Tughlaq as A Historical Play

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      Kamad’s play Tughlaq is considered a history play. However, the treatment of history is yet to be seen. It is a history play as the title suggests. The play centres round the protagonist Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq who ruled India in the fourteenth century. The play deals with only the last five years of the reign of Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq (1327-32 AD). Thus, Tughlaq is a historical figure.

      However, to write a history play is a task not so easy, because the two terms history and play are contradictory. History is a record of facts whereas, a play, on the other hand, is a literary composition that requires imagination, poetic sensibility and above all dramatic skills to make it actable and entertaining in theatre. Naturally, the playwright while writing a history play, has to make certain deviations. Kamad has done the same. For example, while retaining certain facts of history he introduced minor yet comic characters like Aziz and Aazam. However, blending of ‘history’ and ‘literature’ is so remarkable here that Tughlaq has received a worldwide critical acclaim as a perfect, meticulously designed history play.

      Kamad, being a great scholar, came across Tughlaq who made history in India in the fourteenth century, and got interested in his character as if he had found a hero for his drama. It is quite interesting to read the account given by Kamad himself as to how suddenly he realised what a fantastic character he had hit upon:

When I came to Tughlaq I said Oh! Marvellous! This is what I wanted. In those days existentialism was very much in the air. To be considered mad was very much fashionable. Everything about Tughlaq seemed to fit in to what I had read was the correct thing to do, which was to be mad and do impossible things and so on. So I started reading about Tughlaq. But as I started reading about Tughlaq, I suddenly realised what a fantastic chatacter I had hit upon. I started with Ishwari Prasad and then went on to all the contemporary material and suddenly felt possessed, felt this character was growing in front of me.

      This is how the playwright was fasciriated by this character who was made hero of his play Tughlaq, an existential tragic hero indeed. Historically speaking, Tughlaq has been described as an amazing ruler who left an abiding impact on the historians. Ishwari Prasad, the renowned historian, highlights the abilities of the Sultan when he writes, “Muhammad Tughlaq was unquestionably the ablest man among the crowned heads of the Middle Ages, of all the kings who had sat upon the throne of Delhi since the Mohammedan conquest. He was undoubtedly the most accomplished and the most learned.” Girish Kamad, too, shares the above views of the historian when he says, “Certainly Tughlaq was the most extraordinary character to come on the throne of Delhi. In religion, in philosophy, even in Calligraphy, in battle, in war field, anything we talk about, he seems to have outshone anyone who came before him or after him.” The playwright very sincerely attempts to project Tughlaq as a great scholar, an idealist, a visionary, a character gifted with amazing qualities of head and heart, charged with romanticism, poetic sensibilities, deeply devoted to Islam and yet not a fanatic, but secular in outlook as he has broad vision of establishing communal harmony. What a noble goal! Tughlaq was just, kind, charitable and sincerely wanted to establish peace and harmony. These are historical facts which Kamad has tried to show in Muhammad’s character and his scheme of administration.

Treatment of History

      In the very opening scene the playwright has portrayed Tughlaq as a just and kind ruler who accepts Kazi’s verdict graciously. He is pleased that Vishnu Prasad gets justice. By way of compensation the Merciful offers him a post in civil service along with a grant of five hundred silver dinars. As history has it, Muhammad Tughlaq had made prayer compulsory, at least five times a day. In the play, too, it is mentioned in the dialogue of a young man who defends the Sultan, “Now you pray five times a day because that’s the law.”

      Karnad has mentioned a historical fact that Tughlaq was guilty of parricide and fratricide. The Third Man in Scene One hints at it. He also bears witness to a public speech of Sheikh Imam-ud-din who said, “the Sultan’s guilty of killing his father and brother.” However, the playwright doesn’t mention that Tughlaq did repent and atone for the crime as he wants to highlight only Tughlaq’s treachery and cruelty. This is deviation from history.

      We come across his idealism, secularism and policy of equality and impartiality in his following speech immediately after the Kazi’s judgement:

My beloved people, you have heard the judgement of the Kazi and seen for yourselves how justice works in my kingdom—without any consideration of might or weakness, religion or creed, May this moment bum bright and light up our path towards greater justice, equality, progress, and peace — not just peace but a more purposeful life.

      But the history of Tughlaq has a dark aspect too. In order to achieve his goal he tries to implement certain plan that can be termed utopian and history bears witness to the fact that his action to shift the capital from Delhi to Daultabad marks the beginning of all troubles in the kingdom leading to protests and revolts.

      Tughlaq’s announcement to shift the capital makes the crowd react in bewilderment, though his intentions are pious. He wants to do it for security of the capital and also for communal harmony. He is declared mad by his subjects and a tyrant as well.

      During mass exodus people had to undergo untold snfferings. Naturally the Nobles revolted against him. Kamad has shown that Tughlaq’s act of shifting the capital was due to the whims of a tyrant and so he has ignored the generous acts of the Sultan and his elaborate arrangements made for the convenience of his subjects as recorded in history. This is another instance of deviation. Kamad follows history that Muhammad made an experiment when he introduced copper coins in place of silver dinars. But it failed as minting of counterfeit coins became common and as a result, the national economy was shattered. Kamad highlights the failure of Tughlaq’s policy of copper currency as his officers were corrupt and didn’t lend their support to him, instead they took undue advantage of his liberal policies.

Introduction of Aziz and Aazam

      Kamad has introduced two comic characters: Aziz and Aazam purely from drama point of view, to provide amusement and dramatic relief after tragic and horrible scenes. This is also a deviation from history but quite significant in understanding Muhammad’s character. They become symbols of those who took advantage of Muhammad’s generous acts and plans meant for the welfare of the masses. In fact, such people failed him and couldn’t appreciate his noble gestures. “Aziz, the wily time- server, appears to represent all those who took advantage of the Sultan’s visionary schemes and fooled him.” The episodes of Aziz and Aazam are not part of history, yet they are needed for making the drama entertaining and appealing. Herein lies Kamad’s dramatic and creative imagination.

      This brief account can be concluded with Anantha Murthy’s comment, “Although the theme of the play is from history — Kamad’s treatment of the theme is not historical.” In view of the above it can be safely said that the playwright, being very close to history has deviated from it at times as his main purpose was to transform a historical figure Tughlaq into a tragic and existential hero of his drama. Hence he focussed mainly on Tughlaq’s failure of his visionary schemes, partly because they were Utopians and his decisions were rash and foolish; and much more because his own trusted people couldn’t understand him and so they played nasty, and undesirable roles. As a result, all his idealism, hopes and aspirations were shattered into pieces. Due to frustration the Sultan became callous, cruel and tyrant in his conduct and behaviour and ultimately he reaps the consequences of his evil doings. He emerges as a lonely, disillusioned romantic, realizing in the end “the unreason of his existence.”


Discuss critically Tughlaq as a history play.
Write a critical note on Girish Karnad's treatment of history in Tughlaq.
Show how Karnad has deviated from history in his play Tughlaq.

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