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Kānhaḍade Prabandha Of Padmanābha – A Critical Appreciation

“It is truly a tale of soaring patriotism and matchless courage, burning love for the religion and culture of the land, a tale of uncompromising devotion to the principles and cherished values of the people thereby ensuring for it perpetual relevance in all ages and countries”

V.S. Bhatnagar, the translator of Kānhaḍade Prabandha, described it with such words. The translation itself was titled ‘India’s greatest patriotic saga of medieval times’. Several scholars including Dr. K.M. Munshi and Prof. Dasharatha Sharma, the author of ‘Early Chauhan Dynasties’ have praised this work to a great extent.

What is this work about and what makes it so exalted? In this article, I shall touch upon its various aspects with reference to Indic civilizational nationalism.

Kānhaḍade Prabandha in Context

In the Indian tradition, creative arts have been a medium of preserving and narrating history since time immemorial. Kalhaṇa in fact, starts the Rājatarangiṇī by asking, “Who, but a poet can bring back the past in sweet composition, and what can make it intelligible if his art cannot?” Countless literary works, musical compositions, and arts and sculptures throughout the country have kept the itihāsas, purāṇas, and folk histories alive.

In the medieval era, a number of courts patronized poets to write historical prabandhas, nāṭakas, and mahākāvyas which immortalized the patron ruler’s works, kingdom and lineage. This period also witnessed several heroic wars and struggles for independence against Islamic invaders. Naturally, we find many literary works based on this theme. A few of the famous ones include Nayacandra Sūri’s Hammīramahākāvya, Gaṅgā Devi’s Madhuravijayam, Chānd Bardāi’s Pr̥thvirājrāso, Padmanābha’s KānhaḍadePrabandha, etc.

These works are not merely legends or folk tales but also shed light on many other important aspects of the period’s history. Further, given the extensive Persianate historical literature of the same period, the importance of native literature increases immensely for the sake of neutrality.

Kānhaḍade Prabandha is one such 15th Century work in Prākr̥ta by the poet Padmanābha whose protagonist is Kānhaḍade Chauhāna, the Rāval of Jālor.

Historical Background

Ever since the beginning of the Sultanate in Delhi (the early 11th century), the sultans had always tried to annex Rājasthān. The early sultans till Balban made several incursions into Rājāsthan but none of them could make any deep or long-lasting impacts. However, things started changing upon the ascension of the Khalji dynasty to the throne of Delhi, in the late 13th century. It ushered in a new era of frequent and large-scale conquests and for the first time, an Islamic power made inroads into the remotest corners of the country.

On the eve of the establishment of the Khalji rule in Delhi, there were four prominent kingdoms in Rājasthān

  1. Śakhambarī Cāhamāna of Raṇathambor
  2. Guhillas of Chittor
  3. Sonigāra Cāhamāna of Jālor
  4. Bhāṭis of Jaisalmer

(Figure 1: India on the eve of Alauddin Khilji’s ascension in Delhi)

Jālor, believed to be named after the R̥ṣi Jābālī, and among the prominent forts of Mārū (Mārwār̥), was ruled by the branch of the Chauhāna dynasty. This kingdom was carved out by Kirtipāla Chauhāna in the 12th century, who was initially a feudatory of the Chālukyas of Paṭaṇ.

Around the same time as the enthronement of Alauddin Khalji to the throne of Delhi, Kānhaḍade Chauhāna became the ruler of Jālor. The storyline of Kānhaḍade Prabandha revolves around Alauddin Khalji’s invasion and conquest of Jālor.

In 1298, Alauddin launched his first campaign to capture Gujarat from the Vāghela ruler, Karṇa. The invading army plundered and desecrated the temple of Somnātha. As they were returning to Delhi with all the spoils and the idols, the Prabandha tells us that Kānhadade launched a counterattack and rescued the idol of Somnātha.

A decade later in 1308, Alauddin led the campaign to the fort of Siwānā in the kingdom of Jālor, which was being ruled by Kānhaḍade’s nephew Sātala. Following a tough siege, the inmates of the fort ultimately resorted to jauhar-saka and the fort fell.

In 1310, he brutally sacked the ancient town of Bhīnmāl (Śrīmāl), which was a great center of learning.

Though the fort of Jālor withstood the first attack by Alauddin, it finally fell in 1311 during the second siege.

Padmanabha claims that Alauddin’s daughter fell in love with Kānhaḍade’s son which also played a key role in the final attack on Jālor. However, many authors consider this to be purely fiction.


The central theme of the work is no doubt ‘patriotism’ or ‘nationalism’ as various commentators have put it. However, how is a ‘country’ conceptualized here? The European concept of a ‘nation state’, is a state with a single ethnic group, culture, or language. Another concept is that of a deśa, for example, as put by Sri Aurobindo, “India, that is Sanātana Dharma”

In the Kānhaḍade Prabandha, the poet beautifully describes a ‘deśa’:

“Where Śāligrāma was worshipped and Hari’s name was recited, where yajñas were performed and charities (tyāga) given to Brahmins, where Tulsī plant and Pīpal tree were worshipped and Vedas and Purāṇas were studied and recited to comprehend dharma, where everyone went on pilgrimages and respected Smr̥tis, Purāṇas and cows, (in such a deśa, Mādhava brought the Mlechchhas) … Where formerly, temples stood, now the call to prayer (bāng) by Musalmāns (Sillāri) could be heard.”

He describes the kingdom of Gujarat, just before its fall. Note that the poet, who belongs to Jālor, describes ‘another ‘deśa’ Gujarat. He gives credit when due (i.e, that dharma flourished in the kingdom) and mourns the downfall of the kingdom, clearly implying that civilization ties extended beyond political boundaries.

There is also a clear differentiation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The word ‘Hindu’ is used extensively in opposition to words like ‘Mlechchas’ and ‘Turks’. The people of Gujarat, Jālor, and other kingdoms are called ‘Hindus’.

‘Dharma’: towards the deśa and towards Bhagwan

What is the underlying force or drive behind the so-called ‘nationalism’ or ‘patriotism’? What is the basis of the principles and ideals described here?

We can find here a beautiful amalgamation of a sense of ‘duty’ that the people perceive towards the deśa and towards a deity or ‘bhagwān‘ dear to that region. In many instances, throughout the story, whenever the warriors fight for a cause, ‘protecting the country’ implies ‘protecting the bhagwān’ and vice versa.

When Alauddin Khalji sends a message to Kānhaḍade asking him to let the Imperial army pass through Jālor, he replies:

“This is contrary to our Dharma! The kings do not give passage when by doing so villages are devastated, people are enslaved, ears of women are torn, and cows and Brāhmaṇas are tortured.”

As the Turkish army attacked the temple in Somnātha, the scene is described by the poet:

“Meanwhile, the Rāuts circumambulated round the temple. They took bath, each one put Tulsi leaves on his head, and took charge of protecting the God’s idol … On what earnest request Lord Śiva (Sai) had granted them so much strength that they gave up their lives only after finishing the Mlechchhas and powerful Mughals!”

In his dream, Kānhaḍade sees Pārvati and Gaṅga who implore him to fight Alauddin Khalji to ‘liberate our Lord (Somnātha)’ and ‘destroy the Mughal Mlechchas’. Kānhaḍade felt duty-bound to save and restore the liṅga captured by the invaders, it did not matter that the temple of Somnātha was in another kingdom.

When the Turkish army besieged the fort of Siwānā, after many months of no success, the fort finally fell when they polluted the only water body inside it with a dead cow. The Turks killed a cow and threw its head inside the pond. The inmates of the fort, regarding cows as holy, refused to use the water. Having no other option left, they resorted to the final act of jauhar and sākā. The poet so describes the scene where Sātala (the ruler of Siwānā) seeks the counsel of his queens:

“Our Lord! What is there to be thought now? We all shall enter the Jauhar (Jamahari) fire! The Hindus regard cow as sacred, and its blood is in the water of the pond. There is no hope left now for continuance of this life; we will not like to survive on this water in any case … The glorious kingdom of Chauhāns is all the more dearer to us today (when men here will fight to the last and we will enter the Jauhar fire)”

Further, when the Sultan’s daughter approached the prince of Jālore with a request to free the prisoners of war, the prince (Kānhaḍade’s son) laid down one condition, “He (Pātasāh) should refrain from violating the sanctity of the temples and breaking idols and inflicting suffering on brāhmaṇas and cows.”

This ‘dharma’ is not only limited to the Rājput warriors. When Jālore was under siege and five years of war had elapsed, Kānhaḍade felt the strain on the resources inside the fort. At this juncture, the prominent merchants of the fort (Mahājanas) offered to support the war and promised all the resources of grain, oil, cloth, etc. they could. They said, “Our Lord King, let not the enemy destroy our temples.”

We find an even more poignant incident where Vyāsa, the Rāja Purohit and Kanhadade’s guru, refuses to escape the fort with protection during the final battle:

“The Vyāsa replied, O Rāval! Will there be ever another king like you who would give his shoulder to my pālaki? If I survive you, I will earn lasting infamy. When Jālor fort falls, I will surely perform oblations by sacrificing the limbs on the fire of battle!”


Kānhaḍade Praabandha is no doubt a literary masterpiece in Prākr̥t and its translation by V.S Bhatnagar is also a delightful read. Not a word less, and not one more, the poet brings out the subtlest of emotions. The reader is easily transported to the 14th century and one can visualize every scene vividly. Poignant scenes frequently appear, and we find scenes with all the navarasas

The work is rich in imagery. In the fourth canto, Alauddin’s daughter describes the fort of Jālor in around fifty verses. The poet’s love for the country is clearly seen in these passionate descriptions with intricate details. Here is a small extract from the description of how to fort was decorated.

“Broad woven silk sheets (pattakula) of the colour of the clouds were hung up, two on each bastion, and so also were chandruas (chandovas) studded with jewels and jhumkas of pearls dangling from them. The golden trikalaśa on oriels shone brightly. The earthen lamps on the battlements looked like so many stars, shimmering tremulously, their light mingling with that of the stars … Indeed, the fort looked like Indra’s vimāna, or like Lanka perched on the Trikuṭa mountain, so it seemed to the Ghori Sultan (Alauddin). Delicate gold images studded with jewels were dangling here and there. The golden hue of the trikalaśa shone and glittered and large pendants fluttered in the air. The chandovās (spacious canopies) were decorated with four flowered motifs and network done in pearls. These, along with five coloured beautiful silken curtains (paṭolās), formed an impressive spectacle”

(Figure 2: Ruins of the Jālor Fort)

PostScript: The Question of Creative Liberty

Earlier this year, the film Samrat Prithviraj was released, and apart from its poor performance, a large number of left-liberal critics attacked it for being a nationalist propaganda film, and full of historical inaccuracies and misrepresentations. A few years ago, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat was in a similar spot. Yet, such movies attracted no great praise from the so called Hindu right, instead only a fair share of criticism. The left liberals say that the movies brazenly endorse the Hindu-Hero, Muslim-Villain narrative and glorify the Jauhar tradition, among many other claims. On the other hand, the Hindu right is unhappy with the mediocrity and lackluster manner with which historical heroes have been treated, and also deplores the factual and interpretive unfaithfulness to tradition and history. The writers and film makers generally respond to such arguments claiming that it is their ‘creative liberty’ and there is no necessity to stay 100% true to factual history.

Creative art is a beautiful way to visualise and take history to the masses. It is indeed the creativeness that brings in beauty but authors and creators should also be judicious when exercising creative liberty. Especially while dealing with living cultures and traditions, or historical people and events that significantly characterize the culture, it is an author’s duty to not only be sensitive but also have a true and authentic understanding of the same.

In this context, Kānhaḍade Prabandha is among the best examples of historical narration. It does not matter whether one or two small stories of the prabandha are a product of the poet’s imagination or not. The text stays true to the spirit of the Jālor kingdom and the Hindu civilization. The story evokes the most subtle and purest form of desa bhakti. It stood, stands, and will always stand as one of the finest example of manifestation of desa bhakti in the Indic culture.

[1]The types of emotions that a play or epic is supposed to evoke in an audience

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