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Jauhar (also spelled jowhar) is the burning to death of the queens and female royals of Rajput kingdoms when facing defeat at the hands of an enemy. The roots of this practice lie in the internecine warfare among different Rajput clans. The most famous Jauhers in recorded history have occurred at the end of Rajput battles with Muslim empires. It was followed by the Rajput clans in order to avoid capture, enslavement and dishonour at the hands of invaders. The term also describes the practice of mass suicide carried out in medieval times by Rajput women to save their honor from invaders. The term is derived from two Sanskrit words, 'Jiv' meaning life & 'Har' meaning 'defeat'. 'Jivhar' was later conflated with the Arabic word 'Jawhar' meaning 'mettle', 'jewel' or 'property'.
This practice is culturally related to sati although it occurs at a different occasion. While both practices have been most common historically in the territory of modern Rajasthan, sati was a custom performed by widowed women only, while jauhar and saka were committed while both the partners were living and only at a time of war.
Jauhar and Saka were not just limited to the Hindus who formed the nobility and ruling classes and castes of Rajasthan and northern India. People of all castes and classes practiced it. There is extensive glorification of the practice in the local ballads and folk-histories of Rajasthan.
There are many instances of jauhar (and saka), but these are not well recorded. Maharani Samyukta, wife of Prithviraj Chauhan the last Hindu king to rule Delhi, along with her ladies committed jauhar rather than surrendering to the Afghan invaders. King Vijaipal's wife committed jauhar at the fort of Bayana, but this is based on ambiguous information from the fort of Timan Garh, now in the Karauli district of Rajasthan. The women-folk of the family of Silhadi, the military power-broker committed Jauhar led by his queen who was the daughter of Mewar's King Rana Sanga.
There are a number of other instances of jauhar on record, especially in the Khilji and Tughlaq times. Jauhar was committed during the Tughlaq campaign against the state of Kampili in the Raichur Doab and the siege of Anegondi – later to be famous as Vijayanagar. Searching for other instances of jauhar would help us to understand whether Jauhar was a Rajput prerogative or was practiced by other military peoples as well.
Among the well-known cases of Jauhar are the three occurrences at the fort of Chittaur (Chittaurgarh, Chittorgarh), in Rajasthan, in 1303 AD, 1535 AD, and in 1568 AD. Jaisalmer has witnessed two occurrences of Jauhar, one in the year 1304 AD during the reign of Alauddin Khilji and second during the reign of Firuz Shah Tughlaq. Another occurrence was in Chanderi.
Jauhar of Jaisalmer
Bhatnair, Tanot and Jaisalmer, capitals of Bhati Rajputs witnessed the scene of Jauhar thrice, the last time men did not have enough time to build the pyre and hence slit the throats of Women and hence it is considered half Jauhar. In the time of Maharawal Jait Singh, Alauddin Khilji besieged the fort of Jaisalmer and after 7 months, 24000 women committed Jauhar.
Second Jauhar of Chittor
Rana Sanga died in 1528 AD after the Battle of Khanua. Shortly afterwards, Mewar and Chittor came under the regency of his widow, Rani Karnavati. The kingdom was menaced by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, who besieged Chittorgarh. Without relief from other forces and facing defeat, the Rani committed Jauhar with other women on March 8, 1535 A.D. while the Rajput army rallied out to meet the besieging Muslim army and committed saka.
Karnavati importuned the assistance of Humayun the son of Babur, her late husband's foe, by sending him a Rakhi and a request for his help as a brother. Humayun started for Chittor but stopped midway as he found it against basic tenets of Islam to help an infidel against a Muslim. This is the occasion for the second of the three Jauhars performed at Chittor. 
Third Jauhar of Chittor
Emperor Akbar besieged the fort of Chittor in September 1567. Changing the strategy, Rana Udai Singh II, his sons and the royal women, using secret routes, escaped soon after the siege began. The fort was left under Jaimal Rathore and Patta Sisodiya's command. One morning Akbar found Jaimal inspecting repairs to the fort which had been damaged by explosives, and killed him. That same day the Rajputs realized that defeat was certain. The Rajput women committed Jauhar in the night of February 22, 1568 AD, and the next morning, the Rajput men committed saka. (Abul Faz'l has given an account of the event as seen by Akbar in his biography in 1568 AD.)
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- persian.packhum.org – The Akbarnama, part II, chapter 65, H.M.'s Siege of the Fortress of Citũr