There are love stories and then there are love stories.
Historical love stories transcend the time and bring the old drizzle in all its glory of love to us. Ah! Sharp pangs of love! Who can deny those stupid but charming years of youth.
Stories of Heer and Ranjha is sung in the Punjabi ballads called Heer. Dhola and Maru have been immortalised in the Rajasthani folk songs. So has been Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati in Malwa folk songs.
But it is not easy to accept them being put in the glorious golden path of love as set by Heer-Ranjha and Dhola-Marvan. May be I will put Roopmati there for her love but not Baz Bahadur. Baz Bahadur was attacked by Mughal army led by Adham Khan, was defeated and ran away, leaving Roopmati to be possessed as a reward of the battle that he lost and Adam Khan won. May be my Rajasthani sensibilities and being brought up in the land of Chittorgarh, amid the tales of Kesariya Bana and Jauhar flames have too colored my view about loyalty and sacrifices. May be that those Rajputs who opened the gates to fight till the last, knowing very well the death looming at the battlefield , they have entered my heart in adolescence as my role models of heroism. May be that I should learn to understand that every man is different. But still why did he choose to run away? I understand that he being killed in the battle would not have saved Roopmati but still. She did what she had to do in those dire circumstances but he did not do what he should have done.
But then who am I to judge people what they did or did not. The tale is there in the songs, in the miniature paintings, in the history books and in the ruins of their fairy tale buildings at Mandu.
We were advised by Rashtrapati Awardee guide Mr. Vishwanath that the Pavillion of Rani Roopmati be best visited early in the morning before bus loads of tourists fill the place, leaving no room for anyone to feel Roopmati’s love, her pain and anguish of the betrayal, horror of being possessed by Adam Khan, her devotion to Ma Narmada, and the cruel moments when she had to consume poison to save herself from the lusty clutches of Adham Khan. These pavilions are a witness to all those feelings and not the ballads and the fine miniature paintings.
We did reach even before the gates were opened, and seeing our earnestness, the gate man opened the gates. Sun had just opened its doors so there was light but was yet to ride his chariot of rays. All the birds and we the early birds were busy getting on with the activity.
As we climbed hastily to the top of the Mahal to the Roopmati Pavilion, I wanted first to have the Darshan of Ma Narmada as Roopmati would have had every single day of her life. I could not see Narmada as she was covered by mist. But she was certainly too far to save her devotee in need. If she could flood the plains before Adham Khan arrived? But for how long? Oh! It was a random thought of train that I was riding on in this pavilion. But Baz must have loved her to build a pavilion so high to let her have Darshan of her Goddess. Yes. He must have loved her that much. Or was it that he just wanted to possess her for her beauty and singing, so he considered it not such a big price to be paid. Whatever, he did build that pavilion for her, that much is certain. And he built Rewa Kund and an aqueduct in her palace to supply water from this Kund, which still functions.
All the material available on net gives the following narrative :
“Baz Bahadur was fond of singing. One day when he was on a hunting expedition, he heard a sweet voice reverberating through the landscape. He followed the waves and reached to a shepherdess who was singing it. His ears brought him near her and his eyes saw a beauty that was she. Sensory organs and the hormones of youth, it is a killing concoctions in every land and time. So it was here. He was besotted with her beauty and bewitched by her singing. He was overcome by the desire of making her his own but perhaps not forcibly. I do not say it, says so the ballads and the tales that survived the ravages of the time and lust of the men. She told about her vow to not eat or drink anything until she has seen Ma Narmada and so he proposed to make her a pavilion so high that she could always see her Ma.
(Now, art historians contest it. According to art historians, this building, constructed on the edge of a precipice overlooking the Nimar Plains, was originally a watch tower without pavilions. Additions were made to these watch towers in two-three slots. pavilions were perhaps added some years before Roopmati, as they say. I on my part, will continue with the oral traditions till matters are concluded.)
As the lore goes, Baz Bahadur was attacked by Mughal army led by Adham Khan, was defeated and ran away. Roopmati saved herself from the savage Adham Khan by consuming poison.
My quest to read some authentic narration of this sad tale took me to the Ahmed-Ul-Umari Tuloman’s story of Roopmati, which he wrote in 1599. That is twenty-eight years later of the fatal day when Baz left Roopmati unprotected. This manuscript changed a many hands and finally reached to C.E.Luard. It was finally translated to English in 1926 by L.M. Crump, Oxford Press under the title “The Lady of the Lotus: Rupmati, Queen of Mandu: A Strange Tale of Faithfulness”.
What a lovely book it is. It not only has the translation of the original book written by Ahmed-Ul-Umari but it also contains Roopmati the poetess’ twenty six poems. It also tells us how Luard found the Persian manuscript piece by piece. He began his search at first with the folk songs still being sung in Malwa. Next he focused on Sher Shah’s unpublished manuscripts because it was Sher Shah who appointed Baz Bahadur’s father Shujat Khan as the governor of Malwa.
The original manuscript author writes himself in the beginning of the manuscript
“I, Ahmad-ul-Umari, Turkoman, chanced to visit the parts of Malwa, to see other marvellous cities of Hindustan and to hear tales of wonder therein. Of these tales of astounding one is that of Baz Bahadur and Rupmati which befell in Malwa. He who told me the story was Sulaiman Khan, who had seen the happenings with his owneyes. He was one of the followers of Shuja’at Khan, who was appointed to the throne of the governorship of Malwa by Sher Shah. The tale of my unfolding is a tale of grief and sorrow, yet there from the eye of intelligence may draw instruction. This woeful history was written down in the forty-third year of the reign of Sultan Jalal-ud-din Akbar Shan may God preserve his kingdom for ever.”
This establishes the date of this manuscript in 1599 AD, just twenty-eight years after the unfortunate attack by Adham Khan. This surely then tells a good deal of factual details as memories were still fresh of this woeful tale and the author was a contemporary.
Local Mandu legends put Dharmapuri at the banks of Narmada as the birth place of Roopmati but Sir John Malcolm and this manuscript both state Sarangpur as her birthplace.
The legends say that she was a shepherdess and others assign her the tag of Courtesan. But the manuscript say otherwise. It states:
“It is the glory of India, that Vikram of Ujjain first laid in Malwa the foundations of settled government, and that therein Raja Bhoj was born and flourished, who was chief of the kings of olden time.
In this province is a city of singular beauty, called Sarangpur, which Shuja’at Khan gave in Jagir to his son, Bazid Khan. In that city was a Brahman, with whom Bazid Khan was joined in friendship, and his name was Jadu Rai. Even to this day a village is known by the name of him, the village of Jadu, far and wide among men hath spread the fame of the wealth of the city of Sarangpur.
The translator and writer Crump discusses the matter of her being a Brahman or a courtesan with many other interesting and intersecting facts, but things do not reach any conclusion. So here we go further
“One day it befell that Jadu Rai made a great feast and did honor to Bazid Khan, who went to his house and was taken captive in the net of beauty. At the feast his eyes first fell upon the face of her whose beauty and goodness crowned her queen of the world of charm, wherein she rivaled the houris of Paradise, and thence he returned in distress and perturbation. Suleiman Khan related that such was his anguish and despair, that the tale thereof was borne to his father. Shujaat Khan, thereon, summoned his son to his capital city and desired him to abandon his madness.”
The story goes on to describe Roopmati’s beauty in such details, from tip to toe that I had to skip the content to not pay head to the writer’s passionate and fanciful imagery and skill in describing it. It again states that Shujat Khan controlled the wild-fire burning in his son’s heart (or hormones or both) and forbade him to go further.
But as destiny would have it, Shujat Khan died and this opened the flood gates for Baz Bahdur. The manuscript narrates:
“Six months passed by and Shuja’at Khan took his way to the world of non-existence, and Bazid Khan became the jewel of the throne of Malwa. His first act was to summon Jadu Rai to his court at Mandu, which was the capital city of Malwa. To him he gave land and much gold : and Sarangpur, which he had himself got from his father, he bestowed upon him in Jagir, on condition that he should cause RoopMati to enter his harem. Her father himself gave his daughter in marriage to Bazid Khan, and this much is certain that she entered the harem, but as no marriage ceremony was performed, she was looked upon as a mistress and not as a legitimate wife.”
Here something is not palatable. Writer portrays that her father himself gave his daughter. I do not have any proof to contest but something does not add up: If he was a Brahmin then it is somewhat difficult to believe that he gave his daughter in harem, of his own accord and that too without marriage. But I have nothing to put as proof.
As with all the lovers, they also thought that they could live in a fairy tale land of love, and music and joy. They indulged themselves in passion, music and joys of love. They forgot that they had a kingdom to defend and look after. The tales of Roopmati’s beauty and the tales of Baz Bahdur’s neglect reached to the Akabar’s court, and to his General and foster-brother Adham Khan.
On the day of 29th march, 1561 AD, Adham Khan attacked Malwa. The battle was fought at Sarangpur between a small army of Baz and the large Mughal army of Adham Khan. Baz sensed defeat and the killing. He ran away for his life, leaving his kingdom, his people and his love Roopmati at the hands of Adham Khan.
Adham Khan looted the riches of Baz and then turned to Baz’s harem.
The manuscript reads:
“and he asked Roopmati herself to transfer her love to the conqueror of her country. That chaste lady opened her lips to advise him, and plainly said that it did not become the glory of the conqueror thus to seek to disgrace the name and lame of the broken Afghans: for in the day of recompense heaven might bring down that very shame on the head of the conqueror. Adham Khan, however, was so intoxicated with the wine of success that he lost all sense and foresight. He turned to force and violence saying, * If my end be not attained peaceably, by force can a way be made’. When this saying came to Roopmati’s ears, she showed neither meekness nor submission. Nay, rather, she was the more confirmed in her resolve not to yield up her life, if by any chance a way of escape could be found. She laid her plans, and on the first day, thereafter, she fled from the capital. It is said that she disguised herself as a flower-seller. Three days passed and, full of lust, Adham Khan entered the harem only to find that the mate of the falcon had taken wing and flown away. A hard task lay before him. He gave orders to fifteen of his best cavalry to capture her and bring her back.”
So brave of Roopmati! The narrator tells the escape of Roopmati and further events in heart wrenching tale:
“The unsuccess of that dainty fair tears the heart into shreds. Despite a thousand difficulties Rupmati made her way across the intervening country, and was but twenty miles from Sarangpur when the pursuit party of Adham Khan came up with her. The horsemen learnt that a woman had taken refuge in a village and had called her brothers to rescue her from oppression.”
Her brothers came and fought but only to be killed, and Roopmati was captured again. She was again taken to Mandu and with the strict watch, it was impossible for her to escape.
“When she found escape was beyond hope, she promised to receive him after three days and entered the harem. Adham Khan, on his part, held to the belief that the stream of time would wash away her sorrow and grief and that he would bring his intent to the goal of achievement of union.”
And then the manuscript goes on to narrate the various ways in which Roopmati pleads, tries to explain but the man gone mad with lust does not give up.
“O Adham Khan, beauty and grace thou sayest are mine, yet of what avail will these be to thee ? for with me they will turn to dust. My brothers are dead, nor is it for me to crave for this life of a day. The imperial throne whence sprang our content has fallen in the dust, and all my brothers have perished to preserve my wretched life. I pray that there from thy noble heart may learn a lesson and that thou wilt leave us miserable creatures in peace.”
To which Adham Khan replies:
“Though the four quarters of the world unite to rob me of union with thee, yet will I make sacrifice of all my earthly bliss, of all my hopes of Paradise and of all that therein is, for one minute of thy love.”
This effectively puts an end to any hope for Roopmati and she asks for three days to let her sorrow diminish. On the appointed day when Adham Khan entered the bed chambers he found Roopmati dead, having consumed poison to kill herself.
The tale ends but not my train of thoughts. How she must have felt when a sentry would have brought the devastating news of Baz-Bahadur’s defeat. She might have felt pain for Baz but then it must have changed quickly to sadness, then anger of being betrayed in the love. How helpless she was as all women have been in the history and are even now.
The book also does not end with the end of the tale. It states:
“Such is the miserable end of this strange story, which began in love and happiness and ended in sorrow and grief. Rupmati died, but she died a martyr to faithfulness and an example to the sect of lovers. Verily women hold a rank in love whereto men cannot attain.”
Then the writer goes into a philosophical mood at length, pondering over the meaning of love, Hindu edifice, Muslim rules and so on.
And where was Baz Bahadur when she was dying? Oh what Bahadur! I would say where was Baz the coward when she was dying. He ran way to Khandesh where Akbar again attacked him. This time Akbar was defeated and Baz got Mandu again, only to lose it to Akbar in 1562. He ran away again but finally surrendered to Akbar in 1570. How humiliating! But perhaps Baz did not feel so, or he just wanted to get on with life. He lived his life under Akabar, the same ruler whose army led by Adham Khan destroyed Roopmati. Yet to put the records dignified, he did ask to be buried near Roopmati, at Sarangpur. How clever!!
Or perhaps I should give him the benefit of doubt that he did feel the pain of separation and longed to unite with her, even if after death so that we can continue to sing the ballads guilt free.