Just days ahead of Raksha Bandhan, a particular tale starts doing the rounds of the media and liberal ecosystem. The historic tale is written about, cited and retweeted repeatedly to propagate the message of tolerance and brotherhood, and validate the importance of the sacred thread which sisters tie on the wrists of their brothers. It is another thing that some of those who quote this tale also believe that Raksha Bandhan is a symbol of patriarchy. But we would stick to the tale for now because it speaks of a great event in the valorous history of the Rajputs and involves the grandmother of Maharana Pratap.
Rani Karnavati (or Karmavati) was the queen of Mewar and wife of Rana Sanga. Babur had positioned himself as the Sultan of Delhi and the founder of Mughal Dynasty after defeating Ibrahim Lodhi in the First Battle of Panipat in 1526.
Ran Sanga and a confederation of Rajputs considered Babur a foreigner and decided to oppose him. Their respective forces met at Khanwa in what is now Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. Rana Sanga’s forces were defeated and he succumbed to the injuries he suffered in battle. Rani Karnavati then became the regent of Rana Sanga’s elder son Vikramaditya.
Eight years had passed. Babur had died and his son Humayun had become the next Mughal emperor. At this time, Bahadur Shah of Gujarat invaded Mewar.
Rani Karnavati knew that the Rajputs will not fight under Vikramaditya, who they saw as a weak ruler. She, however, managed to win the support of the Rajput noblemen and rally them behind the flag of Mewar instead of Vikramadityas. The ruler and his brother Uday Singh had been already sent to the safety of Bundi.
Karnavati also played a strategically smart move – she sent a Rakhi to Humayun seeking his support.
Humayun was at the time on his Bengal expedition. He accepted the Rakhi and rerouted his forces to defend Mewar from Bahadur Shah. Yet history recounts, rather tragically, that he couldn’t make it on time.
The Rajputs were defeated by Bahadur Shah’s army in 1535 and the Sultan of Gujarat ransacked Chittor.
And just like Rani Padmavati before, Rani Karnavati, too, committed Jauhar along with other Rajput women.
Humayun’s army reached shortly after the siege of Chittor ended. All he found were ashes of the brave Rajput women who preferred death to dishonor.
It is said that an enraged Humayaun took revenge by completely capturing the empire of Bahadur Shah starting with Mandu that same year.
But it has also been stated that Humayaun already had a rift with Bahadur Shah, who had sheltered one of the enemies of the Mughal ruler and refused to hand him over in 1532. And then there are some who say that Humayaun deliberately delayed his arrival because Bahadur Shah was able to pacify him for a brief duration.
Whatever be the tale, the truth remains that Rani Karnavati committed Jauhar.