The Ritual of Jauhar and Death by Burning by Rajput Women in Medieval India
India has a checkered history and it is dotted with brave acts. Unfortunately, there are some negative concepts also, which form part of this history. One of these was the act of Jauhar. This was a ritualistic act that women of the Rajput clan indulged in and consisted of dressing themselves up in all their finery and then burning themselves to death. This was the last resort by Rajput women to stop them being made part of Muslim harems. At best it was a negative concept and always the last resort when all had been lost and the men folk had gone into battle to embrace death
The Reason for Jauhar
Not much is heard about Jauhar before the arrival of the Muslim invaders. This act only surfaced with the advent of the Muslim conquerors. The Moslems entered India around the eighth and ninth century and in about 200 years, they defeated the local rulers of North India, the Rajput’s and established their rule.
The Rajput’s were very brave, but bravery is not a substitute for victory. A lack of strategic sense and petty rivalries among them contributed to their defeat by the Muslims. Thus in battle after battle, the Rajput’s were bested. The result after these defeats was almost frightening as the Muslims invariably captured the Rajput women and forced them to convert to Islam and added them for their sexual pleasure in the harems. The Rajput women then became concubines of the Muslim rulers. To avoid this degradation, the Rajput women began to immolate themselves by burning.
Ritual of Jauhar
Jauhar has been given a romantic connotation by poets and bards. It involved a specific ritual. Once the Rajput men had been defeated, the men would dress in ceremonial yellow robes and move into a last battle against the enemy and sure death.
When the men left the women would dress in all their finery with jewelry and then after prayers jump into a burning pit and die.
The method of death by burning was also chosen with the specific aim to ensure that their bodies were not buried by the Moslems later. This was against Hindu custom; hence death by burning was preferred.
Acts of Jauhar
One of the most famous acts of Jauhar was when Akbar invaded and laid siege to the fortress of Chittor. The attack on Chittor was undertaken in 1566 after Akbar had consolidated his hold over Delhi. He had won a lucky victory against the Hindu warrior Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya in 1556 at Panipat and after the battle had beheaded the Hindu king and taken the title of Ghazi. He was indeed a ruthless man.
The Rajput’s inside the fortress put up a stiff resistance and the Mughal army under Akbar could make little headway. The Rajput’s inside the fort numbered just 8000 against a Muslim army of 60,000. Yet Akbar could not make headway till a stray shot killed the Rajput general and the Mughals could then storm the fortress.
As Akbar entered he saw large bonfires and was made aware that 3000 Rajput women had committed Jauhar. This incensed Akbar and he slaughtered 30,000 Hindus in Chittor city and made a big pyramid of their skulls to satisfy his ego.
Do you feel that the act of Jauhar was an act of courage ?
The Story of Alauddin Khilji and Lust for Queen Padmini
Alauddin had heard of the legendary beauty of the queen of Chittor Rani Padmini. He desired and lusted for her. He sent a message that he wanted to see his queen and would go back. The naïve Rajput king showed his wife’s image in a mirror and this excited Allauddin even more.One wonders why he did this in the age of the purdah, maybe it was because of fear. Allauddin went back But launched an invasion of Chittor to capture the lovely queen of his harem.
Allauddin won the battle after a siege but as he entered the fortress, Rani Padmini and her maids committed Jauhar to escape falling into the hands of the Moslems. Thus Allauddin Khilji, who greatly desired Padmini, lost out as all he got were the ashes of the queen.
Jauhar was a Negative Concept
The act of Jauhar has been given a romantic connotation by many poets and writers. While committing Jauhar, the Rajput women dressed in all their finery and jewelry and then set themselves on fire, while their menfolk all left to battle the Moslems unto death.
But the act of Jauhar was in effect a negative concept. An idea that all is lost and hence it's better to die was the refrain. The fact is the will to live and fight again or retreats to fight another day was sadly absent.
Luckily the act of Jauhar died out soon after and another point is that apart from the Rajput’s no other community in India adopted this ritual The Rajput’s made peace with the Muslim rulers and in fact joined them as generals and soldiers. They also willingly began to give their princesses to the Muslim rulers and at the same time retained their kingdoms on paying a tribute. The act of Jauhar thus died a natural death