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Padmini, or Padmavati, was a queen of Chittor. Her name means ‘lotus-woman’, the most desirable type of woman according to Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra, and she was queen to Rana Rawal Ratan Singh of Mewar. She is famed in stories and legends for her beauty. Perhaps this is why she is popularly believed to have been the prize Ala-ud-din Khilji sought in invading Chittor, though no contemporary sources mention this story. The first appearance of this interpretation of events is in Malik Mohammed Jayasi’s 1540 poem Padmavat. This alleges that a disgruntled courtier of Chittor traveled to Delhi and incited Alauddin Khilji to lust after Padmini, such that the Sultan came to Chittor, laid siege to the fort and eventually reduced it, but was baulked of his prey by Padmini’s act of committing ritual suicide by the Rajput custom of Jauhar. Acts of heroism were common when Chittor was under siege, for the fort had no source of fresh water and given a lengthy siege was doomed to fall every time. Hence the defenders would try through sorties and sudden attacks to secure quick relief.

Whatever the real facts of the case may be, Padmini was, nevertheless, a Rajput queen in the heroic mould, and helped her people last out against the Sultan’s army for eight months. The forces of Delhi proved stronger and better organised, and when it became plain that the Rajputs were bound to be defeated, Padmini and her attendants lit a great fire in an underground passage. James Tod, in The Annals of Rajasthan, describes how the women were sealed into this subterranean chamber with the ‘devouring element’ (although how they kept the fire alive underground is not clear). Here all the noblewomen of the fort immolated themselves in the Rajput custom of jauhar to avoid capture.
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