Padmavati or no Padmavati- at least faith should be honoured   4 comments

The debate on Rani Padmini (Padmavati) has been skewed beyond proportion by several intellectuals including historians, and by discourses in the media with an overemphasis on written record(s) to establish whether such an individual existed or not. Everyone seems to be quoting Malik Mohd. Jayasi, the poet who wrote the famous work Padmavat as if this was the only reliable source to determine the validity of the existence of Rani Padmini. India in the past relied more on oral transmission of knowledge and seldom tried to document what was happening in the society in general. Our historical records are full of male characters, of their achievements, valour etc. but hardly of female characters. Vedic literature also seems to suffer with this drawback.

I would like to argue that Indian society has survived on faith in each other and in the social set up, and as a result has never felt the need for documentation, as was prevalent in the Chinese society. Even records important to one’s life were hardly kept. A Hindu marriage was never recorded in a formal manner; there was never a signing of a document after the marriage. The recording of marriage has been of recent origin although even now most Hindu marriages are not recorded. It is at the same time known that even in absence of any documentation, Hindu marriages are more stable and last longer. The question is – would a marriage of the past be questioned just because there is no document to establish the marriage? To be specific, how many of us can validate the marriage of our great great grand parents, which will take us to the middle of the nineteenth century? If the answer is no, do you declare us illegitimate children? One can challenge several inheritances to property. Would any law in the country dare to declare such marriages invalid? Could the intellectuals and artists of the country afford not to accept the validity of such a marriage? If one were to obtain a post facto marriage certificate from a magistrate, one has to produce just one reliable witness who had attended the marriage. The system has been working and would continue to work in perceivable future.

When the controversy about turmeric (haldi) related patent arose, the US Patent Office asked for documentary evidence to establish that turmeric was used as a wound healing agent for ordinary and surgical wounds. I was deeply involved in the issue and it was surprising to find that no document in Indian languages talked of the wound healing property of turmeric in the manner in which it was described in the said patent. However, we knew that turmeric has been used for years (not recorded) for curing wounds but we needed evidence to protect our traditional knowledge in a foreign land. We could in our perhaps limited search, luckily find a Persian document which had a mention of this property of turmeric based on the uses in India. If the same case was in front of Indian courts, would the courts have asked for documentary evidence? May be in the present legal system, we would need to generate evidence for every action of ours if we need it to be validated. It is going to some time, may be years, before our society is ready for such an overhauling.

Coming back to the Padmavati issue, we should attach a definite value to what the society of that region has grown with, all these years. What is being said by various players in favour of the existence of Padmini needs to be believed and honoured even in absence of any recorded history at that time.  Going only by Jayasi’s work or Khusro’s record will be like relying on translations of Ved, Upnishads and other scriptures by foreign scholars. Jayasi’s work can also be an example artistic flight, losing sight of reality existing almost 300 years back. Let us find some time to understand why hundreds or thousands of people continue to swear that Padmini was a real- life character who had tremendous influence on the Rajput society and culture so much so that she is worshiped even today. To argue it differently, does anyone have any proof that she did not exist?  Let us not engage in the realism or non-realism of the past when history and social practices were not recorded; that is a wasteful exercise in the Indian context. Faith and beliefs are not always evidence based; leave them as such if not detrimental to the society.

(R Saha, B.Tech IIT Kanpur and Former Adviser, Department of Science and Technology, GOI. Presently, Senior Adviser, CII)

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Posted November 28, 2017 by R Saha in Learn IPR

4 responses to “Padmavati or no Padmavati- at least faith should be honoured

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  1. This is indeed a really interesting perspective on a historical issue that has become contemporary. Simply because records for something don’t exist or are unavailable, there existence cannot be questioned. This write up should resonate with everyone, not just Indians! Nicely written!! 😊

  2. Thanks Aradhana

  3. UK has an unwritten , undocumented constitution and their Parliament is regards as Mother of all democracies. So we need to consider oral evidence as well. Well written piece

  4. Excellent piece of advice.

    Neeruganti Ganapathy

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