Who Is a Hindu? The Treacherous Truth
Published on 11th October, 2020, in Mumbai Mirror.
Popular politics chooses to ignore the many strands of mythology in favour of convenient figureheads. Not long ago, a man on a television channel yelled, ‘Jaichand! Jaichand!’ –which is Hindutva for ‘traitor’. A few hours later, the man being yelled at died of heart attack. There is no way to prove if the yelling caused the death. But in Hindutva mythology, Jaichand is the archetypal traitor because of whom Muslims were able to invade and conquer India, overpowering the valiant Rajputs.
But there are two Jaichands in folklore. The first one is the familiar one from Prithviraj Raso. This epic is said to have been composed by Prithviraj Chauhan’s court poet Chand Bardai, who lived in the 12th century and so witnessed events as described, just as Valmiki witnessed Ramayana and Vyasa witnessed Mahabharata, making Raso an itihasa (a traditional reportage). However, the text we have today is from 16th century and historians are of the opinion that the story we have is a later invention. But as we know, Hindutva does not believe historians.
As per Raso, Jaichand of Kannauj and Prithviraj of Ajmer/Delhi were rivals. Jaichand’s daughter, Sanyogita loved Prithviraj but Jaichand would not let them marry but the latter managed to abduct her from under his nose. Angry, he conspired with the Muslim invader of Ghor and this led to the defeat and capture of Prithviraj. That made Jaichand a traitor.
In Alha, an epic from Bundelkhand, however, we find a totally different story. Prithviraj Chauhan and Jaichand are cousins (their mothers are sisters) and brothers-in-law (their wives are sisters), who are political rivals because Jaichand of Kannuaj wrests control of the prosperous kingdom of Mahoba with the help of Parimal Chandella.
Mahoba’s prince, Brahma, son of Parimal, marries Prithviraj Chauhan’s daughter Bela but Prithviraj refuses to let Bela go to her husband’s house. One of the excuses given is that her husband has in his army two warriors, Alha and Udal, who are of “lower” caste. In a series of wars that follow, Prithviraj Chauhan is responsible for the death of his own son-in-law, Brahma. Bela commits sati. And all this inner fighting amongst Rajputs makes India vulnerable, which enables Ghurids to invade India and conquer Delhi.
Amar Chitra Katha narrated for Indians the Raso, not the Alha, which means that for most Indians, Jaichand is the villain who did not want Prithviraj to marry his daughter, Sanyogita. No one, except people of Bundelkhand, knew the Alha, where Prithviraj is the villain who tries to stop his own daughter Bela from going to her husband’s house. Jaichand allies with Brahma but in the war, fails to unite Brahma and Bela. As per Raso, Jaichand is a traitor. As per Alha, Jaichand is a hero, trying to unite lovers, while Prithviraj is a cruel father, because of whom his own daughter becomes a widow and commits sati. What is the truth?
Things get even more complicated. As per Raso, Prithviraj Chauhan had a problem with one of his ministers, Kyamasa, and kills him for having an affair with a royal slave. But in Prithviraj Prabandha, the minister escapes and helps Ghurid attack Delhi and defeat Prithviraj. This story is similar to a Gujarati legend, popularised in a novel called Karan Ghelo. It tells the tale of the last king of Gujarat, who had an affair with his minister’s wife, with the angry minister getting Allauddin Khilji to attack and conquer Gujarat. This story blames the king of Gujarat for having forsaken ‘kshatriya dharma’ and hence bringing bad luck to the state in the form of the Muslim invasion. Here there is no Jaichand. The betrayer is a wronged minister of Prithviraj’s own court. Is this story the truth?
In Jain chronicles, such as Hamira Mahakavya and Prabandha Chintamani, Prithviraj Chauhan is described as a brave king who defeats the Ghorid king several times and lets him go as per Rajput tradition, but becomes too arrogant and pompous. He is caught sleeping when the Muslim king attacks again. His horse, instead of galloping starts to prance, as the stable keepers have been bribed. Thus Prithviraj Chauhan is defeated by internal politics. It has nothing to do with Jaichand.
Be that as it may, Jaichand today is a metaphor for all opponents of Hindutva. And like in all myths, the truth lies with the believer and is indifferent to all fact and reason and so, must be respected.