All roads in Chittorgarh city in Rajasthan lead to the majestic Chittor fort, one of the largest forts in India. Standing atop a hill, sprawling over an area of 680 acres, the Chittor fort was the capital of the Mewar dynasty for many decades, starting 7 century. For the Rajputs, the fort is a symbol of pride, even today.
The regal fort, however, has been in news recently, for all the wrong reasons. It has been the epicentre of protests against Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed and Deepika Padukone-starrer ‘Padmavati’, for the “distorted portrayal” of Rani Padmini.
Protestors allege that the film, which is yet to be released, does not depict their Rani Padmini in the right light, and that they will not stop short unless the film is banned nationwide. From threatening self immolation, to offering bounty on Bhansali’s head and Padukone’s nose, with chief ministers of certain states siding with the protestors, the film ‘Padmavati’ has hogged the primetime, making Chittor fort the cynosure.
Every one has a version of what transpired between Rani Padmini and Delhi Sultanate King Alauddin Khilji. How did they meet? Did they meet at all? What is this room of mirrors?
To put a rest to the many versions, The Quint travelled to the fort to understand the version of the tourist guides, who have for decades taken the history straight to the public. However, traces of Khilji are slowly vanishing from the fort now. Courtesy, the tour guides, themselves.
Did Khilji See a Reflection of Padmini
Ever since he was 13, Chetan Prakash has been telling the story of how Alauddin Khilji caught a glimpse of the Rani’s reflection.
Standing between the Padmini fort, and the summer fort, that is separated by a river, Prakash describes Rani Padmini as a “very beautiful woman.” He explains how Khilji saw a reflection of the Rani, from the room of mirrors, located right across the summer fort.
When Rani Padmini would drink water, one could see it flowing down her throat. Alauddin Khilji came to Chittorgarh to get a glimpse of Rani Padmini.
Prakash takes Rs 200 for this story he narrates every time. But this story is now frowned upon. This story is now unofficially banned from being retold.
Told This Tale to Make Tourists Happy: Guides
Refuting Prakash’s tale is Narendar Singh, the President of Tourist Guides Association in Chittorarh, who has been a tour guide since 1999. The 45-year-old asserts that the Khilji Mirror Theory was “retold” only to make the tourists “happy” as they visited the fort expecting it.
Singh believes that contrary to Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem, Khilji came to expand the kingdom, and not to see Padmini.
The Archeological Survey of India has covered the plaque outside Padmini’s fort, telling Jayasi’s version of Padmini tale. The ‘Room of Mirror,’ from where legend says Khilji caught a glimpse, has also been “locked” by the authorities.
Bhupendra Kumar, another guide who grew up in a village in the fort premises said that there was “no way” Khilji caught a glimpse of the Rani’s reflection as mirrors did not exist before 15 century.
Rajput women cover their entire face with a veil. It’s not possible that Rani Padmini showed her face to a stranger. – Bhupendra Kumar
From tourist booklets, to small tourist souvenirs, everything that remotely relates to Khilji has been banned in the fortress, and above all, the Khilji-legend has been ordered to be omitted.
We don’t want Sanjay Bhansali to show the “distorted history” in the movie. We are proud of Chittor. We want to feel the same pride after watching the movie. – Bhupendra Kumar
The legend has existed for years now. One not only wonders why it is hurting Rajput pride now, but also if the Khilji-legend will exist at all, fifty years down the lane.
Cameraperson: Athar Rather
Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia