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Who was Prithviraj Chauhan?

By Tina Khanna
May 12, 2006 14:12 IST
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Angad Bedi plays Prithviraj Chauhan on TVPrithviraj Chauhan has always been a name familiar to students of Indian history. His exploits still crop up in school textbooks. Residents of Ajmer speak of him reverently, centuries after his time. Now, introducing this ruler to a whole new generation is a television series called Prithviraj Chauhan. A primer on the courageous raja.

Prithviraj Chauhan is coming!

Who was he?

Prithviraj III was born around 1168 to King Someshwara Chauhan and his wife Karpuravalli. They belonged to the Rajput Chauhan dynasty, and were rulers of a kingdom in north India. The Chauhans traced their origins to the rulers of Sapadlaksh province and, according to legend, Ajmer was founded by their ancestor Ajaipal Chauhan in the early sixth century.

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Why is he famous?

He succeeded to the throne in 1179, while still a minor, with his mother acting as regent. He ruled for 13 years from the twin capitals of Ajmer and Delhi, and there are a whole lot of glorious feats attributed to him -- such as his defeat of the king of Gujarat. Most legendary, however, is the tale of his elopement with Sanyogita.

Sanyogita who?

The daughter of Jai Chandra, the Gahadvala king of Kannauj. He was a neighbouring ruler who constantly conspired against Prithviraj on account of the latter's ascending popularity. Things went downhill when Prithviraj eloped with his daughter. Worse, he ran away with her during her swayamvar, where she was to pick a husband, and where his name had been deliberately omitted from the list of invitees.

According to the famous Prithviraj Raso, an epic poem composed by Prithviraj's court poet Chand Bardai, Sanyogita preferred to garland a statue of Prithviraj in the latter's absence. He promptly turned up and whisked her away. See why he's still popular?

What else did the king do?

Quite a bit, actually. He conquered several neighbouring kingdoms for a start, and consolidated control of his kingdom, making it one of north India's leading realms. He recaptured Delhi from the Tomara Rajputs, campaigned against the Chandela Rajputs of Bundelkhand, and went on to rule much of present-day Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

He is also revered because of his famous battle with the Afghan invader Mohammad Ghori towards the end of the twelfth century. Apparently, after his army defeated Ghori's, Prithviraj let the Afghan go despite being warned not to.

That story can't have a good ending.

It doesn't. Ghori returned a year later. Prithviraj sent him a letter reminding him of how he had spared his life, and asked him to leave. Ghori said he was waiting for his brother's orders to do so, and moved his camp back a few kilometres. Knowing that Rajputs didn't fight by night, he suddenly attacked in the early hours, taking Prithviraj's army by surprise.

Prithviraj was defeated in what is known as the Second Battle of Tarain, and died a heroic death.

I want to learn more about Prithviraj Chauhan

Try reading A History of India Volume I by Romila Thapar, A History of India Volume II by Percival Spear (Penguin Books, Rs 295 each). Or pick up Early Chauhan Dynasties by Dashratha Sharma, if you can find a copy.

So, is this a true tale of romance?

There are some historians who dispute the Prithvraj-Sanyogita tale. For one, they say its only source is a poem written long after the events were said to have occurred. Secondly, considering Sanyogita has been blamed for Prithviraj neglecting his duties -– leading to his ultimate defeat -– they point out that kings often had their favourite wives. For one to hold sway over his affections for so long would be unusual. Be that as it may, it's still a good love story. Why not leave it at that?

Prithviraj Chauhan will be aired on Star Plus, at 9 pm, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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Tina Khanna