Padmavat

by Purushottam Agrawal, illustrated by Devdutt Patnaik

Read time: about 7 minutes

After reading expansively on Padmavat and it’s different versions I had decided to finally get over the saga and move on. Different Padmavats that I had been reading were nothing close to the epic poem that Malik Muhammad Jayasi has written in the sixteenth century. I was really excited to have received this version by Purushottam Agrawal that talks about Jayasi’s version of the story.

This book is beautifully illustrated by Devdutt Patnaik whom I have known from ‘my Hanuman Chalisa’. He is a brilliant author and a very talented illustrator as well. This book has brought together a great team that has made the book worth reading and talking about.

Cover: Padmavat

Cover page

On the cover is an illustration by Devdutt Patnaik. We find Padmavati in a conversation with Hiraman, a parrot and her dead friend. The cover is typical of Devdutt Patnaik’s books. The typography is subtle, giving more importance to the illustration on the cover. I admire French flaps but now realise the impracticality of it. The corners get demorphed almost always.

In spite of the practical problems I really cover the cover design. A job well done!

Content

Many will wonder about the content of the book. Is it a translation of the original poem or is it a story adapted by the author?

To present the book to someone, I would say the book is primarily a non fiction. It talks about Jayasi’s poem and puts it into perspective. Those who may have read Devdutt Patnaik earlier may have noticed the typical style he carries out while explaining the content. He describes stanzas and relates to the philosophy behind each of them.

Purushottam Agrawal has done something similar here. Agrawal explains the entire poem to the reader, however, he doesn’t feel the need for a literal translation. The author begins with giving an introduction to the poet, his life and his work. He introduces Padmavat to us, explaining that the epic story is not of evil and greatness but it is about love. It is love that makes one divine. Jayasi’s entire work celebrates the divinity of this love that he compares to Shiva and Sati.

As far as Jayasi is concerned, he composed padmavat to celebrate human love- mahush prem- and to explore the ethics of desire.

The poem gives Padmini of Simhal a goddess like aura and Ratansen is a man so ethical and he can only be compared to Shiva. The love story begins when Ratansen hears of Padmini from her friend Hiraman who is supposed to be a parrot as intelligent as a pundit. The description leaves Ratansen craving to meet Padmini and claim her love for himself. He wins her and her father. They get married and live in bliss for a year in Simhal.

As the events turn Padmini is a Queen and she ought to return to Chittor which is her home now. As she makes the journey from Simhal to Chittor the descriptions by Jayasi take a leap from divinity to human world. She suddenly becomes a woman, and the king a man.

Agrawal leads our attention from the romance of meeting the love and claiming it to the worldly emotions where there is jealousy and unreasonable lust. There is a mention of ‘other woman’. There are insecurities in the household. Ratansen finds its difficult to manage his two queens who are both important to him.

Subsequently, he queen soon comes under the eyes of the Turk Allauddin Khalji and rest we know.

There are major differences when it comes to Jayasi’s version of the story and the one we have known from other sources. Jayasi’s king does not surrender the image in the mirror of his wife to the evil Turk. Allauddin Khalji deceives the king to see a glimpse of the queen. Ratansen is vanquished but not by the Turk but by another enemy. Khalji is not all bad. He is a great ruler who cares for his subject and helps poor, irrespective of the religion that they follow. The Queen is found to be in a fist fight with Nagamati, the first wife of Ratansen. So she is not all good either.

Illustrations by Patnaik

The characters are given mixed shades. Except for Hiraman who has no bad elements in his body (he is a parrot) and Raghav Chetan who is a pundit but has done nothing good in the story, each character has its flaws.

But the entire significance of the poem can be summed into one element. It is a celebration of love for one human to another. There is a battle of ethics where one lover knows the importance of the consent of the woman in question and the other only wants to get her, not knowing if she wants him too.

Jayasi was a poet and nothing else. He poem is situated in history as is the case with many literary works. He happened to know a bit about the history and geography and incorporated it into his poem. His narration is inspired by the bards that sung the tales of the King and the Queen. Jayasi never wanted Jauhar to be a matter of pride, just a custom to which he takes only three words to describe. His poem was not a social commentary or a historical drama. It was just a beautiful creation by a man who suffered partial blindness and deafness. He valued loved and devotion, maybe because he did not receive any during his lifetime.

In the epilogue, Agrawal makes it clear how the poem by Jayasi should be read.

Let us read Padmavat with sensitivity to the poet’s own concerns, instead of reducing it to an artefact of our designs. Let us read it as a celebration of and reflection on love, and refrain from making it a tool of rationalising our misogynist fantasies of total control of a woman’s mind and body’s

Read as a creative foray into the themes of love and desire; transience and death; maybe Padmavat will act upon us also and make us realise the divine- Baikunthi- potential of human love.

As Patnaik says in the beginning: Is Rani Padmini of Chittor fact or fiction? The answer depends on who is asked.

Is it someone who appreciates literature as it is or someone who wants to establish history out of lose evidences.

Language

The language is rather simple and I am glad for it. The poem is broken down and explained in such a down to earth manner that I am reminded of my literature teacher in school. I can appreciate the poem so much better now.

Good points

I loved the cover page. It’s simple and classy. The content is gripping. I did not feel like putting the book down at all. The story is put into perspective really well. The language is utterly simple.

Bad points

The author has scattered the original Awadhi stanzas throughout the book. I wish the whole poem was there for reference though. It maybe a bit impractical since the length of the book would be significantly increased, but still….

Overall

The book turned out to be even better than I expected. The author’s understanding of the subject is commendable.

Whom do I recommend this to

This is for those who are interested in the subject and want to know more about it.

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com