE) of Malik Muhammad Jayasi. The earlier accounts that describe Alauddin Khalji's conquest of Chittorgarh make no mention of this queen. Subsequently, many literary works mentioning her story were produced; these can be divided into four major categories:
Padmavati was the daughter of Gandharv Sen, the king of the Singhal kingdom. She became close friends with a talking parrot named Hiraman. Her father resented the parrot's closeness to his daughter, and ordered the bird to be killed. The parrot flew away to save its life, but was trapped by a bird catcher, and sold to a Brahmin. The Brahmin bought it to Chittor, where the local king Ratan Sen purchased it, impressed by its ability to talk.
The parrot greatly praised Padmavati's beauty in front of Ratan Sen, who became determined to marry Padmavati. Guided by the parrot and accompanied by his 16,000 followers, Ratan Sen reached Singhal after crossing the seven seas. There, he commenced austerities in a temple to seek Padmavati. Meanwhile, Padmavati came to the temple, informed by the parrot, but quickly returned to her palace without meeting Ratan Sen. Once she reached the palace, she started longing for Ratan Sen.
Meanwhile, Ratan Sen realized that he had missed a chance to meet Padmavati. In desolation, he decided to immolate himself, but was interrupted by the deities Shiva and Parvati. On Shiva's advice, Ratan Sen and his followers attacked the royal fortress of Singhal kingdom. They were defeated and imprisoned, while still dressed as ascetics. Just as Ratan Sen was about to be executed, his royal bard revealed to the captors that he was the king of Chittor. Gandharv Sen then married Padmavati to Ratan Sen, and also arranged 16,000 padmini[a] women of Singhal for the 16,000 men accompanying Ratan Sen.
Sometime later, Ratan Sen learned from a messenger bird that his first wife — Nagmati — is longing for him back in Chittor. Ratan Sen decided to return to Chittor, with his new wife Padmavati, his 16,000 followers and their 16,000 companions. During the journey, the Ocean god punished Ratan Sen for having excessive pride in winning over the world's most beautiful woman: everyone except Ratan Sen and Padmavati was killed in a storm. Padmavati was marooned on the island of Lacchmi, the daughter of the Ocean god. Ratan Sen was rescued by the Ocean god. Lacchmi decided to test Ratan Sen's love for Padmavati. She disguised herself as Padmavati, and appeared before Ratan Sen, but the king was not fooled. The Ocean god and Lacchmi then reunited Ratan Sen with Padmavati, and rewarded them with gifts. With these gifts, Ratan Sen arranged a new retinue at Puri, and returned to Chittor with Padmavati.
At Chittor, a rivalry developed between Ratan Sen's two wives, Nagmati and Padmavati. Sometime later, Ratan Sen banished a Brahmin courtier named Raghav Chetan for fraud. Raghav Chetan went to the court of Alauddin Khalji, the Sultan of Delhi, and told him about the exceptionally beautiful Padmavati. Alauddin decided to obtain Padmavati, and besieged Chittor. Ratan Sen agreed to offer him tribute, but refused to give away Padmavati. After failing to conquer to the Chittor fort, Alauddin feigned a peace treaty with Ratan Sen. He deceitfully captured Ratan Sen and took him to Delhi. Padmavati sought help from Ratan Sen's loyal feudatories Gora and Badal, who reached Delhi with their followers, disguised as Padmavati and her female companions. They rescued Ratan Sen; Gora was killed fighting the Delhi forces, while Ratan Sen and Badal reached Chittor safely.
Meanwhile, Devpal, the Rajput king of Chittor's neighbour Kumbhalner, had also become infatuated with Padmavati. While Ratan Sen was imprisoned in Delhi, he proposed marriage to Padmavati through an emissary. When Ratan Sen returned to Chittor, he decided to punish Devpal for this insult. In the ensuing single combat, Devpal and Ratan Sen killed each other. Meanwhile, Alauddin invaded Chittor once again, to obtain Padmavati. Facing a certain defeat against Alauddin, Nagmati and Padmavati committed self-immolation (sati) on Ratan Sen's funeral pyre; other women of Chittor also died in mass self-immolation (jauhar). The men of Chittor fought to death against Alauddin, who acquired nothing but an empty fortress after his victory.
Ratan Sen, the Rajput king of Chitrakot (Chittor) had a wife named Prabhavati, who was a great cook. One day, the king expressed dissatisfaction with the food she had prepared. Prabhavati challenged Ratan Sen to find a woman better than her. Ratan Sen angrily set out to find such a woman, accompanied by an attendant. A Nath Yogi ascetic told him that there were many padmini[a] women on the Singhal island. Ratan Sen crossed the sea with help of another ascetic, and then defeated the king of Singhal in a game of chess. The king of Singhal married his sister Padmini to Ratan Sen, and also gave him a huge dowry which included half of the Singhal kingdom, 4000 horses, 2000 elephants and 2000 companions for Padmini.
In Chittor, while Ratan Sen and Padmini were making love, a Brahmin named Raghav Vyas accidentally interrupted them. Fearing Ratan Sen's anger, he escaped to Delhi, where he was received honourably at the court of Alauddin Khalji. When Alauddin learned about the existence of beautiful padmini women on the island of Singhal, he set out on an expedition to Singhal. However, his soldiers drowned in the sea. Alauddin managed to obtain a tribute from the king of Singhal, but could not obtain any padmini women. Alauddin learned that the only padmini woman on the mainland was Padmavati. So, he gathered an army of 2.7 million soldiers, and besieged Chittor. He deceitfully captured Ratan Sen, after having caught a glimpse of Padmini.
The frightened nobles of Chittor considered surrendering Padmini to Alauddin. But two brave warriors — Goru and Badil (also Gora and Vadil/Badal) — agreed to defend her and rescue their king. The Rajputs pretended to make arrangements to bring Padmavati to Alauddin's camp, but instead brought warriors concealed in palanquins. The Rajput warriors rescued the king; Gora died fighting Alauddin's army, as Badil escorted the king back to the Chittor fort. Gora's wife committed self-immolation (sati). In the heaven, Gora was rewarded with half of Indra's throne.
The 19th century British writer James Tod compiled a version of the legend in his Annals and Antiquities of Rajas'han. Tod mentioned several manuscripts, inscriptions and persons as his sources for the information compiled in the book. However, he does not name the exact sources that he used to compile the legend of Padmini in particular. He does not mention Malik Muhammad Jayasi's Padmavat or any other Sufi adaptions of that work among his sources, and seems to have been unaware of these sources. He does mention Khumman Raso in connection with the legend of Padmini, but he seems to have relied more on the local bardic legends. According to these legends, the contemporary ruler of Chittor was Lakhamsi, and Ratan Sen was his younger brother. However, unlike these accounts, Tod omits the name of Ratan Sen altogether.
According to Tod's version, Padmini was the daughter of Hamir Sank, the Chauhan ruler of Ceylon. The contemporary ruler of Chittor was Lachhman Singh (alias Lakhamsi). Padmini married his uncle Bhim Singh (alias Bhimsi). She was famous for her beauty, and Alauaddin (alias Ala) bisieged Chittor to obtain her. After negotiations, Ala restricted his demand to merely seeing Padmini's beauty through a mirror. However, subsequently, he treacherously captured Bhimsi and demanded Padmini in return for his release. Padmini sought assistance from her relatives in Ceylon: her uncle Gora, and his nephew Badal. Gora and Badal devised a scheme to rescue Bhimsi without surrendering Padmini. They informed Ala that Padmini would be sent to Delhi accompanied by her maids and other female companions. In reality, 700 bravest soldiers of Chittor were placed in litters, and each of the litters was accompanied by other soldiers disguised as litter-porters. Ala's camp was told not to peek inside any of the litters, so as to protect the privacy and diginity of the women. With this scheme, Gora and Badal managed to rescue Bhimsi, but a large number of the Chittor soldiers died in the mission. Ala then attacked Chittor once again with a larger force. Chittor had already lost their most valiant soldiers in the previous mission, and faced a certain defeat. As a result, Padmini and other women committed self-immolation (jauhar). Bhimsi sent his son Ajaisi to Kelwara with a small band of soldiers, to ensure that his line did not become extinct. Bhimsi and other men then fought to death, and Alauddin captured the fort.
Epigraphic evidence contradicts James Tod's claim that the contemporary ruler of Mewar was Lakshmanasimha (Lachhman Singh), not Ratnasimha (Ratan Singh or Ratan Sen).
Kshirode Prasad Vidyavinode's play Padmini (1906) is based on James Tod's account: The ruler of Chittor is Lakshmansinha, while Padmini is the wife of the Rajput warrior Bhimsinha. Vidyavinode's story features several sub-plots, including those about Alauddin's exiled wife Nasiban and Lakshmansinha's son Arun. Nevertheless, his account of Alauddin and Padmini follows Tod's version with some variations. Alauddin captures Bhimsinha using deceit, but Padmini manages to rescue him using the palanquin trick; another noted warrior Gora is killed in this mission. As the Rajput men fight to death, Padmini and other women immolate themselves. The lineage of Lakshmansinha survives through Arun's son with a poor forest-dwelling woman named Rukma.
Abanindranath Tagore's Rajkahini (1909) is also based on Tod's narrative, and begins with a description of the Rajput history. Bhimsinha marries Padmini after a voyage to Sinhala, and brings her to Chittor. Alauddin learns about Padmini's beauty from a singing girl, and invades Chittor to obtain her. Bhimsinha offers to surrender his wife to Alauddin to protect Chittor, but his fellow Rajputs refuse the offer. They fight and defeat Alauddin. But later, Alauddin captures Bhimsinha, and demands Padmini in exchange for his release. Padmini, with support from the Rajput warriors Gora and Badal, rescues her husband using the palanquin trick; Gora dies during this mission. Meanwhile, Timur invades the Delhi Sultanate, and Alauddin is forced to return to Delhi. 13 years later, Alauddin returns to Chittor and besieges the fort. Lakshmansinha considers submission to Alauddin, but Bhimsinha convinces him to fight on for seven more days. With blessings of the god Shiva, Padmini appears before Lakshmansinha and his ministers as a goddess, and demands a blood sacrifice from them. The women of Chittor die in mass self-immolation, while the men fight to death. The victorious Alauddin razes all the buildings in Chittor, except Padmini's palace and then returns to Delhi.
Alauddin Khalji's siege of Chittor in 1303 CE is a historical event. Although the legend of Padmini is the best known story about the siege, it has little historical basis. Most modern historians have rejected the authenticity of the legend.
The earliest source to mention the Chittor siege of 1303 CE is Khaza'in ul-Futuh by Amir Khusrau, who accompanied Alauddin during the campaign. Khusrau makes no mention of any Padmavati or Padmini. In fact, according to Khusrau, the ruler of Chittor surrendered to Alauddin. Amir Khusrau also describes the siege of Chittor in his later work Diwal Rani Khizr Khan (c. 1315 CE), which describes the love story of Alauddin and the princess of Gujarat. Again, he makes no mention of Padmini.
Some scholars, such as Ashirbadi Lal Srivastava, Dasharatha Sharma, and Mohammad Habib, have suggested that Amir Khusrau makes a veiled reference to Padmini in Khaza'in ul-Futuh. This theory is based on Amir Khusrau's references to Solomon, a hudhud bird, and Bilkis (the Queen of Sheba). According to the Islamic mythology (Quran 27.22-28), King Solomon once set out on an expedition with a vast retinue which include a bird called hudhud. Once, while he was encamped, he noticed that hudhud was absent, and asked it to appear or be punished. Subsequently, Hudhud appeared before him, and told him that it had visited the territory of Sheba. It described Queen Bilkis of Sheba as an intelligent and powerful woman, whose subjects worshipped the Sun. Solomon then sent a message to the Queen, asking her to submit before him and her subjects to worship Allah instead of the Sun. The Queen sent some gifts to Solomon after consulting with her advisors, but the Solomon declared that he would not accept anything less than the personal submission of the queen. The queen ultimately adopted Islam.
While describing Alauddin's attack on Chittor, Amir Khusrau calls Alauddin the Solomon of their time. He further states that this Solomon's army attacked the fort that reminded them of Sheba. Khusrau goes on to call himself a hudhud bird in Alauddin's vast retinue.
According to historian Submial Chandra Datta, the analogy between Alauddin's expedition against Chittor and Solomon's expedition against Sheba suggests that Bilkis had a "prototype" in Chittor, presumably Padmini. However, Datta believes that Alauddin's attack on Chittor was not motivated by Padmini. According to Ziauddin Barani, in 1297 CE, a Kotwal officer of Alauddin had told him that he would have to conquer Ranthambore, Chittor, Chanderi, Dhar and Ujjain before he could embark on a world conquest. This, not Padmini, would have prompted Alauddin to launch a campaign against Chittor. In addition, Mewar had given refuge to people who had rebelled or fought against Alauddin. Datta theorizes that after Ratnasimha's surrender, Alauddin demanded Padmini to humiliate the Rajput ruler.
Other early accounts of the Chittor siege, such as those by Ziauddin Barani and Isami, do not mention Padmini either and state that Alauddin returned to Delhi after forgiving the king and his family. Thus, the first uncontestable mention of Padmini is Malik Muhammad Jayasi's Padmavat (c. 1540 CE). Hemratan's Gora Badal Padmini Chaupai (c. 1589 CE) narrates another version of the legend, presenting it as based on true events. From then until the 19th century, several other adaptions of these two versions were produced. The 16th century historians Firishta and Haji-ud-Dabir were among the earliest writers to mention Padmini as a historical figure, but their accounts differ with each other and with that of Jayasi. For example, according to Firishta, Padmini was a daughter (not wife) of Ratan Sen.
When the British writer James Tod, who is now considered to be unreliable, compiled the legends of Rajasthan in the 1820s, he presented Padmini as a historical figure, and Padmini came to be associated with the historical siege of Chittor. In the 19th century, during the Swadeshi movement, Padmini became a symbol of Indian patriotism. Indian nationalist writers portrayed her story as an example of a heroic sacrifice, and a number of plays featuring her were staged after 1905. Ireland-born Sister Nivedita (1866–1971) also visited Chittor and historicised Padmini. The Rajkahini by Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951) popularised her as a historical figure among schoolchildren. Later, some history textbooks began to refer to Khalji invading Chittor to obtain Padmini. Jawaharlal Nehru's The Discovery of India (1946) also narrates Khalji seeing Padmini in a mirror; Nehru's narrative is believed to be based on recent local poets.
By the 20th century, some elite Rajput women of Rajasthan characterised Padmini as a historical figure who exemplifies Rajput womanhood. Although there is no historical evidence that Padmini existed, she has become a symbol of valour and sacrifice in Rajput history. Hindu activists have characterised her as a chaste Hindu woman, and her suicide as a heroic act of resistance against the invader Khalji.
Several films based on the legend of Padmini have been made in India. These include Debaki Bose's silent film Kamonar Agun or Flames of Flesh (1930), and the Hindi language Maharani Padmini (1964).