Skip to main content

"Communalisation" of Indian history around Padmavati, a fictitious character, has colonial roots: Irfan Habib

Prof Irfan Habib
Counterview Desk
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
Habib, adding, “Getting into the academic debate on the issue means no insult to either Rajput or Hindu psyche. It is also not a glorification of the medieval despot Alauddin Khilji. His depredations from Rajputana to Deccan are no fiction, they are all well documented in historical records.”
Commenting on the assault on Sanjay Leela Bhansali for his proposed film on Padmavati, Habib says, “I am more appalled at the communalisation of the entire issue. The whole episode reiterates how the present draws on the past not necessarily always to better comprehend the past but to use the past to legitimise the present.”
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.”

Comments

Anonymous said…
This pathetic movie should show to the world at least one thing - Muslim invaders who settled in to rule northern India were uniformly rapacious, wilful and covetous of Hindu women. No debating that, this unholy hoards that entered India were the worst of the worst. The fact is that this cult doesn't teach respect for women is clear for its sordid history as well the sad news pouring from the liberal countries like Sweden which made the mistake of allowing the vermin in. The tragedy is that their womenfolk either support that or try to disprove these occurrences. It should also through some light to what is happening to Hindu girls in Pakistan and B'desh

TRENDING

New Odia CM's tribal heritage 'sets him apart' from Hindutva Brahminical norms

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  Mohan Charan Majhi took the oath as the new Chief Minister of Odisha following the electoral defeat of the BJD led by Naveen Patnaik, who served as Chief Minister for twenty-four years. The new Chief Minister is the son of a security guard and a four-time MLA who hails from the remote village of Raikala in the Keonjhar district. He belongs to the Santali tribe and comes from a working-class family. Such achievements and political mobilities are possible only in a democratic society. Majhi’s leadership even in the form of symbolic representation in a democracy deserves celebration.

AMR: A gathering storm that threatens a century of progress in medicine

By Bobby Ramakant*  A strategic roundtable on “Charting a new path forward for global action against Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)” was organised at the 77th World Health Assembly or WHA (WHA is the apex decision-making body of the World Health Organization – WHO, which is attended by all countries that are part of the WHO – a United Nations health agency). AMR is among the top-10 global health threats “Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a growing and urgent crisis which is already a leading cause of untimely deaths globally. More than 2 people die of AMR every single minute,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO. “AMR threatens to unwind centuries of progress in human health, animal health, and other sectors.”

What stops Kavach? Why no time to focus on common trains meant for common people?

By Atanu Roy  A goods train rammed into Kanchenjunga Express on 17th June morning in North Bengal. This could have been averted if the time tested anti-collision system (Kavach) was in place. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Top Punjab Maoist who failed to analyse caste question, promoted economism

By Harsh Thakor*  On June 15th we commemorated the 15th death anniversary of Harbhajan Singh Sohi or HBS, a well known Communist leader in Punjab. He expired of a heart attack in Bathinda in 2009.

Saving farmers and consumers from GM crops and food: Philippines court shows the way

By Bharat Dogra*  At a time when there is increasing concern that powerful GM crop lobbyists backed by enormous resources of giant multinational companies may be able to bulldoze food safety and environmental concerns while pushing GM crops, a new hope has appeared in the form of a court decision from the Philippines.