On the history trail: Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan and The First Battle of Tarain

The picture of India stood thus towards the end of the 12th century – Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan of the Chauhans of Sambhar had recently conquered Delhi with Ajmer as his base, to the east of him lay the kingdom of Kannauj governed by the Raja of Garharwar that stretched up to Benares and south of the central region lay the land of the Chandelas with their main forts at Mahoba and Kalinjar.


Prithviraj Chauhan engaged in a hard-fought battle with Raja Paramadi of the Chandelas and captured the prized fort of their capital Mahoba or Mahotsava Nagar. He then performed the ancient Ashwamedha Yajna to declare himself as the Sovereign Paramount (Monarch) of India and heroically carried away the daughter of Jaychand, Raja of Kannauj at her Swayamwara thereby squashing his ambitions to become the Monarch of India.


After these astonishing series of events, the kings of North India looked upon him with mixed reactions of fear, awe, suspicion, respect and admiration. Meanwhile, a serious threat was looming large in the form of the Turk invader Shihabuddin Ghori also known as Muhummad Ghori or Muhammad of Ghor who was longingly eyeing the fort of Bathinda. The fort of Bathinda was about 100 miles south of Lahore and about 180 miles north-west of the Imperial city of Delhi and had been the capital of the Hindu kings of North Punjab.


Shihabuddin Ghori headed towards Hindustan through the Khyber Pass. He reached Punjab without any difficulty and captured the fort of Bathinda in 1190. Qazi Zia-ud-din was left in charge of the fort along with a garrison of 1,200 horses. Shihabuddin Ghori headed back home after his resounding success only to be called back hastily when he was informed that Samrat was marching towards Bathinda with a large army to recapture the fort.


Given the urgency, Shihabuddin Ghori could not waste any time in waiting for reinforcements and turned back immediately with his men and headed towards Taraori to cut off Samrat’s charge. Taraori is about 125 miles south-east of Bathinda and 12 miles south of Thaneswar.


Most of the kings of North India proudly stood with Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan to face the first great battle (1191) for the supremacy over Hindustan. Shihabuddin Ghori with his small army comprising of Afghans and Khokhars was vastly outnumbered. The battle began to the sound of conches blown by the Hindus and trumpets and kettledrums by the Turkish side.


The Hindu kings with their impressive army charged on the Turks and quickly had them on the backfoot on the two flanks when they overlapped their line of battle. As they advanced further, they turned both the wings of the Turkish army pushing them inwards. The centre formation with Shihabuddin Ghori at the helm was being threatened from all sides.


Large sections of horsemen deserted their leader unable to withstand the force of the Hindu cavalry. Shihabuddin Ghori was urged to save himself as more of his men began to run away but he ignored the counsel deeming it as cowardice. He then rallied his small group of men and charged straight into the wall of Rajputs swinging his sword wildly. Govind Rai, the Governor of Delhi who had led the vanguard of Samrat saw Shihabuddin Ghori from a distance and moved his elephant towards him.


The two gallant warriors engaged in a combat one-on-one. Ghori’s lance knocked out two of Govind Rai’s front teeth while the Hindu Chief hurled a javelin which inflicted a severe wound on the upper arm of Ghori forcing him to turn his horse around.


Ghori was barely able to sit on the horse and was saved by a young Khalji who leaped upon his horse from behind and held onto Ghori leading the horse to safety. The Turkish army was completely routed in a very short time.


The Rajputs chose not to give chase as their horses were hopelessly outpaced by the Khurasani horses of the Turks. Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan laid siege to the fort of Bathinda which held out for thirteen months and at last capitulated (1192). This famous victory of Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan is considered by many to be one of the greatest battles fought.


However, his victory was short-lived as Shihabuddin Ghori would return with a larger army to avenge his humiliating defeat and win the Second Battle of Tarain through deceit and execute Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan to lay the foundation for successive Muslim invasions. 


A magnificent statue of Samrat stands tall at Ajmer.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)

* Information about The First Battle of Tarain is taken from archives

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