Sunday, December 10, 2017

An Antagonist called Alauddin Khalji: Man, Monarch or Monster?

It is the information age and not surprisingly, nowadays everybody is an expert on everything under the Sun. Never mind that Whatsapp forwards, Wikipedia entries, Facebook posts and tweets by twits are hardly what you would call scholarly or peer – reviewed journal sources and therefore, skimming through these does not make one the leading authority on a given subject. Even so, those who actually bother with painstaking research in order to form an educated opinion need to be extra cautious, because everybody knows better anyway, even if they don’t. And woe betide those who play hard and fast with ‘traditional historical facts and beliefs’ even those that involve talking parrots and flying horses for they will be attacked might and main by the self - appointed defenders of Indian culture.
            Even so, it would never do to thrown in the towel and join the Guardians of Gobbledegook would it? Hence the need to take a closer look at those whom we have chosen to hate on the strength of spurious and unproven claims. Indian history has more than its fair share of villains whom we love to hate – Mahmud of Ghazni, Mohammad of Ghur, Alauddin Khalji, Mohammad bin Tughlaq, Aurangzeb to name a few. At present though it is Alauddin Khalji’s turn to shine as the object of abhorrence du jour, much reviled and believed to be the most sadistic Shah of all time. But was he truly deserving of the infamy and excoriation that has been heaped on him? Did he have the gym – ripped physique of the boisterous actor who plays him in the much beleaguered film version or the bestial savagery he evinced in the teaser with much scenery chewing, chicken – chomping gusto? Was it true that he coveted another man’s wife as well as Kingdom and moved heaven and earth to possess both? As always the answers are not simple nor are they readily available despite what self – proclaimed pundits, armed with smartphones would have you believe.

            Alauddin Khalji was certainly a ruthless ruler who was not above murdering his own father – in – law and King to seize the throne of Delhi. Enemies and traitors could expect similar mistreatment from the monarch as the smallest hint of dissent or ambition was dealt with an iron fist. In the Shah’s darkest hour, he supposedly ordered the wives of his rebellious Mongol generals led by Mohammad Shah to be tortured, raped and executed but not before they were forced to watch their babies and children tossed from the ramparts to be skewered on the spear – points of his soldiers. Even the chroniclers the Shah himself hired to sing his praises like the legendary Amir Khusrao could not bring themselves to deny his cruelty though they certainly did their best to dress it up and pass it off as a desirable trait, worthy of an emperor who was the epitome of masculine aplomb. 
            On the plus side, Alauddin was also reputed to be an able administrator, a canny and brave conqueror, who could even be generous on occasion. The Shah was also known to be possessed of a seraglio that was filled to bursting with an array of women of all shapes, sizes whom we can safely assume were mostly attractive. It was also a practise of his to demand the hand of a Princess of royal birth from the house of those he vanquished in battle. He married the daughter of the King of Devagiri after defeating him and also insisted that Hammira Chauhan’s daughter, Devala be given to him in marriage while dictating his terms for a truce during the siege of Ranthambore. Some claim that it was a price the Princess was willing to pay in exchange for peace but her irascible father preferred that she enter the flames instead.

            After the fall of Gujarat, the King, Karan Singh Vaghela fled with his tail between his legs, taking his daughter with him but left his wife, the beautiful Kamala Devi behind. It has been opined that she refused to go with him, preferring to give herself to the conqueror instead, having had just about all she could take with his cowardice, outrageously debauched peccadillos and sadism that made Alauddin’s transgressions seem saint – like in comparison.
            In light of available evidence which is admittedly scanty and contradictory, it nevertheless seems unlikely that Alauddin chose to besiege Chittor for any reason besides political expediency and a mad desire to rule the world rather like his personal hero, Alexander the Great. He had even taken to referring to himself as Sikander Sani, Alexander the Second. In all likelihood, he most certainly lusted after the treasures of Chittor and its strategic importance in his quest for Pan – Indian dominance but we can assume the vaunted beauty of its Queen was mostly irrelevant as he was concerned, though it certainly may have been of passing interest if not the causal factor that led to war. After all, Alauddin Khalji was a lot of things but a romantic he most certainly wasn’t!
            We will never know the truth beyond a shadow of doubt though given that all of us can hardly be expected to remember the minute details of our own lives and the minutiae of our misdeeds with unerring accuracy let alone the motivations, deeds, and transgressions of a mighty Shah who was way before our time, whose story we have gleaned from dusty tomes that fall short of scholastic requirements. Alauddin may have been monstrous or merely a highly flawed human wielding absolute power with its unmatched ability to corrupt even the purest of souls. The only certainty is that he was a product of a world which valued might over morals.

            History seldom cares for losers even if they are gentle, peace – loving souls preferring to relegate them to its trash heap. The victors, especially the vicious types with a marked proclivity for violence however make for great copy and they are the ones whose dastardly deeds are remembered and immortalized after being generously coated with sugar and spice. The world remains unchanged despite the technological advances and the unimpeded access to knowledge that ought to enlighten but seldom does. We still favour the powerful go – getters over the peaceable nice guys who not always but mostly finish last. As long as this remains the status – quo we will continue to breed killers in the mould of Khalji and monsters instead of men. And we will only have ourselves to blame. 

For more meaty deliciousness from the past do check out Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen published by Juggernaut.

Also do check out the awesome book trailor on YouTube. 

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