Our history abounds with legends and folktales. Of kings and queens and their valiant deeds and romantic love stories. One such story – mentioned in Prithviraj Raso – is an epic on the life of the 12th century king, Prithviraj Chauhan. It was penned by his court poet, Chand Bardai.
The legend of Prithviraj Chauhan and Kannauj princess Sanyogita’s love is a fascinating saga of romance, war and courage.
Prithviraj Chauhan was the king of the Chauhan dynasty whose rule extended to parts of present day Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi and some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. He is also hailed as the last Rajput king to rule Delhi before the Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent.
Prithviraj was a valiant king and his glory surged to new heights after he defeated Muhammad Ghori, the Sultan of Ghurid Empire (present day Afghanistan) in the first battle of Tarain.
Legend has it that Ghori attacked Delhi 17 times, and was defeated 16 times at the hands of Prithviraj Chauhan and his army.
Soon enough, the heroic tales of Prithviraj’s valour reached the ears of Sanyogita, the daughter of Kannauj king, Jayachand. But before love could flourish between the two, the relationship between Jayachand and Prithviraj Chauhan was strained.
Jayachand wanted to assert his supremacy over the other Rajput kings and hence decided to do a Rajsuya Yagya. Prithviraj, however, refused to accept Jayachand’s supremacy and this marked the beginning of their enmity.
But while Jayachand was enraged by Prithiviraj’s refusal to accept him as the supreme king, his daughter Sanyogita was smitten. She had heard about Chauhan’s heroic expeditions and was absolutely in love with him.
According to legend, they fell in love when a painter from Prithviraj’s court, Panna Ray, visited Kannauj and showed his painting of the king to the princess. The same painter, upon returning, painted Sanyogita’s portrait and showed it to Prithviraj.
Needless to say, he too was smitten by her beauty.
At this time, Jayachand decided to arrange a swayamvara for his daughter. He sent an invite to all the kings except Prithiviraj. To add to the insult, he got a statue of Prithviraj made and installed it as a doorman. But Sanyogita had already given her heart to him.
When she came to know that he wasn’t even invited to the swayamvara, she was devastated and wrote him a letter expressing her desire to marry him. To this, Prithviraj promised her that he would come to the swayamvara.
On the day of the swayamvara, Sanyogita walked past all the kings and princes, rejecting each one of them, and finally reaching the statue. At that moment, Chauhan, who was hiding until then, came out and Sanyogita put the garland around his neck.
Prithviraj Chauhan then openly challenged Jayachand to stop him from taking his wife. This made Jayachand shake with rage at the insult in front of a huge gathering of kings and princes.
That day, thousands of soldiers laid their lives to make sure that Prithviraj Chauhan escaped safely from Kannauj, with his newly-wedded wife Sanyogita.
Jayachand was raging with anger and he wanted to take revenge. So, he formed an alliance with Muhammad Ghori, whom Prithviraj had previously defeated 16 times, and extended his support to Ghori’s army to attack Delhi.
When Ghori’s army attacked this time, Prithiviraj lost the war and Ghori captured him. Legend has it that Chauhan had begun to ignore state affairs after his marriage to Sanyogita.
Chauhan was defeated, but he refused to bow his head in front of the Sultan. So, Ghori’s soldiers blinded him, using hot iron rods.
Seeing his king helpless and in pain, Bardai – the court poet – who had been accompanying Prithviraj in the war, tricked the Sultan into organising an archery performance by Prithviraj Chauhan. Apparently, Prithviraj could hit a target with just his sense of sound.
An archery competition was held and Bardai subtlety told his blind king about the exact place where the Sultan was standing. He said:
(Translation: Sultan is sitting four measures ahead of you and twenty four yards away when measured with eight fingers. Don’t miss your target, Chauhan).
When Muhammad Ghori ordered the blind king to shoot, Prithviraj took aim based on Bardai’s hints and shot the arrow at him. He didn’t miss his target and Muhammad Ghori was killed.
The court-poet then stabbed Prithviraj and himself to avoid further humiliation at the hands of Ghori’s soldiers.
It is believed that after Chand Bardai passed away, the end of the epic was completed by his son, Jalhan, who was also a witness to the war.
According to historians, Chand Bardai’s Prithviraj Raso has many discrepancies and factual errors. But true or false, one has to admit that it is an enchanting tale which shows that everything’s fair in love and war.