I am Rani Padmavati, the Queen of Chittor. People call me the Queen of Beauty. I have never understood why our men bother about beauty at all. They are warriors and love fighting. Bravery, physical strength and honour are the values they really cherish and want all of us to possess. We cherish beauty too. But we’d prefer to keep beauty veiled behind the purdah. If anyone other than the husband dares to raise the purdah, he will be killed. Beauty is a private property among us. We, the women, are our men’s private properties.
Private. So private that we, the women, can’t even go to the temple to worship our gods, let alone enjoy the public festivals. We are like the precious stones and gold ornaments to be stored away in the darkness of secret chambers.
The King, my husband, Rawal Ratan Sing, braver and nobler than any Rajput, is also an admirer of beauty. He loves me just as he loves music and the arts. Music was the reason why this man Raghav Chetan gained entry into the Palace. Raghav was a musician par excellence. He knew magic too. Using his magic he gained entry to my dark, secret chamber. I invited him to teach me magic.
He taught me to listen to the music of the stars. His magic took me to worlds beyond, far beyond, the dark chamber where I lived like a prisoner. Music and magic – they intoxicate the soul. The intoxication stripped me of my inhibitions and I made passionate love with my husband the King. The King enjoyed the love making. But his soul was caught in a dilemma. How did this Rajput woman lose the inhibitions that her culture had put on her like inflexible chains of steel?
The suspicion cost Raghav Chetan his job.
“Paint his face black,” the King ordered to the soldiers who had brought Raghav Chetan bound with steel chains. “Then put him on a donkey’s back and take him through the city streets. Let the people jeer him for defiling sacred music with black magic.”
Raghav Chetan’s magic failed to save him. My magic died the moment I peered through the veils to see my magic man in chains. Magic is the music of the soul. Veiled souls cannot produce magic.
Raghav Chetan was exiled after the humiliation. He went to Delhi and made friends with the Sultan Alauddin Khilji.
“Is she really as beautiful as you describe?” The Sultan asked Raghav Chetan. I heard it in the magic of my soul whose veils were lifted by the post-coital stupor when the King my husband lay beside me exhausted unlike a Rajput warrior.
“She is the finest mist that descends from the highest heaven, my Lord,” crooned Raghav Chetan. “She is the moonbeam that can elevate you to the seventh heaven. She is the queen of the houris in Paradise...”
Raghav Chetan’s black magic transmuted the Sultan’s soul. The soul acquired a veil. The veiled soul drove the Sultan to Mewar. He entered the Chittor Palace with his veiled soul.
“I want to see Queen Padmavati,” he demanded imperiously. As if I was his Queen.
Rawal Ratan Singh trembled. In spite of the bravery and nobility fed into his veins by the Rajput tradition, Rawal Ratan Singh trembled. My soul could sense the stirrings in Rawal Ratan Singh’s veins.
“He is too powerful for us,” my husband pleaded with me in the dark secret chamber where we used to make love night after night, unveiling my soul.
“He can see me,” I said to my husband’s visible relief. “But on a condition.”
My husband looked at me anxiously.
“He can see my reflection in a mirror. That too with you standing near him and a hundred of my maids standing around me in a semicircle.”
My husband, the Rajput warrior, mustered the courage to convince the Sultan.
My soul sensed the terror that was to come soon.
“I want her,” pronounced the Sultan. “For myself.”
Private property. His private property. That’s what I would be unless my present owner killed him in a war.
The horses neighed. Swords clashed. Brave and noble Rajput warriors gave up their lives for the honour of their Beauty Queen.
How could the Queen ignore those sacrifices? Thousands of men sacrificed themselves for my honour? I had no other way but defend that same honour. The honour of the most beautiful property of the kingdom.
“Maids,” I called. “Let the flames guard the Rajput honour.”
Raghav Chetan’s music descended like the finest mist on my soul, that would put on no more veils, as the flames rose all around me and my maids.