Jauhar

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The Rajput ceremony of Jauhar (holocaust), 1567.jpg
The Burning of the Rajput women, during the siege of Chitor.jpg

Jauhar, sometimes spelled Jowhar or Juhar, was the Hindu custom of mass self-immolation by women in parts of the Indian subcontinent, to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by any foreign invaders, when facing certain defeat during a war. Some reports of jauhar mention women committing self-immolation along with their children. This practice was historically observed in northwest regions of India, with most famous Jauhars in recorded history occurring during wars between Hindu Rajput kingdoms in Rajasthan and the Muslim armies.

Sultan Alau'd Din put to Flight; Women of Ranthambhor commit Jauhar, a Rajput painting from 1825.

Quotes[edit]

  • The king had heard exceeding praise of her, and he considered how to get possession of her, for he feared lest if he stormed the fort, the RAjA KIrat Sing would certainly make a jauhar, and would burn the girl...
    • TarIkh-i-Sher Shahi of Abbas Khan Sherwani in Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, Volume IV, pp. 407-09. Quoted in S.R.Goel, The Calcutta Quran Petition (1999)
  • On the 23rd of the month, the Sultan invested the fort, and ordered the whole army to put forth their best energies to capture it' All of a sudden, by the favour of God, the gale of victory blew on the standards of the Sultan, and the gate was forced open by Malik 'Alau-d din' The Rajputs, retiring within their own houses, continued the contest, and slew their families after the custom of jauhar.
    • Tãrîkh-i-Khãn Jahãn Lodî, in Elliot and Dowson, Vol. V, p. 97-101 . Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, 8 Volumes, Allahabad Reprint, 1964.
  • The emperor prayed to the Almighty in the month of Ramzan/March of the same year saying ‘O Allah thou should come to the help of the army of Muslims.’ He further desired that the army should launch a sudden attack on the fort from all sides. The army came up like a huge pack of pigeons and, entered the fort by slaughtering those soldiers, who were guarding its gate. They pierced a group of the enemy by their arrows and killed them. Then they scaled the wall of the fort with much courage and jumped into it. Naturally the fire of battle blazed forth… “Thus the emperor became the owner of the flag of battle, i.e. victorious and the rebels (Kafirs) became the prey of arrows. The breeze of the grace of Allah began to blow. The heart of enemy began to wreathe in pain. By the time of prayer the full volume of sound was blown and delivered the final attack on the Satans. Realizing their helpless condition that wretched race began to slaughter their women and children with their own hands, and set fire to them, reducing (them) to ashes.
    • TArikh-i-Akbari of Muhammad Arif Qandhari, translated into English by Tanseem Ahmad, Delhi, 1993, pp.149-51. Quoted in S.R.Goel, The Calcutta Quran Petition (1999)
  • One report which appeared in The Statesman of April 15, 1947 narrates an event that took place in village Thoha Khalsa of Rawalpindi District. It is a story of tears and shame and also of great sacrifice and heroism. The story tells us how the Hindu-Sikh population of this tiny village was attacked by 3000-strong armed Muslims, how badly outweaponed and outnumbered, the beseiged had to surrender, but how their women numbering 90 in order to “evade inglorious surrender” and save their honour jumped into a well “following the example of Indian women of by-gone days.” Only three of them were saved. “There was not enough water in the well to drown them all,” the report adds.
    • Quoted from the preface by Ram Swarup in Gurbachan, S. T. S., & Swarup, R. (1991). Muslim League attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab 1947.
  • How did the Indian women react to such a desperate situation? When Sindh lay prostrate before the armies of Muhammad bin Qasim, “Raja Dahir’s sister Bai collected all the women in the fort (of Rawar) and addressed them thus: ‘It is certain that we cannot escape the clutches of these Chandals and cow-eaters… As there is no hope of safety and liberty, let us collect fire-wood and cotton and oil (and) burn ourselves to ashes, and thus quickly meet our husbands (in the next world). Whoever is inclined to go and ask mercy of the enemy, let her go… But all of them were of one mind, and so they entered a house and set fire to it, and were soon burnt to ashes.” Thereafter, throughout the medieval period, as soon as it was certain that there had been a defeat and the men had been killed, women perished in the fire of Jauhar (jiva har, taking of life). In some cases it was practised by Muslim women also,50 because of the influence of Hindu practice. The Jauhar at Chittor during Akbar’s invasion may be mentioned as an instance in the Mughal period. On the night of 23 February 1568, Rajput commander Jaimal’s death had so discouraged the people of Chittor that they resolved to perform the rite of Jauhar. Flames broke out at various places in the fortress and the ladies were consumed in them. The Jauhar took place in the house of Patta who belonged to the Sisodia clan, in the house of Rathors of whom Sahib Khan was the chief, and the Chauhans whose chief was Aissar Das. “As many as three hundred women were burnt in the destructive fire.”
    • Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 12, quoting Chachnama
  • Jauhar also was naturally resorted to because the motives and actions of the victors were never in doubt. For example, before Qasim could attack the Fort of Rawar many of the royal ladies themselves voluntarily immolated themselves. The description of the holocaust in the Chachnama is like this: “Bai, the sister of Dahir, assembled all her women and said… ‘God forbid that we should own our liberty to these outcast cow-eaters. Our honour would be lost… there is nowhere any hope of escape; let us collect wood, cotton and oil… and bum ourselves. …If any wish to save herself she may.’ So they went into a house, set it on fire and burnt themselves.” It is those of the lesser mettle who used to save themselves and used to be captured. The repeated Jauhars at one place, Chittor, during the attacks of Alauddin Khalji, Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and Emperor Akbar have become memorable for the spirit shown by the Rajputnis. Captured and enslaved women often had to lead a life of misery and dishonour as happened with Deval Devi, daughter of Raja Karan Baghela of Gujarat.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7

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