Prithviraj III Chahamana, who occupied the throne from 1177 to 1192 CE, was one of Bharat’s most illustrious rulers as well as the last famous ruler of the Chahamanas of Shakambhari. There is no doubt about the fact that he was brave and a dedicated foot soldier of Hindu Dharma. Yet, much like most Hindu rulers of the time, he failed to capitalize on the weakness of his Islamic foes and also make common cause with other contemporary Hindu rulers; both of which were to cost heavily to the Shakambharis and Bharat.
“He was fully alive to the rise of a beef-eating Mleccha named Ghori in the north-west who had captured Garjani (Ghazni). Hearing of the atrocious conduct of the Ghoris, Prithviraj became very angry and vowed to exterminate the Mlecchas”, Dr. Ram Gopal Mishra quotes the Prithviraja Vijaya as saying.
In 1178 CE when Ghori marched towards Gujarat, Prithviraj on the advice of his Chief Minister Kadambavasa, decided against joining the Chaulukyas. The biggest strategic error was the failure to see the Islamic threat and treat them as just another rival. The Shakambharis thought it was best to let the Chaulukyas and the Muslims destroy each other as both of them were considered as the enemies of Ajmer. Prithviraj was, however, said to have been elated when news arrived of Chaulukyan victory at Kasahrada in 1178 CE.
After his defeat at the hands of the Chaulukyas, Ghori changed his plans and turned towards Lahore which was under the rule of the last Ghaznavid ruler Khusrau Malik. Ghori took Peshawar in 1179 and reached Lahore in 1181 but it wasn’t until 1186 that he was able to seize Lahore having treacherously captured Malik. The removal of the Ghaznavid power brought Ghori face-to-face with the Chahamanas.
There are different versions with respect to the number of times the Chahamanas and Ghoris fought each other. Nayachandra Suri’s Hammira Mahakavya says Prithviraj emerged victorious at least seven times while Merutunga’s Prabandha Chintamani and Chand Bardai’s Prithvirajaraso put the number of times Prithviraj defeated Ghori at twenty-one. On the other hand, Muslim writers including Minhaj and Firishta make mention of only two battles fought between the two in the years 1191 and 1192 CE.
Dasharatha Sharma in his book Early Chauhan Dynasties reconciles the various versions by suggesting that after occupying Lahore, Chahamana territories were subjected to frequent raids by the Ghorid generals. However, the Chahamanas succeeded in driving them back. According to Sharma, while Hindu writers have exaggerated these frontier skirmishes into big battles, Muslim historians have completely ignored them.
In 1191, the stronghold of Sirhind (Tabarhindh) fell into Ghori’s hands who put Malik Ziyauddin in charge of the fortress. The capture of Sirhind, located within the Chahamana kingdom, caused great distress to Prithviraj and his feudatories leading the latter to gather a large army to fight the Islamists laying the ground for the first battle of Tarain. Prithviraj and his Delhi feudatory Govindaraja met Muhammad Ghori at Tarain.
Such was the onslaught of the Chahamana army that the Muslim army was forced to take flight. Ghori attacked Govindaraja with what remained of his army but the latter was equal to the challenge. Despite being injured by Ghori’s spear, the valiant and skillful Govindaraja inflicted severe wounds on Ghori using his javelin. Ghori had a narrow escape as he was carried off the battlefield in the nick of time by a Khalji youth who recognized him.
When Ghori’s army couldn’t see their leader, they too fled the battlefield. It is said that they didn’t stop till they reached a place considered safe from pursuit where Ghori was also brought in a litter of broken spears. From there, Ghori and his men returned to their kingdom.
It is here that Prithviraj committed yet another strategic error by not finishing off his enemy once and for all. This mistake cost him dearly as Ghori returned a year later to not just defeat the Chahamanas but also had Prithviraj beheaded thereby causing the death of one of the greatest Hindu rulers.
This is not to say the Hindu armies submitted meekly in the second battle of Tarain. Despite being tricked into complacency, the Hindu forces fought back with all their might but lost ultimately and Govindaraja was also slain. After Ghori’s flight, Prithviraj’s forces recaptured Sirhind after a siege lasting for thirteen months just before Ghori returned to Bharat.
When Ghori reached Lahore, Prithviraj was already on the battlefield of Tarain. The exchange between the two as narrated by Firishta in his Tarikh-i-Farishta is worth mentioning. Both Firishta and Hasan Nizami say that an officer was sent by Ghori to Pithora Rai asking him “to embrace the Musalman faith and acknowledge his supremacy”.
Prithviraj refused to submit and replied:
Merutunga says “Muhammad Ghori had some intention of reinstating Prithviraja on the throne of Ajmer but had him beheaded when his hatred of Muslims was revealed to him by his picture gallery containing paintings of Muslim soldiers being killed by pigs”.
Prithviraj’s death proved disastrous for the Rajputs and put an end to the era of Chahamana ascendancy even though Prithviraj’s brother Hariraja kept the Chahamana opposition flame alive for a couple of years more. Prithviraj’s son, who had accepted Muslim vassalage, was expelled from Ajmer in 1193 by Hariraja who subsequently committed suicide paving the way for Qutubuddin Aibak to capture Ajmer and put it under Muslim occupation in 1194 CE.
Even though Prithviraj was brave and strong, he failed to recognize the Islamic threat. His magnanimity in letting the Muslim forces return unscathed after their defeat in 1191 might have been in keeping with the humane dictums of Hindu Shastras but against the enemy who followed no moral or ideological scruples, such humaneness was bound to be futile.
He had also estranged every other powerful Hindu ruler. The Chaulukyas returned the favor of Prithviraj’s not aiding them in 1178 by doing the same when it was the turn of the Chahamanas to face Ghori in 1192. Kanauj’s Jayachandra Gahadavala is in fact said to have rejoiced at Prithviraj’s defeat at Tarain and celebrated by having his capital illuminated!
“With Ghori knocking at the gates of his northern frontier, he insisted on following a policy of Digvijaya against his neighboring kings of Jejakabhukti, Kanauj, and even Gujarat. United with these, he could not only have stemmed the tide of the new Muslim invasion but could have freed Punjab from Muslim domination” writes Dr. Ram Gopal Mishra.
- Heroic Hindu Resistance To Muslim Invaders 636 AD 1206 AD – Shri Sita Ram Goel (Source)
- Indian Resistance To Early Muslim Invaders up to 1206 AD – Dr. Ram Gopal Mishra
- Early Chauhan Dynasties – Shri Dashratha Sharma