Character Analysis in The Play Tughlaq

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      Tughlaq, being primarily a history play dealing with the last five years of the reign of Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, the fourteenth century Sultan of Delhi, has only one fully realized character, Muhammad, the protagonist yet there are others too who play dramatic roles in their own ways and more so in realizing Muhammad’s character. Naturally, in order to build up Muhammad, Girish Kamad has had to scale down the rest and yet others are theatrically relevant. Some of them are meant for comic purposes; a few others reflect the chaotic political atmosphere, the reactions and revolts due to Sultan’s liberal policies and scheme of administration. They are also “dramatized aspects of his (Tughlaq’s) complex personality, yet they also exist in their own right.” (Anantha Murthy). Muhammad is a dominant tragic hero whose tragedy lies in his “dualism of the man and the hero.” This is why Muhammad’s character is developed at the expense of other characters in the play, however, whatever limited role they have to play is highly significant.

Aziz and Aazam

      Aziz and Aazam have been introduced in line with the popular dramatic conventions as “(the Akara and Makara of Natak performances), to which theatre audiences respond readily.” (Anantha Murthy). True. They serve dramatic purpose of providing comic relief to the audiences in order to relieve their tension due to scenes of horror and death. However, Aziz being more dashing than Aazam, dominates the scene and grows into a very crafty politician, as crafty as Tughlaq himself, and so his story of disguise and success, ironic though, runs parallel to that of Tughlaq himself. Through his character it has been shown, and shown remarkably well on the stage how Muhammad’s fair intentions, well-meaning plans, secular steps, compassion and liberal policies revert into selfish gains.

      Towards the close of the play Aziz has been quite able to prove himself the “most faithful servant” of the Sultan as only he could understand him. This is convincing. Muhammad too admits:

All your life you wait for
someone who understands you.
And then — you meet him —
punishment for wanting too much!

      The only fault of Aziz is that he expected too much; so is Tughlaq, over ambitious, impulsive, rash in decisions to achieve his goal. Aziz is rewarded, not punished as Muhammad is convinced that from the very beginning only Aziz has been able to understand the political situations in which Muhammad tried his best to realise his ideals. For example, may be for his selfish gains, Aziz, a dhobi takes up the guise of a brahmin, Vishnu Parsad and wins the case against the Sultan to show how justice works in Muhammad’s kingdom “without any consideration of might or weakness, religion or creed.” This certainly enhances the image of the great Sultan. However, his activities have been deceptive so much so that he deceives Tughlaq for sometime and ironically enough, as Ghiyas-ud-din, he is asked “to lead the prayer” for peace and prosperity in the kingdom. At this point of time, Aziz reflects the ‘inner self’of the Sultan who has come to know everything about Aziz, that is, all his ‘roles’, and still he asks him to lead the prayer, ‘disappear on the way’ to appear again and contact Khusrau Malik who will appoint him as an officer in his army.

      Aziz and Aazam also help us to understand the conflict in Muhammad’s mind. The conflict grows in him and he knows he is called ‘mad Muhammad’ and later he confesses he has become ‘mad Muhammad’ and contemplates suicide. Aazam reflects this aspect of the Sultan. When he shows disgust with life, tries to escape as he apprehends danger and he is called “a hopeless case.” Both Muhammad and Aazam are in a similar state of mind. Thus this comic pair has its own dramatic significance.


      He is the Sultan’s vizier and his very close companion, a trustworthy adviser. He is a great opportunist and crafty person. Originally he is a Hindu, but being a wily politician he converts himself and becomes a Muslim in order to be in close contact with the Sultan. This is a political move. He knows Mahammad’s secular views that he wishes to establish communal harmony in his kingdom. His own conversion is a move to strengthen Hindu - Muslim unity and thereby to win Muhammad’s trust and favour. He also gives valid and very convincing reason for this change, that is, to “bring the kingdom of Heaven on Earth.” He thus expresses his faith in Islam.

Frank and Loyal

      Muhammad trusts him because he always liked Najib’s frankness and loyalty. At times he disagrees with Muhammad and out of loyalty he tells him frankly that he didn’t like Muhammad’s sympathetic and kind treatment with Ain-ul-Mulk. When Muhammad gets agitated after killing Shihab-ud-din and issues an order to banish prayers, Najib suggests an amendment that “there will be no more prayers till Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid, the descendant of the khalif visits us.” Since Muhammad has full faith in him he at once agrees. After receiving Ratansingh’s letter about Shihab-ud-din’s involvement in the conspiracy of the Amirs to murder the Sultan at prayer Najib discloses the secret to his Majesty and makes adequate arrangements of security and counter attack by deputing Hindu guards. Furthermore, when Shihab-ud-din is stabbed to death Najib suggests very sincerely to keep the incident a top secret. Even Shihab’s father shouldn’t know about it and every witness should be hanged including the Hindu guards.

Shrewd Politician

      Najib’s statements in Scene Two show his grasp and perfect understanding of the political situations in the kingdom. As Vizier he has been alert. He informs the Sultan “Sheikh Imam-ud-din is in Delhi”, who says “your Majesty has forfeited the right to rule, by murdering your father and brother at prayer time.” He suggests, “get rid of him.” He breaks the news that Ain-ul-Mulk “is marching on Delhi.” He is of the view that both Ain-ul-Mulk and Sheikh Imam-ud-din are traitors and they should be crushed. Very categorically he states, ‘A traitor is a traitor, friend or saint, and he must be crushed.’ He, unlike Barani, believes that courage, honesty and justice are not needed to deal with political problems. That is why he suggests to the Sultan, shrewdly though, “that the Sheikh has a striking resemblance to you.” This is enough for crafty Muhammad to hatch a plan to get rid of the Sheikh, and calls Najib a Devil as a politician. Ultimately, Muhammad succeeds in his plan.

Barani, the Historian

      Girish Karnad has drawn the character of Barani from history. A native of Baran (now Bulandshahar) Barani was a great scholar and historian and so he was patronized by Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq in his court as he himself was a man of letters. Barani remained in the court for a long time and as he himself has written that he had received many gifts and favours from the Sultan who always discussed with him certain political matters. The playwright however, has depicted a modified character of Barani, but here too he is a close companion of the Sultan, whom he treats very kindly. He is in fact, one of the three confidants of Muhammad, the others being Najib and the stepmother.

Helpless to Influence Muhammad

      Barani is supposed to be an important companion of Muhammad who is given warm treatment, due respect, honour and gifts. He also keeps company of the Sultan and tries to give him best possible advice on matters political, however he is not as much relied upon as Najib. Muhammad knows him well that he is a good human being and a learned historian who always advises him to rely upon his learning, courage, honesty and justice. He always reminds Muhammad of his great qualities and ideals, his belief in peace, in god. He asks him to stop torturing people for “smallest offence” and hanging them on suspicion. He tells him forcefully, if he stops ‘bloodshed,’ “something better will emerge out of it.” However, he is shown as a helpless historian whose words are never taken seriously. Muhammad has gone too much in evil, in matters of crime and bloodshed that there is hardly any going back now. Barani in that way has been ineffective to set Muhammad right. Several times Najib’s views were contradicted by him and the stepmother, but all in vain. Barani is a witness to Muhammad’s degradation, his spiritual chaos within him, his untold sufferings, his downfall, his disillusionment. He is, at last, too much terrified to see Muhammad’s agony, his cry for divine help that he decides to leave him alone and seeks permission to abandon him on the pretext that he has to join his mother’s funeral. Before this last well-wisher is gone Muhammad requests him to pray and be kind enough when he, as a historian, passes judgement on him.


Show how the characters in Tughlaq reflect various aspects of Tughlaq’s complex personality.
Write a critical note on characterization in Tughlaq.
Discuss critically the character and role of Aziz and Aazam in Tughlaq.
Discuss critically the character and role of Najib, the Vizier.
Discuss critically the character and role of Barani, the Historian.
Examine critically the statement, “All the other characters are dramatized aspects of his (Tughlaq) complex personality, yet they also exist in their own right.”

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