Prithviraj Chauhan is among the greatest Hindu king in the history of medieval India. His journey towards the kingdom started at a very early age due to his father's death. The death of Prithviraja II was followed by Someshvara's (Prithviraj’s father) death in 1177. At the young age of 11, his father's death resulted him assuming the duties of his father's thrown. His mother monitored his counsel carefully and ensured it was followed. Kadambavasa was a faithful follower of Prithviraj Chauhan and also served as chief minister of the kingdom, exhibiting his expertise in being an administrator.
Biography of Prithviraj Chauhan (1166 -1192)
Prithviraj was a ruler of the Chauhan dynasty, the kingdom of "Sapadalaksha" (now Rajasthan). The capital of his kingdom was Ajmer. He was also called by other names such as "Rai Pithora" or "Prithviraja III". During his lifespan, he fought multiple battles to expand the size of his kingdom. His kingdom spread across Thanesar to Mewar. There are a few sources which account for the epics of Prithviraj's life, such as "Hammira Mahakavya", "Prithviraj Raso" and "Prithviraja Vijaya". Among these "Prithviraj Raso" is believed to be an inflated depiction of king's achievement mainly done to impress him by Chand Bardai.
"Prithviraj Vijaya" was written in Sanskrit in a form of a poem and is considered to depict the correct description of the life of Prithviraj Chauhan. According to "Prithviraja Vijaya" he was well-learned and mastered a few languages and subjects such as maths, philosophy history, etc. There are few more texts such as "Kharatara Gachchha Pattavali", "Prabandha-Chintamani", "Prabandha Koshaa", "Alha-Khanda" to name a few which mentioned Prithviraj’s depiction and were written by writers from various sects.
Prithviraj tried his best to protect his kingdom from foreign invader Muhammad Ghori and the most famous battle he fought was the First Battle of Tarain in 1191, where he was successful in defeating Muhammad Ghori in Taraori. Burning with rage to take revenge, Muhammad Ghori returned to defeat Prithviraj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain. The second battle was the last phase of the fight for Prithviraj Chauhan, as he later was captured and executed to death. However, there were a variety of hypotheses about Prithviraj’s death, and the cause of his death is still a mystery.
Conflict with Nagarjuna
This conflict was between two members of the same family, both of whom were cousins. Prithviraj was able to put down Nagarjuna's attempt to revolt, thus making it one of his first accomplishment in dealing with revolts. Prithviraj uncle, Vigraharaja IV, was the father of Nagarjuna. Conflict broke out between the two when they began to compete for the throne of Chahamana, as well as the fort of Gudapura. The accounts of “Prithviraj Vijaya” demonstrate the struggle between two relatives and tell the story of how Nagarjuna was determined to gain the Chahamana throne no matter what it took.
Nagarjuna made a mistake in challenging Prithviraj to try to seize the fort of Gudapura, which proved to be his biggest error. Prithviraj was great at his military skills, and he took back the fortress of Gudapura through his military forces. Later, Nagarjuna’s family was captured as he had run away from Prithviraj’s invasion. The historical accounts of “Prithviraja Vijaya” note how the victory of the war was celebrated by the military. To commemorate the triumph against the conflict, a symbolic wreath crafted from the decapitated heads of the defeated soldiers was hung on the entrance of the Ajmer fort. By defeating Nagarjuna, Prithviraj Chauhan showed his military skills and achievement.
Conflict with Chandelas
Paramal Raso, Alha-Raso, Sarangadhara Paddhati, Prabandha Chintamani and Prithviraj Raso are only a few of the legendary tales that describes the epic battles between the Chandelas and their eventual capture. The murder of the royal gardener of the Chandela dynasty on objecting to the camp of Prithviraj's contingent started the battle between the two dynasties. As Prithviraj's contingent was under attack by Turkish forces also known to be "Ghurids" while he was returning after his marriage to the daughter of Padmasen.
During the retaliation against Ghurids, his army was wounded and suffered a lot of losses. In their disorientation caused by the conflict, the soldiers unknowingly wandered into Chandelas' domain and established a camp in Mahoba, the capital city of the Chandela dynasty. Jejakabhukti now known as Bundelkhand was then ruled by Chandela king named "Paramadi".
Post murder of the royal Gardener, Paramardi's brother-in-law Mahil Parihar with an ulterior motive against Paramadi instigated him to retaliate. However, the biggest mistake of Paramadi was to ignore the advice of his general Udai and retaliate against Prithviraj's camp. However, soon Paramadi was defeated and his general Udai and his brother Alha joined Jaichand's dynasty Gahadavala.
Mahil with his ill motive to capture the Chandela dynasty informed the weakness of the Chandela Dynasty to Prithviraj Chauhan. This led to Prithviraj launching an invasion of the Chandela kingdom. Jaichand showed his allegiance to Chandela by sending the most powerful troops he had to offer. In the end, the combined army was met with defeat and was forced to taste the sour flavour of loss. Pajjun Rai was granted the opportunity to serve as the governor of Mahoba.
Although it is still a topic of conversation, Paramadi's son may have eventually succeeded in retaking Mahoba. Historians have presented many theories about the accounts, all of which have been highly debatable due to their different interpretations.
Conflict with Chalukya
"Prithviraj Raso" though not considered to be the most reliable source, accounts for the conflict between Chamana and Chalukya. The tension between Prithviraj and Bhima was believed to be caused by Ichchhini, the princess of the Paramara dynasty of Abu. As both were desirous to get married to her.
However, the union of Prithviraj and her led to an increase in the rivalry between the two rulers. This theory is debatable by multiple historians like G. H Ojha asserts the above instance to be false as Dharavarsha was the Paramara ruler of Abu at that time and Salakha's daughter was Ichchhini. Another historian R. B Singh findings conflict to G. H Ojha's finding, as per R. B Singh Salakha was the leader of another Paramara branch located in Abu.
Another theory led by Prithviraj Raso was that Bhima took revenge against Prithviraj as his uncle, Kanhadeva killed seven sons of Sarangadeva. Hence, Bhima took his revenge by killing the father of Prithviraj Chauhan and capturing Nagor which was taken back by Prithviraj Chauhan. However, this theory too is not sound as per the historical records Bhima was minor during Someshvara's (Prithviraj's father) death and he ruled for 50 years after Prithviraj's death. Even though the true cause of the battle remains a mystery, it is known that the battle between the two dynasties occurred at Nagor.
The small village of Charlu, situated close to Bikaner, holds two inscriptions that are dedicated to the memory of Mohil soldiers who perished in the battle of Nagor in 1184. The Mohils are a branch of the large Chauhan family, otherwise known as the Chahamanas, and it is highly likely that the inscriptions are linked to the battle that is mentioned in Prithviraj Raso. The war came to peace between the two through the Peace treaty. Historian Dasharatha Sharma postulates that Prithviraj had some level of success in the Chahamana-Chaulukya conflict.
Beginning of war with the Ghurids
It is a well-known fact that Prithviraj fought till his death to keep the Muslim invaders away. Muslim Dynasties started invading the northwest region of the Indian subcontinent around the 12th century. Meanwhile, Ghurid Dynasty grew stronger by the end of the 12th century and started spreading across the Chahamana Kingdom's west. The invasion by the Ghurid started way back around 1175, when Prithviraj was a minor. Muhammad Ghori the ruler of Ghurid Dynasty started his invasion by crossing the Indus river on his way to seize territories, he invaded Gujarat in 1178, which meant direct conflict with the Chalukyas.
While moving towards the western border, it is evidenced that they have destroyed several temples and were also considered to be similar to "Rahu" in Hindu mythology by "Prithviraj Vijaya". Prithviraj was warned by his chief minister Kadambavasa to stay away from the dispute or offer any hospitality to the Ghurids and to not get involved in their affairs. Initially, Ghurid army was stopped to invade Chamanas due to their defeat by the Chalukya's of Gujarat in 1178 at the battle of Kasahrada and Ghurid had to go back. This delayed Chamana's invasion by Ghurids.
However, Muhammad Ghori was determined to seize territories and started with the west, post his defeat he rebuilds his army and retreated to be much stronger. This helped him to capture the western region such as Peshawar, Sind, and Punjab.
After capturing the western region, he aimed to move towards the eastern region as well. This ambition led to conflict with Prithviraj. As reported in the book Taj-ul-Maasir composed by Hasan Nizami in the 3rd century CE, Muhammad Ghori dispatched his chief Qiwam-ul Mulk Ruknud Din Hamza to the court of Prithviraj. The envoy attempted vigorously to convince Prithviraj to let go of any aggression and accept righteousness, however, his endeavours were futile. After giving it considerable thought, Muhammad Ghori decided to launch a war against Prithviraj.
First battle of Tarain(1191)
The First battle of Tarain was unavoidable as Muhammad Ghori was determined to invade the Chahamana territory. His aim was to seize Tabar-e-Hind (City of Bathinda). He placed Qazi of Tulak in charge and supplied him horsemen contingent of 1200 capacity. Receiving the news of this event, Prithviraj and his steadfast companions like Govindaraja of Delhi, felt aggrieved and moved towards Tabarhindah.
According to the well-known 16th-century Muslim historian Firishta, the contingent comprised approximately 200,000 horses and 3,000 elephants. Muhammad Ghori after being made aware of the approaching Prithviraj Chauhan decided to fight him off. This marked the start of the battle of Tarain. In the first battle Muhammad Ghori was defeated and insulted by Prithviraj also he suffered injuries which lead him to retreat from his destination. However, the biggest mistake by Prithviraj was not to go after him and the consequences were faced in the second battle of Tarain.
Second battle of Tarain(1192)
In the second battle of Tarain, Muhammad Ghori came back with a much more strong army and strategy. Prithviraj mistakes the capabilities of his enemy. Thus, he was not ready for the second battle as he was not prepared also he wasted some of his time on entertainment rather than building his force stronger. Meanwhile, Muhammad Ghori was burning to take his revenge and was working on strategies and rebuilding his army. He managed to gather 120,000 horsemen from Afgan, Tajik, and Turk with the best pieces of equipment at that time.
With the assistance of Vijayaraja of Jammu, he proceeded to wage the war against Prithviraj. However, there was no support left for Prithviraj as he had taken enmity from his neighbouring rulers due to his past wars. In spite of having no assistance, he was able to manage to gather a huge army. Prithviraj sent a communication to Ghori, assuring him that he would be safe without fear of harm if he chose to go back to his home country.
However, Ghori played the greatest strategy in defeating Prithviraj this time. Ghori wanted to demonstrate to Chamanas that a truce was in place, so he left a handful of soldiers at the camp to tend the fires during the night, while the rest of his forces followed him. After travelling several miles, Muhammad then divided his forces into four divisions, with each containing 10,000 archers.
He retained the rest of his military force in a state of readiness and held them in reserve. He commanded the four divisions to launch an attack against the Chahamana camp and then to give the impression that they were retreating. While Prithviraj was sleeping, the Ghurid army attacked his camp. The battle began and Ghori succeeded in giving the perception that they were leaving, by making it seem as though they were withdrawing.
Prithviraj and his Chahamana army were tricked into chasing the enemy and by the afternoon they were tired from the lengthy pursuit they had undertaken, much to their dismay. Taking advantage of a reserve force, Ghori advanced and engaged in battle with the Chahamanas, eventually leading to a triumphant victory. This decisive battle, which is documented in Taj-ul-Maasir, resulted in a devastating loss of 100,000 men, including the Govindaraja of Delhi.
Prithviraj made a valiant effort to flee, riding a horse and attempting to break away, but was tracked and eventually arrested close to the Sarasvati fort, potentially the contemporary Sirsa location. After a lengthy and bloodshed struggle, Ghori eventually won the battle of Ajmer, leaving many of the defenders dead and the temples of the city demolished.
Death and succession
Numerous theories have been presented in an effort to explain the death of Prithviraj, and these includes:-
- Numerous coins with inscriptions of both Prithviraj Chauhan and Ghori have been discovered, and Medieval Source suggests that this confirms the theory that after the second battle of Tarain, Ghori placed Prithviraj Chauhan on the throne to govern on his behalf.
- The renowned Muslim historiographer of that era, Hasan Nizami, wrote that Prithviraj was discovered plotting against Muhammad and this consequently resulted in Ghori ordering for his beheading.
- In the Prabandha-Chintamani, written by the 14th-century Jain scholar Merutunga, it was mentioned that Muhammad was highly disturbed after viewing the artwork in the Chahamana gallery that portrayed Muslims being killed by pigs. After much consideration, he chose to forgo the option of keeping Prithviraj alive as a vassal and instead gave the command for his execution by beheading.
- It is written in Prithviraja-Prabandha, a source which dates back to the 15th century or earlier, that Ghori was able to take control of Ajmer and then take possession of Prithviraj's court. Prithviraj was granted a special abode that enabled him to have a bird's eye view of the court. With an intention to kill Ghori, he asked for bow-and-arrows from his minister Pratapasimha. Though the spiteful minister gave him the bow and arrows, he had already conspired with Ghori to reveal his mischievous plan. Ghori placed a statue there. Prithviraj thought he was shooting an arrow at Ghori and instead it hit the statue. As a punishment, Prithviraj was killed.
- According to the Hammira Mahakavya, Prithviraj refused to eat anything once he was taken, prisoner. The court officials of the Ghurid king proposed that he should emulate the Chahamana king and release Prithviraj, just like he had been released in the past. Despite being warned against it, Ghori refused to heed their advice, which ultimately resulted in Prithviraj's death in captivity.
- Historian Satish Chandra Minhaj's account suggests that after the second battle of Tarain Prithviraj was executed.
We can agree that history is an enigma, and this answer only further shows that it is an accurate statement. Despite facing an invader that he was unable to defeat, Prithviraj Chauhan's service to the nation was unquestionable as he fought with his fullest strength and bravery until his last breath.
Prithviraj has been subjected to much criticism from various sources such as scholars, epics and Sanskrit stories, which have portrayed him as a ruler who was defeated by foreign forces. The texts of "Prabandha-Chintamani" and "Prithviraja-Prabandha" revealed that his strategy was not effective and contributed to his defeat. According to the manuscript of "Hammira Mahakavya", he was depicted as a gallant warrior, yet his downfall was due to the perfidiousness of his allies.
Despite all the negative commentary, he was still widely acclaimed as the greatest warrior in history and gave his life to defend his kingdom from foreign invaders. He has become an image of courage, patriotism and strength among Indians, representing a powerful symbol. His memorable deeds have earned him a place of distinction in Indian medieval history.