The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen

Heroic Pasts in India, c. 1500-1900

Ramya Sreenivasan

  • Published: 2007
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / South Asia; Literature
  • Bibliographic information: 280 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: N / A In South Asia
  • Contents

Winner of the 2009 Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize, sponsored by the Association for Asian Studies

The medieval Rajput queen Padmini - believed to have been pursued by Alauddin Khalji, the Sultan of Delhi - has been the focus of numerous South Asian narratives, ranging from a Sufi mystical romance in the sixteenth century to nationalist histories in the late nineteenth century. The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen explores how early modern regional elites, caste groups, and mystical and monastic communities shaped their distinctive versions of the past through the repeated refashioning of the legend of Padmini.

Ramya Sreenivasan investigates these legends and traces their subsequent appropriation by colonial administrators and nationalist intellectuals, for varying different political ends. Using Padmini as a means of illustrating the power of gender norms in constructing heroic memory, she shows how such narratives about virtuous women changed as they circulated across particular communities in South Asia between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This book will interest historians of memory, gender, community, culture, and historywriting in South Asia. Illustrating how enduring legends emerged out of particular precolonial repositories of "tradition," the book also addresses the nature of colonial transitions and precolonial historical consciousness.
Ramya Sreenivasan is assistant professor of history at the University of Buffalo, State University of New York.

"In an astoundingly original and ambitious piece of scholarship Ramya Sreenivasan answers difficult questions, in modest and accessible prose, about the genres and popularity of an epic legend. She draws on literary analysis and historical research which is combined with acute insight into the changing shape of gender relations in north India. The study explores a range of primary sources in many scripts including several modern Indian vernaculars. This book is going to be immensely important to the new cultural and social history of medieval and modern India."
-K. Sivaramakrishnan, Yale University
Note on Transliteration and Usage
List of Maps
1. Introduction
2. Sufi Tale of Rajputs in Sixteenth-century Avadh
3. Rajput Kings and their Pasts in the Mughal Period
4. Tales of Past Glory under Early Colonial Indirect Rule (c. 1750-1850)
5. Exemplary Patriotism in the Late Nineteenth Century
6. Conclusion
7. Appendix 1: Summaries of Selected Versions of the Legend
8. Appendix 2: List of Known Versions / Manuscripts / Editions of the Padmini Legend

"Sreenivasan has produced a nuanced and inventive work of South Asian history combining disciplined textual and archival research with compelling historical arguments. Her book places literary production and changes in literary form firmly into a social history framework that enlivens the South Asian historical field. The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen, given its range, detail, and originality, is destined to occupy a familiar place on the bookshelves of not only South Asian historians, but scholars of literary culture, early modern literary history, and the sociology of literature."

"[A]n important contribution to cultural and social history. Sreenivasan's analysis of the mutations of the Padmini legend reveals the changing gender relations over the centuries. . . . A comprehensive bibliography and summaries of selected versions of the legend included as an appendix add to the value of the book."
-Sixteenth Century Journal

"A welcome contribution. . . . Meticulously researched, Many Lives of a Rajput Queen is located within the context of the very real and often politically-charged debates over the relationship between any historical event and the multiple perspectives on it that are subsequently generated."
-Canadian Journal of History, Spring-Summer 2009

"This wide-ranging monograph effortlessly traverses regions and genres to study the evolution of a historical memory . . . . Sreenivasan analyzes Padmini's story through its entire narrative trajectory, deploying at once the skills of a historian who combines an understanding of religious thought and social history and those of a literary scholar deeply familiar with gendered tropes in narrative and discourse."
-Association for Asian Studies Coomaraswamy prize committee

"A masterful and admirable scholarly achievement. . . .Sreenivasan's singular accomplishment in this meticulously researched account is to demonstrate more convincingly and thoroughly than I have ever seen done before the wonderfully complex entanglements of literature and politics, of history and legend."
-Journal of Asian Studies