War over icons: The battle for Prithviraj Chauhan – Nation News

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Whose Prithviraj is he anyway? From the very day—September 19, 2019, to be precise—that the Akshay Kumar-starrer and Yash Raj Films production was announced to the day it was released in theatres—on June 3—a battle royale was on over the legendary 12th century king of the Chamhana or Chauhan dynasty, whose defeat at the hands of Muhammad Ghori in 1192 CE at the second battle of Tarain is believed to have brought the curtains down on Hindu rule in much of the subcontinent. Celebrated as much for his valour as for his daring in riding away with the enemy’s daughter—Sanyogita, daughter of Jaichand of Kannauj—the warrior king’s depiction in the Chandraprakash Dwivedi-directed film, Samrat Prithviraj, has exercised sections of the Rajput and Gurjar communities, and for various reasons.

Whose Prithviraj is he anyway? From the very day—September 19, 2019, to be precise—that the Akshay Kumar-starrer and Yash Raj Films production was announced to the day it was released in theatres—on June 3—a battle royale was on over the legendary 12th century king of the Chamhana or Chauhan dynasty, whose defeat at the hands of Muhammad Ghori in 1192 CE at the second battle of Tarain is believed to have brought the curtains down on Hindu rule in much of the subcontinent. Celebrated as much for his valour as for his daring in riding away with the enemy’s daughter—Sanyogita, daughter of Jaichand of Kannauj—the warrior king’s depiction in the Chandraprakash Dwivedi-directed film, Samrat Prithviraj, has exercised sections of the Rajput and Gurjar communities, and for various reasons.

Akshay Kumar in ‘Samrat Prithviraj’ (2022)

The Shri Rajput Karni Sena, self-proclaimed custodians of all things Rajput, were the first to take umbrage, not just with the character of the film—a saga of romance more than valour—but also its very name. Plain Prithviraj was an affront, Samrat Prithviraj, as the movie was subsequently renamed, was more befitting of their icon’s stature. They had made the makers of Jodha Akbar and Padmaavat bend to Rajput will; in March 2020, led by national president Mahipal Singh Makrana, the Sena once again took up cudgels for the Rajput cause and marched towards Jamwa Ramgarh, where the shooting of the film had commenced. Once there, a familiar script played out: uproar, sloganeering and vandalism.

The retaliation, though, came from another quarter. It appeared surreptitiously on Twitter one day—May 7, 2021, to be precise—in the guise of a hashtag, #GurjaremperorPrithviraj Chauhan. The return of fire came only a few hours later, hashtagged #RajputemperorPrithvirajChauhan. And thus a new battleground opened up on social media—Gurjars versus the Rajputs.

Long burnished in Indian history text books as a brave Rajput warrior whose legendary exploits became the stuff of epic poetry, be it Kashmiri poet-historian Jayanaka’s Sanskrit work Prithvirajvijayammahakavyam or Chand Bardai’s Prithviraj Raso penned in the Brajbhasha, what has prompted the Gurjars to stake this belated claim, several centuries later, on the heritage of the ‘last great Hindu emperor’ in Colonel James Tod’s reckoning, the vastness of whose kingdom was contained in its very name—Sapadalaksha or one and a quarter lakh villages? Education, if one is to go by Gujjar historian Jitesh Gujjar, who is associated with the Veer Gurjar Mahasabha and is leading the battle to reclaim the legacy of Rai Pithora, as Prithviraj III was also called. “When a comm­unity starts reading and educating itself,” he says, “it realises its past was very glorious but was distorted or not presented accurately. The community then starts asserting itself to rectify the wrong portrayal, which is what the Gurjars are doing now.”

To buttress his claim, Jitesh invokes Jayanaka’s epic, written most likely between the first and second battles of Tarain, which uses the word Gurjaradhipati for Prithviraj’s father Someshwar. If the father was a Gurjar, would the son not be a Gurjar too? He also refers to Bardai’s Raso, citing the verse ‘Gurjar ahir as jati doi, tin lil lok sake na koi’ to assert that the poet is using Gurjar here for caste rather than an area the community is said to represent.

Raso, whose historicity and scholarship remain uncertain and which is believed to have been written 500 years after Prithviraj’s actual reign, as Cynthia Talbot, professor of history at the University of Texas, Austin, outlines in her 2016 book, The Last Hindu Emperor, depicts the Chauhans as one of the four Rajput Agnivanshi clans—the other three being the Pratiharas, Parmars and Chalukyas—born of sacrificial fire. It’s a view echoed in later texts. However, in Jayanaka’s telling of the legend of Prithviraj, the Chauhans were Sooryavanshis, or descendants of the Sun. However, the family tree drawn in the early 12th century inscriptions at Sewari mention no link between Cha­uhans and the Sooryavansh; rather they are shown to be the children of Indra.

A third view portrays the Chamhanas as Brahmins. Veteran historian Dr Dashrath Sharma in his seminal 1959 book, The Early Chauhan Dynasties, refers to the 1170 CE Bijolia inscription of ‘Chahmano’, which talks of ‘Vipra Shreevatsagotrebhuta’, suggesting a Brahmin origin. A branch of the Chauhans, the Kayamkhani, are said to be Islamic converts. The late 17th century text Kayam Khan Raso by Niamat Khan Kayamkhani, also talks of Chauhans as Brahmins. But there is little else to substantiate the claim.

The origin story of the Chauhans takes an altogether different turn in Col. Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. According to him, Chauhans were Scythians who came to India from Central Asia. But then, Col. Tod’s compulsions were completely different. Portraying all of Rajasthan’s Kshatriya dynasties as foreign invaders was a narrative that suited the project of British colonialism.

But what of the 21st century battle over Prithviraj Chauhan? Responding to Jitesh Gujjar’s claim that Prithviraj was a Gujjar because his father was called Gurjaradhipati, Virendra Singh Rathore, an IT professional from Rajasthan who has written Prithviraj Chauhan: A Light on the Mist in History, says: “Someshwar’s maternal grandmother was in Patan, Gujarat. The word Gurjareshwar or Gurjaradhipati is used for Jaisingh Siddharaj, Someshwar’s maternal grandfather.”

“The word Gurjar,” insists Mahavir Singh Sarwadi, convenor of the Kshatriya Yuvak Sangh, “was used for a particular place. Ravana was called Lankadhipati, but it does not mean his caste was Lanka. Southern Rajasthan and northern Gujarat were then called Gurjara Desh or Gurjarat, and Gurjaradhipati was the term for the king of that land. The castes that came out from these parts such as Gurjar Gaur Brahmins or Gurjar Pratihar Rajputs still use Gurjar with their name.” Not letting nuance come in the way of his argument, Jitesh Gujjar maintains, “It was a tradition till medieval times to name places after the ruling dynasties. For example, Rajasthan was originally called Rajputana because it was ruled by the Rajputs. Accordingly, Gujarat was called Gujjar country because it was ruled by the Gujjars.” And the Chauhans are said to have been Pratihara vassals who moved from Gujarat to Rajasthan who subsequently gained in territory and influence.

Meanwhile, there is little consensus regarding the origins of the Gujjars themselves. Colonial historian Vincent Arthur Smith in his The Early History of India ascribes a blood relation with the Huns. Others believe them to be the inhabitants of Georgia who blazed a trail across central Asia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the Khyber Pass to reach Gujarat circa the 5th and 6th centuries. Yet others believe them to be indigenous to the subcontinent. Some went on to claim a Brahmin lineage, others a Kshatriya or Rajput one through a process of Sanskritisation. There are Gujjars among India’s Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and, perhaps Buddhists, too. In the present day, they are mostly concentrated in north India, in Jammu and Kashmir and in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. They can be upper caste in one region, and OBC in another.

However, whether a Gujjar or Rajput raja, Prithviraj Chauhan remains an int­eresting character of Indian history and a prominent figure in the national icono­graphy alongside such greats as Rana Pratap and Shivaji. Samrat Prithviraj, though, seems to have run into a spot of trouble at the box office. After a disappointing opening, on day 5, reports say, some shows of the film even had to be cancelled for lack of an audience.

DISPUTED LEGACIES


Other historical personalities who are claimed by more than one community


EMPEROR ASHOKA | Kshatriya or Kushwaha?



On the birth anniversary of the 3rd century BCE ruler, the BJP assigned the responsibility of organising a grand celebration at his bir­thplace in Pataliputra, modern-day Patna, to Kushwaha leader Samrat Chaudhury. Uttar Pradesh deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya was a special invitee as, apart from being a Kushwaha, he also has Maurya in his name. Another Maurya leader, Keshav Dev, too, celebrated the occasion with great gusto in UP. “Ashoka was a king, so he was called Kshatriya,” he says. “But we are from the same lineage. Our place in the varna system changed after we took to farming”



RAJA SUHAIL DEV | Pasis vs the Rajbhars



The Maharaja Suhail Dev Seva Samiti claimed that the raja was a Pasi in 2001. Rajbhars, on the other hand, cite the Mirat-e-Masoodi, Abdur Rahman Chishti’s biography of Mahmud Ghazni, to claim that Suhail Dev was from the Bhartharu community. A statue, a postage stamp and then the foundation stone of a medical college named after the warrior, the BJP is doing it all to attract the Pasi and Rajbhar votes



RANA PUNJA | Rajput or Bhil?



The Bhils say he was born in Merpur, near modern Udaipur, in Rajasthan. Rajputs say Rana Punja, who fought alongside Maharana Pratap, is descended from the Bhojawat Solanki Rajputs. In the past few years, a statue war has erupted in southern Rajasthan, with the Bharatiya Tribal Party, the political front of the Bhil Parivar, insisting that any reference to the raja say Rana Punja Bhil

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