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
  • On the 29th I again marched and reached the river Jumna. On the other side of the river I descried a fort, and upon making inquiry about it, I was informed that it consisted of a town and fort, called Loni. I determined to take that fort at once. Many of the Rajputs placed their wives and children in their houses and burned them, then they rushed to the battle and were killed. Other men of the garrison fought and were slain, and a great many were taken prisoners. Next day I gave orders that the Musalman prisoners should be separated and saved, but that the infidels should all be despatched to hell with the proselyting sword. I also ordered that the houses of the saiyids, shaikhs and learned Musulmans should be preserved but that all the other houses should be plundered and the fort destroyed. It was done as I directed and a great booty was obtained.
    • Malfuzat-i Timuri (tr.Abū Ṭāleb Hosayni), Elliot and Dowson, Vol. III : Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, 8 Volumes, Allahabad Reprint, 1964. pp. 432-33
    • This book claims to be the autobiography of Timur, however the actual authorship of this work is disputed.
  • On the 16th of the month some incidents occurred which led to the sack of the city of Delhi, and to the slaughter of many of the infidel inhabitants... Another reason was that it had come to my knowledge that great numbers of Hindu and gabrs, with their wives and children, and goods, and valuables, had come into the city from all the country round, and consequently I had sent some amirs with their regiments (Jiushun) into the city and directed them to pay no attention to the remonstrances of the inhabitants, but to seize and bring out these fugitives. For these several reasons a great number of fierce Turki soldiers were in the city. When the soldiers proceeded to apprehend the Hindus and gabrs who had fled to the city, many of them drew their swords and offered resistance. The flames of strife were thus lighted and spread through the whole city from Jahanpanah and Siri to Old Delhi, burning up all it reached. The savage Turks fell to killing and plundering. The Hindus set fire to their houses with their own hands, burned their wives and children in them, and rushed into the fight and were killed. ...
    • Malfuzat-i Timuri (tr.Abū Ṭāleb Hosayni), Elliot and Dowson, Vol. III : Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, 8 Volumes, Allahabad Reprint, 1964. pp. 445-46
    • This book claims to be the autobiography of Timur, however the actual authorship of this work is disputed.
  • “You have seen the impetuosity of the Hindus and their indifference to death, whenever any calamity befalls them, as at this moment. If, therefore, you refuse to grant peace in the hope of obtaining plunder, tribute, elephants and prisoners, then there is no alternative for us but to mount the horse of stern determination, destroy our property, take out the eyes of our elephants, cast our children into the fire, and rush on each other with sword and spear, so that all that will be left to you, is stones and dirt, dead bodies, and scattered bones.”
    • Cited by Utbi, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3
  • Sher Shah Sur’s name is associated in our textbooks with the Grand Trunk Road from Peshawar to Dacca, with caravanserais, and several other schemes of public welfare. It is true that he was not a habitual persecutor of Hindus before he became the emperor at Delhi. But he did not betray Islam when he became the supreme ruler. The test came at Raisen in 1543 AD. Shaykh Nurul Haq records in Zubdat-ul-Tawarikh as follows: “In the year 950 H., Puranmal held occupation of the fort of Raisen… He had 1000 women in his harem… and amongst them several Musulmanis whom he made to dance before him. Sher Khan with Musulman indignation resolved to conquer the fort. After he had been some time engaged in investing it, an accommodation was proposed and it was finally agreed that Puranmal with his family and children and 4000 Rajputs of note should be allowed to leave the fort unmolested. Several men learned in the law (of Islam) gave it as their opinion that they should all be slain, notwithstanding the solemn engagement which had been entered into. Consequently, the whole army, with the elephants, surrounded Puranmal’s encampment. The Rajputs fought with desperate bravery and after killing their women and children and burning them, they rushed to battle and were annihilated to a man.”
    • Goel, S. R. (2001). The story of Islamic imperialism in India.
  • Why they had gone so suddenly off the walls seems to have been that they had taken the resolve of those who give up a place as lost; they put all ladies and beauties to death, then, looking themselves to die, came naked out to fight. Our men attacking, each one from his post, drove them from the walls whereupon 2 or 300 of them entered Medini Rao's house and there almost killed one another in this way: -- one having taken stand with a sword, the rest eagerly stretched out the neckblow. Thus went the greater number to hell. By God's grace this renowned fort was captured in 2 or 3 garis (cir. an hour), without drum and standard, with no hard fighting done. A pillar of pagan-heads was ordered set up on a hill north-west of Chanderi. A chronogram of this victory having been found in the words of Fath-i-daru'l-harb (Conquest of a hostile seat), I thus composed them:
    Was for a while the station Chandiri Pagan-full, the seat of hostile force;
    By fighting, I vanquished its fort,
    The date was Fath-i-daru'l-harb.
  • 'When after the massacre Ahmad ShAh's troops marched onward from MathurA, Najib and his army remained there for three days, plundered much money and buried treasure, and carried off many beautiful females as captives.' The blue waves of the Jamuna gave eternal repose to such of her daughters as could flee to her outstretched arms; some other happy women found a nearer escape from dishonour by death in their household wells. But for those of their sisters who survived there was no escape from a fate worse than death. A Muslim eyewitness thus describes the scene in the ruined city a fortnight later. 'Everywhere in the lanes and bazaars lay the headless trunks of the slain and the whole city was burning. Many buildings had been knocked down. The water of the Jamuna flowing past was of a yellowish color, as if polluted by blood. The man [a Muslim jeweller of the city, robbed of his all and fasting for several days] said that for seven days following the general slaughter the water had turned yellow. At the edge of the stream I saw a number of huts of vairAgis and sannyAsis [i.e., Hindu ascetic], in each of which lay a severed head with the head of a dead cow applied to its mouth and tied to it with a rope round its neck.'
    'Issuing from the ruins of MathurA, JahAn Khan roamed the country round, and plundering everywhere as directed. VrindAvan, seven miles north of MathurA could not escape, as its wealth was indicated by its many temples. Here another general massacre was practised upon the inoffensive monks of the most pacific order of Vishnu's worshippers (c. 6th March). As the same Muhammadan diarist records after a visit to VrindAvan: 'Wherever you gazed you beheld heaps of the slain; you could only pick your way with difficulty, owing to the quantity of bodies lying about and the amount of blood spilt. At one place that we reached we saw about two hundred dead children lying in a heap. Not one of the dead bodies had a head.' The stench and effluvium in the air were such that it was painful to open your mouth or even to draw breath.'...
    • Jadunath Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, Volume II, Fourth Edition, New Delhi, 1991, p.70-71
  • The first considerable religious riot in India under British rule was the so-called Mopla rebellion of 1921 which occurred in Malabar as an offshoot of the Khilafat Movement. The Moplas burst into unprecedented violence against the British, following upon the Khilafat Committee’s call for the same addressed to the believing population of Malabar. As it turned out, most of the casualties in this jihãd were Hindus rather than the British. Hundreds of Hindu women jumped into wells to save their honour, others being ravished and slaughtered with absolute indifference by blood-thirsty mujãhids. Hundreds of corpses of Hindu women as well as children were recovered from the wells after the end of the riots. The call for this jihãd had been pronounced by the Ali Brothers, Hasrat Mohani, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Mahatma Gandhi himself acknowledged these atrocities as part of Islam’s holy war. He referred to the mujãhids as “God-fearing Moplas” and said: “They were fighting for what they consider as religion and in a manner which they consider as religious.” Needless to say, such manner of fighting for such a cause is the essence of an Islamic jihãd. It should be mentioned that leaders like Azad gave the call for jihãd against the British rather than the Hindus, but it is not known how they intended to confine the war against a single class of infidels.
    • Majumadāra, S. (2001). Jihād: The Islamic doctrine of permanent war. ch. 10
  • In 912, after the rising of Canopus, the Sultan went towards the fort of Awantgar' ...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' After due thanks-giving for his victory, the Sultan gave over charge of the fort to Makan and Mujahid Khan, with directions that they should destroy the idol temples, and raise mosques in their places
  • Sher Shah Sur’s name is associated in our textbooks with the Grand Trunk Road from Peshawar to Dacca, with caravanserais, and several other schemes of public welfare. It is true that he was not a habitual persecutor of Hindus before he became the emperor at Delhi. But he did not betray Islam when he became the supreme ruler. The test came at Raisen in 1543 AD. Shaykh Nurul Haq records in Zubdat-ul-Tawarikh as follows: “In the year 950 H., Puranmal held occupation of the fort of Raisen… He had 1000 women in his harem… and amongst them several Musulmanis whom he made to dance before him. Sher Khan with Musulman indignation resolved to conquer the fort. After he had been some time engaged in investing it, an accommodation was proposed and it was finally agreed that Puranmal with his family and children and 4000 Rajputs of note should be allowed to leave the fort unmolested. Several men learned in the law (of Islam) gave it as their opinion that they should all be slain, notwithstanding the solemn engagement which had been entered into. Consequently, the whole army, with the elephants, surrounded Puranmal’s encampment. The Rajputs fought with desperate bravery and after killing their women and children and burning them, they rushed to battle and were annihilated to a man.”
    • Zubdat-ul-Tawarikh quoted in Goel, Sita Ram (2001). The story of Islamic imperialism in India. Chapter 7 ISBN 9788185990231
  • It is wonderful that a Hindu woman burns herself for her husband willingly. Although it is not allowed by the religion of Islam, yet it is a great and noble deed. Had it been lawful in our religion, good people would have sacrificed their life with pleasure.
    • Amir Khusrao, Nuh Sipihr, quoted from B.K. Karkra, Rani Padmini, The Heroine of Chittor. (2009) Rupa.

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