Our Hindi textbook for class ninth had the extract from Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic, Padmavat from which I first learned about the beautiful princess and the talking parrot Hiraman. Then I was a student at Dronacharya High school, Done (Siwan), three kilometres from Daraily Mathia—my village in a remote corner of Bihar state of India.
It was in early 1970’s. I was barely 13 or 14 year old. I enjoyed it more when our Hindi teacher, Sita Sharan Verma explained the Premakhyan (love story) of Padmavati—princess of Singhaldweep in Sri Lanka and Ratansen, king of Chittaur in Rajasthan. Padmavat was written in Awadhi language. It required Sita Sharan ji to explain the verses in Awadhi to make us understand.
In retrospect, I think that I enjoyed it more because I had reached the threshold of the age when I had got curious about the girls and was getting attracted to them. The story involving romance and love would fascinate me.
Secondly, the chapter had a talking parrot that I could easily associate with. In our neighbourhood, there lived a very old woman who had a parrot as pet. That parrot chanted “SitaRam-SitaRam”. The old woman would let us be close to the cage of the parrot and play with it.
While teaching us the Padmavat chapter, our Master Sahib—it is how we reverentially called Sita Sharan ji—would tell the story:
“Padmavati had befriended the talking parrot Hiraman. Her father was angry at his daughter befriending the parrot and ordered the parrot be killed. But the bird, somehow, escaped and flew to Chittaur where a bird catcher caught it and handed it over to Chittaur king, Ratansen.
The parrot described the beauty of Padmavati to the king. Fascinated by the parrot’s description, Ratansen with his Army and with the parrot as his guide reached Singhaldweep after crossing saat-samunder (seven seas). There, Ratansen disguised himself into an ascetic and began living an austere life in a temple.
The Hiraman parrot then flew to Padmini and revealed how the king from Chittaur had turned ascetic for her. Padmavati went to the temple but returned without meeting him, though, she too began longing for the Chittaur king.
Ratansen’s penance drew the attention of temple deities, Shiva and Parvati who blessed the king to invade and defeat the Singhaldweep king, Gandharvasen and capture the beautiful princess in love with him. Ratansen in the disguise of an ascetic and his army men attacked Gandharvasen’s fort but were captured by Gandharvasen.
As Gandharvasen ordered the execution of Ratansen, a Ratansen’s bard revealed his actual identity to Gandharvasen. Gandharvasen then married off his beautiful daughter to Ratansen and gave 1600 more Padmini women—known for their beauty in Singhaldweep—to Ratansen.
Ratansen encountered many hurdles including the wrath of the Sea God on his return journey to Chittaur. On his return to Chittaur, Ratansen faced competition from both Padmavati and his first wife, Nagmati to get his attention and love. He would sleep alternatively with the two women to buy peace.
Meanwhile, Ratansen banished a Brahmin, Raghav Chetan for winning a contest fraudulently but Padmavati gave her bangles to the Brahmin which he took to King Alauddin Khilji, explaining Padmavati’s peerless beauty. Khilji attacked Chittaur, defeating and capturing Ratansen and bringing him to Delhi—his headquarters.
Padmavati asked Gora and Badal to help her free Ratansen. Gora and Badal, disguised as Padmavati, entered the Khilji’s fort but Gora was killed, combating and Badal rescued Ratansen, taking him back to Chittaur.
During Ratansen’s absence, the Kumbhalner king, Devpal tried to marry Padmavati. Ratansen took it as affront and decided to kill Devpal. But Ratansen and Devpal ended up killing each other. Nagmati and Padmavati committed sati (self—immolation) on Ratansen’s pyre. Meanwhile, Alauddin Khilji invaded Chittaur. Faced with imminent defeat, the women of the fort taking a cue from Padmavati and Nagmati committed jauhar (mass self-immolation) while the men died, fighting. Alauddin captured the empty fort and thus, the victory was denied to him”.
I used to be in rapt attention when our Master Sahib narrated the story, dreaming about the beautiful girls and trying to find out if there was any girl like Padmavati in my neighbourhood. I don’t know if Alauddin Khilji dreamed of Padmavati. But she invariably would come in my dream when I was crossing my adolescence.
Perhaps, the Padmavati-Ratansen story and other such stories being told in our school and villages by cowherds, shepherds and peasants sowed the seed of my interest in the folktales. I was born and brought up in the village which had little connection with the world beyond its boundary. Community life was central to our existence. We would play with dogs, sparrows, goats and calves and grew listening to folktales and folklores—the lone source of entertainment and knowledge.
In fact, my upcoming book—Greatest Folktales from Bihar—is a collection of the folktales that I heard and gathered, growing up in my village. The book under the process of Publication by RUPA (India) does not have the Padmini-Ratansen saga but it has equally powerful Saranga-Sadabrij love story apart from three dozens of other stories which have stayed on the people’s lips for generations but have not been recorded so far.
When it comes to history, let us examine certain sequence of events. The Delhi Sultan, Alauddin Khilji laid the siege of Chittaur in 1303 with the motive to expand his empire.
The great Sufi saint poet, Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic, Padmavat belongs to1520-40—over two hundred years after Alauddin raided Chittaur. If anything, Jayasi’s work is a great experiment in folktale telling. The Alauddin-Padmavati-Ratansen saga would find it hard to meet the parameters of history.
But Padmavati is, surely, a great example in the author’s rich imagination. Jayasi must have used the contemporary folklore as the basis for authoring his epic, Padmavat. I am tempted to believe that he would have brought Alauddin Khilji to give a context to his story. It is hard to tell if Padmavati was a historical figure or not. But thanks to Jayasi’s power of imagination, Padmavati is an epitome and embodiment of beauty dominating the heart and mind of the people in the Indian sub-continent for well over five centuries.
I don’t have requisite expertise either in history or films and have nothing much to say about Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati. In fact, I find the hue and cry on the film quite boring, boorish and uncalled for. By creating unseemly controversy on it, the Rajputs are, in a way, promoting and popularising the film. Now, the Deoband clerics too have joined the chorus, demanding a ban on Padmini, claiming that the Delhi Sultan, Alauddin Khilji –a great and able administrator of his time—has been wrongly portrayed in the film as cruel and womaniser.
There is another folktale highlighting the need to save the Hiraman parrots—the rare wild species. It is believed that when Alauddin Khilji attacked the Gagron Fort around 1300 his army failed to locate the route to the fort. At that time, these parrots irritated Khilji’s army by imitating Alauddin and his soldiers. This angered Alauddin so much that he ordered that all the trees in the area should be burnt. As a result, thousands of Hiraman parrots were burnt to death. After this, the remaining parrots took shelter in the Gagron Fort. This fort, which was under Bahadur Shah, was later conquered by Humayun. After this victory, everything in the fort was sent to Humayun at Mandsor. The possessions included Bahadur Shah’s pet Hiraman. It comes in the category of rare wildlife species. Caging birds has almost brought the Hiraman parrot to the verge of extinction. The increasing demand for Hiraman at home and abroad has finished this species in the last decade. Today, even in the region of Gagron, the Hiraman is rarely seen.
Efforts should be made to conserve and preserve Hiraman parrots.
CREDIT: Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat, Sita Sharan Verma, Piyush Pachak, The Tribune, Divya Chariyan—The Many Padminis, The Hindu.
(Senior journalist Nalin Verma’s Parallel Lines column is more than a decade old, and now eNewsroom readers will get to read it regularly)