|by Chand Bardai|
The cover of a Prithviraj Raso version published by the Nagari Pracharini Sabha
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 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 recension of Prithviraj Raso is from 16th century. It exists in form a manuscript copied in 1610, for a grandson of Kalyanmal, the Rathore ruler of Bikaner. 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. Other scholars, such as Cynthia Talbot, Narottamdas Swami and Namwar Singh date the text to the 16th century, during the reign of Akbar.
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 (Mewar) manuscript, which is an epic with 16,306 stanzas.
American academic Cynthia Talbot compiled a list of nearly 170 manuscripts of the text. The patrons of only 17 of these can be identified: they include kings and princes from the royal families of Bikaner, Amber (Jaipur), Kota, Jodhpur, and Udaipur; and a chief of Mewar.
The present version of Prithviraj Raso is composed in Brajbhasha dialect, with some regional Rajasthani peculiarities. The language of the texts available today largely appears to be post-15th century and to be based upon the 17th-century compilation commissioned by Amar Singh II, the Sisodiya ruler of Mewar. Amar Singh's predecessors had commissioned re-working of Prithviraj Raso, probably beginning in 1630s or 1640s, during the reign of Jagat Singh I. The version commissioned by Amar Singh was compiled by the poet Karuna-udadhi. Its manuscript, generally dated to 1703 CE, states that "stupid poets" had separated Chand Bardai's text into different parts: Karuna-udadhi wrote the current version by "picking through the strands" on the orders of Amar Singh. The resulting text is actually a revised text, which is very different from the earlier versions of the text.
This version appears to have been written as the part of a campaign to revive the Mewar dynasty's prestige, which had declined as a result of their setbacks against and later alliance with the Mughals. The Mewar recension enlarges and embellishes the role of the Mewar family in history, through their association with Prithviraj Chauhan. For example, it mentions Amar Singh's ancestor Samar Singh (Smarasimha) as the closest associate of Prithviraj Chauhan. On the other hand, the shortest recension of Prithviraj Raso does not even mention Samar Singh. The Mewar recension claims that Samar Singh married Prithviraj's sister Pritha, and fought alongside Prithviraj against Jaichand of Kannauj. Such claims are first made in two earlier Brajbhasha texts composed during the reign of Amar Singh's grandfather Raj Singh I: Rajvilas of Man and Rajaprashasti of Ranchhod Bhatt.
Unlike the shortest recension which mentions Samyogita as Prithviraj's only wife, the Mewar version claims that Prithviraj married 12 other princesses, many of them presented to him by his nobles. On the other hand, the Mewar family's Samar Singh is the only one who marries a woman from Prithviraj's family, thus highlighting Samar Singh's high status. The recension devotes an entire chapter to the marriage of Samar Singh and Pritha, describing how Prithviraj's father Someshvar decided to marry his daughter to Samar Singh, because of the Mewar's family's glory.
This is a summary of the shortest (Rajmal Bora) recension of Prithviraj Raso:
The long recension contains several additions. For example, it mentions that Anangpal demanded his kingdom back a few years later. After failing to regain it by force, he went on to sought support from Muhammad Ghuri (Shihab al-Din). Prithviraj defeated both of them, and convinced Anangpal to retire. 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, characterised it as an authentic historical source but is today considered himself not to be reliable. 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.
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