Johar (Jauhar) Pratha, Saka Pratha, History and Story
Ancient Indian cultures date back to many centuries. Many races had ruled over different parts of the country and each had their own traditions and rituals. One such glorious, fearless and patriotic race happened to be the Rajputs. They were considered to a warrior clan who never shied away from death. The bravery of Rajput kings was legendary but the women were not be left behind. They jumped in blazing fire with their heads held high just to protect their honor and chastity. This ritual of self-immolation by jumping in flames was known as Johar or Jauhar Pratha. The royal Rajput women partook in these mass suicidal rituals to prevent capture and subservience.
History and Story of Jauhar Pratha
Jauhar of Sindh: Muhammad bin Qasim
During 712, the deeds and invasions of Muhammad bin Qasim were making headlines. Once he reached Indian subcontinent, he attacked the Hindu king of Sindh, Dahir and finally killed him on the battle ground. Staying true to their nature, his queen did not surrender at the hands of the enemy. She resisted invasion for as long as she could, and then, decided to end chances of dishonor by jumping on the holy pyres.
Jauhar of Ranthambore
Alauddin Khilji was responsible for the untimely death of many women in India. He decided to attack Ranthambore fort and bring this Rajput stronghold under this power. Thus, his armies marched on during 1301 with the single aim to end the rule of Hammira. The Rajput king was successful in doing some damage in the ranks of this army. Then Alauddin Khilji led his forces and forced the king to leave his fort. When the armies marched out, they knew they would be killed indefinitely. The only way for the royal and ordinary women to safeguard their honor was to settle for Jauhar, which they did gracefully.
Jauhar of Jaisalmer
History tells us that two full and a half Jauhar took place in Jaisalmer. The first mass suicide happened in 1294 that saw the participation of 24,000 Bhatis women. Their attack on the treasure caravan infuriated Alauddin Khilji. He attacked the area and laid waste all over the place. Though the Bhatis king was able to transport aged and children outside the city, the men and women decided not to leave their homes. They arranged for Jauhar but it was not big enough for all women. Thus, those who were not engulfed by the holy fire were killed by their male relatives.
The second Jauhar was reported to have taken place in 14th century and saw the participation of 16,000 women. This time the enemy was the Turkish Emperor Firuz Shah Tughluq. He managed to surround the city but was unable to take any women or men captives as men died on the battle field while the women sacrificed themselves on the holy pyres. Lastly, the half Jauhar or the Sako took place in 16th century. The Rana was forced to kill the women as they did not have enough time to make arrangements for Jauhar. But before enemy king Amir Ali could engage with the men, aid arrived and the men lived to see another day.
Jauhar of Rani Padmini
If there is one incident that has been immortalized by poets of medieval India, it had to be the saga of Rani Padmini. She was a paramount beauty in the entire Rajputana. She was married to the Rajput king of Chittorgarh, Rana Rawal Ratan Singh. The tales of her unparalleled beauty transcended all borders and reached the royal court of Alauddin Khilji. He was so smitten by her beauty that he wanted to possess Rani Padmini exclusively for himself. He attacked the area and when he realized that the Rana would never give up his wife, Alauddin Khilji settled for a look of the queen through reflecting mirrors.
But he was unable to control his base emotions and attacked Chittorgarh and imprisoned the king. The queen hatched a plan and succeeded in freeing the king. When war became inevitable, Rani Padmini decided to committee Jauhar and escaped the clutches of the enemy in 1303. She was accompanied by all her attendants and other court women. Apart from these women, ordinary women of the area and soldier’s wives, along with their kids, reached the huge pyre that has been built for them. They reached the Jauhar Kund via the hidden underground tunnels.
After completing the rituals, these women jumped in all-engulfing flames and committed suicide, while the high priests and pandits stood aside, chanting holy spells, which the Hindus believed would provide safe passage to the spirits. Once the fire burnt out, and nothing but ash covered the surface of the kunda, the king and all his men put on saffron attires, slapped the holy ash on their foreheads and marched on the enemies. They had nothing to return to and so they fought with everything they had. After the war was over, Alauddin Khilji marched into the fort; he found the entire city empty. It was the first and by far the most talked about Jaguars that Chittor had seen.
Jauhar of Kampili: Muhammad bin Tughluq
Muhammad bin Tughluq desired to rule over entire India. Though his armies succeeded in defeating independent rulers, the Hindu kings of the south were out of his reach. They had followed war strategies that assisted them in manning their walls for centuries against any foreign invasion. But in the year 1329, Muhammad bin Tughlaq was able to defect the king and conquer certain areas in northern part of Karnataka. The area was under Kampili rulers. They were followers of Hinduism and the women of the kingdom preferred suicide over sexual enslavement. Thus, they committed Jauhar ritual.
Jauhar of Chanderi: Babur
If there is any state in medieval India that has seen a number of Jauhars apart from the homeland of the Rajputs, Rajasthan, then it has to be Madhya Pradesh. The fort at Chanderi has seen many Mughal sieges. The area was ruled by Medini Rao. He was the follower of Hindu religion. Babur was not very pleased with this king as he aided Rana Sanga when he was resisting attack from Babur during Khanwa war. When Babur got the opportunity, he attacked Medini Rao and wanted to get even. His army could not face Babur’s forces and so, his queen and other women jumped in the holy fire with their children. After Jauhar, the kind and other male soldiers wrapped themselves in saffron attires and took part in Saka. Jauhar was arranged on 28th of January, 1528 and men committed Saka on the 29th.
Second Jauhar of Chittor: Bahadur Shah
Chittor was under the rule of Rana Sanga, but after his untimely demise in the year 1528, his wife had to take up the responsibility of ruling the empire. The king of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah thought that it was the perfect opportunity to hit hard and capture her territory. Thus, he came down hard on the Chittor army with full force. Queen Karnavati tried her best to save the fort walls and even sent a rakhi to Humayun’s court, seeking assistance. But before he could come to her rescue, Bahadur Shah breached the walls. Queen Karnavati, in 1535, decided to sacrifice her life. Thus, 13000 other women accompanied the queen and they lit up a fire after rubbing their bodies with highly flammable gun powder.
Third Jauhar of Chittor: Akbar
Mughal armies, under the leadership Akbar stationed themselves near the borders of Chittor. Eventually they hurled attack on the fort 1567. The Chittor army tried their best to push the enemies away, but they were unable to resent the attack for more than a year. As Akbar and his men marched in the city, royal women jumped into the holy flames and committed suicide in 1568. The night sky was lit up by the flames which were devouring the bodies of Rajput women. Next morning, all men armed themselves and went out of the form to face their enemies, knowing that they will not live to see another day.
Three Jauhars of Raisen: Humayun
Raisen was unfortunate enough to see not one but three separate Jauhars. The women were at the mercy of the Mughals. But they did not accept their fate and took matters in their own hands. Hindu women always found the courage to stand steadfast in the face of adversity. They never shied away from taking extreme measures to save their chastity. Queen Chanderi was the first queen of Raisen to arrange the first Jauhar in the year 1528. The second Jauhar was organized in the year Rani Durgavati by Rani Durgavati. She was accompanied by 700 other court women. Once the women completed their self-sacrifice, the men took part in Saka under the leadership of Lakshman Tuar. Lastly, in the year 1543, Queen Ratnavali arranged the third Jauhar in Raisen in order to safeguard themselves from dishonor.
Jauhar of Bundelkhand: Aurangzeb
Jauhar Pratha was not only committed within the borders of the Rajput rule. During the rule of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, another Jauhar was carried out in Madhya Pradesh. It took place during the month of December 1634. The city of Bundela faced imminent danger when the emperor surrounded this area with a fierce army. When the war broke out, it became clear that the army defending the freedom of Bundela did not stand a chance.
It was evident that as soon as the Mughal army breached the walls, they would inflict pain on the people. It was customary for Mughal kings to capture women and push them into the harems and to sexually exploit them. Children were hurled into slavery and men were forced to denounce their religion and surrender to Islam. Many women sacrificed their lives to save their chastity. But not all were able to take the difficult step. They were captured and Mughals treated them as was expected of them.
How Jauhar is carried out?
- Once the royal women decide to opt for this ritual, they would stare making the preparations. As the traditions specified, this ritual was conducted during the night.
- On the proposed day, all royal and ordinary women would take a bath, and then put on their wedding attires. They would deck themselves with jewels. They would bring their children along with them.
- The men used to arrange and look after the preparations of Jauhra. They used the finest wood to make the pyres. A special kund was constructed where this “samadhi” was to be laid out.
- When the right time came, the high priests and pandits started chatting holy spells from religious books.
- Once the fire started raging, one by one, all women along with their children jumped in these flames and embraced their glorious death.
Who started Jauhar Pratha?
Rajputs were not the first race to opt for self-sacrificing rituals. History tells us that a similar incident had taken place in the north western part of the Indian subcontinent during the invasion of Alexander. The great conqueror came to India between 336 and 323 BCE. His armies attacked Agalassoi tribes. They were unable to resist the heavily armed troops of Alexander. But these tribes too had high sense of pride and hated the concept of enslavement. Thus, the members of this tribe set their entire village on flames, and killed themselves by walking into the infernos.
Reasons to committee Jauhar
- Saving the pride of Rajput women – Rajput women, just like the Rajput men had huge sense of pride, self-respect, and honor. They despised the very thought of living under the control of anyone else. Thus, these women embraced death rather than tolerating dishonorable positions.
- Saving the chastity of the women – Most Muslim kings used to capture the wives, daughters and other women in the palace and throw them in the harem, where these women had to suffer from sexual exploitation. It was a huge blow to the chastity of these women, which was worse than death.
- Preventing enslavement – The victorious kings always enslave the people on the losing side. The high sense of honor prevented the Rajput men and women to accept subordination. So, they opted for self-sacrifice rather than enslavement.
- Preventing religious transformation – The Mughal or Muslim rulers had the tendency of forcing the Rajput women to embrace Islam as their religion. This was seen as an insult and the women though death was better than changing their religion.
What is Saka Pratha?
- While the Rajput women jumped into the fire, and committed mass self-sacrifice within the strong walls of the fort, the men prepared themselves for their self-sacrifice.
- Staying true to the Rajputs traditions, men would never surrender but fight till the last breath. This ritual of the men facing the enemy, even though they knew there was no returning was known as Saka.
- Saka was performed a day after the women and children performed Jauhar. Early in the morning, the men would cleanse their bodies by taking a bath.
- After this, they would wear clothes, which were dyed in saffron color. This color has huge significance in Hindu mythology.
- Then they would scoop some of the ash from the Jauhar kund that had engulfed the women jus the previous night. They would rub this ash on their foreheads as a sign of respect for the deceased.
- The Tulsi tree is another holy symbol of Hindus. Each man would then take a leaf of this tree and place it inside their mouth.
- Lastly, they would mount their horses and once the entrance of the fort was flung open, they would go out and crash on their enemies with every bit of force.
Who stopped Jauhar Pratha?
Everyone agreed that rituals like Jauhar, and Sati among the Hindus were out and out cruel. Jauhar did not make any difference between young and old. In 1619, the then ruler of Delhi, Jahangir came across an incident where a young girl of 12 years had jumped into the holy fire to save her chastity. It saddened as well as angered the king. To put an end to this horrific even one and for all, Jahangir passed a mandate, thereby slapping a ban on this age old ritual.
Jauhar Pratha vs Sati Pratha
Apart from Jauhar, there was another practice that was prevalent in many parts of India since medieval times. It also involved women burning themselves alive, by humping on the holy pyres. The name of this inhumane practice is Sati Pratha. Jauhar Pratha was prevalent among the Hindu Rajput royals and Sati Pratha was prevalent among the Hindus and Brahmins living in Hindu dominant areas in India. It mainly dominated the eastern parts of the then India. In Jauhar, Rajput women jumped in the holy fire on their own, to save themselves from the hands of their enemies, even before their husbands died fighting the war. But Sati was different from this.
The then Brahmins popularized a notion that when a husband died, his soul could seal a place in heaven, provided his wife sacrificed her life on the husband’s pyres. The wife would thus be saved from the pangs of living the life of a widow. But the main difference was most young women were not brave enough to perform the ritual. According to written reports, these brides were forced to perform sati. If they resented, they were forced and even tortured till they agreed. At times, they were given narcotics that will make them lose their senses, and then they were thrown into the hot flames.
Who stopped sati pratha ?
Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a Bengali reformer was able to highlight the dark sides of this practice in front of the British Government. He had to face lots of opposition from the society and his family members. After a lot of struggle, he was able to persuade Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General and he passed Bengal Sati Regulation in the year 1829. This act proclaimed the act to be cruel and a punishable offence.
It is not easy to master up enough courage and jump into raging flames to sacrifice their lives. This act of self-sacrifice is hard to find in other parts of the world. But the medieval Rajput women were able to cement their place in the history books by choosing death over dishonor. Women of those days were not exposed to the outer world, but that did not deter them from taking extreme steps to save the Rajput honor and traditions. They lost their lives by jumping into the fire but managed to immortalize themselves in time.