Girish its total meaning for the readers, because the

Girish Karnad’s name and fame stands
out as a dramatist and an actor-director and being one among the few who have
successfully staged their plays in India and abroad. He has the credit of
authoring as many as ___   plays, which
have won him international acclaim. But it is Tughlaq1, which has established him as one of the
foremost playwrights in India in the first place and which has stood the test
of time since its publication in 1964 in Kannada and 1975 in English translated
by him. Being the first historical play, Tughlaq
deals with the tumultuous reign of the 14th century Sultan,
Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq, famed to be the most eccentric individual to rule India. The
play has been much discussed and debated upon, leading to a spate of criticism on
its various facets especially karnad’s recreation of history.  Though the play has been analysed  from the existential perspective of Christine
Gomez, of viewing ‘Tughlaq as an alienated protagonist’2, K K John’s
glorification of Tughlaq as a ‘victim-turned-sinner’3, or ‘the
betrayal motif in Tughlaq’4 as perceived by K Ratna Sheila Mani and
many more thematic and stylistic analysis by well known critics, this play of
thirteen scenes by Karnad,  Tughlaq  still offers  never ending array of meanings .


U. R. Anathamurthy who has pointed out, “No critical examination of the play
can easily exhaust its total meaning for the readers, because the play has, an
elusive and haunting quality which it gets from the character Tughlaq who has
been realized in great psychological depth”5, the greatest
attraction of the play, arises out of the ambiguous personality of the
protagonist, Tughlaq, who has been notoriously remembered in the history of
India as “Mohammad the Mad”. His notorious actions of minting new currency and
the shifting of his capital city from Delhi to Daulatabad and vice –versa have
been exemplified as illogically erroneous decisions that testify his madness
and erratic decisions, which brought his downfall. However, these historical
snippets which have marred the personality of the sultan have been recreated by
Karnad to render fresh insights into Tughlaq who comes out as a versatile person,
but with a tragic flaw of being impractical and basically cruel. Starting with
his portrayal as a visionary king with an idealistic exterior of trying to
bring prosperity into the lives of his subjects, Karnad unravels the
complexities that underlie and the layers of instinctual behavior of
this eponymous protagonist Tughlaq,.

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metamorphosis of the historical Tughlaq into a person struggling to synthesize
two contradictory selves nestled within him forms one of the most interesting
studies of human nature offered in Indian English literature. Karnad has
utilized the fictional liberty to portray Tughlaq as one of the unforgettable specimen
of human duality comparable to Hamlet. Tuqhlaq’s intrinsic nature that is imbued
with his power-hungry, blood-thirsty, self centered and autocratic instincts
conflicting with his cultivated-self oozing his religious idealism, sense of justice
and aesthetic which he consciously projects is orchestrated throughout the
play. He tries his best to live up to his idealized conception of a ruler, in
order to fulfill his ambition of making his regime a golden era in the annals
of history. Being shaped by his wide and versatile reading of Urdu, Persian and
Greek literature, this self of his readily responds to the vision of Buddha and
Zarathustra, and has won him respect and honour from his contemporaries. It is
significant to note that, even the most influential religious leader like
Sheikh Imam-ud-din who is opposed to the rule of Tughlaq, cannot ignore his
scholarship and compliments him repeatedly during his conversation with
Tughlaq. “God has given you everything, power, learning, intelligence, talent”,
and “You are a learned man” indicate Sheikh’s impression about Tughlaq. (Scene
3, pp 20-21)


Zia-ud-din Barani, a well known historian, an objective observer and an
idealistic voice in the play also says “You are a learned man, your Majesty;
you are known the world over for your knowledge of philosophy and poetry.
History is not made only in statecraft; its lasting results are produced in the
ranks of learned men. That’s where you belong, your majesty, in the company of
learned men.” (Scene 8, pp 55)


though Tughlaq’s projected self has commanded appreciation, it should be noted
that this learning and scholarship has not penetrated beyond his superficial,
polished exterior and is only a mask, that gives way in crucial situations,
revealing his instinctual, primary tendencies. His construction of a rose
garden, symbolizes his desire to exhibit his love of cultivated aesthetic sense
and love for poetry, but when his grandiose scheme of introducing copper coins
instead of silver dinars fails, the mask falls off giving us a glimpse of this
gory side of his nature. His conversation with his step mother in scene ten
throws light on the superficiality and shallowness of his idealistic self.


Step mother:
What’s wrong with you?   You spent years
planning that rose garden and now.


Muhammad: Now I
don’t need a rose garden. I built it because I wanted to make for myself an
image of Sadi’s poems. I wanted every rose in it to be a poem. I wanted very
thorn in it to prick and quicken the senses. But I don’t need these airy
trappings now; a funeral has no need for a separate symbol.


Step mother: Then why don’t you stop the funeral? Why this unending line
of corpses?  (Scene 10, pp 63-64)


Again, when justifying his killing
spree to his step mother he reveals his recognition of his real self.


Step mother:
You had your share of futile deaths. I have mine now.


Mohammad: No, they were not futile. They gave me what I wanted, power,
strength to shape my thoughts, strength to act, strength to recognize
myself.  (Scene 10, pp 66)



fact, right from the first scene of the play, this interplay between his two
selves is indicated. The guards comment “the show is over” (Scene 1, pp 5) is
significant of the mask of idealism which Tughlaq adorns himself with, in order
to appease people and win their support to his dictates. The artificiality and
theatricality of his actions is visible all through the play, and the language
he uses is refined, poetic and pompous and ideas quite grandiose which nourish
his desire to showcase his projected self. This is seen not only is his public
appearance, but even in his private moments with his close ties. His reply to
his step mother’s query about his sleeplessness is replete with his


“And then I want to go back to their poetry and sink myself in their
words. Then again I want to climb up, up to the top of the tallest tree in the
world and call out to my people: come, people, I am waiting for you, confide me
in your worries. Let me share your joys……….”    


To which the step mother,
responds “I can’t ask a simple questions without you giving a royal
performance” and calls him “a pompous ass.” (Scene 2, pp 10-11)


it can be easily deciphered that Tughlaq is constantly giving performance and
the projection of refined image of his self is carefully and consciously
maintained by Tughlaq until the Amirs attack him at the prayer time, thereby
revealing to him, their having seen through his deceptive appearance. Also,
though Shihab-ud-din’s treachery is a hard blow to him, he still maintains his
cultivated poise and diplomatically uses the murder of Shihab at his hands, for
his own political benefit. Here too, his intrinsic thirst for blood and
violence overpowers him, when he repetitively stabs, the already dead Shihab.


 “Then almost frenzied, goes on stabbing
him. Hits out at Shihab-ud-din’s dead body with ferocity that makes even the
solider holding the body turn away in horror.”  (Scene 6, pp 43)


then on, there is no stopping him and he unleashes all his cruelty and
autocratic tendencies on the people. His orders of shifting of his capital from
Delhi to
Daultabad much against the wishes of the people, banning the prayer, the public
execution and display of corpses of Amirs are all evidences of his innate power
hunger and the gradual exposure of his intrinsic feeling of hatred and blood
thirsty tendency vested in him.


at times, Tughlaq tries to cover up the exposed chinks and holes in the mask of
polish, it finally gives way when he orders his step mother to be publicly
stoned to death. This kind of punishment which during those times, was given
only to sinners committing adultery, is being meted out to his mother, one who
loves and cares for him more than anybody, his close confidant. This action of
his is the final failure of his mask to cover up his real nature, which is
displayed in all its ugliness and brings back to us the heinous crimes of
patricide and fratricide on which he had assumed the kingship of Delhi in the first place.


till this point all the actions of refinement of Tughlaq which had but subtle
ironic undertones now become outwardly ironic and reflect his shallow
personality in poor light. His act of welcoming Aziz in the grab of Ghiyassudin
Abasid by falling at his feet, even though being aware of the disguise mirrors
the crooked and the crafty intriguer that he is.


heighten the effect of this conflict between his dual natures, the play also
has many other characters playing different roles. Ratan Singh deliberately and
shrewdly traps Shihhabudin; Ain-ul-Mulk, a close childhood friend of Tughlaq,
wages war against Tughlaq; the Amirs who level charges of patricide, Fratricide
and pollution of prayer on Tughlaq, themselves are prepared for regicide and
that too at prayer time. Again Aziz, a dhobi by profession, but can be said to
be the alter ego of Tughlaq minus his projected self, unscrupulously plays a
number of roles to his benefit. He cheats Tughlaq by disguising himself as
Vishnu Prasad a Brahmin land owner; mints counterfeit copper coins; makes money
by looting people on the way to Daultabad, and finally enters the interiors of
the palace in the garb of Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid, after having ruthlessly
murdered the original Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid. In fact, it is only Aziz who has
understood the essential core of Tughlaq’s nature and schemes and rightly
exploits them to his own advantage. He calls himself a devout servant of
Tughlaq, he says “I insist, I am your Majesty true disciple”. (Scene 13, pp
80)  Hence, it is no wonder that Tughlaq
immediately identifies himself with Aziz and forgives him, much to the surprise
of Barani who fails to understand this. Tughlaq even goes to the extent of
making Aziz an officer in the army highlighting that Tughlaq finally has come
to terms with himself, letting go of his histrionics once for all. The final
sleep which has eluded him for five years now encompasses him signifying peace
achieved due to the amalgamation of his dual personalities.

U R Anthamurthy highlights the play is “A dramatization projection of Tughlaq’s
tortured divided self. The external action throughout enacts the inner drama of
Tughlaq” and “Tughlaq is what he is inspite of his self knowledge
and an intense desire for divine grace”. It can be safely concluded that
literature can offer glimpses into the interior counters of historical one
dimensional occurrences in a way that the fictional re-imaginings and
re-creations give multi-dimensional insights into understanding life around us
and the complex personalities that people it in a labyrinthine ways.




1.     Girish Karnad, Tuqhlaq (Delhi Oxford University Press, 1975)

2.     Christine Gomez, “Karnad’s Tughlaq as
an alienated protagonist”, P.114, The
Plays of Girish Karnad : Critical
Perspectives, edited by Jaydipsinh Dodiya ( Prestige 1999)

3.     K K John, “A Reassessment of the
Character of Karnad’s Tughlaq”, P.130, The
Plays of Girish Karnad : Critical
Perspectives, edited by Jaydipsinh Dodiya ( Prestige 1999)

4.     K Ratna Sheila Mani, “The Betrayal
Motif in Karnad’s Tughlaq” , P.140, The Plays
of Girish Karnad : Critical
Perspectives, edited by Jaydipsinh Dodiya ( Prestige 1999)

5.     U R Anathamurthy, “Introduction”, Tughlaq, P.vii

6.     Girish Karnad Introduction to three
plays Naga Mandala, Hayavadana, Tughlaq” The
Plays of Girish Karnad : Critical Perspective, Edition 1975).

7.     U R Anathamurthy, “Introduction”, Tughlaq, P.ix