Influential Indians Series #1: Chauhanas

I have been trying to probe through certain resources, and am still on the pursuit of genuine information, for Pre-Islamic Medieval Indian History. And the one clan-name that props up often is that of the Chauhanas.

In the next few days, I will try and write a little about my findings and why the Chauhanas were influential in the course of our history.

Prithviraj Chauhan

Prithviraj Chauhan, or Prithviraj III, is a widely recognized name in Indian history. However, his life and times constitute a debatable issue, given the lack of authentic resources from his period (possibly having been destroyed by the Delhi Sultanate, after the fall of Delhi and Ajmer to the Afghans).

Prithviraj Chauhan and Muhammad Ghori

Muhammad Ghori’s first instance of strategic brilliance comes from the fact that he used the Gomal Pass rather than the Khyber Pass, which had been used by Mahmud of Ghazni, to enter the Indian subcontinent. This was a “safer and shorter route”, mainly because of the Ghurid-Ghaznavid tensions. By going around the Ghaznavid Empire and capturing Sind and Gujarat, and thereby encircling the kingdom of Ghazni, he could make them bow to his might.

Ghori capture Multan in 1175. He faced a crushing defeat at the hands of Bhimdev Solanki II in the Battle of Kayadara in 1178. His forces had to retreat to Multan thereafter. However, the cause of this defeat is often given to be the losses encumbered by Ghori’s forces during their journey through the Thar. Ghori captured Peshawar in 1179.

From 1181-1185, Ghori was involved in a conflict with Lahore’s Khusrau Malik. In between, in 1182 he invaded Sind and made the Soomra Dynasty acknowledge Ghori’s suzerainty.  Khusrau Malik, his Ghaznavid soldiers and the Khokars fell after a prolonged siege laid by the Ghurids. It is said that Ghori used treachery (he is said to have offered to open dialogue and the release of Malik’s son, who had been capture by Ghori in ~1180) to capture Khusrau Malik. Thus Lahore fell, and Ghori reached the frontiers of Prithviraj Chauhan’s Empire.

In 1189, Ghori stormed Tabarhind (Bhatinda) and forced the besieged defenders to surrender. This was swiftly done and did not leave time for re-inforcements from Delhi. A force of 12,000 cavalry was handed to an Afghan Noble to defend the fort against the Rajputs.Govind Rai, Prithviraj III’s brother and governor of Delhi, sent news to Prithviraj, who was at Ajmer, after the fall of Tabarhind. Without much delay, Prithviraj Chauhan and his army set out to take back the fort of Tabarhind. Muhammad Ghori, having learnt of Prithviraj’s advance, planned to fight Prithviraj, with his re-inforcements from Lahore, inside Prithviraj’s territory. The armies met at Tarain in 1191. The Afghan forces were routed by the swift Rajput cavalry, and the Sultan, according to Minhajus Siraj, was struck down by a javelin from Govind Rai and was taken away from the battle-field, wounded, by a Khilji warrior. The Rajputs advanced to Bhatinda and besieged the fort for 13 months, before the Afghans surrendered.

Ghori, considering the debacle to be because of the Khurasani, Ghurid and Khalji Amirs, prepared to avenge the defeat, in the intervening year before the Second Battle of Tarain. In 1192, he marched toward Delhi. He is said to have deployed four divisions of 13,000 mounted archers, which engaged the Rajputs from all sides. Their tactic was to fight from a distance and exhaust the Rajput soldiers, and possibly to retreat if faced with a force in any one particular direction, and then to again move forward and fight from a distance. After the day’s fighting, Ghor sent his reserves into the battle-field, and routed the Rajput army. Govind Rai died on the field. Prithviraj fled the field but was executed a little later.

Popular accounts say that he was captured and taken to Ghur, where he killed Ghori using ‘Shabd-Bhedi Baan Vidya‘ (an art of archery without seeing one’s target). This account has little historical proof except for the accounts given by Chand Bardai’s Prithviraj Raso. With the fall of Prithviraj, the Gangetic Plains were at their most vulnerable to the marauding armies of Ghur.

Interestingly, the victory at Tarain did not translate to the immediate surrender of Delhi and Ajmer, as is often told. Ghori sent his General, future Mamluk Sultan Qutubuddin Aibak, to overlook the occupation of Delhi. Aibak is said to have settled near Delhi and extended his support to Govindraj Chauhan, a son of Prithviraj, to become the ruler of Ajmer. However, he played a sly trick by propping up a Tomar name for the throne of Delhi, leading to dissensions among the Rajput.

Hariraj Chauhan, brother of Prithviraj III, is said to have supplanted Prithviraj’s son Govindraj Chauhan, and thereafter led an offensive against the Afghans. However, the Turkish forces ended up in Ajmer and led to Govindraj accepting the suzerainty of Aibak.  It was in 1193 that Aibak cut off the line between Ajmer and Delhi, and besieged Qila Rai Pithora. Having no choice but to surrender, the Rajputs let Aibak’s force in. Some say the Chauhanas broke through enemy ranks to flee from the spot and see another day. Historically, out of the 13 gates of the Qila Rai Pithora, it is said that Aibak used the Ranjit Gate.

I will try to write a little about the Qila Rai Pithora too, in the near future. This article is yet to be completed…

 

[Reference: Advanced Study in The History of Medieval India: (1000-1526), Volume 1 By Jaswant Lal Mehta, Page 76-81]

Hariraja Chauhan

Brother of Prithviraj III, he succeeded Prithviraj as the King of Ajmer, though this remains a contentious issue. He is said to have supplanted Prithviraj’s son Govindraj Chauhan, and thereafter led an offensive against the Afghans.

He is said to be the first male in known history to have jumped into a fire, alongwith his queens, when the Afghan forces attacked Ajmer, to avoid capture. [Reference]

[Reference: The Rajputs of Rajputana: A Glimpse of Medieval Rajasthan by M. S. Naravane; Page 45]

Govindraj Chauhan

I have come upon certain conflicting results on this matter. Few name Govindraj as Prithviraj’s grandson/son while others talk of a Govindraj, who was a Vassal and General in Prithviraj III’s army and fought with him in Tarain.

Govindraj Chauhan, the son/grandson, is credited with continuing the Chauhan resistance from Ranthambore Fort, after the fall of Delhi in 1192.   Iltutmish captured Ranthambore in 1226, but the Chauhans recaptured it a decade later. The armies of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud, led by the Balban, unsuccessfully besieged the fortress in 1248 and 1253. They finally captured it from Jaitrasingh Chauhan in 1259. Shakti Dev Chauhan succeeded Jaitrasingh in 1283, and recaptured Ranthambore and enlarged the kingdom. Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji briefly besieged the fort in 1290-91. In 1299, Hamir Dev Chauhan, ruler of Ranthambore, sheltered Muhammad Shah, a rebel general of Sultan Alauddin Khilji, and refused to turn him over to the Sultan. The Sultan unsuccessfully besieged the fortress in 1299, but returned in 1301 to personally oversee a long siege, and succeeded in capturing the fort. Hamir Dev is said to have died in battle.

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