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Tughlaq by Girish Karnad: A Historical Play with Contemporary Relevance
Tughlaq by Girish Karnad is a 1964 Indian Kannada language play that depicts the turbulent reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, a 14th century Sultan of Delhi. The play is considered both a historical play and a political allegory, as it reflects the first two decades of Indian independence under Nehruvian leadership. The play explores the themes of idealism, power, religion, identity, and human nature through the complex and contradictory character of Tughlaq, who is portrayed as a visionary as well as a tyrant.
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The play has thirteen scenes that span over twenty years of Tughlaq's rule. The play has a large cast of characters that include Tughlaq's family members, courtiers, advisors, rebels, spies, clerics, poets, historians, commoners, and even ghosts. The play also uses various dramatic devices such as chorus, soliloquy, flashback, irony, and humor to create a rich and engaging theatrical experience.
The Plot of the Play
The play begins with Tughlaq's decision to shift his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad (also known as Deogiri), a Hindu-majority city in south India. He hopes that this move will help him to unify India and foster harmony between Hindus and Muslims. He also wants to protect his capital from the attacks of Mongols from the north. However, his decision is met with resistance and resentment from his subjects, who have to endure hardship and inconvenience to relocate.
Tughlaq faces various challenges and enemies during his reign. He has to deal with rebellions from his nobles, such as Ain-ul-Mulk and Nizamuddin Auliya. He has to cope with conspiracies from his relatives, such as his stepmother and his cousin Firoz. He has to confront the treachery of his friends, such as Aziz and Aazam, who exploit his generosity and trust. He also has to contend with the criticism of his policies, such as the introduction of token currency and the imposition of taxes.
Tughlaq's idealism turns into tyranny and madness as he becomes increasingly isolated and paranoid. He resorts to violence and cruelty to suppress dissent and opposition. He alienates his supporters and allies, such as Barani and Najib. He loses his faith and reason, as he consults astrologers and sorcerers. He even kills his own father's ghost, who appears to warn him of his downfall.
The play ends with Tughlaq's isolation and despair. He realizes that he has failed in his dreams and ambitions. He laments that he has become a joke and a curse for his people. He confesses that he has no love or loyalty left in his heart. He is left alone in his palace, surrounded by enemies and corpses.
The Historical Context of the Play
Muhammad bin Tughlaq was the second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty, which ruled over most of India from 1320 to 1413. He was the son of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, who founded the dynasty after overthrowing the Khilji dynasty. He ascended the throne in 1325 after killing his father and brother in a staged accident.
Tughlaq was a well-educated and cultured ruler, who had knowledge of various subjects such as theology, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics. He was also a patron of arts and literature, who invited poets and scholars to his court. He had a vision of creating a united and prosperous India, where all religions and sects would coexist peacefully.
However, Tughlaq's rule was also marked by controversy and chaos. He implemented many reforms and policies that were unpopular and impractical. Some of his notable decisions were:
Shifting the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in 1327, which caused hardship and resentment among the people.
Launching military campaigns against China, Persia, Iraq, and Transoxiana, which drained the treasury and resulted in heavy losses.
Introducing token currency in 1329, which led to inflation and corruption.
Imposing taxes on non-Muslims in 1330, which provoked rebellions and riots.
Dividing the empire into provinces and appointing governors in 1336, which weakened the central authority and increased factionalism.
Tughlaq's rule was also challenged by external and internal threats. He had to face frequent invasions from the Mongols, who raided his northern territories. He also had to suppress revolts from his nobles, who rebelled against his authority. He also faced opposition from religious leaders, who criticized his secularism and tolerance.
Tughlaq died in 1351 after ruling for 26 years. He was succeeded by his cousin Firoz Shah Tughlaq, who reversed many of his policies and restored stability to the empire. However, Tughlaq's legacy remained as a controversial and complex one in history.
The Contemporary Relevance of the Play
Girish Karnad wrote Tughlaq in 1964, when India was going through a turbulent phase after gaining independence from British rule in 1947. The play reflects the political and social scenario of India under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the first Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964.
The play criticizes the misuse of religion, power, and ideology in politics. It shows how Tughlaq uses religion as a tool to manipulate and appease his subjects, but ends up alienating both Hindus and Muslims. It shows how Tughlaq abuses his power to crush dissent and opposition, but ends up creating more enemies and rebels. It shows how Tughlaq follows his ideology blindly, without considering the practical consequences or the ground realities.
The play also explores the themes of identity, leadership, and human nature in politics. It shows how Tughlaq struggles with his identity as a Muslim ruler of a Hindu-majority country, as he tries to balance between tradition and modernity, between faith and reason. It shows how Tughlaq fails as a leader, as he is unable to communicate effectively with his people or inspire them with his vision. It shows how Tughlaq succumbs to human weaknesses such as pride, ambition, jealousy, anger, fear, and guilt.
The Literary Features of the Play
The Literary Features of the Play
The play uses various literary features to enhance its appeal and meaning. Some of them are:
Language: The play uses a mixture of Kannada, Urdu, Hindi, and English languages to reflect the linguistic diversity and complexity of medieval India. The play also uses different registers and styles of language to suit the characters and situations. For example, Tughlaq speaks in a formal and eloquent manner, while Aziz and Aazam use colloquial and humorous expressions.
Symbolism: The play uses various symbols to convey deeper meanings and messages. For example, the chess game symbolizes Tughlaq's strategic and manipulative skills, as well as his isolation and detachment from reality. The token currency symbolizes Tughlaq's failed attempt to create a new economic order, as well as his loss of credibility and authority. The prayer hall symbolizes Tughlaq's religious tolerance and secularism, as well as his hypocrisy and violence.
Irony: The play uses irony to create contrast and contradiction between appearance and reality, expectation and outcome, intention and action. For example, Tughlaq's name means "the fortunate one", but he is actually very unfortunate in his fate. Tughlaq's vision of unity and harmony is ironically shattered by his own policies and actions. Tughlaq's generosity and trust are ironically exploited by his enemies and friends.
Humor: The play uses humor to lighten the mood and tone of the play, as well as to expose the absurdity and folly of human behavior. For example, Aziz and Aazam provide comic relief with their witty and sarcastic remarks. The chorus also provides humor with their songs and comments. The play also uses satire and parody to mock and criticize the political and social issues of the time.
History and Fiction: The play blends history and fiction to create a realistic and imaginative portrayal of Tughlaq's reign. The play is based on historical sources such as Barani's Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi, Amir Khusrau's Khazain-ul-Futuh, Ibn Battuta's Rihla, and Ziauddin Barani's Fatawa-i-Jahandari. However, the play also adds fictional elements such as characters, events, dialogues, and scenes to dramatize and interpret the historical facts.
Realism and Fantasy: The play blends realism and fantasy to create a complex and multi-layered representation of Tughlaq's personality and psychology. The play depicts the realistic aspects of Tughlaq's rule such as his policies, reforms, challenges, enemies, allies, etc. However, the play also depicts the fantastical aspects of Tughlaq's mind such as his dreams, visions, hallucinations, etc.
Dramatic Techniques: The play employs various dramatic techniques to create an effective and engaging theatrical experience. For example, the play uses chorus to provide background information, commentary, opinion, and mood. The play uses soliloquy to reveal the inner thoughts and feelings of Tughlaq. The play uses flashback to show the past events that shaped Tughlaq's character and destiny.
Tughlaq by Girish Karnad is a historical play with contemporary relevance that depicts the life and ambitions of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, a 14th century Sultan of Delhi. The play is both a historical play and a political allegory that reflects the post-independence scenario of India under Nehruvian leadership. The play explores the themes of idealism, power, religion, identity, and human nature through the complex and contradictory character of Tughlaq, who is portrayed as a visionary as well as a tyrant. The play uses various literary features such as language, symbolism, irony, humor, history, fiction, realism, fantasy, and dramatic techniques to create a rich and engaging theatrical experience. The play is significant and impactful as it provides a critical and creative perspective on the historical and contemporary issues of India.
In my opinion, Tughlaq by Girish Karnad is a masterpiece of Indian drama that deserves to be read and appreciated by all. The play is not only a fascinating account of a historical figure, but also a relevant commentary on the current political and social situation of India. The play challenges us to think about the role and responsibility of leadership, the importance and difficulty of unity and harmony, and the potential and limitations of human nature.
What is the genre of Tughlaq by Girish Karnad?
Tughlaq by Girish Karnad is a historical play that also has elements of political allegory, tragedy, comedy, and fantasy.
When and where was Tughlaq by Girish Karnad first staged?
Tughlaq by Girish Karnad was first staged in Urdu in 1966 as a student production at National School of Drama in Delhi. It was later staged in Kannada in 1967 at Mysore University. It was most famously staged at Purana Qila in Delhi in 1972.
What are some of the historical sources that Karnad used for writing Tughlaq?
Karnad used various historical sources such as Barani's Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi, Amir Khusrau's Khazain-ul-Futuh, Ibn Battuta's Rihla, and Ziauddin Barani's Fatawa-i-Jahandari for writing Tughlaq.
What are some of the similarities and differences between Tughlaq and Nehru?
Some of the similarities between Tughlaq and Nehru are that they both were well-educated and cultured leaders who had a vision of creating a united and prosperous India. They both faced various challenges and enemies during their rule. They both were idealists who tried to implement reforms and policies that were unpopular and impractical. Some of the differences between Tughlaq and Nehru are that Tughlaq was a Muslim ruler of a Hindu-majority country, while Nehru was a secular leader of a democratic country. Tughlaq resorted to violence and cruelty to suppress dissent and opposition, while Nehru followed non-violence and democracy. Tughlaq lost his faith and reason, while Nehru maintained his rationality and integrity.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities for staging Tughlaq in the present times?
Some of the challenges for staging Tughlaq in the present times are that the play requires a large cast of characters, a huge set design, and a complex script that mixes different languages and styles. The play also deals with sensitive issues such as religion, politics, and history that might provoke controversy or criticism. Some of the opportunities for staging Tughlaq in the present times are that the play is relevant and relatable to the current situation of India. The play can also be adapted or modified to suit different audiences or contexts. The play can also be used as a medium to educate or entertain people about the history and culture of India.