Monday, July 2, 2018

Book Review: Padmavat - An Epic Love Story by Purushottam Agarwal

Title: Padmavat
Author: Purushottam Agarwal
Publisher: Rupa Publications India

An epic poem, Padmavat was written by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540. Now, some five hundred years since this poem was first written, the story of Queen Padmavati still continues to capture the imagination of readers with its unique characterization. Several versions of this historical story have made the rounds of both the literary and cine world. Purushottam Agrawal’s ‘Padmavat: An Epic Love Story’ is one among many such renditions.

So what makes Professor Agarwal’s book unique? Why should one choose to read this book? Simply put, Prof Agarwal’s book is a retelling, and sometimes interpretation, of the original Awadhi text. His book is a detailed explanation of what Jayasi’s poem stood for. It is not a fictional account of the story that has been simply converted from the poem. This book is an attempt to understand the truth and myth behind the tale.

There has been a lot of controversy regarding the authenticity of the myth of Queen Padmini of Chittor. The original poem ends with Jayasi's own words: “I have made up the story and related it.” As such, there should be no doubt, at least as far as the event in the poem goes, that the story of the queen is nothing but a figment of a poet’s imagination.

Jayasi never meant to write history. Neither has Prof Agarwal. Jayasi’s epic poem was a work of creative, imaginative literature woven around an episode in history. In his much celebrated poem, he transformed that episode and its legend into a rich, intricate tapestry of love, desire, and struggle wrought with sacrifice. Jayasi, through his ingenious, had placed a local episode into a much wider cultural perspective. Prof Agarwal’s is an interpretation of the former. He does not get into the question of the historicity of the story of Padmavati, except tangentially.

According to Prof Agarwal, Jayasi put love and life in the ultimate existential perspective of transience in the face of impending death. In a poignant poetic move, at the end of his saga, Jayasi makes victorious Alauddin reflect not only on his pyrrhic victory but also on the nature of insatiable desire. It’s he who says desire never goes away unless a man reaches the grave. To show what he means, Prof Agarwal has provided text from the original Awadhi wherever possible with its paraphrase in English.

Prof Agarwal is one of the most distinguished contemporary critics of Hindi and a renowned scholar of Kabir. He taught Padmavat for over 40 years and his tremendous love for the epic shows in his retelling of it. Through this book, he takes us on a journey through and about Padmavat. He describes the salient points of the story. Written in a fluid language, Prof Agarwal’s book is easy to comprehend. Devdutt Pattanaik’s alluring illustrations embellish the chapters and add an undeniable charm.

A stunning display of insight and erudition and an important contribution towards understanding a historical episode.

Purushottam Agrawal is a New Delhi based writer and literary historian. He works on Bhakti, spirituality without religion and India’s organic early modernity which, he argues, was halted in its tracks by colonization. His work draws upon sources in Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Urdu, Braj and Awadhi.
His book on Kabir, Akath Kahani Prem Ki: Kabir ki Kavita aur Unka Samay (2009) is considered a contemporary classic and won the first Rajkamal Kriti Samman.
He is a well-known public intellectual, lending his voice to newspaper and television debates. He is a contributing editor at The Quint.

Devdutt Pattanaik writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. He has written over 700 articles in newspapers and thirty books, which include the bestselling Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management and My Gita. His shows on television include Business Sutra and Devlok with Devdutt Pattanaik. He lives in Mumbai.

I'd like to thank the publisher for letting me review the book. I do hope you end up liking the book when you read it. Thank you so much for stopping by, and happy reading! 

* I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
** Picture courtesy:, Twitter

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