Rai Pithora, popularly known as Prithviraj Chauhan, was a Rajput king of the Chauhan dynasty. Born to Someshwar Chauhan, the king of Ajmer, and Karpuri Devi in 1149, Prithviraj grew up to be an intelligent, brave and courageous young man. He impressed his maternal grandfather, Arkpal or Anangpal III of the Tomara dynasty, so much that he named Prithviraj his heir. Thus, he ruled from the twin capitals of Ajmer and Delhi in northern India during the latter half of the 12th century as an independent Hindu king.
After the death of his father in the course of a battle in 1179, Prithviraj inherited a kingdom that stretched from Thaneshwar, once the capital of the 7th-century ruler Harshavardhana of Pushyabhuti dynasty in the north to Mewar in the south.
Shortly after assuming power, Prithviraj had to face the rebellion from his cousin, Nagarjuna, who asserted his own claim to the throne. The revolt was clinically crushed, and Prithviraj turned his attention to the nearby kingdom of the Bhadanakas, as it had been a persistent threatening to the Chauhan-held region around Delhi. Prithviraj eliminated them drastically sometime prior to 1182 and they ceased to be mentioned in subsequent historical records. In 1182 Prithviraj also defeated Paramardi Deva Chandela, ruler of Jejakbhukti.
The ballads tell us that, Prithviraj and his army lost their way after a surprise attack by the Turkic forces and inadvertently camped in Mahoba, the capital of Chandela. This uncalled for incident finally resulted in a brief altercation between the Chandelas and the Chauhans, before Prithviraj left for Delhi. Subsequently, Prithviraj invaded the Chandela kingdom and sacked Mahoba. Paramardi cowardly fled and took shelter in the Kalanjara fort, while the Chandela force, led by Alha, Udal and other generals, was defeated in the battle. It is said that, Paramardi either committed suicide out of shame or retired to Gaya. Prithviraj Chauhan's raid of Mahoba is corroborated by his Madanpur stone inscriptions. However, there is no historical evidence about Paramardi’s subsequent suicide. History says, subsequently he restored the Chandela power and ruled as a sovereign till around 1202-1203 CE, when the Ghurid governor of Delhi invaded the Chandela kingdom.
During those days, Jayachchandra or Jaichand was a powerful king of the Gahadavala dynasty. He ruled the Antarvedi country in the Gangetic plains, including the important cities of Kanyakubja (Kanauj) and Varanasi. It is said that, Jaichand was very much worried about the growing power of Prithviraj and his quest for territorial expansion. The medieval legendary text ‘Prithviraj Raso’ by Chand Bardai, ascribes the immediate cause of their intense and bitter rivalry to a romance between Prithviraj and Jaichand’s daughter, Samyukta. Naturally, Jaichand did not approve of this match and he arranged a ‘Swayamvara Sabha’ for his daughter, where all the eligible kings and princes were invited, except Prithviraj. Moreover, to further insult him, Jaichand placed a clay statue of Prithviraj at the door of the Sabha, as the doorman. However, on the day of the ‘Swayamvara’, Samyukta ignored the presence of all the suitors and garlanded the clay statue much to the chagrin of her father. Immediately, as planned earlier, Prithviraj came out of his hiding and eloped with Samyukta, taking her to Delhi. The couple went on to have several children, including Govindraj, Akshay and Rensi. After the incident, the insulted Jaichand allied with the Ghurids to ensure the downfall of Prithviraj. However, this account is considered as historically inaccurate.
Toward the end of 1190, Mu'izz ad-Din Muhammad Ghuri of Ghazni captured Bathinda, a part of Prithviraj’s empire. In order to assert his authority in northern India, Ghuri had, by that time, already acquired Sindh, Multan and Punjab. Chauhan appealed to Jaichand in Kannauj for help, but was refused. Yet, he marched to Bhatinda in 1191, and met his enemy at Tarain, near the ancient town of Thaneshwar, about 110 km north of Delhi. This battle between Prithviraj Chauhan and Mahamud Ghuri is known as the First Battle of Tarain.
At the beginning, the Ghurid army initiated combat by attacking with cavalry who launched arrows at the Rajputs. In reply, the forces of Prithviraj counter-attacked from three sides and started to dominate the battle, pressuring the Ghurid army into disarray. Meanwhile, Mu'izz al-Din was wounded in his personal combat with Prithviraj's brother, Govind Tai. Finally, Prithviraj won the first battle of Tarain comprehensively and thus, stopped the Ghurid advance towards Hindustan. Muhammad Ghuri was captured. However, as he begged for mercy, Prithviraj released him, though several of his ministers opposed his decision of granting mercy to the fierce enemy.
The decision to release Ghori proved to be a Himalayan blunder. Within a year, Ghori reassembled a huge army of 120,000 men and returned to challenge Chauhan at the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192.To save the country from the invasion, Chauhan again appealed to his fellow Hindu rulers and the aristocracy to come to his aid against Ghori and ultimately, he could assemble a very large army of about 150 Hindu rulers and aristocrats. According to the text of Persian historian Firishta, the army consisted of 3,000 elephants, 300,000 horsemen, and considerable infantry, which outnumbered that of Ghori. When they met in Tarain, Ghori offered Chauhan to be converted to Islam or to face the consequences and Chauhan, in his turn, offered Ghori to consider a truce and be allowed to retreat with his army. Ghori, however, decided to attack.
Ghori was aware that the Hindu warriors customarily battle only from sunrise up to sunset. He, therefore, shrewdly divided his troops into five parts and treacherously attacked the Hindu camp in the early morning hours with waves of mounted archers. Since the Hindu army was totally unprepared, they retreated, and as the Chauhan elephant phalanx advanced, Ghori deployed his four parts to attack the opponent from four sides, keeping a fifth part of his army in reserve. Finally, as Prithviraj’s army broke ranks to engage in the pursuit, they were brutally destroyed by Ghori’s heavy cavalry. The change in tactics on the part of Ghori totally confused the Chauhan forces, and they were completely routed. General Khande Rao of the Chauhan forces was killed in action. Prithviraj fled the battleground, but he was overtaken and captured a short distance from the site of the battle. The King and many of his generals were subsequently executed, and the collapse of the united resistance in northern India paved the way of Muslim control of the region within a generation.
Prithviraj is remembered in the history of India, as a king whose reign separated the two major epochs of Indian history. His dynasty was classified as one of the Rajput clans in the later period, although the ‘Rajput’ identity did not exist during his time. The 16th century legends describe him as the ruler of India's political centre Delhi, rather than Ajmer.
Prithviraj is often described as ‘the last Hindu King’, which is inaccurate. In fact, in South India several stronger Hindu rulers flourished after his fall, and even some other contemporary Hindu rulers in northern India were as powerful as him. Even, Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod, the 19th century English-born officer of the British East India Company and an Oriental scholar, repeatedly used this specific term to describe Prithviraj Chauhan in his ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajas'han’. In all probability, Tod was influenced by the various accounts of the medieval Persian language Muslim scholars, which described Prithviraj as a major ruler and portrayed his defeat as a major milestone in the Islamic conquest of India. Ridiculously, several other narratives blindly followed Tod and continued to specifically describe Prithviraj as ‘the last Hindu emperor’.