Politics of Padmavati, the Sinhala princess who broke records in India

Daily Mirror

The movie Padmavati, based on a semi-mythical Sinhala princess, who married an Indian king, has already done what once appeared to be impossible.

It got India’s most popular classical movie director, the much respected, Sanjay Leela Bhansali of Devdas fame beaten up by hooligans. It also drove movie goers to claim their favourite heroine, Deepika Padukone, ‘not beautiful enough’. As the Sinhala princess was often touted India’s most beautiful role was reportedly first offered to Aishwarya Rai. It has also exposed the much hyped Rajasthan based nationalist group Karni Sena as an extortion racket.

Finally when the movie trailer was out last week Padmavati broke India’s all previous trailer records by mustering a mammoth 15 million hits within 24 hours. Till last week the record was held by global blockbuster magnum opus, Bahubali 2 with 13 million hits.

Despite this feat director Bhansali’s effigies continue to be burnt in northern and central states of the country by the Rajput community to which the Sinhala princess Padmavati had reportedly got married to. While the movie is yet to be released Rajput organizations allege that it has ‘distorted history’.

Interestingly Indian historians are still divided as to whether Padmavati is a real life character or not. The historians in Rajasthan believe that Padmavati is Queen Rani Padmini who was married to their King Ratan Sen.

The role of Padmavati was created by the 16th century Indian Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in his epic poem Padmavat. Jayasi’s Padmavati is a ‘Singhal princess’ married to Rajput king of Chittor in Rajasthan, Ratan Sen. The epic has Ratan Sen travelling all the way to “Singhal kingdom” having heard the beauty of princess Padmavati from a parrot that has escaped from the Singhal palace.

The King who married princess Padmavati in ‘Singhal kingdom’ returns to Chittor with his bride. After some time a Brahmin courtier by the name Raghav Chetan who was expelled from Ratan Sen’s court defected to the side of Turkish invader Alauddin Khilji who ruled the Delhi Sultanate.

On hearing the exceptional beauty of Queen Padmavati the invader king launched an attack on Chittor in view of making her his queen. However on the defeat and death of her husband the queen commits suicide by setting herself on fire thus dashing the hopes of Alauddin.

Sufi poet Jayasi had reportedly woven his epic around the capture of Chittor by the Turkish invader in 1303. Alauddin laid siege to Chittor fort for two months before capturing it. While the siege was aimed at overthrowing the Hindu King Ratna Sen who was also known Ratan Simha, Jayasi’s poemhas capturing his bewitchingly beautiful wife as Alauddin’s purpose.

What compounded the situation for Padmavati director Bhansali was a baseless rumour that made rounds during the production stage that Bhansali had diverted from both history and poem in his movie and was portraying Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji as lovers. What perhaps led to this surmise was Bhansali’s decision to offer Alauddin’s character to Deepika Padukone’s fiancé Ranveer Singh.

While this rumour was making rounds attacks were launched against Bhansali and movie sets by Rajasthan based political outfit by the name Karni Sena. It was initially believed that the organization was genuinely worried about the reputation of the ‘Rajput’ Hindu Kings. However India Today magazine launched an undercover investigation following the attacks and exposed that the outfit ran a massive extortion racket aimed at gleaning crores of rupees from movie makers.

However even otherwise a section of Hindus in India are of the opinion that movie makers often try to give a ‘human face’ to Muslim invaders by showing them as lovers of Hindu princesses. Instead of portraying greed for power and zeal to spread their faith as driving factors, movie directors are being accused of portraying these rulers as ones driven by love.

The movie Padmavati is slated to be released on December 1st and going by the response received by its trailer it is expected to run to packed houses. While the descendants of Rajput kings are worried about their pride, perhaps we Sri Lankans can take pride in the fact that India’s most beautiful queen had been a Sinhalese, mythical or otherwise.

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