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History and Historiography on Prithviraj Chauhan – a course of conflict

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virendrasrathore
virendrasrathore
Virendra S Rathore is an IT professional, native of Rajasthan, India. His alma mater are Bhavan's Vidyashram and Birla Institute of Technology. In addition to being a son and husband, Virendra is father to two daughters. History was a part of the environment that Virendra grew up in. It gradually developed into a hobby. He has written a book "Prithviraj Chauhan - a light on the mist in History", aiming at dispelling the myths and controversies around the famous Chauhan king's life and events. Virendra blogs occasionally at - http://agrippedsoul.wordpress.com and is on Youtube as Kshatra Vichara - https://www.youtube.com/c/KshatraVichara

History and Historiography run ante, specially when it comes to Prithviraj Chauhan. Our ‘intellectual elite’ which cries about interventions in the memory of historical figures, have ended up committing the same interventions themselves.

Many reviews appeared (at Quint, Wire, etc) recently, regarding a movie/serial on Prithviraj Chauhan. Some exhibited an arrogant, forceful criticism for the sake of it. Others were subtle, subversive propaganda than frank expression. Regardless, in hitting a Bollywood soup of history-fiction, history became the bigger casualty. These reviews, when talking of history, haven’t stuck to facts. We set the record straight on their distortions.

1. Quoting Cynthia Talbot a review says that colonial era onwards Prithviraj became popular first as a Rajput hero, then as a nationalist hero to suit the narratives of anti-British struggles, and later as a Hindu hero for the post-independence Indian politics.

Putting British era writers aside, and we’ll come to the Hindu factor later. Prithviraj Chauhan’s kingdom was in the northwest, but he became a popular trans-regional figure in the medieval age even before the Mughals arrived. At the junction of 14th-15th century CE comes HammirMahakavya of Nayachandra Suri. It covers Prithviraj’s feats in detail and was written as part of a challenge in the Tomara ruler’s court (Gwalior) from central India. This text and various other Jain Prabandhas of 14th-15th century Gujarat (like PrabandhaChintāmani) cover Prithviraj and display a vivid geographic knowledge of India’s northern & western halves. As their authors were Jain scholars habitually travelling the Indian expanse via numerous Gachchas (monastry), it is certain that Prithviraj Chauhan’s story was equally well-traveled.

2. The reviews are marred with contradictions. For example after saying that Prithviraj Chauhan was popularized as a Rajput and National hero only the British onwards. It is also said that Prithviraj is portrayed as a villain (thus popular) in a central Indian regional epic of Alha-Udal from Mughal era.

3. Even in that portrayal, the factual errors galore. They profile Alha Udal’s lore as popular in ‘non-Rajputs of Rajasthan’. Reality? The story originated and circulated in Bundelkhand. Up to 19th century CE it wasn’t popular in Rajasthan. Worse, such distortion looks like a surreptitious attempt to sow divisions by mis-interpretating the regional polarity as a social one, pitting ‘monstrous feudal Rajputs’ at one end and the non-Rajput ‘peasant’ classes on the other.

The imaginary atrocity literature doesn’t acknowledge basic historical facts. Like the battles of Prithviraj’s Mahoba campaign in central India (used in the claim) were, according to the Alha khand as well, fought between Rajputs on both sides – Chauhans on one and Chandellas-Gahadavalas-Banaphars on the other end.

4. Reviewers’ charge that the primacy given to Raso has robbed other narrating variants of due place, is again wrong. Like Raso was popular in/around Rajputana. Alha Udal had been popular in base area – Bundelkhand. Acharya Merutunga’s near contemporary Prabandha Chintamani was written in Gujarat, covering Prithviraj in detail. Its narrative is different from Raso, and isn’t robbed of anything.

Comparing Raso and Alha stories in political context falls in the apple and orange category of unfair. Because one sits on a historical base while the other on folk. Reasons are many for why, as compared to Alha-Udal, the story of Prithviraj went trans-regional and gradually very popular (national):

a) Simple language, relatable story by which the Raso made Prithviraj immortal. In relative popularity even the contemporary & more reliable PrithvirajVijaya fades as it is in chaste Sanskrit, to which the medieval masses were increasingly out of touch.

b) Prithviraj’s story (Raso & otherwise) got ample corroboration in contemporary native+foreign literature and inscriptions of/around the 12th century AD. But the old Hindi story of Alha-Udal lacks corroborative evidence from the 12th century and has surfaced around/after the 16th century Raso.

c) Hindu Royals’ patronage to Raso.

d) Prithviraj’s proven clash with the known nemesis of medieval India – invaders from the northwest. His connection to Delhi which became an important centre during Turkish Sultanate rule.

e) Prithviraj’s kingdom, political stature being larger than Alha-Udal.

5. Then there are baseless dismissals calling Prithviraj an ‘immobile fatso’ and his nationalist hero portrayal as a modern construct.

But Nation-state the way we know it today is itself a modern construct. Anyway, reasons of Prithviraj being famous and a Hindu civilizational hero, since long before 20th century politics, are factually borne in his actions:

a) Per PrithvirajVijaya when the rapacious hordes of Ghori had ravaged all from Bikampur to Nadol (in 1178 CE). Chauhan scion had strongly rebuffed the Ghurid proposal to ally with them. Prithviraj reiterated his ancestral vow to exterminate mlechhas. Though his kingdom wasn’t the prime target, and Ghurid destruction took place in locations under vassalage of rival Solankis. Yet when Nadol (another kingdom) fell, the furious Prithviraj stood up for battle. How and why the teenage King was overruled is a separate matter.

b) Based on the HammirMahakavya, Phalodi Mata temple inscription, Kalpasutra colophon we find that in 1182-83 CE when other Hindu Kingdoms outside his reign were trampled under Ghori’s torture. Prithviraj promised to lay Ghori prostrate and repent-full. He sped out of his Kingdom in full force, charged on Ghurids and captured Ghori.
Clearly Prithviraj’s thoughts, actions weren’t reserved just for his Kingdom.

c) Indian & foreign sources converge that in Ghurid captivity, other than torture, Prithviraj received lucrative offers of submitting as a vassal of Ghori. Thus save his life and throne. But the safety and honour of this country’s people were not on table. All such offers were obviously discarded and eventually led to his death.

d) Prithviraj demonstrates wider perspective and awareness when he repairs the relations with Tomaras of Delhi that had gone sour since the death of Vigraharaj Chauhan (married in Tomaras via princess Desaladevi). Later we see Tomaras fighting beside Chauhans shoulder to shoulder in both the Tarain battles.
Jain texts narrate that the Chauhan king ceased the past few years’ bitter, sporadic sparring with the Solankis of Gujarat. Despite having an upper hand, Prithviraj concluded a peace treaty with Solankis in 1186 CE. It brought crucial peace on his southern front.
All this for what? Obviously Prithviraj had sensed a far heavier issue on the northwestern horizon.

6. Movie/serial reviewers tell us that Ghori the foreigner has been quickly (deliberately) turned into a Muslim.

Is it? Before Tarain-II, Ghori’s message to Prithviraj Chauhan as per contemporary Taj-ul-Maasir and also Ferishta was :

“to place in his ear the ring of slavery to the sublime court, and embrace the faith of Islam by repeating the precepts of the law”.

This message, according to these very texts, was rebuked and rejected by the Rajput King with equal insult.

Abdul Malik Isami’s says that Tarain-II was a Hindu-Muslim clash and the Hindus fought bravely.

Mid 14th century Futuh-us-Salatin

Domestically, the 15th century Kanhad De Prabandha and 16th century Raso profile the locals like Chauhans as Hindus and foreign invaders as Muslims (pair-words like Hindu-Turk are frequent).

It baffles that though the foreigners were Muslim, appeared here declaring themselves as such according to their own histories. We still resist from the proverbial spade. What else to call them, Martians?

When these invaders challenged our ancestors to either accept Islam and subordination, or die. When our ancestors refused to bow before this fanaticism. How can we tell, nay, delude ourselves saying a religious polarity didn’t play out amidst the vagaries of these medieval invasions.

7. Reviews also accuse that after Ghori being painted an uncivilized ruler, his forces are shown raiding Indian countryside mercilessly. They say that this way – “the Muslim army is othered and villified” for undue and retrospective polarisation.

Saddening indeed that Shahabuddin Ghori has been villified and othered. Despite the Kharatara-Gachcha-Vrihad-Gurvavali (below) informing how the travelling Jain Archarya Jinapati Suri ji suffered immeasurably for months in Ajmer, because the city was still being innocently ravaged by the Islamic hordes of Ghori in 1994 CE, two years after Tarain-II battle.

Lets apologize for Rajasthan’s Jain monks flaming fanaticism by hiding their God’s idols in desert sand because Prithviraj had been killed and Ghori was in control of the kingdom (early 14th century KanyāNayaniya Mahavir-Pratimā Kalpa below). Silly that they were spooked, after all Ghori’s mlechhas were only on tourist visa or at best a political mission, not for destroying the Sarasvati Kanthābharana complex as the marauders claim themselves.

Contemporary history ‘PrithvirajVijaya’ doesn’t name Ghurids as just another rival force, rather as – cow killers, Rahu-like eclipse to civilization. None reading PrithvirjaVijaya, HammirMahakavya can miss the contrast in conventional rhetoric against rival Hindu entities and that with which the Ghurids are treated.

PrithvirajVijaya, Chapter-11, verse 41
PrithvirajVijaya, Chapter-11, verse 43

Unpleasant to ‘intellectual elite’, but hard fact is that our medieval ancestors didn’t have the luxury of being high on the shallow Utopian lectures of secularism prevalent in these times.

In the name of criticizing movies/serials, these reviews counter-productively continue defacing Indian history and its inheritors.

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virendrasrathore
virendrasrathore
Virendra S Rathore is an IT professional, native of Rajasthan, India. His alma mater are Bhavan's Vidyashram and Birla Institute of Technology. In addition to being a son and husband, Virendra is father to two daughters. History was a part of the environment that Virendra grew up in. It gradually developed into a hobby. He has written a book "Prithviraj Chauhan - a light on the mist in History", aiming at dispelling the myths and controversies around the famous Chauhan king's life and events. Virendra blogs occasionally at - http://agrippedsoul.wordpress.com and is on Youtube as Kshatra Vichara - https://www.youtube.com/c/KshatraVichara
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