Saturday, 23 March 2019

The Death of Rana Pratap

Rana Pratap is without doubt a legendary figure in the history of Mewar. He is a symbol of unbending resistance, and an example of a hero who defied all odds and managed to save most of his kingdom from the imperialistic ambitions of the Mughal state, then ruled by the talented Akbar. He finally died in the year 1597, after freeing all of what he had inherited from his father, Rana Udai Singh. In Rana Pratap’s later years (he was 57 years old then), his reflexes had slowed down, and the wear and tear his body underwent in the constant 15 years of warfare against the Mughal state began to show. One day, when he went hunting with such a worn out body, an unfortunate accident during the hunt led to his death. The text Maharana Yash Prakash (pg. 139) states that when striking his bow, his leg sustained an injury, which ultimately lead to his death.[1]
However, the Akbarnama of Abu’l Fazl attributes another cause for the Rana's death. According to the Akbarnama, there were two reasons for the Rana’s death. First of all, he hurt himself when bending a stiff bow. This story is somewhat similar to the aforementioned one in the Maharana Yash Prakash (pg. 139). The second cause that Abu'l Fazl gives for the Rana's death is poisoning. Rana Pratap was poisoned by his son Amar Singh, who then ruled as Rana after getting his father killed. Such conspiracies were not new for the Ranas of Mewar. Rana Mokal was assassinated by his uncles. After some difficulties, Rana Kumbha ascended the throne (at the age of 12). He was later assassinated during his old age by his own son, Udai Singh I (not to be confused with Udai Singh II, the father of Rana Pratap).
So, just for those that are interested, here is the relevant excerpt from the Akbarnama, describing how Amar Singh (Abu’l Fazl calls him “Umra”, just like Col. Tod does) poisoned his father to obtain the throne (Akbarnama Vol 3 [H. Beveridge, Trans.], pg 1069)[2]:
[Rana Kika is another name for Pratap. Abu’l Fazl attributes poisoning as a cause of the Rana’s death.]
Although the earliest Rajasthani sources do not mention this poisoning, even those sources are quite late (a few decades into the 17th century), and were composed well into the period when the idolization of Rana Pratap and his son had already commenced. The Amarsar, for example, is the earliest Rajput source on Rana Pratap and his son. It was composed around the year 1630, and idolizes both father and son. The sources describing Rana Pratap's death were composed in the post-1630 period. It is thus only natural that they would omit any fact(s) that would portray the Rana and his successor in poor light. The Akbarnama, on the contrary, was composed by the year 1598 and hence is contemporary to the Rana’s death (which occurred in 1597), thus making it chronologically superior to the late Rajasthani sources.
Although some historians do tend to reject Abu'l Fazl's story since it lacks corroboration in the Rajasthani sources, the early date of origin of this narrative makes it imperative for us to reconsider this stance of historians. There may infact be reason to believe that Rana Pratap died at the age of 57, not only due to his own injuries, but also due to his son Amar Singh, who had plotted to poison his father and thus usurp the throne of Mewar.
Footnotes

Friday, 22 March 2019

King Aurangzeb's Ban on the Sati Practice

The title of this post should come off as somewhat odd for most people. After all, we are told that it was Akbar the Great who tried to reform Hindu malpractices like Sati, child marriage, (lack of) widow remarriage, etc... Aurangzeb Alamgir usually functions as the punching bag for all religious bigotries (both real and perceived) that are deeply rooted in the Hindu perception of this emperor. However, it is true that Aurangzeb is a complex character who did take action against the Sati practice. Akbar banned cases of Sati that were forced on the women. However, he did not dare to take any action whatsoever against cases of Sati where the woman willingly boarded the pyre, so as to not irk and obtain the wrath of the powerful and influential brahmans who enforced this practice. Akbar was so serious in his reforms of the Sati practice that (as mentioned by Abu'l Fazl in Akbarnama), he himself rode all the way from Fathpur Sikri to Jodhpur, in order to stop a case of Sati, wherein Rani Damayanti (the wife of Jaimal of Marwar) was being forced to ascend by pyre by her own son and his friends. Akbar thought that if he put the duty of stopping the Rani from ascending the pyre on his servants, they may delay out of negligence. Hence, he in his characteristic youthful chivalry himself rode off to Marwar to stop the Sati. It was stopped, and the culprits were imprisoned. Akbar had initially wanted to execute the culprits, but once he calmed down he decided to spare their lives and imprison them. This incident took place in the early 1580s, when Akbar was about 40 years old. For more details on this incident, readers can check out Abhay's blog on the topic, where he has provided the relevant extracts from the Akbarnama.
Aurangzeb, however, unlike Akbar, did not care for the brahmanical opposition to his reform, and put a full ban on the practice, an action that was later repeated by the British two centuries later. He ruled that "in lands under the Mughal control, never again should the officials allow a woman to be burnt". This is to say, regardless of whether or not the lady was willing, she was not lawfully permitted to be burnt. This law was passed in 1663, roughly five years after Aurangzeb ascended the throne, trampling on the heads of his brothers. About 5 years after Aurangzeb acquired the throne, he fell very sick, and nearly died due to his sickness. After some time, he recovered though. Since his physician recommended that he change his place of residence to get different air quality and thereby recover quickly, the emperor changed his residence to Kashmir for a year or so. An Italian writer, Niccolao Manucci, who was formerly employed in Dara Shikoh’s army, accompanied Aurangzeb on the march to Kashmir, out of curiosity. However, in a few days he got bored, and due to disinterest he abandoned the royal camp and migrated to Bengal for about 2 months. He then left Bengal and came to Agra.
One day in Agra, when he decided to roam the country with an Armenian friend, they saw a widow just about to mount her funeral pyre. She was socially pressurized to do the Sati, and hence in order to escape the death, she, with her helpless eyes and body language, appealed to them for deliverance. Manucci and his Armenian friend, along with their servants, decided to help. They armed themselves with swords and charged right into the funeral site with their cavalry, yelling “kill, kill”. The brahmans were terrified, thinking that they would be killed by the cavaliers, and thus fled, leaving the widow unguarded. Seeing that the widow was unguarded, the Armenian took her, placed her on his horse, and fled from the spot, thus saving her. He later converted her to Christianity, and married her. When Manucci saw her some years later in Surat, she had a child (presumably with the Armenian), and expressed gratitude to Manucci for saving her.
However, after saving the poor lady the matter didn’t end there. The brahmans were annoyed by the interference of these soldiers, and hence took their complaint to King Aurangzeb when he returned from Kashmir (sometime late in the year 1663). The fact that they, Hindu priests, thought that Aurangzeb would assist them in carrying out their religious dictates, may be taken as one of the many proofs that Aurangzeb did not have an anti-Hindu image with the public at that point in time, early in his reign. This anti-Hindu image was to develop in the future years, and especially take ground after the death of Rajah Jai Singh (of Amer). Returning to the point... The brahmans thought that Aurangzeb would allow them to carry on their Sati practice with ease. However, contrary to the expectations of these brahmans, King Aurangzeb issued an order that “in all lands under Mogul control, never again should the officials allow a woman to be burnt”. Hence, Aurangzeb clearly banned all cases of Sati, regardless of whether or not they were consensual. This sequence of events and the consequent ban was mentioned by none other than Manucci himself, in his Storia Do Mogor Volume 2 (pg. 97):
Akbar banned only cases where the female was forced to do Sati. Aurangzeb, however, banned all cases of Sati, regardless of whether or not the female was being forced to do the Sati. Unlike what the Hindutva propagandists would like us to believe, Sati was not a very uncommon practice restricted to just some sections of Hindu royalty. In Manucci's time, as stated in the third volume of his Storia Do Mogor, Sati was practiced by the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas. It was only absent in some of the lowest jatis of the Sudra varna. One of the lowest class of Sudras, which Manucci (17th century) calls “thieves” (they made their income by looting travelers along roads), didn’t practice Sati. Remarriage was allowed in these communities. Whenever the husband wanted to divorce his wife, he would give her a piece of straw, symbolizing that he has divorced her. The wife also had the right to demand that the husband give her the straw, if she wanted to divorce him. But as I said, this equality was only reserved for the lowest of the low. All respected and noble folk were expected to do Sati. This would have led to thousands of deaths through Sati on a yearly basis, and thus a systematic oppression of women.
The root cause of the miseries these women faced is made clear by European travelers to India, of that time. Manucci and others squarely blame the greed and selfishness of the brahmans for the state of these women. Whatever the merits of brahmans in the ancient world may have been, they had degraded significantly by the late medieval period, and were responsible for a variety of social ills, ranging from sexual exploitation of women to child marriage to Sati. In that light, I think that an unknown (or less known) hero, who paid these brahmans back in their own coins and ultimately forced them to stop a Sati taking place in Vishakhapatnam was it's governor, Mr. Holcombe. Seeing that the female was unwilling to abort her plans of Sati, no matter how much she was counseled to do so by this governor, the latter decided that it was futile to try to reason with her. So, he approached the brahmans, who were the root cause of this entire mess, and told them that if they would stop the practice he would give them loads of money. However, if they refused to stop the practice, they would be forced to board the pyre along with the lady.
Needless to say, the brahmans realized the seriousness of the situation, and agreed to stop the practice. They stealthily went behind the lady without her knowing it, and then gently touched her clothes at the back with their fingers, thus caressing her back. This was considered very shameful in those days. It was as if the lady was publicly robbed of her chastity. As soon as she realized what the brahmans had done, the color of her face changed. She became extremely embarrassed, and then drooping and burying her face in her raised palms (out of shame), ran to her house, abandoning all thought of ascending the pyre and doing Sati. This case is described by Manucci in the third volume of his Storia Do Mogor. He probably had personally seen the case, when he visited Vishakhapatnam. Below are the relevant pages from his Storia Do Mogor (Volume 3, pg. 155-57), where this case is mentioned:
It is very important to bring to light such unknown heroes who played major roles in stemming the brahmanical tyranny that was very prevalent in the medieval period. Mr. Holcombe is without doubt a hero for me, who raised his voice out of compassion, to save women that were oppressed by thexploitative, stagnant system in thHindu societies of medieval India.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Physical Appearance of Sita

I have posted an article in the past where I detailed the clothing worn in the Ramayana era. In that post, I uploaded an image of a Sunga-era temple carving, which graphically represented Sita's kidnap by Ravana. What was of much interest to us in that carving was the clothing of Sita, as depicted by the architect of the carving. She was decked in jewelry throughout her body, but had worn nothing more than a truncated lower garment. It was truly uncommon for women in those days to cover their upper bodies. Out of all the articles that I have written so far, that article is the most-viewed one, thus demonstrating how much interest the topic generates among readers of the Ramayana. In an add-on to that article, and also to satisfy the curiosity of many readers about the physical appearance of Sita, I have decided to make a small article detailing the physical appearance of Sita.
When Ravana approaches Sita for the first time, disguised as a mendicant-sannyasi, he praises her beauty in very much detail, from the smile to the nipple to the thighs. This should give us an approximate visual of how she looked[1]:
स मन्मथशराविष्टो ब्रह्मघोषमुदीरयन्।।3.46.13।।
अब्रवीत्प्रश्रितं वाक्यं रहिते राक्षसाधिपः।
He who is struck by the arrows of the god of love, that Lord of demons Ravana, while chanting from the Vedas, spoke these well-mannered words to she whom is in solitariness.
का त्वं काञ्चनवर्णाभे पीतकौशेयवासिनि।।3.46.15।।
कमलानां शुभां मालां पद्मिनीव हि बिभ्रती।
Who are you with a golden complexion, clad in yellow silk, and looking like a lotus pond and wearing an auspicious lotus garland?
ह्रीः कीर्तिः श्रीश्शुभा लक्ष्मीरप्सरा वा शुभानने।।3.46.16।।
भूतिर्वा त्वं वरारोहे रतिर्वा स्वैरचारिणी।
O lady with a beautiful face, with lovely thighs, are you 'hri', shyness personified? Are you the auspicious lovely Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth? Are you the goddess of fame? Are you an apsara? Are you Bhuti, the goddess of fortune? Or are you Rati, the goddess of love moving at your free will ?
समाश्शिखरिणस्स्निग्धाः पाण्डुरा दशनास्तव।।3.46.17।।
विशाले विमले नेत्रे रक्तान्ते कृष्णतारके।
Your teeth are even and pointed, white and beautiful. Your eyes are large and clear and sparkling with dark pupils with a red tinge at the corner.
विशालं जघनं पीनमूरू करिकरोपमौ।।3.46.18।।
एतावुपचितौ वृत्तौ संहतौ सम्प्रवल्गितौ।
पीनोन्नतमुखौ कान्तौ स्निग्धौ तालफलोपमौ।।3.46.19।।
मणिप्रवेकाभरणौ रुचिरौ ते पयोधरौ।
Your big hips are stout and strong, Your smooth thighs are like the trunk of an elephant, your breasts adorned with gems, are round and robust like palm fruits and are rubbing with one another and are swinging up and up, with nipples are brawny and jutting out, shining and delightful, adding beauty.
चारुस्मिते चारुदति चारुनेत्रे विलासिनि।।3.46.20।।
मनो हरसि मे कान्ते नदी कूलमिवाम्भसा।
करान्तमितमध्यासि सुकेशी संहतस्तनी।।3.46.21।।
O lady with an elegant smile, beautiful teeth, lovely eyes you are enticing. Your slender waist can be compassed by my fist. Your hair is beautiful and your large breasts are rubbing against each other. You are capturing my mind just as the flow of water in a river touches its banks.
नैव देवी न गन्धर्वी न यक्षी न च किन्नरी।
नैवंरूपा मया नारी दृष्टपूर्वा महीतले।।3.46.22।।
O beautiful lady I have not seen such a beauty earlier either among goddesses or among gandharvis, or yakshis or even among kinnaris.
रूपमग्र्यं च लोकेषु सौकुमार्यं वयश्चते।
इह वासश्च कान्तारे चित्तमुन्मादयन्ति मे।।3.46.23।।
You are the most beautiful among women in the world. With all your tenderness and youth you are living in this forlorn forest. This maddens my heart.
सा प्रतिक्राम भद्रं ते नैवं वस्तुमिहार्हसि।
राक्षसानामयं वासो घोराणां कामरूपिणाम्।।3.46.24।।
It is not safe for a lady like you to reside here. Move out at once. This is only fit for the dwelling of horrible demons who can change their form at will.
प्रासादाग्राणि रम्याणि नगरोपवनानि च।
सम्पन्नानि सुगन्धीनि युक्तान्याचरितुं त्वया।।3.46.25।।
You deserve to stroll in the terraces of palaces, in beautiful, luxurious and fragrant city gardens.
वरं माल्यं वरं भोज्यं वरं वस्त्रं च शोभने।
भर्तारं च वरं मन्ये त्वद्युक्तमसितेक्षणे।।3.46.26।।
O beautiful, black-eyed lady, I think you deserve the best of garlands, best of food, and clothes and a suitable husband.
का त्वं भवसि रुद्राणां मरुतां वा वरानने।
वसूनां वा वरावोहे देवता प्रतिभासि मे।।3.46.27।।
O best of women O lady with beautiful buttocks can you be one of the Rudras or Maruts or Vasus? To me, you appear like a goddess.
नेह गच्छन्ति गन्धर्वा न देवा न च किन्नराः।
राक्षसानामयं वासः कथं नु त्वमिहागता।।3.46.28।।
Neither gandharvas, nor kinnaras, nor gods move here. This is only a dwelling place for the demons. How did you come here ?
इह शाखामृगास्सिंहा द्वीपिव्याघ्रमृगास्तथा।
ऋक्षास्तरक्षवः कङ्काः कथं तेभ्यो न बिभ्यसि।।3.46.29।।
There are monkeys, lions, panthers, tigers, hyenas, bears, kanka birds and other wild animals here. How is it that you are not afraid of them?
मदान्वितानां घोराणां कुञ्जराणां तरस्विनाम्।
कथमेका महारण्ये न बिभेषि वरानने।।3.46.30।।
O Charming lady how is it that although alone you are not afraid of the dreadful, swift, powerful wild animals like elephants in rut ?
कासि कस्य कुतश्चित्त्वं किं निमित्तं च दण्डकान्।
एका चरसि कल्याणि घोरान्राक्षससेवितान्।।3.46.31।।
Who are you, O auspicious lady? Who are your people? Why are you here? From where have you come? For what reason are you going about alone in this fierce Dandaka tract, inhabited by demons?
So, from this description, we can ascertain the following characteristics of Sita’s physical appearance:
  • Golden skin complexion.
  • Large, clear eyes, with dark black pupils that give a sparkle to the eyes, and a red tinge at the corners of the eyes.
  • The features of her nose are not described in this speech. However, in VR 6.12.16, Ravana states that she had a “prominent nose”. Shurpanakha says that Sita had a "well-shaped nose" (VR 3.34.15)
  • Pure white teeth, evenly shaped, and pointed (no deformities there).
  • Her smile is described as being “elegant”, with her beautiful teeth and lovely eyes enhancing the visual.
  • Hair is described as “beautiful”.
  • Breasts are round and robust. They are described as being “large”. Their size can be ascertained by their comparison to palm fruits. They are large enough that are described as rubbing against one another. In Yuddha Kanda Section 5, Rama describes Sita’s breasts as being beefy and close to one another (VR 6.5.14). In that verse, he compares the size and shape of her breasts to Palmyra fruits. Shurpanakha describes Sita's breasts by saying that the latter has "fatty/bulgy bearers of milk [i.e. breasts]" (VR 3.34.20).
  • Nipples are brawny and jutting out. They are described as being “shining and delightful”.
  • Very slender waist. Ravana, in exaggeration, says that it is so slender that is can be compassed in his fist.
  • Very large hips. They are described as being “stout and strong”. In a separate verse, Shurpanakha says that Sita had "beefy/heavy hips" (VR 3.34.20).
  • Her butt is described as being “beautiful”. Other narratives (such as VR 3.43.1, etc) call Sita as “sushroni”, meaning “one with large hips, buttocks, and loin”. When Rama asks Hanumana to narrate how Sita is living in Lanka, he uses the adjective “sushroni” to describe his wife (VR 5.66.12).
  • Very smooth thighs. The amount of beefiness in them can be imagined by the fact that they are compared to the “trunk of an elephant”. Shurpanakha calls these thighs "well-shaped", in a conversation to Ravana, about Sita's beauty (VR 3.34.15)
  • Feet… Although not described in the above speech of Ravana, he describes Sita’s feet in another speech of his. Her feet is described as being smooth, and having slightly reddish soles which evenly rest on the ground. The nails on her feet were painted with reddish nail polish (VR 6.12.15). Shurpanakha describes the nails of Sita (presumably the ones on her hands as well) as red and pointed (VR 3.34.16).
One important aspect of Sita’s physical appearance would be her height. I have not come across any verse directly dealing with her height, but there is some circumstantial evidence that can be used to ascertain her height. In Yuddha Kanda Section 5, Verse 14, Rama laments about Sita’s absence by saying[2]:
तौ तस्याः सम्हतौ पीनौ स्तनौ ताल फल उपमौ |
कदा नु खलु स उत्कम्पौ हसन्त्या माम् भजिष्यतः || ६-५-१४
"When will those breasts which are delightful, close to one another, beefy (swollen) and quivering, looking like Palmyra fruits, indeed press me?"
What this obviously indicates is a fetish/fantasy of Rama, to have Sita’s breasts squish against his body. This would not be comfortably possible if she was taller, or even of the same height as Rama. She thus must have been slightly shorter than Rama. Below is an illustration of the kind of hug/embrace, wherein the female’s breasts press against the man’s body, that Rama had a fetish for. It appears that the female would be about a head’s height (~1 feet) shorter than the male...
In Sundara Kanda Section 35, Hanumana gives the height of Rama as 4 cubits[3]:
त्रिवलीवांस्त्र्यवनतश्चतुर्व्यङ्गस्त्रिशीर्षवान्।
चतुष्कलश्चतुर्लेखश्चतुष्किष्कुश्चतु स्समः।।5.35.18।।
"He has three folds in the skin of his neck and belly. He is depressed at three places (the middle of his soles, the lines on his soles and the nipples). He is undersized at four places (the neck, penis, the back and the shanks). He is endowed with three spirals in the hair of his head. He has four lines at the root of his thumb (denoting his proficiency in the four Vedas). He has four lines on his forehead (indicating longevity). He is four cubits high. He has four pairs of limbs (the cheeks, arms, shanks and knees) equally matched."
I cubit is 18 inches, and hence 4 cubits would be 72 inches (or 6 feet). So, Rama was 6 feet tall. Sita would be about 1 feet shorter than Rama, thus making her roughly 5 feet tall. She therefore seems to be a relatively short lady. The visual that always pops up in my mind whenever I imagine Sita, is of a short lady. It also seems highly unlikely that as a torchbearer of patriarchy, Rama would be alright with a tall wife. I suppose that this description should be enough for readers to draw a mental sketch of Sita. Those that are artistically gifted may even draw their own sketch and upload it through a comment on this article. It would be nice to see what you all have in mind, regarding the appearance of Sita.
Below is picture that I found online a long time ago, which reminds me of Sita (minus the skin complexion).
A sensual, yet fiery lady...

Footnotes

Friday, 30 November 2018

Did Hindu Kings Take Sex Slaves From The Defeated Kingdoms?

Question:
Did ancient Hindu kings take sex slaves from the defeated kingdoms just like the Mughal invaders?
My Answer:
You bet!

It is a big misconception spread by Hindu nationalists, that Hindu kings never took women captive in their invasions. In this post, I will provide some instances that show that Hindu kings did capture enemy women in their invasions. Let's start with the Prithviraja Vijaya, a text composed around 1191-1193 CE by Jayanaka, a Kashmiri poet in the court of Prithviraja Chauhan. This text is of exceptional value, since it is the only Hindu source detailing the life of Prithviraja Chauhan, that was composed by a contemporary of him. In his book "Early Chauhan Dynasties", the Rajasthani historian Dasharatha Sharma summarizes Canto 10, Verses 8-38 of the Prithviraja Vijaya, which deal with Prithviraja's encounter with his cousin-brother Nagarjuna, the son of Vigraharaja IV (r. 1150-1164 CE). He states that "Nagarjuna managed to escape from the beleagured fort; but his wife, mother and followers fell into the hands of the victor along with a large amount of booty. The soldiers who continued fighting against Prithviraja under the leadership of Devabhata, probably an officer of Nagarjuna, were soon killed to the last man and a garland made of their heads was hung across the gate of the fort of Ajmer" (pp. 73-74)[1]:
Considering the enmity between the families of Someshwara and Vigraharaja IV, as mentioned by historian Dasharatha Sharma in footnote 10, it is very likely that these captured royal ladies were taken into Prithviraja's harem.

Taking enemy women into the victor's harem was not restricted to Prithviraja Chauhan alone. The Rajput text, Nainsi Ri Khyat (1660) states that in the early 15th century, after Rana Mokal of Mewar was executed by some Sisodiya Rajputs, Rao Rinmal of Jodhpur got angry, and attacked Chittor. After a successful siege, Rao Rinmal killed all those who were responsible for the murder of Rana Mokal, and then (in Nainsi’s words)[2]:

Rinmalji cut off the heads of the Sisodiyas and planted them on stakes to create an enclosure [chokya kivi]. Then he created a wedding pavilion [mandap] with those stakes. And he wedded the daughters of the Sisodiyas to the [victorious] Rathors. The weddings continued throughout the day.

This narrative somewhat reminds me of Saffiya, the wife of Prophet Muhammad, and how, after her tribe was killed off at Khaibar, she was dragged through the heaps of slain bodies of her tribesmen, and married to Muhammad that very evening.

What is evident from the above passage is that Rinmal made an enclosure wall using the heads of Sisodiya leaders, and then within that enclosure space, used some of these Sisodiya heads to build a mandapa, where he had Rathores marry royal Sisodiya ladies. This was a way of humiliating the Sisodiya ladies, and their clan. It was clearly not a set of consensual marriages, with a happy approval from both sides. In all likeliness, these ladies were probably raped on their wedding night by their Rathore husbands, who had married them just to humiliate them and their clan. This was a legalized form of rape.

Rana Kumbha, the legendary 15th century ruler of Mewar, also took Muslim women captive after defeating the Sultan of Gujarat. On the Kirtistambha Pillar, which was erected to celebrate the victory of Rana Kumbha over Sultan Qutb-al-Din Ahmad Shah of Gujarat in 1454, an inscription states that the Rana “stole Nagaur from the Sultan, demolished the fort there, captured many elephants there, and took many Muslim women prisoners, and then turned Nagaur into a pasture for grazing”.[2] You can bet that these Muslim women were placed in the Rana’s harem. As a punishment to other royal Muslim women, he made them sell buttermilk in villages. According to Canto IV of the Udaipur Rajaprashasti Inscription (1674 CE), the Rana had 116 wives (Appendix, p. 95).[3] The practice of capturing enemy women was continued even in the time of Rana Udai Singh. In a letter written by Islam Shah Suri to his general Khawas Khan, the former claimed that Rana Udai Singh had “again raised his head, and plundered several of the royal possessions, and carried off the wives and children of the Musulmans” (p. 531).[4] This is likely referring to when the Rana recaptured Chittor from the governor (Shams Khan) appointed by Islam Shah Suri.

Many Hindu nationalists use an anecdote pertaining to the life of Rana Pratap, the son of Rana Udai Singh, to argue that Hindu kings generally did not capture enemy women. The anecdote is as follows: Akbar once sent Abdul Rahim (Khan-i- Khanan) to invade Rana Pratap's territories. Unfortunately, at that time Abdul Rahim's wives and daughters were taken captive by Amar Singh, the Rana's son, who then presented the captives to the Rana. The Rana rebuked his son, and ordered him to respectfully return those women. This single incident is used as evidence by some Hindu nationalists to argue that Hindu kings never captured women. However, if this anecdote is to believed as authentic, it is important to view it in its context. As I mentioned above, Rana Pratap's predecessors not only captured enemy women, but also boasted of taking women captive. In that light, it seems that Rana Pratap's son, Amar Singh, was following the then established norms of capturing enemy women, when he took the women of Abdul Rahim captive. Rana Pratap directing Amar Singh to return the captives is thus, an exception to the norm, not the normal behaviour of the Ranas of Mewar.

That being said, there is still a good reason to doubt the authenticity of this story. The aforementioned anecdote appears for the first time in the Udaipur Rajaprashasti Inscription, dating to 1674 CE (Appendix, pp. 95-96).[3] Considering that the inscription was written nearly a century after Abul Rahim's expedition to Mewar (which would have taken place in the early 1580s), it is very hard to accept the anecdote as authentic, in the absence of any earlier source that corroborates the claim of the Udaipur Rajaprashasti Inscription. Furthermore, as historian G.N. Sharma has shown, the Udaipur Rajaprashasti Inscription is known to have incorporated some myths that propped up in Rajput tradition, decades after the actual events occurred (pp. 102-103).[5] For example, despite the fact that Sakta Singh, the younger brother of Rana Pratap, died in the siege of Chittorgarh (1567-68 CE), he is depicted in Canto IV of the inscription as having saved Rana Pratap's life from two Mughal soldiers that pursued the Rana when he fled from the Haldighati battlefield, in the year 1576 CE (Appendix, p. 95).[3] 

In this light, there is no solid basis for accepting the story of Rana Pratap returning the women of Abdul Rahim, as mentioned in the Udaipur Rajaprashasti Inscription, as factually true. Furthermore, it does not seem very logical that a military leader of Rana Pratap's stature would make the tactical blunder of letting the Muslim women go scot-free, when he would have recaptured his forts one by one, from the Mughal governors. Had he let them go free, they could have easily regrouped their forces, and launched another attack on the Rana's strongholds. Rana Pratap was brave and chivalrous... but he was not a fool.

Talking about the abduction and use of enemy women for sex, I think Sambhaji, the son of the legendary Shivaji ought to be mentioned. Shivaji was a highly disciplined man, but the same cannot be said about his son, Sambhaji. In the invasion of Burhanpur (1681 CE), Sambhaji let his army rape countless Muslim women (pp. 218-219)[6]:
Due to such actions against Muslims, when Sambhaji was captured by Aurangzeb’s army in 1689 CE, the Ulema sentenced him to a brutal death (p. 223)[6]:
So, just to re-iterate... The abduction and rape of women, both on battlefield, and off battlefield was very common even among Hindu kings. It is therefore only a Hindutva myth that Hindu kings never captured women. We just know more about the Mughals capturing women because English translations of Mughal records can be easily found online. However, most Hindu (Rajput) texts are not available online, and for those that are available online, they are in a regional dialect, with no translation available online.

Footnotes

[1] Early Chauhan Dynasties
[2] Slavery and South Asian History
[3] Epigraphica Indica - Volume 30
[4] The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians - Volume 4
[5] Mewar & The Mughal Emperors (1526-1707 A.D.)
[6] The New Cambridge History of India - The Mughal Empire

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Urmila - The Wife of Lakshmana

Question:

Why did Urmila not accompany Lakshman in the exile as Sita accompanied Rama for 14 years?

My Answer:

Well, the answer is quite simple, and very clear for anyone who has gone through the Valmiki Ramayana, and focused on the big picture, without getting lost in the nitty gritty. Urmila is a fictional character introduced into the epic by the later poets that inserted the Bala Kanda and the Uttara Kanda into the epic.
M.R. Yardi, a researcher at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune has done a statistical analysis of the anustubh meter verse style in all the Sargas of the Valmiki Ramayana. He has found four layers of later additions that were imposed on the original Valmiki Ramayana. All the Sargas of Bala Kanda, except Sargas 1–13, and some verses of Sarga 17 (Critical Edition), along with the entire Uttara Kanda was found to be part of the last layer of additions to the epic.[1] Urmila’s marriage to Lakshmana is present towards the end of Bala Kanda, and hence, according to M.R. Yardi’s statistical study, the Urmila character would be a character introduced in the final layer of additions, to the epic of Valmiki.
For those that are still unsatisfied, let’s take a look at some cross references in the other Kandas of the epic, that corroborate my aforementioned claims.
According to Bala Kanda (Southern Recension, VR 1.71.21), Urmila was the second daughter of Janaka.[2] However, this is piece of information is contradicted by Kaushalya’s own speech in Ayodhya Kanda (Critical Edition, VR 2.60, translation by Sheldon Pollock)[3]:
“When Janaka learns that the king, acting on an illicit order, has exiled Rama and his wife, he will suffer just as I do. Lotus-eyed Rama has gone away dead in life! And poor Sita, too, daughter of the king of Videha, she who has never known hardship, will tremble all over at the hardships of the forest. At night Sita will hear the ghastly cries of birds and beasts, and will shrink back into Rama’s arms in terror. Her father is aged and has but one child. He will fret over Vaidehi. He, too, will be overpowered by grief and no doubt lose his life.” As poor Kausalya lamented in the anguish of sorrow, her maid servants helped her up and led her away.
Kaushalya says that Sita was the only child of Janaka. If Sita was his only child, then how could Janaka’s words in VR 1.71.21 be true, wherein he states that Urmila is his second daughter, and that he wishes to marry her off along with Sita? Clearly, the above narrative from Ayodhya Kanda deconstructs the Bala Kanda claim of Urmila’s existence as a daughter of Janaka.
We also do not hear about Urmila again in the epic, from Ayodhya Kanda to Yuddha Kanda. When Lakshmana decides to follow his brother to exile, he does not take the leave of his wife, Urmila. Furthermore, when Bharata, taking his army and women, arrives at Chitrakuta to convince Rama to return to Kosala and rule as king, there is mention of Dasharatha’s wives accompanying Bharata (Southern Recension, VR 2.83.6).[4] However, there is no mention of Lakshmana’s wives, or of Urmila in particular. When Rama returns to Kosala after killing Ravana, two references to his multiple wives are made.[5] However, once again, there is no reference then, to Urmila or any other of Lakshmana’s wives.
In that regard, Rama’s speech to Shurpanakha, when he directs her to Lakshmana is noteworthy. Directing her to Lakshmana, he states (Southern Recension, VR 3.18.3–4)[6]:
अनुजस्त्वेष मे भ्राता शीलवान्प्रियदर्शनः । श्रीमानकृतदारश्च लक्ष्मणो नाम वीर्यवान्।।3.18.3।।
Here is my younger brother Lakshmana. He is a man of good conduct, good look, valiant and virtuous. (Besides) he is not married.
अपूर्वी भार्यया चार्थी तरुणः प्रियदर्शनः । अनुरूपश्च ते भर्ता रूपस्यास्य भविष्यति।।3.18.4।।
He has not married a wife, and is in need of one. He is young, handsome and worthy. He will be an appropriate husband to you.
Rama describes Lakshmana as अकृतदारश्च (meaning “not made/committed to a wife”), and अपूर्वी भार्यया (meaning “not married a wife before”). It is quite clear from Rama’s speech that no Urmila character, or any other wife of Lakshmana, ever existed at the time of Shurpanakha’s arrival into the epic.
Now, some people will argue that at that moment, Rama was joking around with Shurpanakha, and hence his words need not be taken seriously. First of all, Rama was described by Valmiki as a character who always spoke the truth, and never intentionally lied (Southern Recension, VR 2.1.14,21).[7] Hence, such an argument is absurd to some extent, as it would be out of character for Rama to lie, even in jest. Secondly, while it is true that Rama was jesting to Shurpanakha, the joke he was pulling was not that Lakshmana was unmarried, but rather that Lakshmana would be desirous of marrying her (Shurpanakha). His entire joke was centred on directing Shurpanakha back and forth between him and his brother, Lakshmana. Hence, when one looks at the bigger picture, it is quite evident that Rama was not lying when he described Lakshmana as अकृतदारश्च and अपूर्वी भार्यया.
With all the evidence at hand, we can be fairly certain that Lakshmana did not marry till he returned from his 14 year exile… and this is what makes the dynamics of the Lakshmana-Sita (devar-bhabi) relationship even more fascinating (Southern Recension, VR 3.45.5-8, 21-26).[8]
Footnotes

वीर्यशुल्कां मम सुतां सीतां सुरसुतोपमाम् ।।1.71.21।। द्वितीयामूर्मिलां चैव त्रिर्ददामि न संशय:।
I offer my daughter Sita, who looks like a celestial maiden as reward for (Rama's) prowess and my second daughter Urmila (to Lakshmana). I proclaim it three times so that there is no doubt about it.
कैकेयी च सुमित्रा च कौसल्या च यशस्विनी । रामानयनसंहृष्टा ययुर्यानेन भास्वता।।2.83.6।।
Kaikeyi, Sumitra as well as the illustrious Kausalya travelled by a resplendent chariot, delighted with the thought of bringing Rama back.
नचानृतकथो विद्वान् वृद्धानां प्रतिपूजकः । अनुरक्तः प्रजाभिश्च प्रजाश्चाप्यनुरञ्जते।।2.1.14।।
Rama never told lies. He was a learned man. He honoured elders by going forward to them. He loved his subjects as much as his subjects loved him.
कल्याणाभिजन स्साधुरदीन स्सत्यवागृजुः । वृद्धैरभिविनीतश्च द्विजैर्धर्मार्थदर्शिभिः।।2.1.21।।
Born in a family of noble descent, he was saintly. A man without meanness. He was truthful and a man of rectitude. The training he received under aged brahmins conversant with dharma and artha made him well-disciplined.

It seems that sexual tension did develop between Lakshmana and Sita, over the years. When Lakshmana found out that Dasharatha had decided on sending Rama to exile, he was enraged. He told Rama that he will kill Dasharatha and place him (Rama) on the throne. Despite Rama's refusal to act on that advice, Lakshmana was persistent and dead-against himself going to exile, and allowing his brother to go to exile. Rama eventually gave up trying to convince his brother, and then left the presence of his brother, to tell Sita about the decision to go to exile. Lakshmana followed Rama, and eavesdropped on Rama's conversation with Sita. Immediately after Rama decided to take Sita to exile, Lakshmana appeared before his brother, took a complete U-turn on his former stance, and began begging Rama to take him along.

From this behaviour of Lakshmana, it becomes quite evident that Lakshmana's reason for going to exile, was not really to accompany his brother. The actual person he wanted to be with in exile, was instead Sita. Sita, who was an expert in reading body language, would have definitely noticed this. The sexual tension between the duo, that was nourished and developed in the 13 years of exile, was abruptly expressed in Sita's emotional outburst, when Lakshmana refused to go after the golden deer:
Since you, O son of Sumitra, are not reaching out to your brother in this situation, you are an enemy to your brother in the guise of a friend. It is possess me that you wish Rama's death. You do not rush to him certainly because of greed for me. I think Rama's adversity is welcome to you. You do not have any love towards your brother. It is for this that you stand unconcerned instead of proceeding to help your brilliant brother. When he for whose service you have primary come here, has met with difficulty, what is the use of your being here? What purpose you serve by staying here with me? (Southern Recension, VR 3.45.5-8)
O ignoble, cruel Lakshmana, you are a disgrace to your family. I think this great disaster of Rama is a pleasure to you. O Lakshmana, do you speak such words seeing the disaster of Rama? No wonder that cruel men who always move like you in disguise will thus resort to sinful action against rivals. You are very wicked. You are hiding your true identity, and employed by Bharata, you are following Rama in the forest as he is alone. O Lakshmana such intention of yours or even of Bharata's will not be fulfilled. I have held the hands of Rama who has eyes like the lotus petal, who has the complexion of the blue lotus. How can I prefer some other man? I will undoubtedly give up my life in your presence.I will not live even for a moment on earth without Rama, O son of Sumitra. (Southern Recension, VR 3.45.21-26)
According to Sita, Lakshmana had sexual feelings for her, and badly wanted to obtain her for himself. Lakshmana was in the prime of his youth, and yet remained unmarried in the exile period, with the only female he was exposed to, being Sita. Under such circumstances, it is but natural for a sexually inexperienced man like Lakshmana, to experience sexual feelings for her, and perhaps even sexually experiment (with her). As a matter of fact, according to the oral traditions of the Santal tribe, Sita was seduced by Lakshmana during their period of exile. In A.K. Ramanujan's essay "Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation", he states the following:
The Santals, a tribe known for their extensive oral traditions, even conceive of Sita as unfaithful — to the shock and horror of any Hindu bred on Valmiki or Kampan, she is seduced both by Ravana and by Laksmana.