Recently in popular culture a topic of much discussion and controversy has been the fort at Chittor, Rajasthan. Although an important heritage site in India, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, the renown of Chittorgarh is spread far and wide, more so because of the myths and legends associated with its history. Concrete information about the ruins of this fort is surprisingly not sufficient to back up significant areas of speculations about its past. As a result, several historical events that took place there have remained shrouded in mystery and become subject to much fabrication of actual truth. The reason for this however is undoubtedly the fact that the historical facts which can be proven sound much like stories in themselves because of the extraordinary tales of valour and the undaunted spirit of the Rajput clan that primarily inhabited Chittor.
For instance, in 1567 Akbar’s troops defeated Maharana Udai Singh II, the warriors of Chittor collectively marched on bravely to the battlefield although certain of their danger, simply to abide by the principles of honourable death. The women meanwhile committed jauhar, or mass self-immolation, displaying that death was preferred as more noble rather than a life of servitude or death at the hands of the enemy. These heroic ideals of not surrendering to the enemy forces have sparked off the imaginations of several writers and filmmakers and the stories have been retold several times. However, it is often difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.
One of the most remarkable stories which continue to be the object of songs and motion pictures is the legend of Rani Padmini, said to reside at the Padmini Palace complex at Chittorgarh. The tale is familiar to most – of the exceptional beauty of the queen, which captivated Allauddin Khilji and compelled him to lay the first major siege to the palace. The mirror through which Khilji was allowed to glimpse Padmini is still kept on display at the museum, but whether or not Padmini actually existed as an important monarch and the cause of the siege is debatable. The death of the king during the time at the hands of Khilji’s army can be historically accounted for, as can be the mass destruction that followed the event. Jauhar has been an inextricable part of the history of Chittor and it cannot be questioned that this act was performed by the women and certain soldiers at the prospect of defeat. However, contrary to popular belief, Rani Padmini and her ethereal beauty may simply be a figment of the poet Jayasi’s imagination, as there is not much evidence to her presence in Chittor aside from his epic poem.
Kumbha’s Palace is yet another spot surrounding, with several stories that have been created, but unlike the legend of Padmini, there are certain traceable historical evidences which can point to the truth of this event. This area housed the residences for the queen, halls for holding court, and stables. It is near this place that Udai Singh II, the monarch who is responsible for the establishment of Udaipur is believed to have been born. Legend has it that when he was just a baby his nurse Panna Dhai became aware of an internal conspiracy that was being hatched to kill him. In an astonishing display of loyalty, the nurse effectively switched the baby with her own such that her own son was mistakenly killed by the conspirators while Udai Singh was taken away by her to a safe destination.
Another legend which attracts several tourists to the spot is that of Meera Bai, an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, who lived in the palace. She was a Rajput princess and the wife of a Mewar prince but her utmost loyalty lay to her God. Her unflinching faith caused a substantial negative attention and dislike but she remained undeterred in her pursuit of the Lord and a life of faithful worship. The stories surrounding the hardships she had to bear during this time are heart wrenching but are popular legends in Chittor and contributes to the mythical aura of the place.
The proud heritage and cultural richness of Chittor is unquestionable regardless of the validity of such legends which surround the history of the fort. The city of Chittor in face hosts the largest Rajput festival, the Jauhar Mela, which celebrates the undying courage and fierce spirit of their clan. It commemorates the undoubted historical significance that is laid on the place which cannot be denied, regardless of the specifics of certain myths which cannot be confirmed.