Symbolism Used in The Play Tughlaq

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     Kamad’s use of various symbols in Tughlaq is a part of dramatic technique through which he tries to explore “inner landscape of the dramatic persona.” In this context, Aziz and Aazam, chess, python and lastly the prayer are striking symbols.

Aziz and Aazam

      These two characters symbolise those who are opportunists and men without any principle. Under disguise they cheat and deceive the eyes of others including the Sultan and take undue advantages of the liberal, democratic and secular policies of Muhammad. Interestingly enough, the playwright achieves his satiric purpose through them. Through Aziz Kamad aims at justifying the statement that politics is the last refuge of scoundrels. Mark the satiric words of Aziz:

My dear fellow, that’s where our future is — politics. It’s a beautiful world - wealth, success, position, power — and yet it’s full of brainless people, people with not an idea in their head. When I think of all the tricks I used in our village to pinch a few clothes from the people — if one uses half that intelligence here, one can get robes of power. And not have to pinch them either - get them. It’s a fantastic world.

      What an irony! Being a govt, officer, Aziz takes delight in harming others and misappropriating huge public funds for his selfish ends. He symbolises the class of such rogues and scoundrels even in present day politics.


      The game of chess symbolizes the game of politics going on in the entire kingdom. Muhammad uses his brain in check-mating others in dealing with revolts and enemies as he does on the chess-board. He plays chess to solve intricate political problems and moves. “Through chess, Kamad has highlighted Muhammad’s manipulative skills in dealing with his adversaries. He plays them as political pawns to gain his ends.”


      The word Python is used by the Old Man (the guard) in Scene Eight for a long passage within the Daultabad fort. When he is asked about it by the young man (another guard) the old Man says, “yes, it’s a long passage, a big passage, coiled like an enormous hollow python inside the belly of the fort. And we shall be far, far happier when that python breaks out and swallows everything in sight — every man, woman, child, and beast.” The old man uses the python symbol to suggest that the fort is no longer a safe place on account of the cruel, savage and tyrannical behaviour of the Sultan. The atmosphere within and without the fort had become hellish and chaotic where people had to die for no fault of their own, but due to starvation, want of medical aid. The economy of the country had gone to dogs due to bad policies of the Sultan. Food riots had shaken the foundation of the fort as it is reported towards the end of the play. The Old Man also symbolically - suggests destructive attitude of the Sultan who had become a savage, a tyrant and hence there was a danger for every man, or woman or child of being swallowed by the Python. What a degeneration of Muhammad’s personality!


      Prayer is used as a symbol to reveal the ‘real’ Muhammad, altogether different from the ‘ideal’ one. The playwright deliberately creates an ironical situation at the time of prayer when Muhammad Tughlaq faces violent attack of his rebellions. Although he could avoid the aim, he must have been reminded of what he himself had done at the time of prayer i.e. killed his father and brother, as it was the talk of the town. Prayer is the time when one is always unarmed. It’s a holy time. It must not be vitiated. If one does it he is a sinner. Even Hamlet would not kill his uncle Claudius at the time of prayer by way of taking revenge. Hamlet is a man with fine conscience. What is Tughlaq, to kill his father and brother at prayer? Yet he claims, prayer is most dear to him. In this context, Anantha Murthy has made very convincing analysis of Muhammad’s character in his introduction to the play 


Take, for instance, the use Kamad makes of the leitmotive of the play, ‘prayer’, in the scene where the Muslim chieftains along with Sheikh Shamsuddin, a pacifist priest, conspire to murder Tughlaq while at prayer. The use of prayer for murder is reminiscent of what Tughlaq himself did to kill his father. That prayer, which is most dear to Tughlaq, is vitiated by him as well as his enemies, is symbolic of the fact that his life is corrupted at its very source. The whole episode is ‘ironic’.

      After this episode Muhammad forbids prayer in his kingdom when he realises, though too late, that “prayers too are ridden with disease and must be exiled.” This again is symbolic of hastening of Tughlaq’s degeneration. With the ‘exile’ of prayer, something ‘holy’ within Tughlaq also is exiled. He is divorced from idealism, virtue and humanism. He becomes callous, cruel, revengeful and tyrant. He doesn’t hesitate in getting his step-mother stoned to death as she had owned up to have Killed Nijib. However, in such a moment of deep anguish he has no other recourse left except to pray for divine protection, may be unconsciously. When his step-mother is dragged away by the soldier, Muhammad falls on his knees and begins to pray to God, “--- have pity on me I have no one but you now. Only you. Only You---you---you --- you ---.” Talking about prayer as a symbol in Tughlaq Bayapa Reddy has made an admirable observation: the micro level, prayer symbolizes the religious idealism of Tughlaq. At the macro level, it connects man’s unconscious need for divine protection and guidance in an hour of anguish.


      Last but not the least is the symbol of vultures used by Muhammad himself to describe his miserable condition. Vultures are the birds of prey symbolised by his govt officers, Amirs and the trusted ones who had turned hostile. His kingdom is now “honeycomb of diseases” and Muhammad can’t leave “the patient in wilderness” unattended. His misery is that the birds are very close to him and every moment he expects a beak to dig into him and tear a muscle out. All his dreams, ideals and aspirations have ended in smoke and now he resembles a disillusioned romantic. The vultures thus symbolize his spiritual agony and anguish.

      Thus Kamad has used symbols to make the play dramatic and forceful. His symbols have great emotional value. With symbols, the playwright has adorned his language and made his expression rich and effective. It is also one of the techniques employed in Tughlaq.

      In the light of the above, it can be said confidently that Kamad, with his dramatic skill and imagination, has made Tughlaq wonderful, fascinating and rich both in theme and technique.

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