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Prithviraj Chauhan Controversy


There is controversy around a new Akshay Kumar film called ‘Prithviraj’, with both the Gujjar and Rajput communities of Rajasthan laying claim over the 12th century king.


GS I- History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Why in News?
  2. Prithviraj of legend
  3. History of Prithviraj
  4. How do medieval texts describe the reign of Prithviraj?
  5. Version of ‘Prithviraj Raso’

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Akhil Bhartiya Veer Gurjar Mahasabha claimed that Prithviraj Chauhan belonged to the Gujjar community, and demanded that the film depict him as such.
  • The Shri Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena, who rose to infamy in 2017 after their protests against the film ‘Padmavat’, countered that Prithviraj was a Rajput, and also announced they would oppose the film unless the word ‘Samrat’ was prefixed to his name in the title.

Prithviraj of legend

  • The image of Prithviraj as a fearless and skilled warrior that is now etched in the folk imagination can be traced back to his depiction in ‘Prithviraj Raso’, a poem in Brajbhasha attributed to Chand Bardai, which is thought to have been composed in the 16th century.
  • In the finale of the poem, after losing the Second Battle of Tarain (1192 AD) against Muhammad of Ghor, Prithviraj is captured and taken to Ghazni in modern-day Afghanistan, where is blinded and imprisoned.
  • Here, the Ghurid king challenges Prithviraj to demonstrate his proficiency in archery by piercing seven metal gongs with an arrow. But the blinded king instead aims the arrow at Muhammad, placing his location by using his voice, and kills him before dying himself.
  • Most other historical sources indicate that the victorious Muhammad executed Prithviraj at the end of the Second Battle of Tarain.

History of Prithviraj

  • Despite being such a celebrated figure, not much is known about the historical Prithviraj.
  • Prithviraj belonged to the Chauhan or Chahamana dynasty of Ajmer which emerged after the decline of the Pratihara empire in the 11th century AD.
  • He ascended the throne in 1177 or 1178, and very quickly expanded his kingdom, defeating many of the smaller Rajput states.
  • However, he struggled against the Chalukyas of Gujarat, and was forced to look towards the Ganga valley instead.
  • While Prithviraj’s army was able to decisively defeat the invading Ghurids in the First Battle of Tarain (present-day Haryana) in 1191, he was defeated in the Second Battle of Tarain in the following year.
  • The battle marked a watershed moment in the history of medieval India, paving the way for the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and the beginning of Muslim rule.

The “Hindu Emperor”

  • James Mill’s ‘The History of British India’ (1817) categorized Indian history into the Hindu, Muhammadan and British periods, using the religious affiliation of the dominant political power to define each period.
    • In this formulation, Prithviraj Chauhan would be the last ruler of ‘Hindu’ India.
  • The description of Prithviraj as “the last Hindu emperor” can be traced to the British colonial official James Tod’s ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan’ (1829).
  • However, the historical Prithviraj had several equally powerful Hindu contemporaries, and many Hindu kings continued to rule in southern India well after his time.

How do medieval texts describe the reign of Prithviraj?

  • The ‘Prithviraja Vijaya’ (1191/1192), the earliest Sanskrit ‘mahakavya’, and the Persian ‘Taj al- Ma’asir’ (1217) see Prithviraj Chauhan and Muhammad of Ghor as rivals who could never come to terms with one another.
  • The ‘Prithviraja Vijaya’ describes the Ghurid king as a wicked eater of cows, and his ambassador as an extremely ugly character.
  • The Muslims are labelled “turuska” (Turk) and “Yavana” (westerner), but also “raksasa” (ogre) and “asura” (demon).

Version of ‘Prithviraj Raso’

  • The ‘Prithviraj Raso’, which was probably composed at a time when Muslim rule was well entrenched in North India, does not use dehumanising expressions for Prithviraj’s rivals.
  • Talbot argues that the poem does not depict a simple Hindu-Muslim opposition.
  • Muhammad Ghori is in fact joined by two other Hindu kings in his battle against Prithviraj Chauhan.
  • Also, instead of the conflicts with the Ghurid armies, Prithviraj Chauhan’s war with Jaychand of Kannauj is the central episode of the text.
  • It is not only the longest, but also the most pivotal moment, as he loses many of his soldiers in this battle.

Source: Indian Express

November 2023