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The Ritual of Jauhar and Death by Burning by Rajput Women in Medieval India

Updated on November 17, 2017


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.

act of Jauhar
act of Jauhar

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.

Chittor Fort Today
Chittor Fort Today

Do you feel that the act of Jauhar was an act of courage ?

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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.

Painting of Princess with maid
Painting of Princess with maid

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


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thank you Rajeev for some very informative news. Yes this is a ritual that can be looked at both ways , but the fact remains it was pessimistic and negative approach. Luckily this practice did not last long and died a natural death

    • profile image

      Rajeev Bhatnagar 

      2 years ago

      I have lived in Rajasthan and as a child was brought up on staple diet of legends of Rajput bravery and warrior ethics.

      Their ethic demanded that they either win the battle and return otherwise die in it never to return. When cornered and defeat was certain, the Rajput army wore "safron-colored-dress" and went to fight till death, till the last man fell. Such death was "glorious". The Rajputs women were equal warriors and partners of their husbands in war. If husbands went to war when defeat & death was certain, they too choose death. Since they could not fight in battle-field, they chose it in safety at home by committing Jauhar.

      Jauhar was a warrior woman's ethic, just like fighting unto death was a warrior man's. It was a positive concept. Incidentally it also prevented rape, disrespect, or enslavement of women by enemy.

      One of oldest account of Jauhar I recall is of c. 712 AD in Chachnama. Raja Dahir's sister committed Jauhar. One of the three Jauhars in Chittor is mentioned in Akbar's records. Niccolao Manucci has also narrated one related incidents. A Rajput Raja in Aurangzeb's army was defeated and returned from battlefield to his small fortress. The Rani, his wife, refused to open the gates because allowing him inside would shame her and mean dishonour. She & others expected him to fight till victory or death. Finally Aurangzeb intervened and the Raja was allowed.

      Most memorable is the legend of Rani Hada, which was enacted as a dance-drama by small girls when I was in Middle School. Rani Hada's husband was called to war just a few days their marriage. From the battlefield he kept sending messengers inquiring about her well-being and asking for a token (perhaps to ensure that had / does not commit Jauhar). Finally he received a plate with something kept on it covered with cloth. On removing the cloth he saw that she had cut her neck and sent the head! This may be a legend but it is on such legends of bravery that Rajputs were brought up from childhood.

      It is when we become familiar with the culture of these Indians that we understand that Jauhar by women is a positive act of bravery intended to propel their warrior husband to fight till death.

      I am not, repeat not, a Rajput.


    • emge profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      Msdora. thank you for your opinion, unfortunately conquering women continues. Its sad

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Good that act of Jauhar died out; it would be good if the act of invading and conquering women also die out. Your articles are very informative. Thanks!


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