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Gujarat’s Last Rajput King Karan Ghelo: A king’s life

A translation of the first novel of Gujarati literature tells the story of the Vaghela dynasty

Gujarat’s Last Rajput King: Karan Ghelo
Nandshankar Mehta, Tulsi Vatsal & Aban Mukherji
Penguin
Pp 332
Rs 499

KARANDEV VAGHELA, also known in history as Karan Ghelo, was the last in the line of Vaghela chieftains of Anhilwar in Gujarat. He was also the last Rajput ruler to have held control of most of Gujarat and Saurashtra.
Karan Ghelo, the first novel of Gujarati literature, was first written in 1866 by Nandshankar Tuljashankar Mehta, who twisted the tale of the last Rajput ruler a bit to create his first and only fiction novel. Mehta was also the first Indian headmaster of an English-medium school in Surat and later became the diwan of Bhuj. As the first modern novel written in Gujarati,

the book was a landmark in Gujarati literature. It remained immensely popular right through the 20th century and, until a few decades ago, was even used as a textbook in Gujarati-medium schools.

This English translation of the popular novel has been penned by Tulsi Vatsal, a graduate of Oxford University, an independent researcher, writer and editor, who has authored a number of books on Indian history and culture, and Aban Mukherji, the author of Soonamai Desai of Navsari, an autobiography of a Parsi Zoroastrian woman social worker from Gujarat.

Karan Ghelo traces the life of Karandev Vaghela, the raja of Gujarat, with special focus on the events that take place after he, in the grip of lust and acting against the norms of Kshatriya dharma, abducts Roopsundari, his prime minister Madhav’s wife. Fuelled by a desire for revenge, Madhav escapes from the capital, Anhilpur Patan, and makes his way to Delhi in a journey fraught with dangers and obstacles. On reaching Delhi, he persuades Sultan Alauddin Khilji to invade Gujarat. The sultan’s invasion is successful. Patan fort is destroyed and left in ruins. The king loses not only his kingdom, but also his other wife Kaularani and a few years later his daughter Devaldevi as well to the Turkish sultan. The humiliating defeat of Vaghela forever ends Rajput rule in Gujarat, signalling the end of an era and the dawn of a new age.

Rich in psychological insight and imbued with a poetic vision, Karan Ghelo is an interesting historical novel, which takes readers through a roller-coaster ride through the Vaghela dynasty under Karandev Vaghela and its tragic end. However, the lengthy dialogues and archaic prose, even while creating convincing imagery, slow the pace of the thrilling book considerably.

Interestingly, if you are familiar with Greek mythology, you will find yourself drawing similarities with the story of Troy, in which a young prince abducts a woman, taking the country to war.

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