Why would 16,000 women throw themselves into a giant bonfire?
This is a question that has troubled me. History is replete with instances where kingdoms have gone to war, where cities have been beseiged, of armies saughtered and people enslaved. Carthage, Rome, Cuzco, Babylon, Jerusalem, Vijayanagara, Delhi...the list goes on an on.
However in the Rajputana kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar, the endgame has always been marked by huge fires lit in palaces where the women are said to have killed themselves en masse, while their menfolk went down on a final, suicidal charge into the waiting enemy flanks.
|Chittorgarh Fort (Western ramparts)|
|Chitrtorgarh Fort - Suraj Pol (Eastern Entrance)|
One answer to this question comes from V.S. Naipaul's book, "Among the Believers". In a chilling description of a new type of warfare that arrived on Indian shores, he describes how in 710 CE the 14-year-old "General" Md. Bin Qasim ordered the execution of all fighting men, enslavement of all the women and children in Sindh.
Once this was set as a standard procedure in the medeiva; "all out war", it left the combatants with very limited choices. Either you die in your own home, among family and friends, or got raped and killed while being flogged on an ardruous trek across the Hindu Kush mountains, or to the streets of Arabia.
For the women and children in a city that had already under seige for many months, it may not have been a difficult choice. Was it the women of Chittor who set the precedent? Or is remembered because it happened on such a large scale, repeatedly, at the same site?
Somehow, this does not be a topic of interest to our historians. Its a pity that there is so little information on this either online, or at the actual site.
|A layout map of Chittorgarh near the ASI ticket office|
Q: How is it that the Jain temples and towers survived the military assaults that had flattened almost all buildings in Chittorgarh? One of the oldest structures in Chittor is the Kirti Sthambh built in the 11the century, and it still looks as though it were completed yesterday!