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 the 16th century, although some scholars date its oldest version to the 13th century. By the 19th century, several interpolations and additions had been made to the original text under the 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.
The oldest extant copy of Prithviraj Raso is from 16th century. Its oldest portions are written in LataApabhramsha (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 recensions 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.
Today, four different recensions of the text are known:
Edited by Rajmal Bora: the shortest recension, titled Candvardāīkṛt Prithīrājrāsau
Edited by Mataprasad Gupta, titled Pṛthvīrāj Rāsau
Edited by Kavirav Mohansimha, titled Pṛthvīrāj Rāso
Edited by Mohanlal Vishnu Pandya and Shyamsundar Das, titled Pṛthvīrāj Rāso: the longest recesion, developed in late 17th century under the patronage of the Mewar court
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, because he had meddled 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.
While not strictly history, the Prithviraj Raso is a source of information on the social and clan structure of the Kshattriya communities of northern India.
Some examples of historical inaccuracies in Prithviraj Raso include:
The text claims that Prithviraj's mother came from the Tomara family of Delhi. This is directly contradicted by the more reliable text Prithviraja Vijaya, which was composed during Prithviraj's reign. According to Prithviraja Vijaya, his mother Karpuradevi was a Kalachuri princess.
The text claims that Anangpal Tomar gave the kingdom of Delhi to Prithviraj, and was defeated when he wanted it back. This is historically inaccurate, as Delhi was annexed to the Chahamana territory by Prithviraj's uncle Vigraharaja IV. Prithviraj inherited Delhi from his father Someshvara.
The long recension of the text claims that the Chaulukya king Bhima II killed Prithviraj's father Someshvara. Later, Prithviraj defeated and killed Bhima. This is known to be historically false, as the reign of Bhima lasted nearly half a century after Prithviraj's death. Also, Bhima was a child at the time of Someshvara's death, and therefore, could not have killed him.
The text claims that the Gahadavala ruler Vijayachandra defeated Bhola-Bhima of Pattanapura (Bhima II of Patan). However, Bhima II ascended the Chaulukya throne only in 1177 CE, after Vijayachandra's death.
The text states that Prithviraja and princess Shashivrata fell in love after hearing about each other in the songs of a wandering bard. Shashivrata was the daughter of the Devagiri Yadava king Bhanu. She had a brother named Narendra. Bhanu arranged her marriage to Virchand (Virachandra), a nephew of Jaichand (Jayachandra), the Gahadavala king of Kannauj. Prithviraja marched off to Devagiri, and carried away Shashivrata against her father's wishes. The Chahamana army defeated the joint Gahadavala-Yadava forces. This legend is also historically inaccurate, as the Yadava capital at that time was Sinnar, not Devagiri. The contemporary Yadava ruler was Bhillama V, and he is not known to have any children named Shashivrata and Narendra. Moreover, there is no evidence of Chahamana and Gahadavala armies fighting a battle in the Deccan region.
The text also claims that Vijayachandra defeated Mukunda-deva, the Somavanshi king of Kataka. Mukunda concluded peace by marrying his daughter to Jayachandra; Samyukta was the issue of this marriage. In reality, the Somavanshi dynasty did not have any king named Mukunda-deva, and they had already been displaced by the Gangas before Vijayachandra's ascension.
The text mentions that Prithviraj defeated Nahar Rai of Mandovara and the Mughal chief Mudgala Rai. No historical records suggest existence of these persons.
The text claims that Prithviraj was taken to Ghazna as a prisoner, and managed to kill Muhammad of Ghor (Shihab al-Din) there. This is a fictional narrative: Muhammad of Ghor continued to rule for more than a decade after Prithviraj's death. Other historical records indicate that Prithviraj was taken to Ajmer after his defeat, and killed there on Muhammad's orders.
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.
^Raj kavi can be translated as "court poet" or "royal sage" and identified a courtier who was expected both to provide advice to the king and to compose "official" histories that glorified the king. Raj kavi were expected to accompany the king while hunting and making war. His role also may have included that of a balladeer who encouraged and exhorted the warriors to bravery in battle by reciting the great deeds of their leaders and illustrious clan forebears. In general see Bloomfield, Morton W. and Dunn, Charles W. (1992) Role of the Poet in Early Societies (2nd edition) D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, England, ISBN 0-85991-347-3
^ abcGopal, Madan (1996) Origin and Development of Hindi/Urdu Literature Deep & Deep Publications, New Delhi, India, page 8, OCLC243899911