The Prithviraj Raso (IAST: Pṛthvīrāj Rāso) is a Brajbhasha epic poem about the life of the 12th century Indian king Prithviraj Chauhan (c. 1166-1192 CE). It is attributed to Chand Bardai, who according to the text, was a court poet of the king.
The earliest extant copy of the text dates back to 16th century, although some scholars date its oldest version to 13th century. By the 19th century, several interpolations and additions had been made to the original text under patronage from Rajput rulers. The text now exists in four recensions. It contains a mixture of historical facts and imaginary legends, and is not considered historically reliable.
According to tradition, the Prithviraj Raso was composed by Chand Bardai, Prithviraj's court poet (raj kavi), who accompanied the king in all his battles, and completed by Bardai's son Jalhana. As court poet, Chand Bardai had the traditional occupation of composing poems and ballads in praise of his patron and based loosely on historical incident.
Some scholars have identified Chand Bardai with Prithvibhata, a royal bard in the court of Prithviraj Chauhan.
The last canto, which narrates the death of Chand Bardai and Prithviraj, is said to have been composed by Chand Bardai's son Jalhan.
The oldest extant copy of Prithviraj Raso is from 16th century. Its oldest portions are written in Lata Apabhramsha (also called Latiya Apabhramsha) language and style typical of 12th and 13th centuries. According to R. V. Somani, the original Prithviraj Raso was composed around 1235 CE, within 3-4 decades after Prithviraj's death.
Since 16th century, the size of the text has expanded greatly because of several interpolations and additions, resulting in multiple recensions. Only a small portion of the existing texts is likely to have been part of the original version. A small 1300-stanza manuscript in Bikaner is closest to the original text. The longest available version is the Udaipur manuscript, which is an epic with 16,306 stanzas. The language of the texts available today largely appears to be post-15th century and to be based upon the seventeenth-century compilation of Amar Singh of Mewar.
This is a summary of the shortest (Rajmal Bora) recension of Prithviraj Raso:
Prithviraj was born to the Chauhan ruler of Ajmer. He married the daughter of Anangpal Tomar, the ruler of Delhi. Anangpal was cursed with not having any male heir for meddling with the iron pillar of Delhi. So, he appointed Prithviraj as the king of Delhi. Some time later, king Jaichand of Kannauj decided to conduct a Rajasuya ceremony to proclaim his supremacy. Prithviraj refused to participate in this ceremony, and thus, refused to acknowledge Jaichand as the supreme king.
Meanwhile, Jaichand's daughter Samyogita fell in love with Prithviraj after hearing about his heroic exploits, and declared that she would marry only him. Jaichand arranged a swayamvara (husband-selection) ceremony for his daughter, but did not invite Prithviraj. Nevertheless, Prithviraj marched to Kannauj with a hundred warriors and eloped with Samyogita. Two-third of his warriors sacrificed their life in fight against the Kannauj army, allowing him to escape to Delhi with Samyogita. In Delhi, Prithviraj became infatuated with his new wife, and started spending most of his time with her. He started ignoring the state affairs, particularly the threat from the Muslim invader Shihab al-Din Muhammad Ghuri.
Prithviraj's priest and the poet Chand Bardai brought the king to his senses. Although Prithviraj prepared for the battle against Muhammad Ghuri in a short time, he was ultimately defeated. Shihab al-Din imprisoned Prithviraj, and took him to the invader's capital Ghazni. There, Shihab al-Din had Prithviraj blinded. On hearing this, Chand Bardai traveled to Ghazni and tricked Shihab al-Din into watching an archery performance by the blind Prithviraj. During this performance, Prithviraj shot the arrow in the direction of Shihab al-Din's voice and killed him. Both Prithviraj and Chand Bardai died shortly after.
The largest recension also gives accounts of bravery of several noble chiefs like Jaitra Rai, Devrai Baggari, Balibhadra Rai, Kuranbh Ram Rai, Prasang Rai Khichi and Jam Rai Yadav who were war allies or associates of Prithviraj.
Prithviraj Raso contains a mixture of imaginary stories and historical facts, which it exaggerates for dramatic effect. The largest version of Prithviraj Raso is especially known to contain several inaccuracies, and is of little historical value.
Since the 16th century, the Rajput rulers patronized Prithviraj Raso for its elements of heroic exploits, romance and revenge. Because of this, it became the most popular biography of Prithviraj among the Rajputs. James Tod, who introduced the text to the Western scholarship, characterized it as an authentic historical source. As a result, Prithviraj Raso overshadowed other legendary texts about Prithviraj Chauhan (such as the Alha Khand and Prithviraja-Vijaya). From 1900 onwards, several Hindi-language narratives based on Prithviraj Raso were published.
Doubts about the text's historicity were first raised in 1886 by Kaviraj Shyamaldas. These concerns were dismissed by those who saw Prithviraj Raso as an authentic indigenous text (as opposed to the Persian-language histories by Muslim writers). The Mewar State official Mohanlal Vishnu Pandya tried to prove the text as authentic using forged documents. Pandya's arguments were rejected by prominent scholars such as G. H. Ojha and Ram Narayan Dugar. By the late 19th century, the consensus on the historical authenticity of Prithviraj Raso had broken down.
Some examples of historical inaccuracies in Prithviraj Raso include:
The different recensions of the text also vary with each other. For example, the most popular recension of the text mentions the Agnikula legend, according to which Chahavana or Chahamana, the progenitor of the Chauhan dynasty, was born out of a fire-pit. However, the earliest extant manuscript of the text does not mention the Agnikula legend at all. It states that the first Chauhan ruler was Manikya Rai, who was born from Brahma's sacrifice.