Dhar Vihar Pratap Khadag Dhar, SujBisar Nah PakkarSaer!
Akbar Uber MaalAadhado, Oeeyeney Sevag Bhup Aaner!!
These poetic lines1 – from the song entitled “Akbar and Maharana Pratap” (lyrics’ metric style is in Sannaur linguistic pattern of regional Mewari dialect) – praises Maharana Pratap’s war, diplomacy and strategy against Akbar, the Mughal emperor. The poet beautifully conveys that the august immortal warrior spirit of Maharana Pratap made him daringly stake his life. Maharana, always on his feet, well equipped with arms and armour, became a bottleneck for Akbar’s dream of expansion of his empire in the Southern part of Rajasthan.
At the same, the poet says, for Akbar, the noble king Pratap was also a neckline which is not to be adorned because of his animosity. Akbar had never come across in his life time such a true, noble and brave heart warrior of blue blood.
This is one of the many poems and bards sung in respect of Maharana Pratap, a Sisodia Rajput and the 54th Custodian of the kingdom of Mewar. His story is of the powerful, invincible and dauntless spirit for the protection of freedom, sovereignty and dignity of his kingdom and his people.
Prince Pratap was born in the mighty fort of Kumbhalgarh, straddling the thickly forested hills of the kingdom of Mewar, on 9th May 1540 (or Jyeshtha Sudi 3, 1597 of the Vikram Samvat calendar). His mother, Queen Jayavanta Bai, was the first of his father Rana Udai Singh’s more than twenty wives.
Mewar was a well-established kingdom by that period, much eulogized for its tradition of valour in battle, and tracing its physical entity in the region to more than one thousand years before Pratap’s birth. Sisodia Rajputs of Mewar are Suryavamshi Kshatriyas, from the illustrious line of Raghu and Shri Ram.
The clansmen were once known as Guhilots, after one of their ancestors, Guha. Guha, also referred to as Guhaditya, had eventually wrested power and founded a new kingdom to replace his lost ancestral kingdom. Mewar traditions hold that Guhaditya had begun to rule around 568 ce and ever since then, the Mewari Rawals and later Ranas protected the nation, religion and the people against almost every foreign force.
Four years prior to Pratap’s ascension to the throne, Mewar had already been through a devastating war at Chittor in 1567-68, where Akbar’s forces prevailed and what followed was a disaster with mass killings of almost 30,000 people. Mewar at that point was perhaps at its weakest. As Kaviraj Shyamaldas in his work, Vir Vinod, recorded. Many of the renowned warriors had died defending the country at Khanua in 1527, then exacerbated by a sudden invasion and siege by the Gujarat Sultanate a decade later, followed by short but ruinous reign of the usurper Banbeer2 and finally the war of 1568.
Pratap inherited a vulnerable state but significant nonetheless, its prestige and position of eminence among the Rajput states or even whole of India, was still the same. And more importantly its tremendously significant strategic position. Mewar was enroute to major trade centres and was on road to ports of Gujarat. Crucial trade and campaign route, from Delhi to Gujarat where the major port of Surat was located, and from Delhi via Malwa on to the Deccan – ran through Mewar’s territories.
Mewari army regularly was in practice of tax collection from merchants and travelers taking the routes as it fell under their undisputed sovereignty. Mewar had seen the discovery of silver and lead mines in the village of Jawar years ago. And it was the centre of zinc and copper production3. Zinc was extracted in Mewar since the time of Maharana Lakha and as per an estimate it was valued at around ₹1,82,000 a year.
Blessed with agricultural produces, mining and strategic position, Mewar’s significance multiplied with the political symbolism it carried.
And hence Akbar was adamant as winning Mewar could give once again a strong signal to all other powers and add in the empire an invaluable strength. Akbar had added greatly to his strength. In 1569, Bundi fell to him; and despite strong resistance by the Bundi ruler, Rao Surjan, on 24 March that year, the fort of Ranthambore came into Akbar’s hands after the Bundi ruler agreed to peace terms. With Bikaner, Jaisalmer and later plains of Sirohi in 1572 coming to him, the Mughal emperor was larger than life. But nothing could work with Maharana Pratap. In words of historian RN Prasad, “The Maharana stood like a stumbling block in the Emperor’s scheme of annexing the whole of Rajasthan to his Empire.”
Despite the loss in 1568, a significant part of the Mewar kingdom along with the treasury was still held by Maharana Udai Singh who had retreated further into the relative safety provided by the higher terrain of Mewar, within the Aravalli hills. Fortuitously for the Mewar ruler, the Aravalli range, with an average elevation of over 600 metres above mean sea level, and summits exceeding 1000 metres, provided it with a unique cover.
Or as Virendra Singh Rathore, historian and author of Prithviraj Chauhan : A Light on The Mist in History, explains – “Mewar’s western and southern half is composed of decidious forests, moors, shrubs and narrow valleys. The state was studded with forts resting on hills and their approach welcomed by ravines, valleys and forests. This was the strategic depth to which the Mewari Maharanas fell back whenever the many times larger Muslim armies swept in to overwhelm their defenses.”4 Indeed the hills of Aravalli were one unique and magnificent feature of Mewar which no other kingdom of Rajputana had.
One among those geographically more vulnerable of kingdoms was the kingdom of Amer (later Jaipur). Amer was in plains and mere days march away from the Mughal centres of Delhi and Agra. The rulers of Amer, the Kachhawaha Rajputs, had no hills to take shelters and hence to prevent utter ruin at the hands of powerful Mughal forces – who later proved their worth in destruction – the Amer kingdom found ground in continuing alliance with the Mughals.
Amer was ruled by Raja Bhagwant Das who was dutifully helped by his eldest son and heir to the throne, Kuar Man Singh. Man Singh, with his unique military mind and diplomatic skills, was one of Akbar’s most important nobles. Akbar in June 1573, in his bid to sway Maharana and seek his surrender, asked Man Singh to reach Mewar and talk with Maharana. The meeting which followed is one of the many contentious points in the schemes before the battle.
A popular and greatly misunderstood narrative is that Maharana considered “Mughal siding” Man Singh as outcaste and refused to dine with him. As much as it is cinematic, the event is also devoid of truth. Prominent historians, including Sir Jadunath Sarkar5, Dr Raghubir Singh6 and Dr Gopinath Sharma7 have dismissed the event’s fancies. “This story has no tinge of truth about it. The simple fact of an interview and Rana’s objection of going to the court has been coloured by bardic imagination,” Dr Sharma writes.
Nonetheless Akbar’s attempts to move Maharana failed. He later sent Raja Bhagwant Das but that too failed against the mountain spirit of the Maharana. War was inevitable.
Battle of Haldighati
Akbar arrived at Ajmer in March, 1576 with objective of winning the rest of Mewar and sent a force led by Man Singh for Gogunda. Between Kuar Man and Gogunda was the mountain protection of Aravallis. The only route was through the Haldighati pass.
The pass was extremely difficult for the imperial forces and strategically favoured the Mewaris. As Dr Sharma noted, “Only a few bowmen guarding the ghati could check the rush of hundreds of men. A small body of firm warriors could successfully defend it against a large body of soldiers.” And hence the imperial army, despite being numerically at least four times stronger, had to work very smartly.
Early in the morning of 18th June, 1576, when lead was taken by the Rajputs whose elephants mounted Mewar’s flag came out from the neck of the Ghati to meet the Mughals. They were followed by Rana’s van headed by Hakim Khan Sur and his Pathans, who, as they were saved by the Ranas earlier, owed their life to the Mewar. As it advanced to meet the enemy, blowing of the trumpets, beating of the drums and songs encouraged the vigour of the warriors.
Maharana’s forces fell upon the centre and the right of the enemies. Strength, valour and agility ensured a bloody battle. In spur of the event, the Mughal left side, being incessantly oppressed, fell into disorder and field was strewn with carcasses, courtesy of Raja Ram Shah who was leading the right of Mewari forces. Valour of Rana’s van, centre and right, was so effective that both the centre and left van of Mughals including Ghazi Khan and Asaf Khan fled away.
Some of them didn’t look back till they had passed ten or twelve miles beyond the river. It appeared a lost day for Mughals when suddenly Mihtar Khan, from the rear, rushed to the front with his party shouting that the emperor had arrived. The trick succeeded and Mughals, stopped fleeing, again engaged with the furious Rajputs.
Second position at Rakht Talai ensued and Rajputs began their courageous assault. The field was littered with bodies and blood. This struggle saw veergati of Raja Ram Shah of Gwalior, his three sons and Ramdas Rathore, son of Jaimal.
Then came turn of Man Singh and tussle of the mighty elephants. Maharana riding his thunderous horse Chetak, reached in striking distance of Kuar Man and hurled a spear at him, which was taken by the elephant, giving time to Man Singh for a swift escape. Maharana’s brave move brought whole of imperial army’s attention and arrows on him. It was useless for Maharana to lose his life here and this defeat of the day did not very much endanger his position. But he would not leave the field to lead the Sisodias hereafter to victory in the end.
As the field felt near impossible, it was extremely important for Maharana to leave from the hopeless situation to be able to fight for another day. He was not ready but his nobles persuaded him. Mana Jhala then played his game and now occurred an event the like of which it would be difficult to find. Mana Jhala snatched the Sisodia standard from his hands and started impersonating Maharana, before the enemy could make out what had happened, he had drawn all the force of the Mughal attack on him. Maharana cut his way through and was able to leave the field.
Mughals had the chance to pursue Maharana but Man Singh did not allow it and so directly saved the Maharana. This move of Man Singh is seen by many as reflective of his soft corner for the Maharana. His tussle with Maharana was about military prowess but still he knew the significance of Mewar’s head.
Maharana, with the skill and strength of his arm, marched round and swayed away from the peril. He was pursued by two soldiers of Mughals only to be slain by Shakti Singh, Maharana’s younger brother who was fighting from the Mughal side till now. Later Mughal officials wanted Shakti to be penalised for helping Maharana but Man Singh didn’t let any harm come to him.
Maharana’s retreat spurred chaos still Jhala Man Singh, Rawat Netsi, Rathore Shankar Das made a firm stand but were made to retreat by the brave band of Man Singh’s bodyguards. Retreat was pursued and many fell. In this way the day was won by Man Singh. Man Singh simply proved himself to be a better war general and an effective military planner. The Mewaris proved their strength, spirit, courage and tremendous bravery.
And in coming years after the battle, Maharana won almost all of his kingdom back in series of battles like Battle of Dewair – where 32,000 strong Mughal force surrendered to Maharana and where Maharana achieved an incredible feat in the world of brave men by chopping Bahlol Khan along with his horse into two pieces8,9 – and other victorious battles like Gogunda, Chawand, Madariya, Kumbhalgarh, Mohi, Idar and Mandal. Man Singh won the battle but Maharana won the war.
Man Singh – Good or Evil?
Man Singh secured the day at Haldighati, a success for which he would pay all his repute and would be treated as a “traitor” by the coming generations. But was he really a traitor? Analysing the history with honesty and nuances rather than politics and emotions give us an opposite image of him from the popular narrative. Contrary to being a traitor, Man Singh was of a very unique personality and vulnerable times.
After the battle of Haldighati, he prevented any plundering or destruction in Maharana’s territory as Tabaqat-i-Akbari noted. He also forbade the soldiers to loot Maharana’s territories, despite his own army starving from food, about which we know from Haqiqatha-i-Hindustan. Man Singh prevented the repeat of 1568’s Chittor. Akbarnama mentions of Akbar’s suspicion and anger at Man Singh and his Rajputs’ conduct. Man Singh was recalled and Shahbaz Khan was sent to command in his place. Not only this, Man Singh’s admission to the imperial court was withheld and the imperial honours and mansabs, not only of Man Singh but also of his father, was forfeited.
Man Singh did not abandon his diplomatic approach rather doubled down on it. He saved around 7,000 temples throughout India and built/rebuilt numerous dharmik places at a pace not seen in history. He built a seven story Govindji Temple costing 1 crore at that time. He built the Jagat Shiromani temple at Amer for Mewari queen and sant Meerabai. He built around ‘1000 temples in Benaras’ and made it a city of temples again which were left in dilapidated condition after the destruction caused by earlier Muslim rule. Among the many temples he built some prominent are – Kashi Vishwanath temple, Ramkot temple, Islamabad; Shiladevi of Amer; Laxminarayan temple and rebuilt Shiv temple of Baikunth, Bihar.
Man Singh was undoubtedly a very dharmic person. He never used to eat before he had finished his puja and always carried his family idol along with him wherever he went. It was Man Singh who patronised perhaps the greatest and noblest of saints in medieval history – author of the holy Ramcharitmanas – Tulsidas.
His military brilliance was unparalleled and still remains to this day. Afghan rule in Bihar, Bengal and Orissa was one of the darkest moments of Hindu history. Man Singh defeated and subdued the Afghans, freed the people and temples out of Muslim tyrannical clutches and built hundreds more. He remains one of the extremely few kings to have won over Afghanistan. Man Singh brought the famously destructive five Afghan tribes10 to their knees and won and justly ruled over the Afghan lands11. Despite fighting for the Mughal empire Man Singh ensured safety and prosperity of Hindu interests. It is because of this, he is still remembered fondly in Bengal and Orissa.
Man Singh was person of an incredibly complex character. Given the vulnerable situation he was in and the geographical weakness of his kingdom, he pulled marvelous feats in his name and saved dharma like no other king.
Man Singh also was a patron of Tulsidas. Tulsidas, belonging to one of India’s most stern and orthodox Vaishnav order, remained the most respected person throughout. His Ramcharitmanas is a household book in whole North India because he made the higher truth available to masses in pleasant language while retaining the whole teachings and meanings of Vedshatra with addition of his magnificent poetic beauty. His importance can not be described in words and so is Raja Man’s for patronising him.
Maharana Pratap and Raja Man Singh chose radically opposite ways for protection and promulgation of Dharma. It is when we disentangle the history from the complex web of politics and prejudices, that we see a clearer fairer picture of our past.
- Singh, Jayshree. (2019). FOLK-LORE OF VEER RASA IN CONTEXT OF MAHARANA PRATAP’S VALOUR. 10.33329/joell.61.48.
- Maharana Pratap : The Invincible Warrior by Rima Hooja Page 18
- History and Culture of the Indian People by RC Majumdar Vol 06 Page 331
The tricky road of medieval letters – Maharana Pratap, Shivaji and the Kachwahas by VS Rathore
- A History of Jaipur – Sir Jadunath Sarkar Page 45
- Purva Adhunik Rajasthan – Dr Raghubir Singh Page 51
- Mewar and The Mughal Emperors – Gopinath Sharma Page 89-90
- Bahlol Vadh – Gordhan Bogsa
- A History of Jaipur by Sir Jadunath Sarkar Chapter 06
- Raja Man Singh of Amber by Rajiv Nain Prasad Page 62
Editor’s Note: The above article is in response to a ClubHouse discussion hosted by Nupur J. Sharma, the Editor-in-Chief of OpIndia where the historical role of Hindu Monarchs in assisting Mughals consolidate their hold over India was discussed. During the discussion, the role of Raja Man Singh was also discussed.
During the discussion, the role of Raja Man Singh was also discussed to talk about how in Hindu history, it has been Hindus who have allied with the enemy against fellow Hindus. The discussion also included what Hindus can learn today from the mistakes of the past, where Hindu consolidation was thwarted by active participation from Hindus. In the process, certain individuals, including this author believed that Man Singh’s contribution to the Hindu cause should be highlighted far more than it was in the discussion.
As such, OpIndia does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in the article but believes that views concerning the role of Hindu Monarchs in history, even if unpopular or controversial, ought to be discussed within boundaries of decency and good faith. Thus, the above article was published to promote a healthy discussion on the matter.