Malaysia banned the Bollywood film Padmaavat citing its negative portrayal of a Muslim ruler. The film attracted protests in India accusing it of distorting history by portraying a dissolute Muslim ruler’s “love” for Queen Padmavati of a Hindu Rajput warrior clan. But India’s Supreme Court allowed the film to be screened. Pakistan saw the movie amid scholarly articles in the national press accusing the movie of vilifying a perfectly nice Muslim king, Sultan Alauddin Khilji.
Syed Noman al-Haq wrote in Dawn (February 19): “But what is Padmaavat? It is an epic poem written by a South Asian Muslim, the sufi Malik Muhammad Jayasi… And let’s note: While one does find later transcriptions of the Padmaavat in the Devanagari script, it was originally written in the Persian nastaliq.”
The article also claimed that “Padmavati’s character is apocryphal”, which leaves only Khilji as the historically real person in the film. She is anyway Rani Padmavati of the Singhal kingdom (modern Sri Lanka) where a talking parrot, Hiraman, was banished for falling in love with the princess. The clever parrot ends up as a pet of another raja, Rawal Ratan Sen.
Then there was an objection by historian Tahir Kamran from Government College Lahore who claimed Khilji was not a bad chap, comparatively speaking. Khilji carried out reforms that held off the Mongol assault: “All these reforms from their conception to execution must have kept him preoccupied, leaving no time to camp outside Mewar with his army just in pursuit of Rani Padmavati.”
In medieval times, everybody was supposed to be heavily into cruelty, not sparing even the king’s own close relatives. The pre-Mughal sultans were hardly touched by the humanity one starts recognising in some Mughal kings although, barring Akbar, no one really pulls at the heartstrings of our era.
On May 24-25, at the Lahore Literary Festival Ali Mahmood spoke about his book succinctly titled “Muslims” with more candour than usual among historians. His section on Khilji was forthright: “Alauddin was the nephew and son-in-law of Jalaluddin, the old king, but was ambitious enough to kill the king and take over the throne. The king ignored advice and fell to the nephew’s sword in a typical scene. Jalaluddin went out to meet his nephew who was returning victorious from war, bringing much booty from his conquests.
As they embraced, Alauddin gave the signal to an executioner who plunged his sword into the sultan. With blood pouring from his wound Sultan cried out, ‘Ah, thou villain, Alauddin! What hast thou done?’ Another guard cut off the head of the sultan which was presented to Alauddin, impaled on a spear.”
What Muslims do to each other today in Syria should be condemned because their savagery is out of tune with our times; but back in the 13th century everybody did it. According to Ali Mehmood, what did Alauddin do next: “Setting out for Delhi, he bribed the people with enough gold coins to make them forget the murder of the sultan. On reaching Delhi, he blinded the princes, arrested their mother and secured the throne.”
And what did he do to the Hindus? Alauddin’s policy for the Hindus was severe. In his own words: “I know that Hindus will never become submissive and obedient till they are reduced to poverty. They shall not be allowed to accumulate wealth and property”. Historian Barni wrote, “As soon as the revenue collector demands the sum due from him, the Hindu pays with meekness, humility and respect and he, should the collector choose to spit in his mouth, opens the same without hesitation.”
It is no surprise that this crazy bipolar king was lured by a cunning court sorcerer Chetan to focus on Padmavati. Khilji sent an ultimatum to Chittorgarh telling Rawal Ratan Singh he wanted to “catch a glimpse” of his queen. It was all clearly under duress and the queen knew it. He was smitten and wanted to take her to Delhi with him after preferably killing the raja. What followed was horrible but routine in those days. According to an Urdu source: “A huge pyre was lit and the queen and other ladies got dressed in their best clothes. They sang religious songs and prepared themselves to endure the pain as the flames engulfed their bodies. Rani Padmavati jumped first and the rest followed.”
Malaysia couldn’t take Padmaavat because of Malaysia’s growing radical Islamisation. Some of the goings-on under sharia in its various states are quite shocking, given its large non-Muslim population. So, one is not surprised. But that Pakistan saw the movie with its horrendous portrayal of Khilji is groundbreaking. It might lead to a purgation of what al Qaeda and Islamic State have done to Pakistan.