Modern Appeal of Political Allegory in Tughlaq

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      Girish Kamad has followed history in many ways, of course with some deviations, yet the appeal of his play Tughlaq is modem. This is because of his amazing dramatic skill and imagination that he could transform a historical figure into a modern existential hero. The tragic fall, sufferings and disillusionment of Tughlaq from the height of idealism, nobility and learning is greatly arresting and appealing.

      It is only in this sense we can share the view of Mahesh Dattani who says that Kamad, “has a historical vision but a contemporary voice which makes his plays universal.” Perhaps the great critic K.R.S. Iyenger, too, has the same thing in his mind when he says about Kamad’s plays, “be the theme, historical, mythical or legendary — Karnad’s approach is modem.”

Political Allegory

      Sometimes critics, while analysing a literary work, find out something of which the author himself or herself is not aware. Interestingly enough, critics have raised this play to the level of a political allegory highlighting its modem appeal. In his Introduction to this play Anantha Murthy points out: Another reason for Tughlaq’s appeal to Indian audiences is that it is a play of the sixties, and reflects as no other play perhaps does the political mood of disillusionment which followed the Nehru era of idealism in the country.

      In support of his finding Anantha Murty has quoted the comment of Kamad himself from Enact, June 1971 who also seems to be sharing his view:

What struck me absolutely about Tughlaq’s history was that it was contemporary. The fact that here was the most idealistic, the most intelligent king ever to come on the throne of Delhi.....and one of the greatest failures also. And within a span of twenty years this tremendously capable man had gone to pieces. This semed to be both due to his idealism as well as the shortcomings within him, such as his impatience, his cruelty, his feeling that he had the only correct answer. And I felt in the early sixties India had also come very far in the same direction — the twenty-year period seemed to me very much a striking parallel.

      This comment also suggests that Tughlaq is a political allegory, but it would be wrong to equate the time of Tughlaq with Nehru era. There may be some resemblance. In a democratic set up when the ruler is soft, visionary and noble people do take undue advantages of liberal and secular policies. This happened in sixties too. As a result, crime and corruption flourished. But there is a marked contrast between Tughlaq and Nehru. Both were visionaries, but Tughlaq’s vision was based on utopian schemes; whereas Nehru’s vision was translatable and has yielded positive results and contributed significantly to the shaping of modern India. Tughlaq was a despot; Nehru was a true democrat. Tughlaq’s ways were cruel, tyrannical and irreligious; Nehru was kind, benevolent and loving. Tughlaq was destructive; Nehru was creative, pragmatic and a visionary in the true sense of the term.

      Therefore, Tughlaq is more than a mere political allegory. Annatha Murthy too agrees when he writes:

But the play is more than a political allegory. It has an irreducible, puzzling quality which comes from the ambiguities of Tughlaq’s character, the dominating figure in the play.

      Herein lies the modern appeal of the play, not so much in being a political allegory, but because it is a modern drama of a historical character who suffers intense agony caused by his experience of existential alienation due to his faulty vision and despotic behaviour.

      Moreover, Karnad himself admits very honestly that he never intended to write a play about the Nehru era consciously:

I did not consciously write about the Nehru era. I am always flattered when people tell me it was about the Nehru era and equally applies to the development of politics since then. But I think, well, that is a compliment that any playwright would be thrilled to get but it was not intended to be a contemporary play about a contemporary situation. I think if one gets involved with one’s characters or one’s play then it should develop into some kind of a true statement about oneself. I think a play can be only contemporary as the playwright is.

      This is true. Much depends on the writer’s “contemporary convictions” and even when Karnad didn’t make any conscious effort to make the play a political allegory, he unconsciously reflected some of the tendencies of the modem age.

Modern Appeal

      The play is modem in its appeal because of Kamad’s characterization of Tughlaq. It’s interesting to note how Karnad conceived Tughlaq. He says, “when I came to Tughlaq I said oh! Marvellous!, That is what I wanted. In those days existentialism was very much in the air ..... I suddenly realised what a fantastic character I had hit upon.” An intensive study of this drama reveals that the playwright has displayed his amazing dramatic genius in shaping and presenting on the stage Tughlaq’s character in terms of existential situations in life. Tughlaq’s tragedy is, in fact, the tragedy of a modern man who is a complex personality, but so often tom between the ideal and real. This dualism is responsible for conflicts and compiications in life, shattering all his idealism, dreams, hopes and aspirations into pieces. Such a man, howsoever virtuous he may be, falls and suffers miserably because he adopts foul means to achieve his noble target. This is the tragic story of Tughlaq who projects himself as an idealist with ambitious plans of communal harmony, of shifting the capital, of making copper coins, but in his pursuit of these ideals he perpetuates the opposite. The means he adopts to reach his ideals are cruel, violent and treacherous. Consequently, he is miserably tom between the ideal and the real and emerges as a multiphrenic personality.

      Tughlaq, the idealist declines into a tyrant when his idealism turns into cynicism, his secularism falls into fanaticism and his frustration leads to anger, and anger deepens into anguish. Ultimately, he is completely disillusioned at the level of existential reality and his existence is reduced to ‘nothingness; that he is all alone in this world, and nothing, not even divine grace can help him, so ironically, he sleeps at the time of prayer. When he opens his eyes after prayer he looks confused and dazed.

      Such a moving and powerful tragedy of one of the most impressive and capable kings in Indian history is greatly appealing to the modem theatregoers.


Write a critical note on the modem appeal of Tughlaq.
Tughlaq is modem in its appeal because of Kamad’s characterization of Muhammad Tughlaq. Elaborate.
Discuss critically Tughlaq as a political allegory.
Show how Tughlaq's tragedy lies in the disintegration of his powerful personality.
In what sense is Tughlaq more than a mere political allegory?

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