NOT A HERO: Prithviraj Chauhan-the last Hindu king of Delhi and Ajmer

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Prithviraj Chauhan - the last Hindu king of India, conjures up an image of courage chivalry and romance among common people of India. A number of Hindi films have been made on him; I remember having seen Prithviraj Kapoor, the doyen of Indian cinema and theater in the role of the Chauhan king. Prithviraj Kapoor was one of the most handsome persons of his times. Likes of his personality one hardly comes across. Tall, robust, handsome, dashing and charismatic: no one could be compared with him in Indian cinema. He ideally fitted in the role of Prithviraj Chauhan. No authentic portraits of the Chauhan king are available. But one can well imagine how he must have looked. Sure, he could not be wee bit different from the Kapoor. The Chauhan king was romantic to the core. The legend is that he abducted his beloved Sanyukta, the daughter of the Kannoj king Jai Chand. He was a brave and capable king, who defeated the Muslim Sultan Mohd. Ghauri of Ghazni (Afghanistan), in battle of Tarain in 1191, when the latter invaded his empire. But Prithviraj was forgiving too. He let off the defeated adversary and did not kill him, as anyone else would have done, in such circumstances. The final seal of public applaud got added to his name, when he “died fighting for his motherland”, in the second invasion of Mohammad Ghauri in 1192 AD, on the same battle field of Tarain. Thus, he earned martyrdom and a permanent place in Hindu race-memory.

But the verdict of history is otherwise. Yes, he does have a place in' Indian history, though hardly positive. It is well known that he foiled the invasion of Mohd. Ghauri in 1191 in the first battle of Tarain, and, was rightly acclaimed for that. But what did he do afterwards? His subsequent conduct hardly merits an honorable place for him in the Indian history.

It is generally held that after his defeat in 1191, the injured Mohd .Ghauri fled from the battle field. The Chauhan forces failed to pursue and capture him. But if "Hammir Mahakavya" is to be believed, they did take Mohd. Ghauri a captive in the battle, but subsequently pardoned and released him. In any case, it does not reflect well on the political sagacity of the Chauhan. He could not gauge the intensity of his desire to avenge the defeat, motivated as he was to wage 'Jehad' on non-believers and by the lure of booty (Ghanima), sanctified in the Holy Quran.

After defeating Mohammed Ghauri in 1191 AD, the Chauhan King took no steps to throw out the Muslims from Multan and Lahore also. He let them stay where they were entrenched. He did not realise the need to throw them out of Punjab, so as to safe-guard his empire from the possible future onslaughts from North-West.

"Prithviraj... lacked political foresight" writes historian D.C. Ganguli - ''At this time, the rule, of Maliks of Ghaur was not firmly established in the Punjab. Prithviraj ought to have pursued the disabled Sultan after the first battle of Tarain and made an attempt to root out Muslims’ rule there ... far from doing this and without making suitable arrangement for the defense of Tabarhindah, which guarded his north-western frontier, he retired to Ajmer and the dreadful consequences followed. " (The history and culture of Indian people; Vol. 5 Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, page 113)

While the defeat of Mohd. Ghauri made Prithviraj Chauhan complacent; it served to strengthen the determination of the former to avenge his humiliation. "At Ghaur, he disgraced all those officers who had deserted him in the battle and compelled them to walk around the city with their horse's mouth-bags, filled with barley and hung about their necks, at the same time forcing them to eat the grain like brutes" – writes the Muslim historian Mohd. Kasim Farishta.

Mohd. Ghauri did not reconcile with his defeat. The humiliation rankled him all through. In his own words, as conveyed to a certain Muslim divine, "Know, old man, that since the time of my defeat in Hindustan, notwithstanding external appearance, I have never slumbered in ease or waked, but in sorrow and anxiety. I am therefore determined with the army to recover my lost honor from these idolaters or die in the attempt."

Here, Mohd. Ghauri stands out in sharp contrast with Prithviraj Chauhan. While the former was determined to redeem his lost honour, the latter was living in isolation of his own smugness; lacking in the intelligence apparatus to forewarn him of the coming calamity.

The armies of Mohd. Ghauri and Prithviraj Chauhan were face to face again in Tarain in 1192, where one year earlier the Chauhan had inflicted a crushing defeat on the Muslim army. At this point Prithviraj was swayed by a moral dilemma, similar to the one that afflicted Arjun in the Mahabharat War.

Arjun had said - "0 Krishna, I see no good by killing my men in battle" (Gita-31). He further said - "If the army of Dhritrashtra were to slay me, it would be better for me. " But there was Lord Krishna, who refused to buy his sentimental non-sense and fuzzy ethics in the midst of the battle-field. In no uncertain terms the Lord castigated him for his unmanly conduct and exhorted him to cast aside the weakness of his heart and dishonorable conduct (Gita 2-3). But alas, there was no Krishna in the battle-field of Tarain, to guide and exhort Prithviraj Chauhan. Like Arjun, Prithviraj Chauhan declared that he did not want to shed the blood of those who had come to destroy him and his country: So he wrote a letter to Mohd. Ghauri - "To the bravery of our soldiers we know you are no stranger: to our great superiority in number, which daily increases, your eyes bear testimony. If you are wearied of your existence, yet have pity on your troops, who may still think it a happiness to live; it were better, then you should repent in time of the rash resolution you have taken, and we shall permit you to retreat in safety; but if you have determined to brave your evil destiny, we have sworn by our gods to advance upon you with our rank breaking elephants, our plain trampling horses, and blood thirsty soldiers, early in the morning to crush the army which your ambition has led to ruin" In fine, Prithviraj had wished that Mohd. Ghauri would heed to his advice and retreat, and there would be no war.

Mohd. Ghauri replied: "1 have marched into India at the command of my brother, whose general only I am ... I cannot retreat, therefore without orders: but I shall be glad to obtain a truce till he is informed and till I have received his answer. " This letter produced the intended effect on Prithviraj. He believed that Ghauri had been intimidated and so he agreed to a truce. " His men," Ferishta writes, "spent the night in riot and revelry." When exhausted they fell asleep.

In early morning, Mohd. Ghauri attacked them. The Hindus were caught unawares; in spite of the heroic resistance put up by them, they were defeated. There are varying versions regarding the fate of Prithviraj Chauhan. According to a Sanskrit source ‘Viruddha-viddhi-viddhavamsha’ -"The king (Prithviraj) whose intellect was shrouded by the vice of sleep, who though alive was slaughtered by the Turushkas." And another source - "Prabandh Chintamani" informs that when the Muslims reached the camp of Prithviraj, he was enjoying a deep sleep. "A severe encounter took place between Muslims and heroes of Prithviraj's vanguard. Prithviraj was taken prisoner when he was still excessively drowsy ". He was taken to his capital Ajmer by the conquering army and killed. Ferishta informs that Prithviraj Chauhan "being taken in the neighborhood of the 'Soorsathy'(river Saraswati) was afterwards put to death".

In 'Tajul Maasir' of Hasan Nizami, it is mentioned that in the second battle of Tarain. "The army of Islam was completely victorious and a hundred thousand groveling Hindus swiftly departed to fire of hell. The Rai of Ajmer was taken prisoner during the action, but his life was spared”. Hasan Nizami further writes that 'ancient hatred was deeply rooted and concealed in the bottom of his (Prithviraj's) heart', who appears to have been detected in some intrigue, which is only obscurely indicated; so that orders were issued for his death and "the diamond like sword severed the head of the abandoned wretch from his body " .

The Muslim chronicler Minhajus Siraj in his book "Tabkat-i-Nasiri" writes that after his defeat in the battle of Tarain; "Pithora (Prithviraj) alighted from his elephant, mounted a horse and galloped off, but he was captured near Sersutti and sent to hell".

Generally, all the Muslim and Sanskrit sources agree that Prithviraj was made a prisoner and killed, either in Ajmer or somewhere else, in its neighborhood.

But "Prithviraj Raso" the Hindi epic-poetry partly written by the court poet of the Chauhan king - Chand Bardai and later completed by his son has a version completely at variance with the aforesaid sources. He mentions that Prithviraj along with his court poet Chand Bardai were made captive and taken to Ghazni, the capital city of Mohd. Ghauri. There the royal prisoner was blinded and brought in the court of the Sultan for the courtiers to see the vanquished king. In the court, the Sultan asked him to demonstrate his archery skill by shooting at the source of the sound. Accordingly, a bow and arrow were given to Prithviraj and a gong was placed at a suitable distance from him. While preparations were going on the poet Chand Bardai told him the distance and, also probably, the direction, where the Sultan was seated on his throne. It is further said that when the gong was sounded on the command of the Sultan, Prithviraj, instead of shooting at the gong, followed the voice of the Sultan and shot arrow in his direction, that killed him. In the confusion that followed the Chauhan king and his poet-friend killed each other rather than being killed by their enemies. This narration was never taken seriously by historians, who dismissed it as a 'figment of poetic imagination'. But the discovery of grave of the Chauhan king Prithviraj in Kandhar (Afghanistan) has added a new dimension to the evidence, available so far in this regard. It deserves to be considered seriously.

The Indian journalists that had gone to Kandhar (Afghanistan) in the wake of hijacking of an Air-India's plane from Kathmandu (Nepal) to Kandhar by Jehadi Terrorists found that Afghan visitors to a grave invariably hit it with their shoes. On enquiry it was revealed that the grave was of the last Hindu king of Delhi and Ajmer, Prithviraj Chauhan. It is an astounding discovery. All the chroniclers invariably mention that Prithviraj was killed after his defeat in the second battle of Tarain in India itself. But the existence of his grave in Kandhar, belies their narrations and lends credence to 'Prithviraj Raso'.

There definitely seems to be a grain of truth in the Hindi poetic work ‘Prithwiraj Raso’ written by his court poet and completed by his son that mentions that Prithviraj did not die in India, but was killed inAfghanistan. For how else could one explain the existence of his gravethere? The fact that even after a thousand years, Afghans continue with the ritual of insulting his grave, shows that Prithviraj, before his death, must have inflicted such grave and humiliating injury to the person or honor of the Sultan, that it could not be forgotten or forgiven. The deep rooted senseof hurt and hatred has become part of the Afghan race-memory. While further research will unravel the truth, and throw light on theglorious death of Prithviraj, it cannot rehabilitate him in history. Heroes remain alive and bring glory to their country and not seek glory in an ignoble death. If the country suffered the seven hundred years of foreign rule during which its magnificent cities, buildings and temples were destroyed, its universities and libraries were burnt; its arts and sciences were crippled, its economy was shattered and property looted, its religious places desecrated and millions of people slaughtered or converted, Prthviraj Chauhan is entiry to be blamed. He cannot beacquitted at the Bar of History. He definitely is no hero. He had brought an untold amount of misery for the Indian people. And, to that extent and in that sense he was an anti-hero. The people of India need to know these hardfacts of their history, because, in the words of George Santayan, “Those who do not remember their past, are condemned to repeat it.”


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