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The Ritual of Jauhar and Death by Burning by Rajput Women in Medieval India

MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a notable writer on military history.

act of Jauhar

act of Jauhar

Introduction

India has a checkered history and many brave acts are part of it. Unfortunately, there are some negative concepts also, which form part of this history. One of these was the act of Jauhar. Many writers and historians feel that it is a positive aspect of Hindu society but it is a matter of opinion. What was Jauhar? It was a ritualistic act that women of the Rajput clan indulged in and consisted of dressing themselves up in all their finery and then burning themselves to death. This was the last resort by Rajput women to stop being made part of Muslim harems. At best it was a negative concept and always the last resort when all had been lost and the menfolk had gone into battle to embrace death.

The Reason for Jauhar


Not much is heard about Jauhar before the arrival of the Muslim invaders. This act only surfaced with the advent of the Muslim conquerors. The Moslems entered India around the eighth and ninth century and in about 200 years, they defeated the local rulers of North India, the Rajput’s and established their rule.

The Rajputs were very brave, but bravery is not a substitute for victory. A lack of strategic sense and petty rivalries among them contributed to their defeat. Thus in battle after battle, the Rajputs were bested. The result after these defeats was almost frightening as the Muslims invariably captured the Rajput women and forced them to convert to Islam and added them to their harems. The Rajput women then became concubines of the Muslim rulers. To avoid this degradation, the Rajput women began to immolate themselves by burning.

Ritual of Jauhar

Jauhar has been given a romantic connotation by poets and bards. It involved a specific ritual. The Rajput men would dress in ceremonial yellow robes and move into battle against the enemy and would embrace death willingly. Field marshal Montgomery in "History of warfare" has mentioned that the Hindus were tremendously brave but lacked strategic sense.

When the men left, the women would await the result of the battle. In case the Rajputs were defeated and killed the women would dress in all their finery with jewelry and then after prayers jump into a burning pit and die.

The method of death by burning was also chosen with the specific aim to ensure that their bodies were not buried by the Moslems later. This was against Hindu custom; hence death by burning was preferred.

the-ritual-of-jauhar-and-death-by-burning-by-rajput-women-in-medieval-india

Acts of Jauhar

One of the most famous acts of Jauhar was when Akbar laid siege to the fortress of Chittor. The attack took place in 1566 after Akbar had consolidated his hold over Delhi. He had won a lucky victory against the Hindu warrior Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya in 1556 at Panipat and after the battle had beheaded the Hindu king and taken the title of Ghazi. Contrary to popular belief Jalaluddin Akbar was a ruthless man.

The Rajputs inside the fortress put up stiff resistance and the Mughal army under Akbar could make little headway. The Rajputs numbered just 8000 against a Muslim army of 60,000. Yet Akbar could not make headway till a stray shot killed the Rajput general and the Mughals took advantage and entered the fortress.

As Akbar entered he saw large bonfires and was made aware that 3000 Rajput women had committed Jauhar. This incensed Akbar and he slaughtered 30,000 Hindus in Chittor city and made a big pyramid of their skulls to satisfy his ego. There is enough evidence available of this carnage. It is also mentioned in the Akbarnama

The Story of Alauddin Khilji and Lust for Queen Padmini


One of the most famous tales of Chittor and Jauhar took place before Akbar invaded this city. Allauddin Khilji (1266-1316) the Sultan of Delhi had heard of the legendary beauty of the queen of Chittor. Rani Padmini. He desired and lusted for her. He sent a message that he wanted to the Rana ( Ruler) that he wanted to see his queen and would go back. The naïve Rajput king showed his wife’s image in a mirror and this excited Allauddin even more. One wonders why he did this in the age of the purdah, but no clear reason is available. Allauddin went back but launched an invasion of Chittor to capture the lovely queen.

Allauddin won the battle after a siege but as he entered the fortress, Rani Padmini and her maids committed Jauhar to escape falling into the hands of the Moslems. Thus Allauddin Khilji, who greatly desired Padmini, lost out as all he got were the ashes of the queen.

Painting of Princess with maid

Painting of Princess with maid

Jauhar was a Negative Concept

The act of Jauhar has been given a romantic connotation by many poets and writers. While committing Jauhar, the Rajput women dressed in all their finery and jewelry and then set themselves on fire, while their menfolk all left to battle the Moslems unto death.

But the act of Jauhar was in effect a negative concept. An idea that all is lost and hence it's better to die was the refrain. The fact is the will to live and fight again or retreats to fight another day was sadly absent.

Luckily the act of Jauhar died out soon after. Another point is that apart from the Rajput’s no other community in India adopted this ritual The Rajputs made peace with the Muslim rulers and in fact joined them as generals and soldiers. Many of the famous generals of Akbar and Aurangzeb were Hindu Rajputs. They also willingly intermarried with the Muslim rulers and at the same time retained their kingdoms by paying a tribute. The act of Jauhar thus died a natural death.

References

  • Jadunath Sarkar(1994) [1984]. History of Jaipur(1503-1938). Orient Blackswan
  • Satish Chandra (2005). Medieval history India: From Sultanate to the Mughals Part II (Revised ed.). Har-Anand Publications.
  • Andrew de la Garza, (2016). The Mughul Empire at War: Babur, Akbar and Indian Military Revolution 1500-1605.. Routledge.
  • John F Richards, (1995) [1993]. The Mughal Empire. New Cambridge History of India

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 21, 2021:

Thank you, Jennifer, yes historians agree that British rule over India brought progress while Muslim rule over India for the minorities led to the division of Society and very little progress.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 21, 2021:

Thank you Jennifer I'm glad you agree with me and there is also no doubt that Muslim rule over non-Muslims was generally a negative concept and very few societies prospered.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 22, 2020:

Anupam, thank you. Even Lord Krishna in a way abducted the princess Rukmini. Abduction and love is an excellent topic and maybe I will write my next novel on it.

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on July 22, 2020:

Oh God! I surrender....

Yes you are right

What did Bhishm Pitamah do?

Take care

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 22, 2020:

Thank you Anupam, why do you feel that a man who abducted the woman has to be cruel? Abduction was recognised as per the laws of Manu as one of the methods of marriage.

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on July 22, 2020:

Good point.

I am thinking this on an individual level, as a lady if I was there, I should have done the same. Rather than getting into the hands of such cruel rulers, I should better kiss death.

I have read your article on Orgy as well. I have different views to that so opted not to comment. I can't deny visiting such sites for adults once in a moon, but whenever I visit I m stirred and frozen looking at the torture of the women on such platforms. It might for the sake of money or momentary gratification, whatever reason they might be doing that, I can't understand their point. I feel that mind doesn't have any boundary, so do the words.

I would love to read the book on war composed by you, though never read any on war yet.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 21, 2020:

Dear Anupam, we can agree to disagree.My take on Jauhar is that if it was an act of bravery than it would have been adopted by many in world but no other race or country adopted this. Even in India only the Rajput's and that also only a few clans( others did not and married their daughters wives to Mughals/Moslems.).Alistair McLean wrote that famous novel , " Fear is the key" I am afraid this act was dictated by fear and does no credit to Indians who lost every battle with the Moslems from 9th century onward.I will add one more facet of my life by virtue of my course at DSSC I hold a PG degree in Military studies from Madras university. My latest book on war has just been published.

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on July 21, 2020:

Yes Manohar, I too agree with Rajeev Bhatnagar. Jauhar was not at all a negative concept. Being a woman I can empathise with those women who have to live like slaves to quench the thirst of such rulers.

I am still now able to get how the kings were allowed to have so many wives in a harem. It's like fooling the public....

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 07, 2015:

Thank you Rajeev for some very informative news. Yes this is a ritual that can be looked at both ways , but the fact remains it was pessimistic and negative approach. Luckily this practice did not last long and died a natural death

Rajeev Bhatnagar on December 06, 2015:

I have lived in Rajasthan and as a child was brought up on staple diet of legends of Rajput bravery and warrior ethics.

Their ethic demanded that they either win the battle and return otherwise die in it never to return. When cornered and defeat was certain, the Rajput army wore "safron-colored-dress" and went to fight till death, till the last man fell. Such death was "glorious". The Rajputs women were equal warriors and partners of their husbands in war. If husbands went to war when defeat & death was certain, they too choose death. Since they could not fight in battle-field, they chose it in safety at home by committing Jauhar.

Jauhar was a warrior woman's ethic, just like fighting unto death was a warrior man's. It was a positive concept. Incidentally it also prevented rape, disrespect, or enslavement of women by enemy.

One of oldest account of Jauhar I recall is of c. 712 AD in Chachnama. Raja Dahir's sister committed Jauhar. One of the three Jauhars in Chittor is mentioned in Akbar's records. Niccolao Manucci has also narrated one related incidents. A Rajput Raja in Aurangzeb's army was defeated and returned from battlefield to his small fortress. The Rani, his wife, refused to open the gates because allowing him inside would shame her and mean dishonour. She & others expected him to fight till victory or death. Finally Aurangzeb intervened and the Raja was allowed.

Most memorable is the legend of Rani Hada, which was enacted as a dance-drama by small girls when I was in Middle School. Rani Hada's husband was called to war just a few days their marriage. From the battlefield he kept sending messengers inquiring about her well-being and asking for a token (perhaps to ensure that had / does not commit Jauhar). Finally he received a plate with something kept on it covered with cloth. On removing the cloth he saw that she had cut her neck and sent the head! This may be a legend but it is on such legends of bravery that Rajputs were brought up from childhood.

It is when we become familiar with the culture of these Indians that we understand that Jauhar by women is a positive act of bravery intended to propel their warrior husband to fight till death.

I am not, repeat not, a Rajput.

Rajeev

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 19, 2015:

Msdora. thank you for your opinion, unfortunately conquering women continues. Its sad

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 19, 2015:

Good that act of Jauhar died out; it would be good if the act of invading and conquering women also die out. Your articles are very informative. Thanks!

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