More than a century ago, when the fledgling Mumbai-based Hindi cinema industry attempted a full-length feature film, it chose the subject as life of the legendary king Raja Harishchandra.
It is said that filmmaker Dadasaheb Phalke was inspired after watching 1906 French film The Life Of Christ.
Within a few decades, the industry was firmly in the grip of communists and Islamists. That grip didn’t loosen even after partition of the country.
Hindu Resistance Against Invaders Missing From Cinema
The themes in the industry changed drastically, and so did the language, which was no longer Sanskritised Hindi as envisioned for India in the Constitution, but Urdu, which Pakistan, after a brutal separation from India, had adopted as its official language.
While the industry produced films and television series on Muslim aggressors against native Hindus such as the Mughals (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960) and Tipu Sultan (The Sword of Tipu Sultan, 1990), hardly any work of a similar scale was made on the Hindu military resistance against Islamic invaders.
Instead, the industry produced a large number of social dramas criticising Hindu society as being ridden by social evils while showing Muslim society as just and inclusive. The films also censured the Hindu religious beliefs and ways of worship and were often made by Muslims such as Mehboob Ali (Mother India), Sultan Ahmed (Ganga ki Saugandh), Salim (Aakhri Ghulam), A K Nadiadwala (Izzat) and Hindus from West Pakistan.
It is only in the last few years that have coincided with the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre, that the industry has ventured into this area.
In 2015, a film titled Bajirao Mastani was released, which was based on Maratha warrior Peshwa Bajirao who fought the Mughals (though the film was a love story between Bajirao and a half-Muslim woman named Mastani). By the same filmmaker, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2018 film Padmaavat depicted the resistance of legendary Rajput queen Padmawati against the lust of Sultan Alauddin Khilji.
Kesari (2019) was based on the 1897 battle of Saragarhi between soldiers of a Sikh regiment and Muslim Afghans. In 2020, Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero told the story of Maratha warrior Tanaji Malusare who, too, fought the Mughals.
The films received severe backlash from ‘liberal’ film critics for “anti-Muslim” themes even though they did well commercially.
Interestingly, all these films had taken special efforts beyond historic evidences to create benevolent Muslim characters. Bhansali, the producer-director-screenplay writer of Padmaavat, cast Deepika Padukone as Maharani Padmavati and Ranveer Singh as the villain, Khilji. This was baffling to many, particularly the Rajputs of Rajasthan, because Deepika and Ranveer were rumoured to be romantically involved that time (later, they indeed married). The two were already a hit romantic pair on-screen, having played the lead roles in Bhansali’s other major films such as Bajirao Mastani and Ram-leela.
Many questioned the choice of Ranveer to play a character that Maharani Padmawati’s admirers hate the most.
This gives credence to allegations made by some Rajput groups that Bhansali was planning to shoot a romantic dream sequence between the two before they got it shelved. After Rajput groups’ protests, Bhansali told the media that such a dream song was never on the cards.
We would never know the truth. What we do know is that Bajirao Mastani featured a song where it was implied that the Maratha warrior was making efforts to learn verses of Quran as an expression of his love for Mastani, even though Mastani is documented to have been a follower of Pranami Sampradaya.
Kesari had a scene that showed members of the Sikh regiment building a mosque. It was based on no historical record. On the other hand, records say that Sikh regiments in their mission destroyed a few mosques as they were being used by Pathans for purposes of battle.
Tanhaji avoided a direct Maratha-Mughal conflict and instead focused on Maratha-Rajput conflict, with a patriotic Muslim character introduced for political correctness.
Will The Film On Prithviraj Show The Reality Of Chishti’s Role?
At long last, the industry has made a film on famed Rajput warrior Prithviraj Chauhan, who defeated Mohammed Ghori of Ghurid dynasty in the 12th century before being killed by him in a later attempt.
The trailer of the film, produced by Yash Raj Films, was released yesterday (10 May). The titular character is played by Akshay Kumar, with Manushi Chhillar, Sanjay Dutt and Sonu Sood in supporting roles.
Mohammed Ghori, or Shahabuddin or Mohammed of Ghor, was a Muslim ruler of suspected Persian origin who conquered parts of the North Indian plain and laid the foundation for subsequent Islamic dynasties in the Indian subcontinent.
From the trailer of the film, it is clear that the hero of the film is Prithviraj while the villain, Mohammad Ghori.
It remains to be seen if the film would portray the role of Muslim Sunni preacher and saint Moinuddin Chishti, who is also called Gareeb Nawaz and Khwaja Sahib of Ajmer, in the defeat and killing of Prithviraj by Ghori, as documented in books endorsed by no less than top government officials.
Several biographies of Chishti, along with folklore, credit him for making Ghori re-attack Prithviraj after a humiliating defeat.
The film may skip this part, but Akshay Kumar’s passionate demands of increasing space for the valour of Prithviraj in school textbooks ahead of his film’s release, calls for a telling of that story.
With this story around Prithviraj’s death forgotten, the grave of Chishti is visited as a holy site by not only Muslims but, in large numbers, also the Hindus.
Just like Akshay Kumar, who is a frequent visitor to Chishti’s grave in Rajasthan’s Ajmer, lakhs of Indians pay obeisance to the Islamic preacher’s tomb while also venerating the Rajput king.
This is because of a myth associated with the preacher that he had magical powers.
Many of Chishti’s followers believe he miraculously turned an immature cow to a milch one, transcended time and space to be at two different places at the same time, restored life in a dead human, dried up an entire river, made his enemies lose eyesight without even touching them and so on.
To tell this story, we have chosen to quote from the most prominent English biography of the preacher. Titled Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti, it was written by Mirza Wahiduddin Begg and published in 1960.
The book’s introduction was penned by Humayun Kabir, then Minister for Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs, Government of India. Forewords for the book were written by B P Beri, an advocate for the Supreme Court of India who later became a judge in the Rajasthan High Court, and Syed Mahmud, a member of Parliament.
The biography dwells at great lengths on the “miraculous” powers of the “Sufi saint’, and his “persecution” by Raja Prithviraj when he set up base in Ajmer with a few followers.
The story, as told by Begg, goes like this (not quoted verbatim from the text):
Raja Prithviraj repeatedly tried to ouster Chishti from Ajmer at the behest of Brahmins, but to little success. Once, he sent Ajaipal, a black-magician and his loyalist, for the job but Chishti managed to defeat him in his craft. Chishti managed to convert Ajaipal, renamed him as Abdulla Bayabani and gave him a tour of the seventh heaven. His spirit still wanders in Ajmer and helps people who lose their way in jungles and hilly tracts. One only has to call out the name of Abdulla Bayabani for help; he not only helps with the route but also with food and water. “Before the partition of India, there were many people in Ajmer who testified to this unique experience,” the book says.
Chishti offered Prithviraj to convert to Islam. Prithviraj refused and, instead, told his durbar that the “fakir” by means his fake jugglers and prophesies was not only polluting their religious beliefs but also inciting people in order to gain influence in their political affairs. When Chishti came to know of Raja’s words, he “exclaimed these 15 words: ‘We have arrested the Raja alive and headed him over to the army of Islam’”. The utterances were strange to his followers as Chishti had no army or resources to capture Prithviraj.
The same day Chishti uttered the words, Sultan Shahabuddin Ghori, sitting in his chamber in Ghazni and pondering over his defeat at the hands of Prithviraj a year earlier in the first battle of Tarain, felt giddiness and fell asleep. In his dream, he saw a “venerable personality” standing before him and commanding him, “Get up, the land of India is yearning to kiss your feet and the throne and crown are awaiting you there.” Ghori began preparations for war.
When the time for battle arrived, Ghori sent word to Prithviraj that the latter must wait till Ghori hears from his brother. Ghori concocted a story that he had come to battle at the behest of his brother. Prithviraj laughed at Ghori’s letter, decided that he had backtracked, but sent a reply that he would wait. Ghori carried out a surprise attack before dawn. Prithviraj and his army resisted this attack and a full-scale battle began. When Ghori found himself losing, he pretended to retreat from the battle, but attacked Prithviraj’s forces from behind. Prithviraj died.
The book says, “The grave words of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti…were fulfilled at last…And that was the end of a most historic chapter in the annals of India and Hazrat Saheb’s mission in the country.”
This chapter in the book is titled "Shahabuddin Ghauri carries the day at Tarain with the blessings of Khwaja Muinuddin".
On page 67, the book says, “After the fall of Prithviraj, there was no restriction in the way of Khwaja Saheb [Moinuddin Chisti] to carry on his mission peacefully all over India…Unfortunately, it was Prithviraj’s own persistent obduracy, arrogance and intolerable persecution of the great saint and his innocent followers that were responsible for downfall of the Raja”.
On the “mission” of Khwaja Saheb, the book says, “The Khwaja Saheb’s only object in Ajmer was to banish ignorance, darkness, superstition, oppression and corruption from soil of India.”
The text makes clear the preacher’s agenda for the native Hindu society.
This biography, expectedly, is a most sanitised version of Chishti’s life that skips the narratives that he indulged in cow slaughter that infuriated Prithviraj in the first place, and that he had entered India along with Ghori to wage jihad against infidels.
In his book Islamic Jihad: A legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery, author M A Khan writes:
“Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (1141-1230), probably the second-greatest Sufi saint of India after Nizamuddin Auliya, demonstrated a deep-seated hatred toward Hindu religion and its practices. On his arrival near the Anasagar Lake at Ajmer, he saw many idol-temples and promised to raze them to the ground with the help of Allah and His Prophet. After settling down there, Khwaja’s followers used to bring every day a cow (sacred to Hindus) near a famous temple, where the king and Hindus prayed, slaughter it and cook kebab from its meat—clearly to show his contempt toward Hinduism…Chisti also came to India with his disciples to fight Jihad against the infidels and participated in the treacherous holy war of Sultan Muhammad Ghauri in which the kind and chivalrous Hindu King Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated in Ajmer. In his Jihadi zeal, Chisti ascribed the credit for the victory to himself, saying, “We have seized Pithaura (Prithviraj) alive and handed him over to the army of Islam.”
Will the film tell this story? It’s highly unlikely.
The Myth Around Jaichand
What’s also waiting to be seen is whether the film would bust the myth of a 'traitor' Jaichand or further it.
Few readers know but there is no reliable historical evidence of such a claim around King Jaichandra of Gahadavala dynasty of northern India.
The popular fictional tale around Prithviraj, Sanyogita and Jaichand is based on a spurious text named Prithviraj Raso, at least four different versions of which exist today. None seems to be older than the time of Akbar, which was at least 400 years after Prithviraj’s era.
On the contrary, several historical records say that King Jaichandra died fighting the Ghurid Army led by Ghori’s loyalist Qutb-al-Din-Aibak.
History of The Gahadavala Dynasty by Roma Niyogi (1959), the foreword of which was written by R C Majumdar, says, “Jayachandra who was fighting on an elephant was killed in the battle, according to Firishta, by an arrow shot by Qutb-ud-Din himself.”
With Chandra Prakash Dwivedi at the helm of research for this film, it is hoped that this historical blunder that defames a warrior as well as an entire clan of Rajputs is finally corrected.
Controversies Related To The Tomb
Until 2018, the official website of the Ajmer tomb said this about Chishti, “In 1193 AD…a devotee of Hazrat Khwaja Saheb had captured a Raja’s daughter in an encounter who had embraced Islam and Khawaja Saheb, in response to the above reminder, married her giving her the Islamic name of Bibi Ummutulla”.
When some social media users highlighted and criticised this portion for glorifying the act of marrying and changing the religion of a child [the daughter was quite young while Chishti was 55 years old), the website edited the line to “…gave his sister Bibi Ummutulla to marry him [Chishti]”.
However, the biography by Begg that we have cited above, supports the website’s earlier version.
The book says (Chapter 11 titled ‘Khwaja Muinuddin’s married life and death):
“When he had settled down in Ajmer, the Khwaja Saheb had a special reminder about his marriage through a ‘basharat’ (prophetic dream from the holy Prophet sometime in 591 AH or 1193 AD). The Prophet said: ‘O Muinuddin, you are a great preceptor of our religion. You have followed strictly all our traditions except one. You should not depart from our ‘sunnah’ (meaning here marriage which is incumbent upon every Muslim under the laws of Shariat). Coincidently that very night Malik Khitab, a devotee of Hazrat Khwaja Saheb, had captured a Raja’s daughter in an encounter who embraced Islam and the Khwaja Saheb, in response to the above reminder, married her giving her the Islamic name of Bibi Ummutulla.”
Talking of Chishti’s tomb, it must not be forgotten that in the early 1990s, a major scandal rocked Ajmer where Hindu women became target of large-scale sexual exploitation and religious conversion. Many accused were khadims of, or held other posts at, the Ajmer dargah.
Last year, a current khadim of the tomb, Syed Sarwar Chishti, who claims descent from Moinuddin, addressed his followers outside the tomb over the issue of “blasphemy” of Islam’s founder Mohammad. Sarwar ended up issuing covert threats to Hindus, saying “We [Muslims] ruled over you [Hindus] for centuries” and the community should not be pushed to a limit that they begin to want to rule again. “We were not subjects, we were rulers,” he said.
Offering chadar at the grave of Chishti and venerating Prithviraj, the king who fought the invader brought upon the North Indian plains by Chishti, cannot go hand-in-hand.
One must choose.
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