Critical Analysis of The Play Tughlaq

Also Read

      The opening scene of the play Tughlaq is set in the yard in front of the Chief Court of Justice in Delhi in the year A.D. 1327. As the curtain rises many citizens including mainly Muslims and a few Hindus are seen waiting curiously for the final verdict in some court case already in progress.

      Historically speaking, that was the time of Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, a fourteenth century Islamic ruler in India, whose religious unorthodoxy, impartiality, liberal policies and mode of administration invited vehement criticism from orthodox Muslims.

Criticism of the Sultan

      We learn from the conversation of the people gathered there that they dislike and criticize his policy of impartiality between Hindus and Muslims. Muslims criticize his policy of abolition of jiziya exempting the Hindus and call it something against the sanctions of the Koran. So the charge of partiality and appeasement. On the other hand, Hindus call him a hypocrite who appeases them for his selfish ends. In fact, he is an orthodox Muslim. His supporter admires the Sultan for having made it compulsory to pray five times a day because that’s the law. His liberal policy that he is easily accessible to all and he can announce his mistakes to the whole world is also being criticized, whereas, others praise him for his frankness. Thus, the general impression is that mostly people criticize him and his policies.

The Verdict

      Meanwhile, an announcement is made, Kazi-ul-Mumalik, the chief Justice has given the verdict that the claim of the brahmin named Vishnu Prasad is just, and that he will be paid a compensation amounting to five hundred silver dinars by the govt, treasury as his land had been seized unlawfully by the State officers. His land will be returned. This was a case filed against His Merciful Majesty. The Sultan has accepted the just decision of the Kazi and he is so happy to see how justice works in his kingdom that he has offered the said Vishnu Prasad a post in the Civil Service to ensure him a regular income. This event certainly improves the image of Muhammad Tughlaq that he is a lover of justice.

Muhammad’s Appearance and Declaration

      Muhammad Tughlaq appears on the stage. He addresses the public, commends the Kazi for his justice done in the Brahmin’s case and declares his historical decision to shift the capital of his vast empire from Delhi to Daultabad. This is not without reason. Daultabad, being centrally situated and also a city of the Hindus, will promote communal harmony as well as the new capital will be quite safe: “Delhi is too near the border.” He, further, makes an earnest appeal to his subjects to support his plan, already approved by his ministers. This is how Muhammad projects his image that he is not only a lover of justice and equality, progress and peace but also a kind, benevolent and ideal ruler who is interested in making the life of his subjects more meaningful and “purposeful”.

      The crowd, naturally, is bewildered. Muhammad smiles and tries to convince them that the move is well calculated, and moreover, he is determined to “build an empire which will be the envy of the world.” Muhammad, thus, claims to be a romantic idealist.

Public Reaction After His Exit

      However, the commotion caused by the declaration continues. The conversation is mainly dominated by an old Man and the Third man who denounce the Sultan for his acts of ‘madness’ and ‘tyranny’ and treachery to get his father’s throne; however, there is also a young Man who somehow defends him. On the whole, the public image of Muhammad is that of a cruel and treacherous figure who had made his way to the throne after having got his father and brother killed that too, at the time of prayer. Even in Kanpur, this was made clear publicly by a reputed saint Sheikh Imam-ud-din who boldly said “ the Sultan’s guilty of killing his father and brother.” This of course, is another image of the Sultan, possibly the real one, altogether different from the ideal one.

Conversation Between Aazam and Aziz

      At this stage, the crowd disperses, only Aazam hangs around to see the Brahmin who had won the case. He, too, shortly comes out of the court and is soon recognized by Aazam that he is not brahmin, but a muslim dhobi (washerman) named Aziz. Interestingly enough, Aazam himself turns out to be a pocketmar (pick-pocket). They embrace each other as they have been close friends. Aziz narrates his success story. The public announcement that “people may file a suit against the Sultan himself’ for justice, in fact, inspired him to contact a brahmin, Vishnu Prasad, whose land had been confiscated earlier. He got ready a back-dated document in his favour and thus filed a suit to test the sincerity of the announcement under disguise. Both Aazam and Aziz are mainly introduced as comic characters, however, they have to play dramatic role in the drama.

Dialogue Between Muhammad and His Step-Mother

      Next is the scene in which Muhammad surprises his Step-Mother when he infbnns her that his dear friend Ain-ul-Mulk has turned hostile and at present in a mood of rebellion he is marching on Delhi. When she shows her concern for his life of anxiety and sleepless nights he expresses his lofty idealism and great desire to create history by doing something extraordinary and unique in the interest of his kingdom. Welfare of his people is his sole concern, so he can’t waste time in sleeping. He wants to excel all other past Sultans who either “died senile in their youth or were murdered.” The word ‘murder’ strikes her like a bell and she can’t help sharply reacting to it, and asks Muhammad not to joke about murder. Muhammad begins to suspect that she too, like others including his own mother, the court, his Amirs, believes in the ‘piece of gossip’ that Muhammad is responsible for the murder of his father and brother.

      Meanwhile, politician Vizier Muhammad Najib and historian Zia-ud-din Barani enter the stage. Najib breaks the news that hardly six thousand soldiers are available to fight against Ain-ul-Mulk; another equally important problem is that Sheikh Imam-ud-din is in Delhi. He adds, the Sheikh has become a “backbone of the rebels and accuses Muhummad of the murder of his father and brother at prayer time. Through Barani he learns that Muhammad is “a disgrace to Islam.” Naturally the Sultan is greatly incensed and takes the charges of ‘parricide’, ‘fratricide’ and the “pollution of prayer” very seriously. Najib has already suggested to get rid of the Sheikh and how he slyly hints that Sheikh Imam-ud-din resembles Muhammad. This is enough for him. Crafty Muhammad makes use of it to get rid of him.

      Muhammad invites the Sheikh to address a public meeting. He gets him ready to act as his royal emissary to Ain-ul-Mulk for peace as the war will mean bloodshed and mass killing of Muslims on both sides. The ‘holy man’ can’t tolerate it so he agrees, and puts on the royal robes, the head-dress and looks exactly like the Sultan. He goes to Kannauj for peace, but ironically he is involved in a battle.

The Battle

      It takes place at Kannauj. Before the royal emissary plays his role for peace with Ain-ul-Mulk, the Sultan already hidden with his soldiers gave the call for a battle and as a result, soldiers poured out of the surrounding hills and attacked the enemy force. Total chaos and confusion prevailed and the poor Sheikh is killed by Ain-ul-Mulk’s soldiers who was mistaken for Muhammad as both looked alike. He mourns over the Sheikh’s loss, pardons Ain-ul-Mulk for his chess expertise, restores his governorship of Avadh.

      In his absence from Delhi Muhammad had already invited Shihab-ud-din to look after Delhi. His adopted brother Sardar Ratansingh also joins him in the Palace. Ratansingh breaks the news that Muhammad is already in Delhi. He has gone to meet Najib as he is much distracted to see the Sheikh killed in the battle. He’ll be back soon.

Conspiracy Against Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq

      On the other hand, the Sultan is likely to face violent revolt as his double standard has caused reaction among his nobles, who have been plotting to kill him. Their secret plan is to meet him next at the Darbar-i-Khas and murder him at prayer when he will be unarmed. Naturally the call of the prayer will be the signal to do it. Ratansingh has revealed the Sultan’s treacherou's act of killing Sheikh Imam-ud-din to Shihab-ud-din and invites him to attend the meeting of the conspirators. Shihab, too, is ultimately convinced that Muhammad is not what he appears to be and joins the company of the Amirs and the Sheikhs. He agrees to lead them as he enjoys Muhammad’s confidence.

Ratansingh’s Revenge

      This is the golden opportunity for Ratansingh to take revenge on Shiab-ud-din whose father had killed Ratansingh’s father. Only outwardly he has been playing the role of Shihab’s very sincere adopted brother. He puts Shihab in a dangerous situation by informing Muhammad of his role in the intrigue against him. Muhammad, becoming alert, deputes Hindu soldiers to counter the attack of the enemies. Exactly half way through the prayer Shihab and the Amirs get up and pull out their daggers and approach Muhammad, Hindu soldiers suddenly appear and arrest them except Shihab who is killed by Muhammad himself in a frenzied manner. Deeply anguished as he was, Muhammad orders Najib to see “that every man involved in this is caught and beheaded.”

      Najib suggests Shihab-ud-din’s father is a powerful man and he would feel greatly offended now. Muhammad, being a crafty politician, gives a new turn and declares that Shihab-ud-din died a martyr’s death defending him from the attack of the nobles of the court who tried to assassinate the Sultan. He further orders that Shihab’s funeral should be grand, his father be invited and treated with great respect’ As for Hindu guards who have witnessed it all, Muhammad orders to vacate Delhi at once and every living soul will leave for Daultabad.

Shifting of the Capital

      Muhammad issues very strict order: “Everyone must leave.....Nothing but an empty graveyard of Delhi will satisfy me now.” And further, “our prayers too are ridden with disease, and must be exiled.” Muhammad is deeply dejected:

What hopes I had built up when I came to the throne! I had wanted every act in my kingdom to become a prayer, every prayer to become a further step in knowledge, every step to lead us nearer to God.

      But now, he tells Barani, “Anyone caught praying will be severely punished”. However, he agrees to Najib’s suggestion that the prayer will be resumed in Daultabad, the new capital only after the arrival of Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid, the descendant of the Khalif whose visit will purify the entire kingdom.

      However, people had to undergo much suffering during this exodus. So many people died on the way on account of starvation, shelter and diseases. For want of proper health care a large number of people died unattended. Chaos and confusion prevailed all around.

      Such a time was favourable only to those who were wicked, cruel and evil-doers like Aazam and Aziz. They took maximum advantage of Muhammad’s liberal policies, particularly during this exodus. They earned a lot of money too. They decided to make counterfeit coins to be deposited in the State treasury in exchange of silver dinars - a promise made by the Sultan. However, they also show their disgust with their present evil activities, robbing people, and then running and hiding. They think of something dignified, called ‘class’ that’s being a real king.

Muhammad’s Disillusionment and Alienation

      Ironically enough, Muhammad built a majestic and strong fort in Daultabad at the age of twenty-one that has not given him security and peace as it is likely to “fall from within.” This is symbolic of ‘inner emptiness,’ and also inner weaknesses of his administration. This is also indicative of Muhammad’s spiritual anguish that is reflected in his speeches. He passes sleepless night in this fort. He comes out so often, being restless on account of the sufferings of his people in Daultabad. Five years went by, the Sultan stands isolated and disillusioned when one night he talks to the young man, a guard on duty and describes his miserable experience when all his dreams are shattered into pieces. There was a time when he came to Daultabad first and built the fort, he had said to himself, “one day I shall build my own history like this, brick by brick.” Ironically the same Muhammad tells the guard now “All that you have to face and suffer is still ahead of you.” Thus, he is fully conscious of his failures in life, his alienation, his spiritual chaos within.

      He is in a mood to confess his ‘self-pity and finds an audience in Barani, the historian. He tells him how Rumi who once appealed to his romantic imagination, has now become meaningless, ‘simply a web of words.’ Fresh ‘uprisings’ in Bengal, Deccan and elsewhere too have shattered all his dreams to ‘make history’ and the stark reality is that his country has become “honey-comb of diseases.” He admits, he has tried everything, “But what cures one disease just worsens another.” He feels badly crushed under the burden of his own existence because he is responsible for this state of affairs; and therefore, he can’t escape from it. He can neither bear this burden, nor throw it off. This is called existential dilemma already pointed out by Nietzsche “to be crushed by a burden one can neither bear nor throw off.” Muhammad voices similar helplessness before Barani:

But it isn’t as easy as leaving the patient in the wilderness because there’s no cure for his disease.

      Muhammad knows that his beloved subjects now call him ‘Mad Muhammad’ and cries out in great despair, “ How can I become wise again, Barani?” Barani advises him to stop his merciless activities so that something better may emerge out of it. But that will mean admission of ‘wrong’ he has done, so he rejects the idea. He knows he has always been right and has to assert his ‘being’ to “open the eyes of history.” His ‘subjectivism’ takes the upper hand to overcome his loneliness and frustration. His romantic idealism once again is reflected in his words:

I have something to give, something to teach,
which may open the eyes of history, but I
have to do it within this life.

      Fresh trouble arises when Muhammad is informed that his trusted vizier, Najib has been murdered. He is completely unnerved. He loses his selfcontrol when he learns later that his step-mother was responsible for Najib’s death. No explanation will satisfy him. Nothing can pacify him. He is so aggrieved, so mentally tortured, so enraged that he can’t help punishing her. He orders the soldiers to inform the Nayab Vizier that the Sultan wants her stoned to death publicly. He looks stunned when she is dragged away, and falls to his knees and prays to God:

God, God in Heaven, please help me.

      In such a fallen condition, his prayer continues:

I started in search of You. why am I become a pig rolling in this gory mud? Raise me. Clean me. Cover me with your Infinite Mercy.

      At this moment Barani enters and breaks the news that Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid is arriving within the next month or so when prayer will be resumed in the kingdom. Frustrated Muhammad’s reply contains futility of human existence:

what’s the use?.....I am teetering on the brink of madness, Barani, but the madness of God still eludes me. (Shouting.) And why should I deserve that madness ? I have condemned my mother to death and I’m not even sure she was guilty of the crime.....

      He regrets for his impulsiveness, but it was too late.

Aziz, Aazam and Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid

      On the other hand, Aziz and Aazam decide to live peacefully instead of robbing and hiding in the hills so they chalk out a plan and kill someone who claimed to be Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid to be honoured by the Sultan. Aziz, now dressed as Ghiyas-ud-din makes his way to Daultabad accompanied by Aazam dressed as Ghiyas-ud-din’s disciple. Disguised Aziz is given a warm welcome in the palace. Aazam, however, doesn’t feel at home even in the palace and soon grows sick and exhausted to see that people outside had miserable life of starvation and death. An atmosphere of violence, killings and horror prevailed outside the palace that had a direct impact on those inside as well. As a result, Aazam feels like leaving the palace. When Aziz tries to persuade him not to do so, Aazam shows signs of fear and nervousness as he had watched the Sultan one night through his window doing some witchcraft as if, “wandering alone in the garden,” digging “into the heaps with his fists.” He also “raised his fists and let the coins trickle out.” “He does that every night - every single night, it’s like witchcraft.” Aazam is so frightened that he suggests to run away from the palace secretly. Aziz sticks to his plan, tries to persuade Aazam again and again, but when Aazam makes effort to go alone he is murdered by Aziz.

      When the news of Aazam’s murder reaches Muhammad he at once understands the whole situation as he himself has been very crafty in his behaviour. He sends for Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid immediately. When ‘His Holiness’ is questioned by Muhammad abruptly “Who are you?” the man in disguise is exposed soon and admits that he is a dhobi from Shiknar masquerading as a saint, but he pleads before the Sultan in such a way that he proves himself to be Muhammad’s true disciple. The Sultan is deeply impressed and declares him to be the only person in the entire kingdom who understands him. Aziz, being a clever and practical man, is rewarded. He is given a State office in the Deccan as he has been loyal to the throne and “has spent five years of his life fitting every act, deed and thought” to His Majesty’s words. However, he can leave only after having resumed public prayer as Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid with the Sultan. Barani is greatly baffled to see the working of the Sultan. He, too, is allowed to go to attend his mother’s funeral.

      Muhammad’s alienation is complete. He is shown on the stage all alone, tired and anguished. He falls asleep on the throne. Silence. A servant comes and goes, without disturbing him. Muhammad’s head falls forward on his chest in deep sleep. Even at Muezzin’s call to prayer he continues to sleep. What an irony! He suddenly opens his eyes, looks dazed and frightened, as though he can’t understand where he is, only when the prayer call fades away.


Write a critical analysis of the play Tughlaq.
Write briefly the story of the play Tughlaq.
Attempt a critical appreciation of the play Tughlaq.

Previous Post Next Post