Discover Myth and Folklore of the beauty Padmavati, the siege of Chittorgarh and human sacrifices – Jauhar and Shaka done by the Rajputs in war time.

In this Article

Chittorgarh Fort is peering from an elevated slope of Ganbheri River in Rajasthan. The wall of this UNESCO World Heritage Site embraces 700 acres of land which along with its seven gates, four palaces, nineteen temples and lakes, also holds myth and folklore of Rana Rajputs.

Chittorgarh fort in Rajasthan

During its long history Fort Chittorgarh suffered three sacks:

  1. the first in AD 1303 by Alauddin Khiliji,
  2. the second in AD 1535 by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and
  3. the third by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in AD 1567-68

and each time the Jauhar and Shaka was performed.

Human sacrifice – Jauhar and Shaka

The Jauhar was only carried out during a war, involved not only women but also children, and was committed when both husband and wife were still alive. The Jauhar would be performed when the Rajputs saw no hope of victory over their enemies. During the Jauhar, which was said to take place during the night, Brahmin priests would chant Vedic mantras.

Padmavati and the siege of Chittorgarh
In many forts in Rajasthan, hand prints of women adorn the gateways, they remember the Jauhar. These hands are still venerated.

All the women within the fort led by queens dressed in their wedding fineries and jewelry, along with children would step into a large fire and turn to ashes in a ceremony called Jauhar before the enemy set upon them.

On the morning after the Jauhar, or while the women burned, the Rajput men performed the Shaka or the last fight from which there was no return. The fort gates would be thrown open and the men, dressed in kesariya or saffron, the Hindu color of renunciation, with tulsi leaves in their mouths would charge into the enemy with the aim of killing as many as possible before breathing their last.


admavati and the siege of Chittorgarh
Princess Padmavati ca. 1765 Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.

The earliest reference to Rani Padmini is an epic poem written by an Awadhi poet, Malik Muhammad Jayasi, in 1540 called ‘Padmavat‘. Set in an era when the Delhi Sultanate and Rajput kingdoms ruled different regions of North India, the poem is a fictional retelling of the siege of Chittorgarh that Sultan Alauddin Khilji undertook in 1303.

Padmavati and the siege of Chittorgarh

As per Jayasi, Padmini was the princess of the Sinhala-dwipa (present-day Sri Lanka), born to King Gandharvsena and his chief consort Champavati. She is described as a stunning woman, of luminescent beauty

no such was ever seen upon the Earth.”

The tales of Padmini’s legendary beauty were spread to lands far and wide by a talking parrot named Hiraman. After Hiraman incurred the wrath of the Sinhala king, it flew to Chittorgarh, where it told its ruler, King Ratan Rawal Singh, about Padmini.

The king,

“like the fabled bee, became enamoured”,

and travelled to Sinhala-dvipa to attend Padmini’s swayamvar, which he won. After a long journey filled with trials and adventure, he brought her to Chittorgarh as his beloved queen.

Padmavati and the siege of Chittorgarh
Mirror kept at the same place, where in Myth and History Ala-ud-din Khilji saw the reflection of Rani Padmini standing at the stairs of ‘Jal Mahal’. Chittorgarh Fort.

A few years later, the king caught a member of his court – a sorcerer called Raghav Chaitanya – invoking dark spirits and banished him from Chittorgarh. The vengeful man travelled to the Delhi court of Alauddin Khilji and told him all about Padmini’s mesmerizing beauty, following which the Sultan marched upon Chittorgarh to acquire her for himself.

On reaching Chittorgarh, Alauddin Khalji conveyed his desire to the Rajput King to see the Queen about whom he had heard so much.

Unaware of the impending danger, Ratan Singh acceded to this request.

However, Padmini agreed to show only her mirror reflection to the impudent Sultan.

First Jauhar of Chittoor

Smitten by a mere glimpse of Padmini’s reflection, Alauddin Khilji became obsessed with the queen and laid siege to Chittorgarh. Ratan Singh and his Rajput warriors fought bravely but fell under the staggering force of the Sultanate’s massive army. Finally, Khilji entered the fort to look for the Padmini, but by then the brave Queen had already committed Jauhar (self-immolation), choosing death in honor over life as a slave.

A few decades after Jayasi wrote Padmavat, Abul Fazl (the court chronicler of Mughal emperor Akbar) penned another famous re-telling of the siege of Chittorgarh. This was followed by over a dozen adaptations, with the most popular one being “Gora Badal Padmini Chaupai“, a 16th-century composition by Rajasthani bard Hemratan.

However, contemporary historians remain highly skeptical of Queen Padmini’s existence, claiming it a mere figment of imagination on the part of both Jayasi and Fazl.

Nonetheless, Khilji’s subjugation of Chittorgarh is indeed a part of India’s recorded history. A ruthless warmonger who killed his own paternal uncle to ascend the throne, Khilji ruled over a large swathe of the Indian subcontinent from 1296 to 1316. Other than his military expertise, he was also known for his strict administration and market reforms.

Interestingly, Amir Khusrau, who accompanied Khilji to chronicle his military campaigns, made no mention of Chittor’s Padmini in his writings.

This is one of the main reasons why historians believe the sultan’s invasion of Chittorgarh to be an ambitious ruler’s attempt to expand his kingdom rather than a lovesick man’s personal quest to acquire a beautiful woman. Furthermore, Jayasi’s original poem is shot through with Sufi imagery (the philosophical tradition to which the poet belonged) of which love and longing are an integral part.

As of now, the true story of Padmavati remains shrouded in layers of myth, mystery and age-old folklore.

Second Jauhar of Chittorgarh

The second instance of Jauhar in Chittorgarh was during the attack of Bahadur Shah of Gujarat when Rani Karnavati was ruling in the name of her son.

Rana Sanga, her husband had been defeated by Mughal king Babur in the Battle of Khanua and had later died of his wounds. It must be noted that the Rani had not committed Sati (the voluntary practice of self-immolation of a wife on the death of her husband) but chosen to manage the affairs of her husband’s kingdom. Unfortunately, she could not ward off the onslaught of the latest invader Bahadur Shah, and when Mughal king Humayun, to whom she had sent a rakhi did not reach her on time, she decided it was time for the Jauhar-Shaka ritual.

Locking herself in a vault with 13,000 other women and children, she ordered for gunpowder to be used to create the agni [fire] needed for burning.

Padmavati and the siege of Chittorgarh
Shaka ritual

Pannadai, the Rani’s maid was entrusted with the princes in order to continue the bloodline and she managed to take them away to safety. The men of the fort wore saffron and poured out to fight to the finish.

However, at a later point in time, the kingdom of Mewar including the fort of Chittorgarh was restored to the Sisodiya Rajputs and was ruled by Vikramaditya and Udai Singh II one after the other – both of them being the princes who had been whisked away to safety during the siege and Jauhar-Shaka of 1535.

Third Jauhar of Chittorgarh

The ignominy of precipitating the third and final documented instance of Jauhar-Shaka in Chittorgarh Fort can be attributed to Mughal king Akbar. At the helm of Mewar was Rana Udai Singh II, the fourth son of Rana Sanga and Rani Karnavati.

Many Rajput rulers submitted to Akbar but Mewar refused to bend. Rana Udai Singh II had decided to strategically set up his temporary capital in Gogunda, leaving Chittorgarh in the hands of his loyal chieftains Rao Jaimal and Patta. Akbar’s siege of Chittorgarh in 1567 was a brutal one. He employed over 5,000 expert builders, carpenters and stonemasons to dig mines and sap the walls of the fort but hundreds of them died due to the continual firing by Rajputs. Enraged by this, Akbar ordered a general massacre following four months of siege.

“Rising pillars of smoke soon signaled the rite of Jauhar as the Rajputs killed their families and prepared to die in a supreme sacrifice,”

says John F Richards in “The Mughal Empire”. 8000 Woman and children burned, while the men prepared for Shaka.

Padmavati and the siege of Chittorgarh
The Jauhar of Rajput women at Chittorgarh as shown in Akbarnama, V&A Museum, Public Domain.

According to historian Satish Chandra, in addition to the men who came out of the fort to die fighting, there were 8,000 more Rajput men inside the fort who died defending their temple. About 30,000 people were killed, including peasants who were aiding the Rajput soldiers.

In his biography of Akbar, Abul Fazal wrote about the Chittorgarh massacre:

Padmavati and the siege of Chittorgarh
The Mughal emperor Akbar, got two monuments build to acknowledge the bravery and courage of the Rajput chiefs Jaimal and Patta, who defended the fortress of Chitor.

“On this memorable day although there was not in the place a house or street or passage of any kind that did not exhibit heaps of slaughtered bodies, there were three points in particular at which the number of slain were surprisingly great; one of these was at the palace of the Rana, into which the Rajputs had thrown themselves in considerable numbers; from whence they successively sallied upon the imperialists in small parties, of two and three together, until the whole had nobly perished sword in hand. The other was the temple of Mahadeo, their principal place of worship, where another considerable body of the besieged gave themselves up to the sword. Thirdly, was the gate of Rampurah, where these devoted men gave their bodies to the winds in appalling numbers.”

According to David Smith, when Akbar entered the Chittorgarh fort in 1568, it was

“nothing but an immense crematorium”.

The rulers, their soldiers, the women folk of royalty and the other people considered death as a better option than dishonor in the face of surrender to the foreign invading armies.

NOTE: Jauhar and Shaka ≠Sati

Jauhar is sometimes confused with Sati.

Both beeing a form of suicide by women. Sati was the custom of a widow to commit suicide by self-immolation on her husband’s funeral pyre, while Jauhar was collective self-immolation by women to escape abuse and rape and slavery or death at the hands of the enemy, when they expected certain defeat at war. Jauhar is done in anticipation of the expected death of the husband.

The origins of sati as self-immolation of widows are hotly debated. It is often associated with concepts of honour and purity.

  • A possible source is  the deaths of four widows in the Mahabharata, a great epic about a war between two sets of cousins for a kingdom.
  • One religious source mentioned is the Hindu goddess named Sati who committed suicide in protest against her father’s refusal to invite her divine husband Shiva to a royal sacrifice.

The fort and the city of Chittorgarh host the biggest Rajput festival, “Jauhar Mela”. It takes place annually to commemorate the bravery of Rajput ancestors and all three Jauhars which happened at Chittorgarh.

In many forts in Rajasthan, handprints of women adorn the gateways, to remember the Jauhar. These hands are still venerated.

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Works Cited & Multimedia Sources

Explore INDIA on earthstoriez.

  • Hill Forts of Rajasthan – UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
  • Hindustani times.
  • History of Chittorgarh.
  • Jauhar – The History of Collective Self Immolation during War in India.
  • Jauhar. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • Places of interest in Rajasthan: Chittorgarh.
  • Rajasthan: Chittaurgarh Fort. Archaeological Survey of India. 2011.
  • Rani Padmini.
  • Sahana Singh. Jauhar-Shaka: When The Enemy Was At The Gate. 2017.
  • Sanchari Pal.
  • The Haunting Tales of Chittorgarh. Sanskriti.