Malik Muhammad Jayasi: The Poet Who Penned the Ballad ‘Padmavat’
Tracing the origins of Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s <i>Padmavat</i>.
Tracing the origins of Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat.(Photo courtesy: Twitter/altered by The Quint)

Malik Muhammad Jayasi: The Poet Who Penned the Ballad ‘Padmavat’

Even as the CBFC clears Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film, rechristening it Padmavat, here’s a look at the poet who penned the legend. Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s masnavi (spiritual couplet) was written in 1540 - and it caused enough and more havoc in 2017.

Although, the dates of Jayasi’s birth and death remain largely inconclusive, by tracing the timeline of his work, historians have made efforts to demystify the poet.

Malik Muhammad Jayasi (or as some historians call him, ‘Jaisi’) was an Indian Sufi poet who preferred to write in Awadhi, the language favoured by the common folk in 15th century. Jayasi’s most famous work remains Padmavat, the story of the historic siege of Chittor by Alauddin Khalji (or Khilji) and his conquest for Rani Padmini (or Padmavati).

While the dates of Jayasi’s birth and death are not clear, Ramya Sreenivasan, in his paper, The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen puts Jayasi in Babur’s darbaar in 936 AH (1529-30) where he wrote Akhiri Kalam. The poem on which Bhansali’s film is (loosely) based, Padmavat was written in 947 AH (1540-41), and “begins the poem with a eulogy to Sher Shah the Sultan of Delhi”. Many say that the Khilji’s character may have been based on Sher Shah.

Jayasi’s Contemporary Times Influenced Him

The name Jayasi comes from 'Jayas' which was an important town in Sharqi sultanate of Jaunpur (in the state of Uttar Pradesh in present times), as well as a Sufi centre in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, writes Aziz Ahmad. Historians are not certain if Jayasi was born in Jayas or came to the town to attain religious education.

Jayasi was known to be a practicing Muslim and grew up learning the works of Vedanta and Kabir. Through his works, Jayasi offers information about drawing inspiration from Sufi saints of the time and before him.

According to Sreenivasan, “Jayasi lost his father when he was very young, and lost his mother just a few years later. It is believed that he was looked after by groups of wandering ascetics; He may have lost one eye, and had a disfigured face, because of a smallpox attack. According to the legends, he married and lived as a peasant. He was blessed with seven sons and lived a simple and pious life”.

Sufi Saints Who Inspired Him

According to Aziz, Jayasi mentions Saiyad Asraph - better known as Mir Saiyid Ashraf Jahangir Simnani, one of the most prominent saints of the Chishti silsilah in the Jaunpur sultanate - in the first line of Akhri Kalam.

But according to John Millis, “Simnani died in 840 A.H. (1436-37), which was several decades before Jayasi was bom. There is not much known about Shaikh Haji or Shaikh Ahmad, Shaikh Mubarak and Shaikh Kamal. Local tradition in Jayas holds that Jayasi's instructor was Shaikh Mubarak Shah Bodale”.

Sreeniavasan writes that more than a century after Jayasi’s death, the legends written about him contributed to the poet attaining the status of a Sufi pir. The legends included his “practice of meditation, the power to change form and the power to bestow blessings such as children”.

In the 90s, Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi have also visited the grave of the Sufi poet near the family's election constituency Amethi. Soon after, a permanent structure was constructed at his grave. Once a year, followers visit the pir’s grave for the annual festival of Urs.

Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s <i>samadhi sthal </i>at Ram Nagar near Amethi.
Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s samadhi sthal at Ram Nagar near Amethi.
(Photo courtesy: YouTube Screenshot)
Jayasi attained the  status of a Sufi saint more than a century after his death.&nbsp;
Jayasi attained the status of a Sufi saint more than a century after his death. 
(Photo courtesy: YouTube Screenshot)

Fiction, Meet Fact

His most notable work, Padmavat provides more clues about his personal life.

Padmavat, which is described by many as an allegory of the human soul, has undergone many alterations over the centuries. “Legend” has it, the poem or masnavi was first written in Persian and later translated into Awadhi for mass consumption.

Aziz Ahmed, in his paper Epic and Counter-Epic in Medieval India, sheds light on how Jayasi took his inspiration for Padmavat from history itself and used his Sufi teachings to weave a tale of love.

Raja Ratansen
According to Aziz Ahmad, Jayasi’s Ratansen was inspired from Aziz Nayachandra Suri’s ‘Hammira Mahakavya’ which was biographical account of 14th-century Chauhana King Hammira Mahadeva. Mahadeva fought bravely against Khilji on three separate accounts. After the Sultanate lost to the Rajputs in their second attempt, Khilji offered a truce to Hammira by asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The King refused but the Chauhana women, fearing defeat a third time, performed ‘jauhar’ or mass immolation. 
Padmini or Padmavati
Not just the Chauhana women’s sacrifice, but another case of mass sati might have influenced Jayasi. According to Aziz, “nine years before Padmavat was written, Rajput noblewomen performed ‘jauhar’ after a a Rajput king was defeated by Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat. 
Alauddin Khilji
Aziz argues that Jayasi may have consciously or unconsciously interchanged Alauddin Khilji with Ghiydthal-din Khalj of Malwa (1469-1500) who “had a roving eye, and is reported to have undertaken the quest of Padmini, not a particular Rajput princess, but the ideal type of woman according to Hindu erotology”.
An illustrated manuscript of <i>Padmavat</i> from  1750.
An illustrated manuscript of Padmavat from 1750.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

The legend of Alaudin Khilji’s pursuit of Rani Padmini and the tales of her mythical beauty have not been found historically by any author before Abul Fazl, who bases his own research on Jayasi’s work.

Jayasi made use of Sufi traditions by employing state, politics and society in his works. Whatever might be his intent in his work, Malik Muhammad Jayasi is said to have ended Padmavat with the line - “I have made up the story and related it”, and that’s spirit with which it should be understood.

(Source: Aziz Ahmad, Ramya Sreenivasan)

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