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.
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.