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Girish Karnad has followed history in many ways,of course with some
deviations,yet the appeal of his play Tughlaq is modern.This is because of his
amazing dramatic skill and imagination that he could transform a historical figure
into a modern existential hero.The tragic fall,suffering and disillusionment of
Tughlaq from the height of idealism,nobility and learning is greatly arresting and
Political Allegory
In his Introduction to this play Anantha Murthy points out:
Another reason for Tughlaqs appeal to Indian audiences is that
It is a play of the sixties,and reflects as no other play perhaps
Does the political mood of disillusionment which followed the
Nehru era of idealism in the country.
In support of his finding Anatha Murthy has quoted the comment of Karnad
himself Enact,June 1971 who seems to be sharing his view:
What struck me absolutely about Tughlaqs history was that it
Was contemporary.The fact that here was the most idealistic,
The most intelligent king ever to come on the throne of Delhi .and
one of
The greatest failures also. And within a span of twenty years this
Capable man had gone to pieces.This seemed to be both due to his
impatience,his cruelty,
his feeling that he had the only correct answer.And I felt in the early
sixties India had also
come very far in the same directionthe twenty year period seemed
to me very much a
striking parallel.
This comment also suggests that Tughlaq is a political allegory, but it would be
wrong to equate the time of Tughlaq with Nehru era.There may be some
resemblance.In a democratic set up when the ruler is soft,visionary and noble
people do take undue advantages of liberal and secular policies.This happened in

sixties too. As a result ,crime and corruption flourished.But there is a marked

contrast Tughlaq and Nehru.Both were visionaries,but Tughlaqs vision was
based on utopian schemes; whereas Nehrus vision was translatable and has
yielded positive results and contributed significantly to the shaping of modern
India.Tughlaq was a despot;Nehru was a true democrat.Tughlaq s ways were
cruel ,tyrannical and irreligious; Nehru was kind ,benevolent and loving.Tughlaq
was destructive; Nehru was creative ,pragmatic and a visionary in the true sense
of the term.
Therefore, Tughlaq is more than a mere political allegory.Anantha Murthy too
agrees when he writes:
But the play is more than a political allegory. It has an irreducible,
puzzling quality
which comes from the ambiguities of Tughlaqs character, the
dominating figure in the play.
Herein lies the modern appeal of the play, not so much in being a political
allegory, but because it is a modern drama of a historical character who suffers
intense agony caused by his experience of existential alienation due to his faulty
vision and despotic behaviour.

Moreover,Karnad himself admits very honestly that he never intended to write a

play about the Nehru era consciously:
I did not consciously write about the Nehru era.I am always flattered when
people tell me it was about the Nehru era and equally applies to the
development of politics since then.But I think,well ,that any playwright would be
thrilled to get but it was not intended to be a contemporary play about a
contemporary situation.I think if one gets involved with ones characters or ones
play then it should develop into some kind of a true statement about oneself.I
think a play can be only contemporary as the playwright is.
This is true. Much depends on the writers contemporary convictions and even
when Karnad didnt make any conscious effort to make the play a political
allegory,he unconsciously reflected some of the tendencies of the modern age.
Modern Appeal
The play is modern in its appeal because of Karnads characterisation of
Tughlaq.Its interesting to note how Karnad conceived Tughlaq.He says,
when I came to Tughlaq I said oh! Marvellous! That is what I wanted.I
suddenly realised what a fantastic character I had hit upon.
An intensive study of this drama reveals that the playwright has displayed his
amazing dramatic genius in shaping and presenting on the stage Tughlaqs
character in terms of existential situations in life.Tughlaqs tragedy is ,in fact ,the
tragedy of a modern man who is a complex personality,but so often torn

between the ideal and real.This dualism is responsible for conflicts and
complications in life,shattering all his idealism,dreams,hopes and aspirations into
pieces.Such a man,howsoever virtuous he may be ,falls and suffers miserably
because he adopts foul means to achieve his noble target.This is the tragic story
of Tughlag who projects himself as an idealist with ambitious plans of communal
harmony,of shifting the capital,of making copper coins,but in his pursuit of these
ideals he perpetuates the opposite.The means he adopts to reachhis ideals are
cruel, violent and treacherous.Consequently,he is miserably torn between the
ideal and the real and emerges as a multiphrenic personality.
Tughlaq ,the idealist declines into a tyrant when his idealism turns into cynicism,
his secularism falls into fanaticism and his frustration leads to anger, and anger
deepens into anguish.Ultimately,he is completely disillusioned at the level of
existential reality and his existence is reduced to nothingness; that he is all
alone in this world, and nothing, not even divine grace can help him, so
ironically, he sleeps at the time of prayer.When he opens his eyes after prayer he
looks confused and dazed.
Such a moving and powerful tragedy of one of the most impressive and capable
kings in Indian history is greatly appealing to the modern theatre goers.