Maharaja Prithu: The Warrior King Who Annihilated Bakhtiyar Khilji in Assam

The Northeast Dialogue

The history of medieval Kamarupa after the fall of the Pala line of kings is as obscure as disconnected. At the time of the advent of the Muslims in Bengal in the early 13th century, Kamarupa included the region bounded by the river Karatoya on the west, stretching eastwards as far as the modern districts of Darrang and ‘Nowgong’. The kingdom of Kamarupa posed as a great balk to the attainment of political ambition and military zeal of the Muslim sultans of Bengal, as such, it was a natural target. The last part of the 12th century is very significant in the history of Kamrup. It witnessed the rise of a local chief by the name Prithu.

The Persian chronicle Tabaqat-i-Nasiri called him Bartu. The Persian Chronicle Tabaqat-i-Nasiri has extensively recorded the events that took place during the invasion of Bakhtiyar Khilji in Kamarupa. It recorded how the formidable Turkish army led by Bakhtiyar got annihilated inside Kamarupa in 1206. The chronicle mentioned that the ruler of Kamarupa who was responsible for the death of more than one lakh twenty thousand Muslim soldier was Bartu or Prithu. The complete annihilation of the army of Mohamad -I- Bakhtiyar Khilji by Maharaja Prithu is recorded briefly in the Kanai Basasi Rock Inscription Kanai Basasi Rock Inscription in North Guwahati.

Prithu alias Visvasundaradeva was one of the greatest rulers of ancient Kamarupa ruled from 1185 to 1228 CE. He was a local chief as stated by S.K. Chatterji who rose to the position of the king of Kamarupa and ruled for a considerable period and resisted two Muslim invasions during his reign, one in 1206 and the other in 1227. During the third invasion in 1228 led by Nasiruddin, son of Sultan Iltutmish and the governor of Bengal, Prithu was defeated. It was not an easy task to defeat a formidable and skilled army of Prithu who were victorious against the Muslim invaders previously. During the fight, both sides had suffered a huge of number casualties. Maharaja Prithu and his army inflicted considerable damaged to the invading forces so much so that even after the victory, Nasiruddin never dared to annex Kamarupa into the Muslim Empire in India. The commitment towards his people and valor of Prithu was such that even after his defeat, he however refused to submit or surrender to the enemy and rather chooses to drown himself in a tank called Maharajar Dighi, followed by his guards situated inside the Bhitargarh in Rangpur in Bangladesh. According to local myths, Prithu Raja would rather let his kingdom go to ruins than see it surrendered to a savage tribe called Kichoks. Prithu was respected and deified by his subjects, and he could not stand seeing his “purity sullied” by such savages. So the king decided to end his life thus leaving his kingdom to despair and plunder.

According to Rangpur District Gazetteers, Prithu was one of the earliest rulers of Rangpur which was a part of Kamarupa or Pragjyotisha kingdom. It traced the ruins of his capital which half lays in Chaklaboda and half in pargana Baikuntpur, in the present district of Jalpaiguri. The Jalpaiguri district Gazetteers mentioned that Jalpaiguri district was a part of ancient Kamarupa and ruled by Prithu Raja whose extensive remains of the capital may still be seen at Bhitargarh (Rampart city), south of the road from Jalpaiguri to Titalya. It further stated that Bhitargarh was the capital of Prithu Raja and was situated partly in Rajganj and partly in Boda. In 1809 Buchanan Hamilton a British explorer made an extensive study of the Bhitargarh and recorded a very impressive detail of Maharaja Prithu’s palace and the elaborate layout of the capital city. He called the place the ruined city of Prithu Raja. Local oral tradition still current among the people states about the ruined city as the capital of a kingdom headed by Prithu.

Prithu was well aware of the horrific killing, looting and destruction of temples and Buddhist monasteries in Bihar and Bengal by Bakhtiyar Khilji and his Turkish army before the invasion into Kamarupa. He was monitoring the military advances of Bakhtiyar since his successful campaign in Bengal. Prithu was anticipating similar attacks on his kingdom by the Turkish army. It is worthwhile to mention that the troops of more than twelve thousand Turkish cavalry and twenty thousand infantries that came to invade Kamarupa were by far the largest invading army recorded in Assam History. The destruction of such a mighty force demanded an exceptionally well-laid battle plan and skillful soldiers and formidable generals and above all farsighted, brave and inspirational king. He was the warrior king who decimated Bakhtiyar Khilji and in a way avenge the unpardonable atrocities perpetuated in Bihar and Bengal which also includes the destruction of the great seat of learning, the Odantapuri, the Vikramshila and the Nalanda University. It is a historical fact that Bakhtiyar Khilji was annihilated by a warrior king in Kamarupa. The person who destroyed Nalanda, Odantapuri, Vikramshila and conquered Bihar and Bengal with his swift and well trained cavalry met the most disastrous end in Assam.  

27 March, 2024, marks the 818th anniversary (13th day of Chaitra, saka 1127, CE 1206) of Kamrupa ruler Prithu’s victory, against the marauding troops of the fanatic Bakhtiyar Khilji. Bharatvarsha's unsung heroes sacrificed their lives to preserve dharma and righteousness. Historians and intellectuals wiped their histories, but their stories live on in folklore. The story of Maharaja Prithu survived through inscriptions and chroniclers, but many other heroes' tales remain untold.


Dr Raktim Patar, Associate Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU


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