Tughlaq, One of the kings from the Tughlaq Dynasty who ruled Delhi sultanate from 1325-1351. Girish Karnad chose to pen this epic historical drama because of kirtinath kurtakoti, a successful writer and a critic in Kannada, who claimed that Kannada literature doesn’t have plays based on the historical events. Tughlaq was published in 1964 which did not just become a cult classic drama in Kannada but also went on to make its mark in English literature and was even translated to English by Karnad himself. The play even took several other linguistic forms Including Urdu. It is also said that no other play saw the amount of success that Tughlaq did. Several movies in different languages were also made and popular actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri are some who made their presence in it.
In this play, one can witness varied characters of the different horizons being displayed on the stage. The feeling of hatred, insecurity, injustice seems to have stuck from the very first scene. The play opens with a usual conversation between Citizens of the Delhi gossiping about their own king. the introduction of a special character called Aziz in the first scene brings the first twist in the plot where one can see Muslim getting converted into Brahmin for better survival. As the story propels, the layers of the Tughlaq’s character are being exposed in an astonishing way to the audience and he seemed to have delusional warfare with his own thoughts. The citizens clamming blood of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq on the king’s hand who happens to be his father adds like a cheery on top of the miseries and agony in Tughlaq’s life. While Migration of the entire empire from Delhi to Daulatabad came in as a first big surprise to the citizens (when the king demanded the citizens to do so). The second surprise was when he banned the prayers in his kingdom. A king banning the prayer of his own religion in the entire kingdom is surely an unusual thing.
The character of Tughlaq also portrays someone with pluralistic and secularistic thinking and believed in ruling the kingdom with the same. The justification of which can be seen when he gives the land of a Brahmin which was stuck in a dispute to “not so Brahmin”, Brahmin. When scrutinized this particular move, it reveals the dichotomy between generosity and moronity of his character. This insanity takes an elevation when he announces the replacement of silver coins with the copper ones. the two other characters Barani and Najib guiding the sultan and standing by all his horrible decision are a great addition to the play. The play ends on an exceptional note. King sleeping on the throne during the prayer, which perhaps was being sung after years of the ban, gave an open ending and left the audience to think at their own level of intellect.
This play is a perfect example of any leader who despite being an intellect, political and believing in pluralism, secularism can sometimes fail miserably. Writer and a jnanpith awardee U R Ananthmurthy has found Tughlaq play similar to that of Nehru’s government in independent India, considering the fact that they shared similar beliefs.