The Jodhaa Akbar controversy distorts the glorious legacy of Rajput-Mughal syncretic culture,
Filed Under: Lifestyle, Opinion | Posted: 03/02/2008 at 11:54PM
Comments | Region: Pakistan
The controversy created by the film Jodhaa Akbar and the opposition mounted mainly by sections of young Rajputs in Rajasthan raises a number of issues related to historical facts, poetical license of a creative and imaginative work of cinema or art, modern Rajput identity and the rising intolerance in the country.It is true that factually the name of the Rajput princess married to Akbar probably was not Jodhabai, but it is not disputed that Rajput a princess from Amer-Jaipur was married to Akbar and other Rajput princesses from various Rajput states except Mewar or Udaipur were married to successive mughal emperors, often the marriages being arranged by Rajput mothers of mughal princes. This was part of a political alliance begun by enlightened and secular Akbar and by Rajput kings who were discerning enough to accept the realpolitik which could promote peace so that the kingdom and its people could flourish economically and be socially harmonious.These marriages were genuine and mutually beneficial alliances and it was not the case of conquered kings being forced to offer their daughters and sisters as a recent article in Outlook magazine suggests. History is witness to the subsequent flowering of composite and secular mughal culture in which the Rajput wives played a part, until the time of Aurengzeb. Noted historians like Satish Chandra would agree with this version. Rajput princesses were marrying emperors and into the highest royalty (which in those pre-Hindutva times) could be trans-religious and they lived as respected wives. Akbar had an affectionate childhood connection with the Rajputs which he must have surely remembered while marrying a Rajput princess. His father Humayun, while fleeing from the Afghan invader Sher Shah Suri, was given refuge by the Soda Rajput Raja of Umarkot now in Sindh, where Akbar was born and taken care of.Jodhabai has become a part of the popular imagination, mythology and cultural folklore as Akbar’s wife after the classic film Mughal-e-Azam, persisting as an "imaginative reconstruction of reality," as Max Weber defined art. One of the latest words in the oxford dictionary is ‘faction’ which is a mix of fact and fiction. Historical characters and events can be authentically woven into a story or film as long as it does not distort and demean the spirit of those characters, events and social relations. By all accounts and reviews, the film Jodhaa Akbar does not distort the spirit and may even be inspiring, but a disclaimer that the name of characters and incidents may not be accurate even though the story is based on history, could have helped. The Rajputs should have seen the film before demonstrating and the producers should have arranged a special screening. Hopefully this is still possible. The Rajput groups are quibbling over historical accuracy of a name, but sadly the hidden agenda may well be to thwart the celebration of the glorious Rajput-Mughal, Hindu-Muslim syncretic culture and intercourse and the Din-I-IIahi discourse Yet the opposition of the Rajput groups has its own peculiar politics of identity. As Ramchandra Guha says, it is religious intolerance masquerading as historical scholarship, but it is not ordinary intolerance but an intolerance born of belief in purity of blood just as the Brahmans believe in ritual purity. I remember as a young Rajput, one of the most common exchanges during weddings and family gatherings went like this. My relatives from Udaipur would half jokingly taunt the Jaipur relatives that they were meek enough to give their sisters and daughters to the Mughals. The Jaipur relatives would completely deny and insist that the lady who was married to Akbar was actually a maid servant and not of Rajput blood at all. Perhaps the inferiority complex inflicted by Mewari Rajputs on Jaipur Rajputs is compensated by denial and by angry protests against any story which emphasises the blood connection between them and the Muslim MughalsPurity is even more at issue when community women are involved. It is a common saying among the community that for a Rajput man three things are a matter of the greatest honor in the following order: women ,sword and horse. Rajput women had deeply internalised these values and heroically committed jauhar, so that they do not fall into the hands of the conqueror and face dishonour. Even though the political and matrimonial alliance with the secular Mughals was honourable it is perceived by some Rajputs to be a matter of dishonour and the only way to deal with it is to deny history. Incidentally there are hardly any Rajput girls or women demonstrating against the movie.Patriot Rana Pratap fought valiantly against Akbar, but the fight was not between Muslims and Hindus. Akbar’s army was led by Raja Man Singh of Amer-Jaipur and on the other side was the Afghan Hakim Khan Suri as commander of Mewar army. As Ashis Nandy has pointed out, fifteen percent of communities in India are followers of more than one religion, like the Meos in Rajasthan who practice both Islam and Hinduism. Baba Ram Dev, a popular folk deity of Rajput lineage in west Rajasthan is worshiped by both Hindus and Muslims who call him a pir, with a pundit and maulavi in attendance at the shrine in Ramdevra in Jodhpur. Similarly Goga Ji shrine in Ganganagar is another diety worshipped jointly by Hindus and Muslims. The Ajmer Dargah of Sufi Gharib Nawaj receives "hazri" and "chaddar” not only from Muslims but also large number of Hindus. This is the same dargah where Akbar prayed to be blessed by a son from a Rajput wife and Salim was born.Leading social scientists Iqbal Narain and PC Mathur in their book Rajput Hinduism argue that historically Hinduism in Rajasthan was more liberal and broad minded because the absence of strong Brahmanical religious influence was compensated by Rajput cultural leadership. This inclusive and fine old Rajput legacy is under threat by the new narrow identity mobilisation. So is the case with UP maulavis coming to Rajasthan and teaching the pure Islam of Arabia asking Muslims to keep away from their traditional grassroots mixed shrines. A senior maulavi at the hard line Deoband Islamic academy, UP, whom I interviewed did not hesitate to declare that the Sufi philosophy of Moinuddin Chisti who is worshipped at Ajmer Dargah was not Muslim enough and did not meet the test of pure Islam.Surname, Shekhawat, is derived from a Sufi saint Sheikh whom both Muslims and Hindus revered, and who blessed my ancestor Shekhaji with child and heir. In respect we don’t eat pork. But recently some "pure" revivalist Rajputs are revising history by connecting Sheikh to Sanskrit lineage. There is a historical denial and the opposition to Jodhaa Akbar is actually an expression of the acute anxiety felt by some Rajputs in reconciling the two selves of a modern secular Indian self on the one hand and a post Hindutva "proud Rajput of pure blood" self. One of the worst words of abuse among the Rajputs is “gola” which means someone born out of “pure” Rajput and lower status “impure” Rajputs.Rajputs in Rajasthan, being small in numbers, are politically marginalised and divided. Many young people are unemployed and poor while other castes and communities like the Jats and Meenas have become more economically and politically powerful and have secured reservations, sometimes unjustly. These Rajput youth are trying to mobilise and express their anger by rallying to causes of honour and purity which gives them solace through a sense of identity and superiority in difficult times of transition.Unless the young people in the country get proper education, employment and a wise leadership they will continue to rally around communal, regional and caste causes of narrow identity, past hurt and imagined purity of honor. The rich legacy of a composite, diverse and tolerant cultures is under threat. The threat is based on the false equation of a rich and complex cultural intercourse with impurity which is than translated as dishonour. The threat is projected as shrill moral policing as in the case of Jodhaa Akbar, as in the case of Raj Thackerey’s exclusivist Marathi ‘son of the soil’ pride, as in the hounding of Tasleema Nasreen by Muslim extremists. We Indians need to know that there’s only a thin dividing line between honor and intolerance, between pride and prejudice.