The Historic Battles of Tarain

Prithviraj*of Chauhan or Gohila dynasty (r: 1179-1192), (Rai Pithaura, according to Muslim chronicles), son of king Someshwara Chauhan and Karpuradevi, was the king of Ajmer and Delhi, before the Muslim conquest of India. After the death of his father, Prithviraj ascended the throne with his mother as the regent. At that time the powerful kingdoms of Northern India were the Chalukyas, Chandelas and the Gahadavalas. Prithviraj defeated Paramardideva Chandela in 1182. Samyogita, daughter of Jaichand, was his last queen. There are many legends regarding Prithviraj's marriage with Samyogita, daughter of Jaichand Gahadavala of Kannauj, and Muiz-ud-din Muhammad Bin Sam otherwise known as Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Ghori's invasion of India. There were only two battles fought between Prithviraj and Ghori; while the Prithviraj Raso* and other Hindu records mentions the capture and release of Ghori several times by Prithviraj, through generosity. The defeat and flight of Ghori in the first battle of Tarain in 1191 is accepted in the Persian records.

Prithviraj Chauhan, last king of the Chauhan dynasty of Delhi

Moinuddin Chishti Curse on Prithviraj Chauhan: According to a legend, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, the Sufi saint, is credited with the Islamic conquest of India. Mir-at-i Mas'udi gives an interesting account of this: Moinuddin Chishti reached Ajmer in the reign of Prithviraj Chauhan. "Through the power of his religious faith, he persuaded Ajipal Jogi, who was Prithviraj's spiritual guide, to become his disciple. But the darkness of unbelief did not rise from the heart of Prithviraj, who was a second Abu Jahl; on the contrary, he even encouraged the followers of the holy Khwaja to evil practices, till the holy man uttered a curse against that unbeliever. After some years, Muiz-ud-din, otherwise called Shahab-ud-din Ghori, made a second expedition from Ghazni, slew Pithaura before Dehli, and placing Qutub-ud-din Aibak on the throne of Dehli, returned himself to Ghazni. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, through the powerful assistance of his prayers, brought the whole country of India into the hands of Qutub-ud-din Aibak."

Akhbar al-Akhyar says, "When Moinuddin came to Ajmer, Pithaura was reported to be the king of Hindustan. Moinuddin was busy praying to God at Ajmer at that time. One day, a Muslim devotee of Moinuddin narrated to him some discomfort caused to him by king Pithuara. The Khwaja, thereupon, sent some recommendations to Pithaura in his favour, but the King did not accept the recommendations. He said: "He (Khwaja) had come here and on settling down at the place, (merely) talked about otherworldly matters". When the Khwaja learnt this, he uttered: "I captured Pithaura alive and handed over (as a prisoner)". Subsequently, the army of Muiz-ud-din came to India, confronted and defeated Pithaura's army and captured him."

Bada'uni says that Ghori, after his victory in the battle of Tarain, proceeded to Ajmer, plundered its environs killing and taking prisoners. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti was at that time in the company of the Sultan, and "this victory occurred through the impulse of the blessed and divine soul of that pillar of holiness."

1st Battle of Tarain in 1191Tabaqat-i Nasiri of Minhaj al-Siraj

Muhammad Ghori captured the fort of Sirhind (also known as Tabarhindh, which was the capital of the great Rajas of Hindustan. Ferishta calls it Bathinda) and placed it under the command of Malik Zia-ud-din Kazi Tolak. Rai Kolah Pithaura came up against the fort, and the Sultan marched to Tarain to meet him. All the Rajas of Hindustan were with Rai Kolah. The battle was formed and the Sultan, seizing a lance, made a rush upon the elephant which carried Govind Rai of Delhi (Chawand Rai of Ferishta & Khandi Rai of Bada'uni). The latter advanced to meet him in front of the battle, and then the Sultan drove his lance into the mouth of the Rai and knocked two of the accursed one's teeth fell into his mouth. The Rai launched a javelin at the Sultan and struck him in the upper part of the arm and inflicted a very severe wound. The Sultan reined back his horse and turned aside, and the pain of the wound was so insufferable that he could not support himself on horseback. Defeat befell the army of Islam so that it was irretrievably routed, and the Sultan was very nearly falling from his horse. Seeing which a brave young Khilji recognized him, sprang up behind him, and supporting him in his arms, and brought him out of the battle field. When the Musalmans lost sight of the Sultan, a panic fell upon them; they fled and halted not until they were safe from the pursuit of the victors. A party of nobles and youths of Ghor had seen and recognized their leader with that lion-hearted Khilji, and when he came up they drew together, and, forming a kind of litter with broken lances, they bore him to the halting-place. He collected the scattered forces and retreated to the territories of Islam, leaving Kazi Tolak in the fort of Sirhind. Rai Pithaura advanced and invested the fort, which he besieged for thirteen months. The Sultan remained at Lahore until his would was healed before he returned to Ghazni.

Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh of Bada'uni: The Sultan reduced the fort of Tabarhindh, and left Malik Zia-ud-din Tolak, and was contemplating a return. In the meantime Rai Pithaura, and Khandi Rai, his brother who had been governor of Delhi before Pithaura, arrived with a vast army at a place called Tarain. A great conflict ensued with the Sultan and the Muslim troops were defeated. In that engagement also Khandi Rai who was mounted on an elephant at the head of his army, received a spear thrust in his mouth from the hand of the Sultan. The Sultan also was struck on the head by the Rai's spear, and his arm was also wounded but both escaped in safety. The Sultan got off his horse and taking up his son Khilji (according to the Tabaqat-i-Akbari, a young Khalji foot soldier) upon his horse and mounting behind him took him off the field; the Sultan proceeded to Ghazni, and Rai Pithaura took the fortress of Tabarhindh from Zia-ud-din Tolak on peaceable terms after a siege of one year and one month.

Tarikh-i-Ferishta: In 1191, Muhammad Ghori marched to Hindustan, and proceeding towards Ajmer, he took the town of Bathinda, where he left Mallik Zia-id Din Tuzuki with above a thousand chosen horse. While on his return, he heard that Pithow Rai, Raja of Ajmer, with his brother Chawand Rai, the Raja of Delhi, in alliance with other Indian princes, were marching towards Bathinda with two hundred thousand horse and three thousand elephants. Ghori marched to the relief of his garrison; but passing beyond Bathinda, he encountered the enemy at the village of Tarain. Muhammad Ghori was in person in the center of his army, and being informed that both his right and left wings were defeated, was advised to provide for his own safety. Enraged at this counsel, he cut down the messenger, and rushing on towards the enemy, committed terrible slaughter. The eyes of Chawand Rai falling on him, he drove his elephant directly against Ghori, who perceiving his intention charged and delivered his lance full into the Raja's mouth, by which many of his teeth were knocked out. In the mean time the Rai pierced the Sultan through the right arm, with an arrow. He had almost fallen, when some of his chiefs advanced to his rescue. This effort to save him gave an opportunity to one of his faithful servants to leap up behind Muhammad Ghori, who, faint from loss of blood, had nearly fallen from his horse, but was carried triumphantly off the field though almost wholly deserted by his army, which was pursued by the enemy nearly forty miles. After this defeat, when he had recovered of his wound at Lahore, he appointed governors to the different provinces he possessed in India, and returned to Ghor. At Ghor, he disgraced all the officers who had deserted him in the battle, and compelled them to walk round the city with their horse's mouth-bags filled with barley, hung about their necks; at the same time forcing them to eat the grain like brutes. The author of the Habib-us-Siyar relates, contrary to all my other authorities, that when Ghori was wounded, he fell from his horse, and lay upon the field among the slain till night. And that in the dark, a party of his own body-guard returned to search for his body, and carried him off his to his camp.

2nd battle of Tarain in 1192: Tabaqat-i Nasiri of Minhaj al-Siraj

Next year (1192) the Sultan assembled another army, and advanced to Hindustan to avenge his defeat. The forces amounted to 120,000 horsemen bearing armour. Before the Sultan could arrive, the fort of Sirhind had capitulated, and Rai Pithaura with his army had pitched his camp in the vicinity of Tarain. The Sultan now made disposition of his forces. The light-armed horsemen he had directed should be divided into four divisions, and had appointed them to act against the Hindus on four sides; and the Sultan had commanded, saying: "It is necessary that, on the right and left, and front and rear, 10,000 mounted archers should keep the infidel host in play; and, when their elephants, horsemen and foot advance to the attack, you are to face about and keep the distance of a horse's course in front of them". The Musalman troops acted according to these instructions and, having exhausted and wearied the Hindus, Almighty God gave the victory to Islam, and the infidel host was overthrown. Rai Pithaura, who was riding an elephant, dismounted and got upon a horse and fled, until in the neighbourhood of Sarsuti, he was taken prisoner, and they dispatched him to hell. Gobind Rai was slain in the engagement. The Sultan recognized his head through those two teeth which had been broken.

Jamiu'l-Hikayat of Muhammed Ufi: When Ghori was about to fight the second time against Kola (Prithviraj), it became known to him that the Rajputs kept their elephants drawn up in a separate array when preparing for action. The horses were afraid of them, and this was an element of disaster. When the opposing forces approached each other and the camp fires were visible on either side, the Sultan gave directions that every man should collect plenty of wood before his tent. At night he directed a party of soldiers to remain in the camp, and to keep fires burning all the night, so that the Rajputs might suppose it to be their camping ground. The Sultan then marched off in another direction with the main body of his army. The Rajputs saw the fires and felt assured of their adversaries being there encamped. The Sultan marched all night and got in the rear of Kola. At dawn he made his onslaught upon the camp followers and killed many men. When the rear pressed back on the main army Kola sought to retreat, but he could not get his forces in order, nor the elephants under control. The battle became general, the enemy was signally defeated, and Kola was taken prisoner. The Musalmans obtained a complete victory and the Sultan returned triumphant.

Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh of Bada'uni: In 1192, the Sultan again came into Hindustan with a large and brave army of 40,000 cavalry, and divided his forces into four army corps, and having given battle time after time in the place above mentioned gained a victory. Pithaura was taken prisoner and Khandi Rai having been overcome in battle was killed and hasted to his resting-place in hell.

Tajul-Ma'asir of Hasan Nizami: Tajul-Ma'asir mentions only the second battleWhen Muhammad Ghori reached Hindustan, he sent Kiwamu-l mulk Ruhu-d din Hamza on an embassy to Rai Pithaura at Ajmer, in order to induce him for accepting Islam and make his submission to Ghori. "In no respect did the words of threats, or promises become established in the heart of that man (Prithviraj), for from his large army and grandeur the desire of something like the conquest of the world had raised a phantom in his imagination". The Sultan accordingly prepared for an expedition against the Rai, and mounted his steed. When the Kola of the Rai of Ajmer, heard of the approach of Ghori's army, advanced with a well-equipped army. The army of Islam was completely victorious, and "an hundred thousand grovelling Hindus swiftly departed to the fire of hell". The Rai of Ajmer was taken prisoner, but his life was spared. The Rai, who had managed to obtain his release, and whose ancient hatred against the Musalmans was deeply rooted and concealed in the bottom of his heart, appears to have been detected in some intrigue, which is only very obscurely indicated, so that orders were issued for his death, and the diamond-like sword severed the head of that abandoned wretch (Prithviraj) from his body.

Tarikh-i-Ferishta: At length, having recruited an army, consisting of 120,000 chosen horse, composed of Turks, Tajiks, and Afghans, he proceeded to Lahore, from whence he dispatched Kiwamu-l mulk Hamza, one of his principal chiefs, ambassador to Ajmer, with a declaration of war, should the Indians refuse to embrace Islam. Pithaura Rai sent a haughty answer, and immediately wrote for aid to all the neighbouring princes. He was soon enabled to meet Ghori with an army, consisting of 300,000 horse, besides above 3000 elephants and a body of infantry. The two armies encamped in sight of each other at Tarain, with the river Sarsuti between them. The Rajput princes, to the number of 150, had assembled in this vast camp, having sworn by the water of the Ganges, that they would conquer their enemies, or die martyrs to their faith. Ghori's plan was to surprise the Hindus at night. He came to know that they kept their elephants drawn up in a separate array when preparing for battle so that the horses were afraid of them. He ordered a group of soldiers to remain in the camp and to keep fires burning during the night, so that the Hindus might suppose it to be their camping ground. Ghori divided his main cavalry into four groups of 10,000 and made them pass the river during the night, and thus they attacked the Hindu camp at daybreak. Ghori directed them to harass the Hindus on every side with arrows and they were defeated. Chawand Rai and many other princes, were slain on the field, while Pithaura Rai being taken in the neighbourhood of Sarsuti, was afterwards put to death.

Some Facts:

It is said that after his marriage with Samyogita, which happened sometime before the last battle of Tarain, the prince was all engrossed by the affection for his beautiful wife and neglected all other affairs, and when Shahab-ud-din marched towards Delhi for the second time, Prithviraj, in the pride of his former victory, marched to battle with a small army. According to "A new light on the history of the Cahamanas" by Ganguly, D. C., Prithviraj's success in the first battle of Tarain was due to the military skill of his general Skanda. Skanda's absence in the second battle and Prithviraj's indolence were responsible for his defeat and death at the hand of the Muslims.

The death of Prithviraj Chauhan marked the beginning of the Delhi Sultanate.

After the death of Prithviraj Chauhan, his son Govindaraj was appointed to the government of Ajmer, as a tributary ruler. But Hariraj, brother of Prithviraj, on hearing that Govindaraj had accepted to pay a tribute to the Sultan, expelled his nephew from Ajmer and forced him to take shelter at Ranthambore. Govindaraj established his kingdom at Ranthambore; since then Ranthambore became the capital of the Chauhans. But Hariraj marched to Ranthambore and attacked Govindaraj, who requested the aid of Qutub-ud-din Aibak, who marched in person towards Ranthambore. Hariraj was therefore obliged to retreat to Ajmer. But, not long afterwards he was attacked by Qutub-ud-din and a battle was fought in 1194, in which he sustained defeat, after which he sacrificed himself in the flames of a pyre. Qutub-ud-din then appointed a Muhammadan governor at Ajmer. 

According to Hindu legends, after his defeat in the battle of Tarain, Prithviraj was taken captive to Ghazni, where he was blinded. Prithviraj's childhood friend and court poet Chand Bardai went to Ghor and gained Ghori's trust. Chand Bardai met Prithviraj in the prison and told him of his plan. When Ghori announced an archery competition, he told Ghori that Prithviraj knew Shabdbhedi Ban. When Ghori asked him to shoot, Prithviraj aimed at Ghori's voice. Chand Bardai gave him further indication of where Ghori was seated by composing a couplet. Based on Chand Bardai's couplet, Prithviraj killed Ghori with the arrow; afterwards both Prithviraj and Chand Bardai stabbed each other. I have read in some websites that Prithiviraj was buried near the tomb of Muhammad Ghori at Afghanistan, and even today Afghans vent their anger on Prithviraj's grave by stabbing on it. The inscription on the tomb reads thus: "Here lies the Kafer king of Delhi". This is not true and Prithviraj's body was cremated in India.


*In the opinion of scholars Prithviraj Raso, a poem believed to be written by Chand Bardai, is of less historical value and can not be claimed as a source book of Rajput history.

The battle took place at Tarain now called Taraori, on the banks of the river Sarsuti, fourteen miles from Thanesar, and eighty from Delhi, in the state of Haryana.