Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts (Book Excerpt) by Anuja Chandramouli

Anuja Chandramouli is a bestselling Indian author and widely regarded as one of the finest writers in mythological fiction and fantasy. She followed up her highly acclaimed debut novel, Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince, which was named as one of the top 5 sellers in the Indian writing category for the year 2012 by Amazon India with Kamadeva: The God of Desire, Shakti: The Divine Feminine, Yama’s Lieutenant and its sequel, Yama’s Lieutenant and the Stone Witch. Her articles, short stories and book reviews appear in various publications like The New Indian Express, The Hindu, and Femina. Her latest books are Kartikeya: The Destroyer’s Son, Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts and
Padmavati: The Burning Queen.

An accomplished orator and storyteller, Chandramouli regularly conducts workshops on creative writing, mythology and empowerment in schools and colleges across the country. This happily married mother of two little girls, credits caffeine and cake for her writing prowess. Below you can read an excerpt for her work: Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts. Courtesy: Penguin India and Anuja Chandramouli.

1

Karpuradevi, the  Chedi  princess  from  Tripuri  and  wife of Someshwar,   scion  of  the  Chahamanas, was  filled  with anxious  expectancy  and  an  almost  unbearable excitement  as she awaited  the birth of her son. Ever since she had discovered that she was pregnant, her world, which had precious little she cared for, had transformed. Even as she grew big with her baby, she could feel her heart filling with fresh hope. Already her son was a hero who had come to slay the personal  demons that had held her captive for so long.

During his conquest of Tripuri, Maharaj Siddharaj Jaisingh— king of the Chalukyas and her husband’s maternal grandfather— had arranged her marriage. That is how she found herself in Patan instead of Ajmer. Maharaj Jaisingh had insisted on his grandsons being  brought up  under  his care.  Patan  was  a beautiful  place and had prospered greatly under  the reign of Maharaj Jaisingh. The palaces and temples were unmatched in splendour, while the parks, groves and gardens were aesthetic marvels.

She loved to bedeck herself in her finest clothes and ornaments, weave her thick  hair  into  a braid  and  set out  on a visit to  the  magnificent  Sahasralinga Thala,  a lake  with  a thousand shrines  dedicated  to  Lord  Shiva.  Maharaj Jaisingh had  performed  the  dedication  shortly   before  mounting an expedition against  Yashovarma of Malwa. Sahasralinga Thala filled her with peace and strength.

Yet, she could  not  love Patan  the way her mother-in-law, Kanchanadevi, did.  For Karpuradevi, it would  always  be the place  where  her  wings  had  been  clipped.  She longed  for  the day when her wings would grow back and she could soar away across the infinite sky and endless ocean  to whatever  awaited her. Something told her that her wish was about  to be granted; she truly believed that  her son would  make her life better  and brighter.

While he grew in her womb,  the limestone-bleached walls of the  harem  with  its formidably arched  entrance  no  longer felt  like  a  prison  or  like  one  of  Yama’s  hells.  For  the  first time  since her  marriage, Karpuradevi defied  Kanchanadevi’s express commands and stepped out of her chambers  during the period  of her confinement  to go on long walks,  exploring  the courtyards and the enclosed gardens of the harem.

She could even admire the rich mosaics and the elaborately engraved  archways   without feeling  oppressed.   Feeling  quite courageous, she  even  cooled  off  by  lifting  the  hem  of  her ghagra  and  lowering  her legs into  one of the numerous pools that  dotted  the  harem.  She spent  many  a happy  hour  there, allowing  the fish to nibble at the hennaed  soles of her feet or gathering  lotuses and listening to the birds sing.

To everybody’s shock, the formidable Kanchanadevi— daughter  of   the   heirless   Maharaj   Jaisingh—expressed no outrage   at  the  indecorous behaviour  of  her  formerly  meek daughter-in-law. In fact,  she actually  voiced  her  approval by declaring  that  the show of boldness  made by the mother-to-be was  incontrovertible evidence  that  she was  indeed  bearing  a son, who in turn  clearly showed  the marks  of a great warrior. After all a sheep could not deliver a lion, could it?

Having reached this gratifying conclusion, Kanchanadevi slackened  her vice-like grip on her son’s wife, though  she still watched  over her like a hawk.  There were moments  when her trademark glower  directed  at Karpuradevi was replaced  with the slightest upward curving of her lips. Karpuradevi could not make up her mind as to what was more alarming—her mother- in-law’s approval or her disapproval.

The good news, of course, was that  for once they were in agreement. It was going to be a boy. Karpuradevi was certain. A mother  could tell. Just like she knew that he was going to be a king. And a good one. She was going to make sure of it.

In their world beset with strife, endless political machinations and senseless bloodshed, weakness was the only crime and she would  no longer be held guilty of it. So Karpuradevi, who had been sheltered all her life and knew little beyond the walls of the palace, decided that  it was time to educate  herself for her son’s sake. She hated being so thoroughly dependent on her husband, who  unlike  her father  enjoyed  rubbing  it in her face, and  she had no desire to be a burden  on her son. She would  rather  be his rock.

To her surprise,  Kanchanadevi fully approved of her new- found resolve and took up the mantle of tutoring her. Unlike the vast majority  of ladies in the harem,  both  of them could read and  write.  It was upon  her insistence  that  Karpuradevi began to  instruct  herself  on  the  political  treatises,  the  rules  of law, logic,  warfare  and  political  administration. She even  started brushing   up  on  her  knowledge   of  omens.  She  particularly enjoyed Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

Someshwar disapproved of excessive learning but didn’t say anything.  His mother  was unpredictable and  he did not  wish to risk a tongue-lashing. He had  a lot of merits  but  strength and  bravery  weren’t  on that  list and  both  his mother  and  his wife had resigned themselves to the fact that Someshwar  would never make a good king.

Not that  he had much of a chance to sit on the throne. He was the third son of King Arnoraj, the ruler of Ajmer, born to his Chalukyan wife Kanchanadevi. His second son, Vigraharaj-IV, born   to  his  chief  queen  Johiyani   Sadhava   of  Maroth,  sat on  the  throne   of  the  Chauhans  at  Ajmer.   If  the  martial exploits  of Vigraharaj—the one people  already  referred  to as ‘Maharajadhiraja—were  of any indication, he would  have  a long and a glorious reign.

Needless  to  say there  was  not  a lot  of warmth between Vigraharaj and his half-brother, which in turn  could be traced down to the outright hostility that existed between their mothers and to the more obvious  fact that  they both had a claim to the throne. Johiyani had the reputation of being fiercely protective of the rights of her young sons and even Kanchanadevi had fled pell-mell from her baleful influence. The image of her mother- in-law running  for her life never ceased to amuse Karpuradevi, even though  it made her feel disloyal.

‘That woman,’  Kanchanadevi had told her through pursed lips,  ‘is a she-devil.  I have  it on  excellent  authority that  her father,  noting  that  his precious  daughter’s  face resembled  the hindquarters of a monkey, hired disreputable women from dens of inequity to impart  their skills of harlotry to her so she might ensnare  her future  husband. If that  were not  bad enough,  she later brought in young girls trained  in the same arts from her father’s kingdom  for my lord Arnoraj’s amusement. Exploiting his weakness for the pleasures of the flesh, she became his chief queen. I would  never stoop so low!’

Karpuradevi loved  her  mother-in-law’s tirades,  especially when  they were not  directed  at  her.  They were rich  in detail and  full of dirt  on the most  powerful  men and  women  of the age. She listened rapt  as ever. She had heard  the stories many times before; flattered,  despite herself, Kanchanadevi resumed her narrative.

‘It was brought to my notice repeatedly  that she consorted with practitioners of the occult arts and fed her sons—Jaggadeva and Vigraharaj—the milk of man-eating tigresses so that  they could  grow  up  to  be bloodthirsty brutes!  Small wonder  they both  turned   out  the  way  they  did.  Even  then,  I knew  that

Jaggadeva was a black-hearted villain and warned  my husband about him. But he only laughed at my suspicions. If my husband had paid attention to my words,  his life would  not have been cut short so tragically  by the monster  raised by that  she-devil!

‘My  father   at  least  paid   heed  to  my  fears.   Even  his detractors would   admit  that   Maharaj Jaisingh  was  blessed with sagacity and was the canniest  of them all. He knew that she-devil was plotting  to kill my boys, Someshwar  and Kanha, so he summoned us to Patan  while they were still babies  and saved all our lives in the process.’

Kanchanadevi’s  aged  bosom  heaved  with  red-hot  anger. Her  daughter-in-law watched  her with  fascination. While she couldn’t claim excessive fondness for her mother-in-law, it had to be admitted that  Kanchanadevi had done the right thing.

Even here in Patan,  they had heard dark tales of Johiyani’s savagery  and  the  things  she had  done  to  Maharaj Arnoraj’s children  by his other  wives and  concubines.  It was rumoured that  Kanchanadevi had  stabbed  an unidentified assassin  who had ambushed them en route to Patan. She would have loved to verify the story but Kanchanadevi did not appreciate questions, preferring  instead  being  listened  to.  What  a king  she would have made! She was very much her father’s daughter after all.

Maharaj Jaisingh had ruled Patan, one of the most powerful kingdoms  in aryavarta,  and  was  a legend  in his lifetime.  He cut  his  teeth  in  the  revered  sport  of  war  by  subduing  Laat and  Khambat, where  his  rival  kings  had  long  struggled  to establish their supremacy in Gurjardesa. Having established his prowess,  Jaisingh  went  on to defeat  the Paramars of Marwar before  going  on  to  conquer  Chittor and  Kathiawar, thereby establishing  himself  as  the  greatest  ruler  of  his  dynasty.  As such, he had enjoyed the love of his subjects and the respect of his enemies.

The Chalukyas and the Chauhans had long been rivals and it was Prithviraj-I  who  handed  Jaisingh  his first major  defeat

and drove him out of Pushkar.  Later, he would establish a truce with  the  Chauhans  by  giving  his  daughter  Kanchanadevi’s hand  in marriage  to Prithviraj’s  grandson, Arnoraj. Even this move earned him the admiration of friend and foe alike. There were not  many  among  the Kshatriyas  who  had  the acuity  to stay  their  hand  when  the  time  called  for  it. By calmly  going against the grain, the wise old monarch was able to consolidate his wins while making an ally out of the Chauhans.

By summoning his daughter and  grandsons to Anhilwara Patan, his heavily fortified capital, Jaisingh proved his foresight and  uncanny  ability  to predict  which  way the political  winds would  blow.  Having  managed  to  protect  them  from  hostile forces, who would not hesitate to curry favour with the king of Ajmer by presenting  him with the corpses of his half-brothers, he made his plans for the future.

‘Father used to monitor the situation at Ajmer constantly,’ Kanchanadevi informed  her daughter-in-law. ‘He told me that a throne  could  be secured  in many  ways  and  outright force wasn’t  always  the  best  way  to  go about  it. The  rewards  are many  for those  who wait patiently, gathering  intelligence and planning  how best to use the right opportunity when it presents itself, he would  say.

‘Had he been alive, the throne  of Ajmer would  have been claimed in the name of Someshwar.  But while I’m still alive, I will not  rest till his wish is fulfilled. One  day, his descendants will lay claim to Sapadalaksha and  from  their  ancient  seat of power  will carve out a mighty kingdom  that  will rival that  of Indra’s!’

Karpuradevi was moved  by the passion  in the grand  old lady’s voice and  felt her own  excitement  rise. Her  son clearly loved these stories too, for at that  moment  he gave her a hard little kick that made her wince a bit. Night and day, he kept her up these days, moving restlessly in her womb  as if he couldn’t wait to escape its confines and begin his conquest for glory and gain!

Ever since Karpuradevi had  come to reside in Patan,  she had  resigned  herself to the fact that  her son would  be raised here,  the way Someshwar  and  Kanha  had.  But it was only a matter  of time before they made their way back to Ajmer.

Her husband saw her only once after being informed  that she was  pregnant. He  had  found  some  time  from  whichever fanciful pursuit  he was currently  engaged in to pay her a visit. As always they had precious little to say to each other.

‘Remember to visit the temple every day and say the prescribed  prayers.  Bear me a son, an heir worthy  of the noble dynasty  of the Chahamanas. If your  womb  proves  incapable, strangle  whatever  it spits out!’

Her  gut  clenched  and  she placed  her  hands,  which  were twitching   to  strangle   him,  on  her  bulging  belly.  The  baby she  carried,   unlike  her  husband, would  be  wise  enough  to realize that  a daughter was the most precious gift on earth,  an incarnation of Mahalakshmi, the goddess of prosperity.

On  his orders,  several pieces of precious  jewellery, family heirlooms  worn by his mother  and grandmother, fine silks and skilfully carved idols of the gods and goddesses were carefully laid out in front of Karpuradevi. He showed her a particularly beautiful  talisman  bearing  the  ten  avatars   of  Vishnu,  set  in solid gold and decorated with the navaratnas.

‘I wanted  you to see these! They are the gifts for my new bride,  Ruka  Devi. She is a beauty  and  a scion of our  vassals, the Tomars,  who as you know were the former rulers of Dillika till I broke their spine in battle and snuffed out the last of their futile efforts at resistance.  The talisman,  though, will be for my firstborn son, whichever one of you delivers him first.’

Karpuradevi arranged her features  in what  she hoped  was a gracious  smile. She was itching  to remind  her lord  husband that his half-brother, Vigraharaj-IV, had taken Dillika from the Tomars  and not him. It was not the first time Someshwar  had taken credit for the actions of others and it wouldn’t be the last.

Mercifully,  he left soon  after.  That  was  the  last  she saw of him till her boy was born.  Not  that  she was complaining. Someshwar  had  been  with  Maharaj Jaisingh  during  his  war against  her own Chedi. He had claimed credit for the death  of her valiant  uncle and  Chedi  king Mallikarjun, but  there  were those who swore that it was the brave Ambad, one of Jaisingh’s vassals, who had dealt the fatal blow.

Some claimed it was Kumarpal, now Maharaj Kumarpal, who  had  taken  his  life.  Everybody  agreed  that  Someshwar had  fought  well  but  it  wasn’t  his  hand  that  had  slain  the fierce  Mallikarjun, which,  however,  did  not  stop  him  from commissioning  an  epic  saga  in  celebration  of  his  fictitious victory.   It  was  boorish   of  him,  especially  since  they  were currently  living on the largesse of Maharaj Kumarpal.

She wished it was possible to understand why her husband did such things. The truth would be revealed once Hemachandra, the great Jain teacher  who enjoyed the patronage of the king, completed   his  Kumarapala   Charitra  and  her  own  husband would  end up looking foolish.

Someshwar  was  Kanchanadevi’s favourite  and  in Maharaj Jaisingh’s kingdom, she made it clear that those who trained with him in the martial  arts risked her implacable  wrath  if they dared best  her  boy  in combat.  And  so he remained  undefeated and singularly  unskilled  in the science of arms,  yet utterly  unaware of it, thanks  to his rampaging  ego that he lovingly nurtured with the help of his mother and the sycophants he surrounded himself with.

While  it  was  easy  to  understand  a  mother’s   excessive love, Kumarpal’s  tendency  to allow  Someshwar  such latitude was even harder  to comprehend. More  so in light of the fact that  Arnoraj  had  taken  the  pretender Chahad’s  side  against Kumarpal when  they  were fighting  over  the  right  to  succeed Maharaj Jaisingh.  He  had  been  a constant thorn  in his side. Kumarpal had exacted  his vengeance upon  Arnoraj  and made him  pay  a dear  price  for  his actions.  There  were  those  who felt it would  have been kinder of the victor to simply strike his head off!

Some  murmured  that   Kumarpal  had   always   been   in love  with  Kanchanadevi as  they  were  distantly   related  and had   known   each   other   a  long   time.   He   had   supposedly been devastated when Maharaj Jaisingh had married  off Kanchanadevi to Arnoraj. Others  said that  he hoped  to claim the throne  of Ajmer in Someshwar’s  name  and  bring  the vast domain  of the Chauhans under his sway.

Despite  her  advanced  years,  Kanchanadevi was  a  good- looking  woman  and  it  was  not  hard  to  imagine  a man  like Kumarpal finding her irresistible in her heyday. But it was hard to imagine them carrying on now!

Karpuradevi could  not  possibly  ask Kanchanadevi about her  purported romance   with  Kumarpal but  her  brother-in- law,  Kanha,  had  given  her  an  insight  into  the  relationship they  had  shared.  ‘I know  for  a fact  that  when  Mother talks he listens.  Even his ministers  follow  his cue and  agree that  it is truly a shame and perverse of the gods to put all that  fierce determination and sharp  political  acumen  in a woman’s  body. During  the  war  for  succession,  Mother took  his  side,  very circumspectly, of course, against  Chahad even though  my own father  fought  against  him. Maharaj Jaisingh’s daughter has an unmatched ability for picking the winner!

‘Moreover,  she was  furious  with  Father  for  ignoring  her council and risking the safety of her own person  and his flesh and blood by going to war against Kumarpal. She held the fort at Patan with the help of her father’s trusted  advisers, who had long  been  prepared for  such  an  eventuality.  It was  their  job to ensure that  the administration did not suffer when dynastic misfortunes befell them and all around the jackals and vultures circled, fighting each other for the juiciest chunks of a kingdom without a strong leader.

‘It was thanks  to her that  a relatively smooth  transition to power was possible for Maharaj Kumarpal. Siddharaj Jaisingh’s name  carries  a  lot  of  weight  here  and  many  of  his  trusted advisers  and  generals  acting  on  her  wishes  were  assimilated into  the new king’s council,  giving it the sheen of legitimacy. He has never forgotten the service Mother did for him.’

Karpuradevi did not doubt that this was her mother-in-law’s way of punishing  Arnoraj  for making  a hated  rival, his chief queen. Kanchanadevi was not one to suffer such slights lightly! Kanha  also  told  her  about  Kumarpal’s  plans  for  installing  a puppet  on the Ajmer throne. His mother  would  be complicit if it meant  thwarting her stepson  Vigraharaj. Her heart  beat a little faster at the thought. Her boy unlike his father  would  be a lion and he would rule not only Ajmer, but Dillika, Patan and the whole of Bharat one day.

Cradling  the swollen  mound  of her belly in her arms,  she trembled  with excitement.  She could not wait to hold her baby. He  was  destined  to  do  great  things.  Change  the  very  course of history  . . . Yet cold fear fluttered  in her heart,  an irksome presence in the midst of her exuberance and expectations and she fought might and main to suppress it. But it would not go away.

 

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