Indian History Part 42: THE RAJPUT CLANS Section III The Chahamanas

Canberra, 31 August 2015

The Chahamana clan, also called the Chauhans in later times, was one of the original four ‘agnikula’ Rajputs who were supposed to have originated from the sacrificial fire pit in Mount Abu. Therefore, they are part of Rajput history from the very beginning being the main lead in some events and in others taking a secondary role in the fray of political manoeuvring as friend or foe of the main protagonist. They are mentioned in the chronicles of all major Rajput dynasties. They were a relatively small clan but at times wielded influence far greater than their size provided for, especially in the politico-military arena. In accordance with the universal rule of political and military power, it is also true that their influence rose and ebbed with the passage of time.

By the end of the 10th century the Chahamanas were one of the more prominent Rajput dynasties and an established power. The dynasty had participated in all internecine wars and by this time had grown sufficiently in stature to have different branches ruling separate ‘kingdoms’, which were in actuality only large principalities. The Chahamanas seem to have clashed with Mahmud of Ghazni during some of his infamous invasions into the sub-continent, although it does not appear that they suffered any decisive defeats and seem to have suffered only minimum damage, if at all.

The Chahamanas of Sakambari

This was the core branch of the Chahamanas and their independent status was established by Durlabharaja. After this a number of ‘kings’, sons and brothers, succeeded to the throne, some effective as rulers and some less so. During this initial period of mediocrity, there were episodes of the Chahamana chieftain or king assisting the Paramara Rajputs against invasions and intrusions by the Chalukyas of the Deccan. Around 1100, the Chahamanas under the leadership of Ajayaraja initiated an aggressive effort to establish a true kingdom, which was both economically and geographically viable as a State. They invaded Ujjain and defeated the Paramara king Naravarman, then ruling the kingdom of Malwa. [The fickleness of alliances is demonstrated in this act, because it was the same Paramara dynasty that the Chahamanas had assisted on a number of occasions against Chalukya invasions.] Ajayaraja is reported to have killed three kings in battlefield encounters. [These could have been minor chieftains, since almost all leaders of clans, both small and big, styled themselves ‘rajas’ or kings those days.] Thus was established the kingdom of Sapadalaksha. Ajayaraja also founded a new city called Ajayameru, literal meaning ‘unconquerable mountain’ (Ajmer of later history), which became the celebrated capital of the kingdom. Silver and copper coins that have been found corroborate the establishment of the kingdom by Ajayaraja.

Ajayaraja’s son Arnoraja was as ambitious as his father and continued the efforts to expand the boundaries of the kingdom. He expelled a number of ‘Turushakas’, Turks, who had encroached on Sapadalaksha territory through the Marusthali or desert. However, he was defeated by two successive Chalukya monarchs and forced to accept their suzerainty. It is not clear whether the Paramaras were asked to assist against the Chalukyas or the Chahamanas tried to defend on their own or whether the Paramaras refused to help their erstwhile friends against a common adversary. The previous Chalukya intrusions had been repulsed by the combined Paramara-Chahamana forces. Arnoraja was killed by his son from a secondary queen who was in turn killed by his brother Vigraharaja IV.

Vigraharaja proved to be a king of great power and stature. Under his rule, for the first time, the Chahamanas built a kingdom worthy of their growing status. His military exploits were exemplary: he conquered Dhillika (Delhi); captured Asika (modern Hansi) in the Hissar district in Punjab; plundered Pallika (Pali in Jodhpur); burned Jabalipura (Jalor); and sacked Nadol. Further he continually kept the early Muslim raiders and invaders at bay, not permitting them to harass even the outer fringes of his kingdom. The Delhi Siwalik pillar inscriptions state these activities clearly. His kingdom included the Jajpur district in Udaipur and extended all the way to the foothills of the Siwalik Hills in Saharanpur.

Vigraharaja claimed to have restored Aryavarta to the Aryans, which was not an idle boast since he defeated Muslim invaders repeatedly. He was also a scholar of merit and a patron of art and literature. He composed the Harakeli-nataka, which is unfortunately lost although fragments of it have been found engraved on stone in Ajmer. Mahakavi (Great Poet) Somadvea resided in his court and composed the Lalita-Vigraharaja-Nataka that honours the rule of Vigraharaja and provides some insights into his rule.

Vigraharaja’s reign was followed by a period in which a number of princes acceded to the throne and ruled for short periods of time before being dethroned. The kingdom was gradually descending to instability and the Chahamana ministers therefore invited Somesvara, the son of Arnoraja through a Chalukya princess, to come and take over the throne. Somesvara was living in the court of the Gujarat Chalukya dynasty probably because of maternal connections. He had also taken part in the Chalukya campaigns against the Muslim invaders. He stabilised the Chahamana kingdom and was succeeded to the throne by his son Prithviraja III in 1178. The story of Prithviraja is detailed later in the chapter.

The Chahamana Sub-Branches

From being a relatively small clan, the Chahamanas gradually expanded through conquest, marital alliances and the acceptance of other minor and insignificant groups into the fold. By the 11th century they were a sizeable group with a number of sub-branches ruling smaller but definitely well-defined kingdoms.

Chahamanas of Nadol. This principality was established in early 11th century as an entity independent of the more powerful Sakambari branch. They repulsed an attack by the Chalukya ruler Bhima I and was also successful in their fight against the Turushakas, the Muslims from the Punjab region. However, their fortunes were not always constant and clear. Even though one Chalukya king had ben repulsed, the Nadol Chahamanas were forced to accept the overlordship of the Chalukya Jayasimha and joined his forces in the attack against the Paramara king Naravarman. The Nadol branch enjoyed brief and intermittent periods of independence, but were for the most part supporters of greater kingdoms, accepting the overlordship of more powerful kings. They assisted the Chalukya Kumarapala in his campaign against Saurashtra in 1159-61 and managed to regain Nadol that had been forfeited earlier. In keeping with the lower status of the ruling house, the boundaries of the kingdom shifted constantly with changes in alliances, victories and defeats, not always their own but even that of the more powerful kingdom whose feudatory they happened to be at that time. The Nadol Chahamanas continued to rule their changing kingdom into the 14th century, almost always as feudatories and with external assistance.

Chahamanas of Ranastambhapura. This was a collateral branch of the main dynasty that ruled modern Ranthambhor from late 12th century. Their geographical location predicated that they were almost constantly under attack by Muslim invaders and at times managed to survive only by accepting feudatory status of a stronger kingdom. The book Hammira-Mahakavya by Nayachandra Suri provides a continuous narrative of this Chahamana branch. However, as is usual in such writings of the medieval times, it is difficult to differentiate folklore and reality and therefore the book is of limited value in recreating the actual events of the time. The influence of the Delhi Sultans in the later part of the dynasty’s rule is predominantly observable in the writing. The book provides details of the family’s animosities and conflicts with other Hindu kingdoms and gives the impression of a small but bellicose dynasty almost always at war. The Ranastambhapura Chahamanas went into oblivion in 1301, when Ala-ud-din Khalji attacked and captured Ranthambor.

There were other minor branches that ruled small principalities as overlords in Jabalaipura (Jalor), Satyapura (Sanchor) and Devada for about two centuries and vanished as recognisable entities after Ala-ud-din Khalji overran their principalities in 1310-15.



The Chahamana prince Somesvara lived in the court of Gujarat and while there married Karpura Devi, the daughter of Achalaraja of the Haihaya dynasty. Their first son Prithviraja was born in Gujarat. The date of birth is uncertain, but by conjuncture and corroboration with other sources it can be ascertained that he was born sometime in 1162-65, probably in 1164. Their second son Hariraja was two years younger. At this time the Sapadalaksha kingdom was going through turmoil and instability brought on by a succession of incapable kings who ruled for limited periods before being replaced by other equally inept princes. The courtiers therefore invited Somesvara to assume the throne and steady the kingdom. Somesvara ascended his paternal throne in 1168-9 and successfully stabilised the country. However, he died shortly afterwards in 1177, while Prithviraja was still a minor. Karpura Devi therefore acted as the regent and it is reported that Ajmer prospered during her regency. The regency was short-lived and Prithviraja assumed the throne in 1178, at a relatively young age.

Initial Reign

Prithviraja was fortunate in having very able ministers to support him during the initial part of his rule, which also ensured continuity in governance that brought about the desired stability in the kingdom. The Chief Minister, Kadambavasa, was very capable and extremely loyal to the Royal household. The commander of the army Bhuvanaikamalla was a scion of the Kalachuri dynasty, which was Prithviraja’s grandfather’s family. He exterminated the Nagas who had risen in rebellion and in some writings is therefore compared to the celestial Garuda who, in mythology had vanquished the Nagas in battle. The country or the origins of these Nagas defeated by the Chahamana army cannot be definitively identified. An incomplete manuscript that has been discovered, Prithviraja-vijaya, refers to the king’s forthcoming marriage to a princess, although the name of the bride or other details are not known.

A book written much later, Prithviraja Raso, by the court poet Chand Bardai who was also a confidante of Prithviraja gives a full account of the deeds of king. There is some controversy regarding the authorship of this book. The first version if the book is claimed to have been written by a Kashmiri poet Jayanaka who lived under Prithviraja’s patronage and is considered to be fairly authentic in the description of events. However, this version is incomplete and covers only part of the king’s reign. The second version by Chand Bardai is a fanciful rendition of events and in its current version also includes some poems collected and added by other poets over a period of time and is best described as a ballad-biography. According to both the versions, Prithviraja had many queens: the eldest was Ichchhani Devi, a Paramara princess from Mount Abu; and the youngest was Samyogita, the daughter of the Gahadavala king Jayachandra Rathod of Kanauj.

The Eternal Romantic Story

The love story of Prithviraja and Samyogita has achieved legendary status in Indian folklore and is even today the theme of numerous plays, films and TV serials. From a regular marriage that was meant to cement the relationship between two dynasties, at times at odds with each other, the story as embellished by word-of-mouth is now generally believed to be true, even to the extent of being taught in schools as being part of real history. Serious research establishes that the story is an improbable version of imaginary happenings, developed in later years to glorify the name of Prithviraja. The romanticised version goes like this:

Jayachandra the Gahadvala ruler of Delhi was the hereditary enemy of the Chahamanas. However, his beautiful daughter Samyogita had heard of the prowess of Prithviraja Chahamana of Ajmer and desired to be his queen-consort. Towards this end, she established secret contact with Prithviraja and carried on regular correspondence with him.

Meanwhile, Jayachandra called an assembly of princes for his daughter to select a husband from, in the tradition of the Swayamvara that was prevalent at that time. [The tradition of the Swayamvara has been explained in detail in Volume III of this series From Indus to Independence.] Since there was enmity between the Gahadavalas and Chahamanas, he placed a statue of Prithviraja at the gate as the door-keeper, meant as a direct insult to the king of Ajmer. On the day of the Swayamvara, Samyogita garlanded the statue and Prithviraja who had been hiding nearby carried her away. Obviously the clandestine correspondence between the two helped matters of timing. Prithviraja’s followers opposed the Gahadavala army that came in pursuit, letting the couple escape to Ajmer, where they were married.

[The relationship between the Gahadavalas of Delhi and the Chahamanas, as well as the stories attached to Jayachandra Rathod in relation to the Islamic invasion that was becoming increasingly regular and more ferocious has been explored in Volume III in some detail.]

Prithviraja was fortunate in having many courtiers of great ability in his court, who were loyal and served him well. His father’s minister for war and peace, Sodha, had two capable sons, Skanda and Vamana, who were appointed minister for war and peace, and chief councillor.

Almost immediately on coming to the throne, Prithviraja faced a threat of Muslim invasion. A Muslim military chief, Muizz-ud-din Muhammad of Ghur was marching towards Gujarat via Multan, Uch and the desert. He send a diplomatic mission to the Chahamana court to negotiate a safe passage for his forces through the outskirts of Prithviraja’s kingdom. No details are available regarding the offer made or how the negotiations proceeded. However, later events prove that there was no agreement or alliance made between the invaders and Prithviraja. Muizz-ud-din subsequently reached Kiradu near Barmer in 1178 and plundered the temple of Somesvara (this is the god Somesvara and not Prithviraja’s father, who also carried the same name). Thereafter he captured Nadol, the capitol of a collateral branch of the Chahamanas.

Prithviraja, young and impetuous, wanted to march immediately to confront the foreign invaders, especially since Nadol had been captured. However, the sagacious chief minister Kadambavasa advised restraint and asked the king to bide his time for the invaders to exhaust themselves by fighting the Gurjaras through whose territories they were passing, before confronting them. A bit later a message was received that the king of Gujarat had routed the invaders. This obviously refers to the recorded defeat of Muizz-ud-din’s forces by Chalukya Mularaja II at Kasahadra at the foot of Mount Abu.

Internal Military Campaigns

Around the same time that Muizz-ud-din Muhammad was waging war in the region, Prithviraja faced an internal challenge to his throne. A cousin named Nagarjuna rose up in rebellion, perhaps because of Prithviraja’s young age, and captured Gudapura, a town that is unidentifiable now. Prithviraja personally marched against Nagarjuna who fled, and killed most of his prominent supporters. According to folklore, Prithviraja returned to Ajmer with the heads of the chiefs who had assisted Nagarjuna and hung them outside the fort as a warning to would be rebels. [If this is indeed true, it is a rare case of an act of barbarity by a medieval Hindu king. The other side of the coin is that the ferocity of the Muslim invaders could have gradually percolated into the psyche of the Hindu rulers and there was a decline in the fundamental courtesy that used to be extended to a defeated rival.] Perhaps spurred on by his success against Nagarjuna, Prithviraja now embarked on two successive major military campaigns against his neighbours.

In 1182 he successfully invaded the country of Bhadanakas, which was part of the old Alwar kingdom that corresponds to modern Rewari and adjoining villages in Bhiwani district. Some sources state this as the commencement of a ‘digvijaya’ expedition by the Chahamana king, but this assertion has to be discounted as an exaggeration, since there is no other proof to support such a claim. The more important part of this campaign was the invasion of the Chandel kingdom that covered the Jeja-Bhukti, or Bundelkhand region. He reached Sirswa at the border of Mahoba and in the ensuing battle defeated king Paramardi of Jeja-Bhukti, going on to plunder Mahoba and Kalanjar the strongholds of the Chandel dynasty. The sacking is authenticated by a stone inscription found in a Shiva temple in Mahoba. However, Prithviraja’s control over the Chandel kingdom seems to have been transitory since two independent inscriptions in Mahoba and Kalanjar confirm Chandel possession of both places in 1183.

The second campaign was against the Chalukyas of Gujarat, ruled at that time by Bhima II. The Chahamanas of Nadol had been a feudatory of Bhima II for some time and for the major Chahamana branch in Ajmer, this relationship was inimical to cultivating a friendly relationship with the Chalukyas. Accordingly, Prithviraja launched a campaign against Bhima II in 1187. According to some unconfirmed reports the invasion was repulsed by the Chalukyas. In any case, the fact remains that Prithviraja did not achieve any definitive victory and concluded a treaty with Bhima II.

Neither of these campaigns resulted in any noteworthy acquisition of territory and Prithviraja continued to rule his inherited kingdom. This kingdom included Hissar and Sirhind in Patiala in the north-west, Delhi in the north, was bounded in the south by the Guhilas kingdom of Mewar and the territories of the Chahamanas of Nadol, and in the east by the kingdoms of the Yaduvansis of Bayanasripath, the Kachchhapagatas of Gwalior, and the Ghadavalas of Kanauj. There is a story that claims that Delhi was gifted to Prithviraja by his maternal grandfather Anangpal III of the Tomara dynasty. This has no proof to back it, and the fact that his mother Karpura Devi was a princess of the Haihaya dynasty makes this claim unacceptable. Six inscriptions dating from 1177-88 and number of silver bullions issued by Prithviraja during his rule have so far been discovered. By 1185, events that would forever threaten the relative peace and tranquillity not only of the Rajput kingdoms, but also of the entire sub-continent, were unfolding.

The Islamic Invasion

In 1186, Muizz-ud-din Muhammad of Ghur overthrew Khusrav Mallik, the last Yamini ruler of Ghazni and annexed western Punjab, creating a common Ghur-Chahamana border. Having whetted his appetite for conquest earlier, he harboured the ambition to conquer ‘Hindustan’. In the pursuit of this ambition, he marched his army into the Chahamana territory and reached Tabarhinda, well within Prithviraja’s kingdom. There is continuing debate whether Tabarhinda refers to Bhatinda or Sirhind. Considering that the fort was in the borderland of the Chahamana territory, it is more likely to be Sirhind in the old Patiala state. Muizz-ud-din captured the Tabarhinda fort and established his own army base there. He left the fort under a commander and returned to his territory. The local Rajput chieftains were unable to withstand the Ghur onslaught and in consternation approached Prithviraja for help. [This reference of a request for assistance indicates that Prithviraja did not fully control the border areas of what has been claimed as his extended kingdom, but exercised some sort of feudal/overlordship relation with the local chieftains.] Chandraraja the governor of Delhi also reported that the invaders had established a capital in Multan.

Prithviraja decided to confront the Muslim invaders and marched to Tabarhinda with an army consisting of 200,000 horsemen and 3000 elephants. He was accompanied by Govindaraja and a number of other Rajput princes and chiefs. On hearing of this move, Muizz-ud-din marched back to assist his army stationed in Tabarhinda. He met Prithviraja in 1190-91, in Tarain situated 14 miles from Thanesvar and 80 miles from Delhi, and the ensuing battle has in later times been called the First Battle of Tarain. The Chahamana forces succeeded in breaking the cohesion of the Muslim army and Muizz-ud-din fled the battlefield on being injured. Accompanying the factual narration of this battle, there are exaggerated accounts of the victory, and associated stories of the bravery and heroism of senior Rajput commanders. After routing Muhammad of Ghur, Prithviraja laid siege to Tabarhinda fort, which capitulated after holding out for 13 months.

The Second Battle of Tarain, 1192

Muhammad of Ghur was not one to take a defeat lightly, and assembled a large army of 120,000 men to avenge the debacle suffered at the hands of the Chahamana king. Within a year he marched east, reaching Lahore via Peshawar and Multan, where he camped. There is a mention of the king of Ghataika assisting him during this march, although the kingdom or the king cannot be identified. From Lahore he send an emissary to Ajmer, demanding that Prithviraja convert to Islam and accept Muizz-ud-din’s overlordship if he wanted to avoid war, defeat and consequent slaughter. Prithviraja obviously rejected the demand and prepared for war.

Here, the Chahamana king’s attitude to the emerging threat must be analysed. The fairly easy victory over the Muslim forces in the First Battle of Tarain, just over a year back, had introduced a sense of complacency in the Rajput kingdom. The king and his commanders tended to view the battle more as a frontier skirmish than a battle of conquest and a contest for control of the western and northern parts of the sub-continent. This mindset could have been one of the reasons the Rajputs did not pursue the retreating Ghur army. The same belief that the battle was a low-level skirmish or a border raid must have been the reason for the king to spend the time after the first battle in merry-making and leading an indolent lifestyle, instead of strengthening the borders and preparing for an invasion. The ballad-biography, Prithviraja-Raso, written almost completely as a paean to the king clearly states that during the interim period between the two battles Prithviraja neglected the affairs of state, especially the security of the borders. Therefore, it is certain that the Chahamanas did not consider the second invasion of Muhammad of Ghur as a serious threat to the kingdom.

Prithviraja once again prepared for battle, gathering a force consisting of a large infantry, 3000 elephants and 300,000 horsemen. However, this time Skanda who was the prime architect of the first victory was away from the capital fighting another war in a different frontier and did not accompany Prithviraja. During the advance towards Tabarhinda, which the Muslim forces had once again captured, one of his ministers called Somesvara advised Prithviraja not to advance any further till the situation became clearer. Prithviraja took this as treacherous advice and spurning it, insulted the minister and dismissed him from his court. Somesvara is said to have switched allegiance and gone over to the Ghur camp. This behaviour of the king is also symptomatic of the growing hubris that had developed within the Rajput camp and the extreme haughtiness that Prithviraja had started to display in his dealings with his people.

The forces once again met in Tarain. There are reports of some negotiations having taken place, but Muhammad of Ghur is said to have used the ruse of having to consult with his overlord in Ghazni to delay arriving at a negotiated settlement. He divided his force into five groups and from early morning on a day when battle was not expected, continuously harassed the Rajput forces from different directions, using the tactic of using one group to attack and retreat while another group attacked from a different side. When the Rajputs were exhausted by staving off the attacks, Muizz-ud-din himself led the main attack and defeated the Chahamana force. More than 100,000 Chahamana soldiers were killed and Govindaraja the governor of Delhi fell in battle. Prithviraja fled the battlefield but was captured by the Muslim forces. Muhammad Ghur went on to capture Ajmer where he destroyed the temples used the material to build Islamic education centres on the same sites. [These education centres could be counted the forerunners of the contemporary Madrasas and also established a tradition of destroying temples and building mosques with the material that was followed by later Muslim invaders and rulers.]

Prithviraja was kept in captivity without being harassed too much. However, when his plot for revenge against Muhamad of Ghur using some of his contacts was discovered, he was executed. This account of the defeat and execution of Prithviraja has been recorded by Muslim historians of the time and recounted even later. The Sanskrit sources provide more stories regarding the capture and death of Prithviraja and very little information of the actual events leading up to the battle and of the battle itself. The Sanskrit stories mention some courtiers switching allegiance to Muhammad and aiding the invaders; of the king being surprised and taken in his sleep; of Udayaraja attacking Delhi to free the captive Prithviraja and dying in the effort; and some others. From these stories, which are at times contradictory, it is difficult to establish the actual sequence of events. The fact remains that Prithviraja was defeated in Tarain, captured after the battle and subsequently executed in Ajmer, his capital.

An Embellished Tale

There are a number of romanticised stories of Prithviraja’s capture and final execution. Perhaps the most popular is the one in which he manages to kill Muizz-ud-din Muhammad of Ghur while still in captivity. The story goes thus:

After being captured by the Muslim forces, Prithviraja was brought to Muhammad of Ghur in chains. He looked at Muhammad with haughty eyes and was asked to lower his gaze. The Chahamana king replied that the ‘eyes of a Rajput is lowered only when a Rajput dies.’ The Muslim Chief was angered at this reply and had Prithviraja blinded.

Around the same time Chand Bardai, Prithviraja’s court poet and friend, managed to reach the Ghur court in disguise and gained the confidence of Muizz-ud-din. He met with Prithviraja secretly at every available opportunity and tried to bolster the king’s morale. After his conquests, Muhammad of Ghur announced an archery competition to celebrate his victories. Chand Bardai mentioned to the Muhammad that Prithviraja was an accomplished archer who could hit the target based purely on voice guidance without having to look at the target. This claim was met with derision in the Ghur court and there was a great deal of mockery by Muhammad and his senior courtiers heaped on Prithviraja.

However, Prithviraja was brought to the contest grounds and asked to aim at some metal plates that were hung up and beaten to give him guidance. To the great astonishment of the Muslim Chief, the Chahamana king hit every metal plate that was beaten to give out a sound. While the courtiers and Muhammad of Ghur were exclaiming in wonder at this feat, Chand Bardai, standing close to the Chief composed a couplet and recited it. The couplet ran something like this, ‘Chas bans, Choubis gaj, Angui ashta parman, Ta upper Sultan hai. Chuke mat Chauhan.’ It can be translated to read, ‘Four measures ahead of you, twenty-four yards away as measured with the eight figure measure, is seated the Sultan. Do not miss him now Chauhan.’ At the same time Ghur ordered Prithviraja to shoot. With this Prithviraja came to know Muizz-ud-din’s exact location and shot him through the throat, killing him instantly. The courtiers then fell upon Prithviraja and killed him.

This is one of the many fanciful tales that are still prevalent regarding Prithviraja’s exploits that have no corroboration or semblance to actual fact.

Prithviraja—an Assessment

Prithviraja was the epitome of medieval Indian Hindu kings. He was a great commander and general, brave and valorous to a fault, but religiously tolerant and lenient towards defeated adversaries. However, he was not politically astute and neither was he a visionary regarding the future status of his kingdom. A cursory study of Indian history reveals that the founders of great dynasties that ruled large empires for centuries were all men of grandiose vision that was supported by equally vaulting ambition. Sadly Prithviraja lacked that one trait which would have made him really great—political aspirations.

Even in the battlefield, when faced with the Islamic invasion, Prithviraja assumed defensive positions, being content to throw the enemy out of his kingdom rather than be on the offensive, at least after the defeat of the adversary. Kingdoms are at times won and lost on the outcome of a single battle and normally battlefield tactics decide the victor. Generally defensive tactics never ‘won’ the day. In this instance, Prithviraja permitted the beaten Ghur army to withdraw after the First Battle of Tarain instead of actively pursuing and annihilating them. Whether this was the result of an exaggerated sense of benevolence or the outcome of benign neglect cannot be determined. The fact remains that the Rajput clans in general were offensive only against each other and rallied to protect their borders only when an invasion was imminent or had already taken place. Even then they were prone to just making the invaders retreat rather than inflicting crushing defeats. They very rarely took the battle to the adversary, being content with defensive actions.

On hindsight, it is felt that Prithviraja should have pursued Muhammad of Ghur after his first defeat and evicted him from the Punjab. It is interesting to speculate that such an action may have rooted out the Muslim rule from the sub-continent. On the other hand such an action may have only been a brief postponement of the inevitable conquest by the Islamic tide that was rushing into India. Speculations regarding ‘what might have been’ will have to remain in the realm of fantasy. The reality is that Prithviraja did not even strengthen the defences of Tabarhinda, making it possible for Muizz-ud-din to retake the fort barely a year after it had been liberated by the Chahamana forces.

The victory of the Islamic forces in the Second Battle of Tarain had far-reaching and unintended consequences for the future of the sub-continent as a whole. First it destroyed the imperial power of the rising Chahamana dynasty once and for all and proved to be disastrous for the entire ‘Hindustan’. Second, the defeat and inglorious end of the most powerful Rajput king was a decisive blow to the morale of the entire ruling elite of North India. They seem to have lost heart and not recovered from this defeat to an extent that even though further invasions were definite, they did not prepare for them, almost shying away from direct encounters with the Muslim armies. Third, the ruthlessness of the Islamic conquerors started an exodus of people from the war-torn northern and north-western regions to the south and south-east, thereby reducing possible resistance and making it easier for Muhammad of Ghur to establish a strong foothold well inside the Indian sub-continent, which had till then traditionally been a purely Hindu entity. Islam had arrived in India.

After the Defeat

After Prithviraja was executed, Muizz-ud-din placed the king’s minor son on the throne and went on to conquer Delhi where Govindaraja’s son was forced to pay tribute. He also appointed Qutb-ud-din as the governor of Delhi. In the meantime, Hariraja (mentioned as Hiraj in Muslim records) Prithviraja’s brother, captured Ranthambor but was driven away by Qutb-ud-din. Hariraja fled to Ajmer and with the help of Skanda overthrew the minor king and took over the throne. A stone inscription dated to 1194 confirms Hariraja ruling from Ajmer. He became sufficiently powerful, at least in his estimate, to send an army to oppress Delhi and surrounding areas. Once again Qutb-ud-din set out to defeat the Chahamanas. There is a mention in some records of Hariraja being a king with licentious habits, which may or may not have been true. Irrespective of his personal probity, on being attacked by the Muslim army, Hariraja did not surrender, but when resistance became futile he elected to commit ritual suicide by burning on a funeral pyre with all his family—dying with his honour intact. His followers fled back to Ranthambor and Ajmer capitulated to Qutb-ud-din without a fight.


These three sections depict the history of the medieval Rajputs in a nutshell, with the stories of the smaller clans having been consciously omitted for the sake of brevity. However, the Rajputs as a group of clans continued to influence Indian history and still does so in contemporary India. An example of their longevity is provided by the anecdote explained in the box below, which shows the continuing presence of some of the old Rajput clans and their adherence to tradition. This information was provided by a relatively young scion of a Rajput clan, who is immensely proud of the glorious past of his family and that of the extended clan. Some notions such as honour, valour, chivalry and pride are intangible and ageless.

The Suryvanshi Bargujars

Bargujar is a Rajput clan of the Suryvanshi lineage and considered one of the fiercest fighters amongst the Rajputs, and accordingly they are also revered for their valour. Traditionally they were the core of the ‘Haraval Tukdi’ which was the vanguard of the attacking force. It is said that the Bargujars would rather die than surrender to an adversary. When the Muslim invasion started they were part of the core of the Rajput forces and there are stories of the Bargujars being slaughtered en mass by the Muslim invaders for their refusal to convert to Islam or to enter into marital alliances with them. During this period of persecution, a branch of the clan changed their name to Sikarwar to avoid the slaughter that was taking place. They also traced their ancestry back to Lava (one of the sons of the legendary king and now god Sri Rama) adopting the title of Raghav from an ancestor of Sri Rama. This clan continues to live in parts of Rajasthan as local royalty, maintaining the cultural traditions of their forefathers.

[Adapted from original research by Abhayraj Singh Raghav,

Facilitated by Group Captain RS Raghav (Ret)]

This chapter considerably dims the blazing glory of Prithviraja as mentioned numerous books, plays, and in recent times, cinema and Television. The fundamental fact remains that had he taken advantage of the defeat of the Muslim invader in the First Battle of Tarain, the history of India would perhaps have been different. This may be considered a harsh judgement of someone who has over the years been elevated in India to the status of national hero and a legend. However, the truth needs to be put out in order to avoid repetition of the historical mistakes, which had extremely serious consequences for the sub-continent.

The period covered, the medieval times, was eventful although the information available is somewhat scanty and the available accounts of events and battles are seen to be generally exaggerated. There is difficulty in delineating the truth from these fanciful writings. Even so the flow of events make for painful reading for every Hindu. There are many instances wherein while one Hindu kingdom was being threatened by Islamic invaders, its Hindu neighbours considered it the opportune moment to also attack and capture some territory for their own benefit. Little did these opportunistic dynasties realise that it would be their turn next and that they would also be consumed later in the wrath of the Muslim invaders. This may be unpalatable to the contemporary nationalists who are keen to spin the story in a different angle, but the truth needs to be told in a stark manner, if any lessons are to be learned from them. Lessons of true history are the only ones that a nation can rely on to progress into the future. The lessons of this particular period are applicable even today when India is under siege from within and from external elements.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2015]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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