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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jauhar and Saka - The Ethos of Rajputana

Hi everyone

In this post, i am writing about the Rajputana practices of Jauhar and Saka, which were widely practiced in medieval times.. The Rajput character is martial in spirit, and fiercely proud and independent, and emphasizes a tradition... The Rajputana patriotism is a LEGEND in itself.. This is an ideal they embodied with a sometimes fanatical zeal, often choosing death before dishonour...Niccolao Mannuci, an Italian traveller who came to India in 17th Century, and worked in the court of Shah Jahan's son, Dara Shikoh, notes the following about the Rajput Warriors in his account, Storia Do Mogor, Volume-1, Page-101, -"These are the most WAR-LIKE people in ALL Hindustan".... Rajput warriors were often known to fight until the last man...Hence, Jauhar and Saka were practiced simultaneously...


Jauhar was the voluntary death on a funeral pyre of the queens and royal womenfolk of Rajputana Forts in order to avoid capture and consequent dishonor, when defeat was imminent. The term is extended to describe the occasional practice of mass suicide carried out in medieval times by Rajput women, or by entire Rajput communities, when the fall of a besieged city was certain.

On several occasions when defeat in such an engagement became certain, the Rajput defenders of the fort scripted a final act of heroism that rendered the incident an immortal inspiration and afforded the invaders only an exceedingly hollow, inglorious victory. In such incidents, the ladies of the fort would commit collective self-immolation. Wearing their wedding dresses, and holding their young children by the hand, the ladies would commit their chastity to the flames of a massive, collective pyre, thereby escaping dishonor at the hands of the invading army. As the memorial of their heroic act, the ladies would leave only the imprint of the palm of their right hands on wet clay, which have become objects of veneration. This immolation would occur during the night, to the accompaniment of Vedic chants.

The Palm Marks of Women at Chittor Fort Before the Jauhar

The practice is often described in terms of the women alone, but should correctly be understood as including the heroic act of Rajput Warriors in the battlefield(Saka). There is extensive glorification of the practice in the local ballads and folk-histories of present day Rajasthan.

Jauhar was different from the practice of Sati. Sati was the widow-burning practice on the funeral pyre of her husband..But Jauhar is related to high premium set on the honour of womenfolk in Rajput society.

Taking poison would also have taken away the life of the ladies. Jauhar was quite painful, but It was NOT the pain but the mentality associated with it which made Jauhar a nobler deed...!!
It ensured that the body is pure and chaste from the hands of enemies even after their death... and ensured their journey to heaven according to Hindu tradition as Agni(Fire) is considered the gateway to purity and "Atma Mukti" ...!!

The best known cases of Jauhar are the three occurrences at the Mighty Fort of Chittor, the seat of the Sisodia Clan of Mewar in Rajputana, in 1303, in 1535, and in 1568.

First Jauhar

This was the first siege of Chittor (1303) by the ruler of Delhi Sultanate - Ala-ud-din Khilji, when its' brave defence by the Guhilas, the saga of Rani Padmini and the Jauhar she led are registered in the annals of time as immortal legend. This incident has had a defining impact upon the Rajput character. This Story will be explained in a separate post SOON..

Second Jauhar 

Rana Sanga passed away soon after the Battle of Khanwa ; shortly afterwards, Mewar came under the regency of his widow, Rani Karnavati. The kingdom was attacked by Bahadur Shah, ruler of Gujarat. According to a 'dubious' legend, Rani Karnavati asked assistance from the Mughal ruler Humayun, son of her late husband's rival Babar. The 'help' arrived too late.. Chittor was reduced by Bahadur Shah. This is the occasion for the second of the three Jauhars performed at Chittor. Rani Karnavati led the ladies of the citadel into death by fire, while the menfolk sallied out to meet the besieging army in a valiant fight to the death.

Third Jauhar 
The third and final Jauhar of Chittor happened on the night of 22/23 February 1568, when defeat was certain at the hands of Mughal forces under Emperor Akbar. According to Abu'l Fazl, 300 Ladies performed Jauhar. The specifics are as follows - From the immediate royal family - 9 Queens, 5 Princesses, their daughters, as well as 2 infant sons, and ALL the chieftains' families who happened not to be away on their estates perished either in the flames or in the assault while fighting

During the course of the following morning, when Akbar made his entry, 8000 Rajputs warriors, vowed to death, sold their lives as dearly as possible and perished to a man. This was the practice of Saka. The details are from Akbarnama of Abu'l Fazl, Volume-2, Page-464 onwards.


After the Jauhar, the next morning after taking bath, men wear Saffron(kesariya) and apply the ash from the pyre(maha samadhi) of their wives and children on their foreheads and put a tulsi leaf(has a great significance in Hindu Mythology) in their mouth. Then the palace gates would be opened and men would ride out for complete annihilation of the enemy or themselves. Rajput men and women did not allow themselves to be "captured" alive. This fight until death of men is called "Saka."
This article has been posted under the Rajputs section of history_geek's BLOG.

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  1. This is so depressing to read :(... Rajput queens & royal women went to the extent of undertaking mass suicide along with their children to protect their honour, dignity from falling into wrong hands...Needs a lot of courage....Thanks for sharing.


    1. @Pallavi

      Those times, this was the last resort for the ladies in case of a defeat..Yes, this needs a lot of courage and strength.. No doubt, this tradition is represented as a Ethos..

  2. Jauhar / Saka needs a lot of courage, especially from the young children and their parents.

    Is there any evidence of Jauhar being forced upon the women / children at any time, just as Sati was forced upon widows in certain communities?

    Looking forward to the story of Rani Padmini. I am never tired of reading her story because she was not even a Rajput, who was used to the practice of Jauhar. She came all the way from Simhala (Sri Lanka) and still voluntarily practiced Jauhar!


    1. @ radhika

      This act, itself, is resplendent of courage, as you said...

      I have not come across any evidence of Forced Jauhar...This was a Voluntary Act to guard their chastity even after their death, so that their body remains pure from the hands of enemies..As i mentioned above, Rajput ladies and warriors did not allowed them to be captured alive... Hence, they went for the practice of Jauhar and Saka..

      I have added some more explanation on this part now, in the post.

      I will post on Rani Padmini asap.. Though, her origin is not sure..Some texts mention her from Sri Lanka , some mention her as the daughter of the nearby Rajput ruler.. Will post a separate topic on her.. Her Jauhar is legendary.

    2. Yes, normally when a person died, during the funeral or "antyesti" - final sacrifice, the last of the 16 Hindu sanskaars, Agni, the Fire God, was invoked to carry the departed soul to the realm of Yama, the God of Death. It was believed from the Vedic age that burning by fire gave peace to the departed soul and enabled it to enter the "pitr-loka", the world of the ancestors.

      Perhaps this was the reason why death by burning was chosen as the preferred method to die, so that the women and children remained pure and entered the "pitr-loka" easily.

      By the way, in the early Vedic period, it was believed that a soul became a "pitr" immediately after the funeral. So it was just enough to burn/cremate the body, as in the case of Jauhar. Later in the gruhya period, it was believed that a soul became a "preta" after funeral and could become a "pitr " only after performing ceremonies for a year (ekkodista shraddhas) from death. In the Puranic period, the soul could become a "preta" only after performing some rituals (purakas) for 10 days after death. Till then, it was in a stage of life called "Ativahika".

      So Jauhar may have its origins in the rituals from Vedic times, when it was enough to burn the body.

      Another interesting thing to note is that in the Vedic and Gruhya periods, the wife was made to lie next to the body of her deceased husband on the funeral pyre and then asked to get up and rejoin the living before the funeral pyre was lit. This may have later degenerated into the Sati practice, wherein the wife was NOT asked to return to the world of the living but burnt along with her husband.

    3. Thank you for this beautiful insight and the details. By the way, Jauhar also took place when the Vedic Chants were on..

  3. Intriguing article, burning yourself to death needs a lot of courage. How painful it must be for the men to see their wives and children burning alive... :(

    Few questions Abhay:

    1. All the instances of Jauhar mentioned above are with the foreign/Muslim invaders what if some Rajput state attacks other state? was Jauhar practiced in that case too?
    (Reason for above question is I guess it was more about the treatment given to defeated and not about the defeat.)

    2. This might sound silly, I understand that Jauhar was a last resort when defeat is imminent but what if Jauhar took place and the king returns victorious?? Is this kind of situation mentioned in history?

    1. Hi Rasika,

      Indeed burning oneself alive is quite painful. About your questions::

      1. There is NO case of Jauhar(as far as i know), when Jauhar occurred in case of defeat at the hands of another Rajput state. You are correct in your assessment, it was not about the defeat, but more about the treatment given to the defeated..

      2. Jauhar was THE LAST resort..The step was taken only when there was NO possibility of a win, and defeat was certain. There is NO case when a king returned victorious , after Jauhar took place..

  4. hi history-geek,
    can u tell me about chittor war from akbar point of view.i read on the old forum about this.what abul fazl says about chittor.i am curious to read your point of view on it.i do not believe in anyone or internet websites.plz tell me.thanks.

    1. Hi buddy,
      I will post "Abu'l Fazl's version" of Chittor War soon. You can check there. : )

  5. Abhay

    I would like to share something interesting with you and other friends here. This relates to an incident of jauhar committed outside Rajputana.

    This has been recorded by Firishta, a Persian historian who wrote about the history of medieval India.

    The year was around 1309-10. The place - the fort of Sirpur in Telengana (then ruled by Kakatiyas).

    Malik Kafur was on a mission to win the south for Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji. When he reached the frontiers of Telengana, he issued orders to "lay waste the country through fire and sword". The invaders met with resistance from a small contingent of hindu soldiers who were manning the fort. All of the men died, defending the fort. Then the ladies and the children killed themselves in a self-lit fire of jauhar.

    Isn't it amazing that women who were so far removed from Rajputana should be inspired by the Rajput practice of preserving their and the national honor by performing jauhar?

  6. I will agree with you here, Radhika.
    Those were cruel times, and in order to safeguard themselves the ladies took this extreme step. I, for one, have great respect for them.

    Instead of getting violated at the hands of victorious troops, they thought it better to end their lives.

  7. abhay - on IF someone wrote tat jauhar happened not only due to muslim invaders bt also other times. is it true? plz do not hesitate, i knw smthing abt 'tis n i sympathize wid those women. i will not mind it. i want 2 knw d mentality of both sides. dont think i m iqra. plz give me ur candid opinion.

  8. Abhay

    I read that Muslim women of a place called Rajore buried themselves with their dead husbands, in the manner of the Hindu practice of sati. And that around 1619, when a 12-year old girl did the same, Jahangir stopped the custom, calling it barbaric.

  9. Radhika,
    Thanks for sharing this, :D BTW, Rajori is in Kashmir.?

  10. Abhay,

    I don't know. I thought you or someone else might know about this.

  11. Yes Radhika, I think Rajouri is in Kashmir. There is a Rajouri sector there. :)

  12. Abhay

    Ya, that's at the border and quite important too. But I don't know know if this is the same. See your inbox.:)

  13. Hi Iqra,
    As far as i know, NO Jauhar happened when a Rajput state got defeated at the hands of another Rajput state. Jauhar only happened in the case you have mentioned. This is my knowledge about this topic, i will be grateful in case anyone provides example of Jauhar when a Rajput state defeated another Rajput state. I hope this answers the query. :))

  14. First things first, this is a very informative blog . I chanced upon this blog thru india forums links, sorry, was sneaking in chit chat threads :D Lots of history loaded on Mughals and Rajputs
    Jauhar is indeed a very courageous act and needs a lot of guts ; this act was particularly done because the rampaging invaders violated even the dead bodies of enemy women , thats why the Jauhar.
    In Rgveda , there is indeed a ritual mentioned but it wasn't taken literally. In Mahabharata , wife of Pandu, Madri commits something 'sati' like , she burnt herself and this ritual was followed by people of her maternal kingdom 'Madra' (Pak n Indian Punjab included) this act was practiced only in that part of kingdom as an act of love towards a husband and in Madri's case maybe even guilt and was scorned upon by other kingdoms in epic era. The last case of Sati was by Roop Kanwar, a Punjabi (?) don't have much info on this, I was interested in knowing, if you have any info on queen Sanyogita and other queens of Prithviraj Chauhan after he was defeated in battle of Tarain by Ghori and not to mention what sadist joy the Pak writters take, on this part of history .

  15. Abhay

    There are 2 Rajore villages, one in MP and one in Maharashtra.

  16. Hi MNL,

    Seems you are a regular member of IF.?
    Welcome to the blog.
    Agree with your views on Sati and Jauhar.

    About your query on PRC's wives, there is no substantial evidence with me about their Jauhar, but i deny completely whatever "stories" are being circulated on Internet. Had that been the case, some or the other Muslim author must have recorded it for sure, or a passing reference must have been made. I am supporting my conclusion based on following facts.

    From what i know (this is a local annal which i read long back, and i remember it quite hazily) is that, one of the wives of PRC along with a son, went to a village called Malakpur(present day West Uttar Pradesh), near the river Hindon and they stayed there with some of the loyal supporters.

    It is interesting that we have found(in excavation) the coins bearing the name of PRC with the date of 1194, though the second battle of Tarain was fought in 1192. This points to the fact, even after that battle complete devastation had not taken place. There was some struggle(?) still continuing.

    Also, a princess of Chauhan clan was married to the King of Amer after 1192, this is a recorded fact in the archives of Royal House of Jaipur. :)

  17. Iqra, Abhay

    Jauhar was conducted not because of the defeat but to safeguard the women's honour from enemies. Rajput enemies would not have broken their code of conduct and misbehaved with women and children of the enemy. So there would have been no need for the women to die.

    But invading non-Rajput armies who had no qualms in capturing and abusing women and children were a different story. Jauhar was performed in such cases.

  18. History geek, thank you for your reply. Yes I'm on and off India-forums..this is my 2nd innings there after my previous id got locked because I was inactive quite long :(
    Its a relief to know Sanyogita stories are hear-say . I am more interested in epic history but reading this blog , now I'm I thinking medieval history is interesting as well .
    Thanks again . More power to you

  19. thanks abhay n radhika. rajputs r famous 4 holding traditions in bad times 2. dey follow war principles 2 full extent. i hv no hesitation in accepting jauhar was done when non rajput armies invaded rajput states. 'tis iz what my little research also says.

  20. I suppose i have missed quite a lot of posts in this blog :( :( Just now i read this post and i truly salute the valour n bravery of Rajput community ppl both men n women !!!

    Abhay , can u please provide me the other links ( if any ) on other similar posts so that i can have read on that too ...

  21. Suganya,
    Thanks. There are more such posts on the blog. Please see the various sections which are present in this blog. Under those sections many posts have been listed.
    Or, you can go through the blog archive , it is present on the right side of the blog page, it contains the sequentially arranged posts, made on this blog. :)

  22. was there any jouhar when marathas invaded rajputana
    bcz wherever they go did plnder..indeed jouhar was very painful, imagining screams of women.

  23. Not read of a Jauhar when Marathas attacked Rajputana.