Maharana Pratap: The Braveheart of Mewar
In the context of the Rajasthan Government’s move to declare 20 May as a holiday to commemorate Maharana Pratap Jayanti, it is only pertinent to provide a short biography of this great, proud, and inspirational freedom fighter who fought at great personal cost and lost but didn’t bow before the tyranny of Akbar. This biography is reproduced from the eighth chapter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod’s Annals of Rajast’han -The Annals of Mewar (Abridged and edited by C. H. Payne)-
Partap succeeded to the titles and renown of an illustrious house, without a capital, without resources, his kindred and clans weakened and dispirited. Yet, possessed by the noble spirit of his race, he meditated the recovery of Chitor, the vindication of the honour of his house, and the restoration of its power. Elevated with this design, he hurried into conflict with his powerful antagonist, nor stopped to calculate the means which were opposed to him.
Accustomed to read in his country’s annals the splendid deeds of his forefathers, he trusted that fortune might co-operate with his efforts to overturn the unstable throne of Delhi. But while he gave rein to these lofty aspirations, his crafty opponent was undermining them by a scheme of policy which, when disclosed, filled his heart with anguish. The wily Mogul arrayed against Partap his kindred in faith as well as in blood. The princes of Marwar, Ambar, Bikanir, and even Biindi, late his ally, took part with Akbar. Nay, even his own brother, Sagarji, deserted him, and received, as the price of his treachery, the ancient capital of his race and the title which that possession conferred.
But the magnitude of the peril confirmed the fortitude of Partap, who vowed, in the words of the bard, “to make his mother’s milk resplendent.” Single-handed, for a quarter of a century, he withstood the combined efforts of the empire ; at one time carrying destruction into the plains, at another, flying from rock to rock, feeding his family from the fruits of his native hills, and rearing the nursling hero Amra amidst savage beasts and scarce less savage men, a fit heir to his prowess and revenge. The bare idea that the son of Bappa Rawul should bow the head to mortal man was insupportable ; and he spurned every overture which had submission for its basis, or the degradation of uniting his family by marriage with the Tartar. The brilliant acts he achieved during that period live in every valley. To recount them all, or relate the hardships he sustained, would be to pen what would be described as a romance by those who have not traversed the country where tradition is yet eloquent of his exploits, nor conferred with the descendants of his chiefs, who cherish the recollections of the deeds of their ancestors, and melt, as they recite them, into manly tears.
Partap was nobly supported; and though wealth and fortune tempted the fidelity of his retainers, not one was found base enough to desert him. The sons of Jaimal shed their blood in his cause along with the descendants of Patta ; the Chondawats, the descendants of Chonda, redoubled their devotion to the fallen house ; the chief of Dailwara pressed to his standard, as did many others, attracted by the very desperation of his fortunes. To commemorate the desolation of Chitor, Partap interdicted to himself and his followers every article of luxury or pomp, until the insignia of her glory should be redeemed. The gold and silver vessels were laid aside for pateras of leaves, their beards were left untouched, and their beds were of straw ; and to mark yet more distinctly their fallen state, the martial nakaras, which always sounded in the van of the battle or procession, were commanded to follow in the rear. This last sign of the depression of Mewar survives to this day. The beard of the prince is still untouched by the shears, and though he eats off gold and silver, and sleeps on a bed, he places leaves beneath the one and straw under the other.
With the aid of his chiefs Partap remodelled his government, adapting it to the exigencies of the times and to his slender resources. New grants were issued with regulations defining the service required. Komulmir, now the seat of his government, was strengthened, as well as Gogiinda and other mountain fortresses. Being unable to keep the field in Mewar, he followed the system of his ancestors, and commanded his subjects, on pain of death, to retire to the mountains. Many tales are told of the unrelenting severity with which he enforced obedience to his stern policy. Frequently, with a few horse, he issued forth to see that his edicts were obeyed. The silence of the desert prevailed in the plains; grass usurped the place of the waving corn; the highways were choked with the thorny babul; and beasts of prey made their abode in the habitations of his subjects. Once, in the midst of this desolation, a single goat-herd, trusting to elude observation, disobeyed his prince’s injunction, and pastured his flock in the luxuriant meadows of Ontala, on the banks of the Banas. After a few questions he was killed and hung up in terrorem. By such patriotic severity Partap rendered the ‘ ‘ garden of Rajasthan ” of no value to the conqueror, and the produce of European markets, already penetrating to the Mogul capital, was intercepted on its way from Surat, and other ports, and plundered.
Akbar took the field against the Rajput prince, establishing his headquarters at Ajmir. This celebrated fortress, destined ultimately to be one of the twenty-two subahs of the Mogul empire, had admitted for some time a royal garrison. Maldeo of Marwar, who had so ably opposed the usurper Sher Shah, was compelled to follow the example of his brother prince, Bhagwan Das of Ambar, and to place himself at the footstool of Akbar. Only two years after Partap’s accession, after a brave but fruitless resistance in Mairtia and Jodhpur, he sent his son, Udai Singh, to pay homage to the king. He was received with distinction at Nagor, and the title Raja was conferred upon him. Being of uncommon bulk, he was henceforth known as Mota Raja, or Udai le gros. He was the first of his race to give a daughter in marriage to the Tartar. The bribe for which he bartered his honour was splendid. Four new provinces, yielding ^200,000 of annual revenue, were given in exchange for Jod Bai, the famous princess who became the mother of the emperor Shah Jahan, and whose magnificent tomb is still to be seen at Sikandra, not far from that in which Akbar’s remains are deposited. With such examples as Marwar and Ambar, and with less power to resist the temptation, the minor chiefs of Rajasthan, with a brave and numerous vassalage, were transformed into satraps of Delhi, and in nearly every case their importance was increased by the change.
But these were fearful odds against Partap. The arms of his country turned upon him, derived additional force from their self- degradation, which kindled into jealousy and hatred against the magnanimous resolution they lacked the virtue to imitate. When Hindu prejudice was thus violated by every prince in Rajasthan, the Rana renounced all alliance with those who were thus degraded. To the eternal honour of Partap and his issue be it told that, to the very close of the monarchy of the Moguls, they refused such alliances not only with the throne, but even with their brother princes of Marwar and Ambar. It is a proud triumph of virtue to be able to record from the autograph letters of the most powerful of the Rajput princes, Bukhet Singh and Jai Singh, that whilst they had risen to greatness by the surrender of principle, as Mewar had decayed from her adherence to it, they should solicit, and that humbly, to be readmitted to the honour of matrimonial intercourse — “to be purified,” ” to be regenerated,” ” to be made Rajputs” — and that this favour was granted only on condition of their abjuring the contaminating practice which, for more than a century, had disunited them.
An anecdote illustrative of the settled repugnance of this noble family to sully the purity of its blood may here be related, as its result had a material influence on future events. Raja Man, who had succeeded to the throne of Ambar, was the most celebrated of his race, and from him may be dated the rise of his country. He was also one of the first chiefs to sacrifice principle to expediency ; and as Humayun, as has already been related, espoused a daughter of Bhagwan Das, he was the brother- in-law of Akbar. His courage and talents well seconded this advantage, and he became the first of the generals of the empire. To him Akbar was indebted for half his triumphs.
Raja Man was returning from the conquest of Sholapur to Hindustan when he invited himself to an interview with Partap, then at Komulmir, who advanced to the Udai Sagar to receive him. On the mound which embanks this lake, a feast was prepared for the prince of Ambar. The board was spread, the Raja summoned, and prince Amra ap- pointed to wait upon him ; but no Rana appeared, for whose absence apologies alleging headache were urged by his son, with the request that Raja Man would waive all ceremony, receive his welcome, and commence his repast. The prince in a tone at once dignified and respectful, replied: “Tell the Rana I can divine the cause of his headache ; but the error is irremediable, and if he refuses to put a khansa before me, who will?” Further subterfuge was useless. The Rana appeared and expressed his regret; but added: “I cannot eat with a Rajput who has given his daughter to a Toork, and who has probably eaten with him.” Raja Man was unwise to have risked this disgrace. He left the feast untouched, save for the few grains of rice he offered to Andeva, the god of food, observing as he withdrew, “It was for the preservation of your honour that we sacrificed our own, and gave our sisters and daughters to the Toork ; but abide in peril, if such be your resolve, for this country shall not hold you,” and, mounting his horse, he turned to the Rana and said : ” If I do not humble your pride, my name is not Man ; ” to which Partap replied, ” he should always be happy to meet him ” ; while some one, in less dignified terms, desired he would not forget to bring his phupa Akbar. The ground was deemed unclean where the feast had been spread : it was broken up and purified with water of the Ganges, and the chiefs who had witnessed the humiliation of one they deemed an apostate, bathed and changed their vestments. Every act was reported to the emperor, who was exasperated at the insult thus offered to himself; and the incident hastened the first of those sanguinary battles which have immortalised the name of Partap.
Prince Salim, the heir of Delhi, led the war, guided by the counsels of Raja Man and the distinguished apostate son of Sagarji, Muhabbat Khan. Partap trusted to his native hills, and the valour of 22,000 Rajputs to withstand the son of Akbar. The range to which he was restricted was the mountainous region around and chiefly to the west of the new capital. In length from north to south it was some eighty miles, and in breadth the same. The whole of this space is mountain and forest, valley and stream. The approaches to the fortress are defiles with lofty perpendicular rocks on either side, and so narrow that two carts can scarcely pass each other, but occasionally opening into spaces sufficiently capacious to encamp a whole army. Such a place was the plain of Haldighat, the scene of this bloody encounter, at the base of a col, or neck of mountain, which rendered it almost inaccessible. Above and below the Rajputs were posted, and on the cliffs and pinnacles overlooking the field of battle were the faithful Bhils, armed with their natural weapon, the bow and arrow, and with huge stones ready to roll down on the enemy.
Partap, with the flower of Mewar, defended the head of the pass, and glorious was the struggle for its maintenance. Clan after clan followed one another with desperate intrepidity, emulating the daring of their prince, who led the crimson banner into the hottest part of the field. In vain he strained every nerve to encounter Raja Man ; but though denied the luxury of revenge on his Rajput foe, he made good a passage to where Salim commanded. The prince’s guards fell before Partap, and but for the steel plates which defended his houdah, the lance of the Rajput would have deprived Akbar of his heir. His steed, the gallant Chitue, nobly seconded his lord, and is represented in all the historical drawings of this battle with one foot raised upon the elephant of the Mogul, while his rider has his lance propelled against his foe. The mahdivat, destitute of the means of defence, was slain, where- upon the infuriated animal, now without control, dashed away with his rider. On this spot the carnage was immense; the Moguls striving to defend Salim, and the heroes of Mewar to second their prince, who had already received seven wounds.
Marked by the royal umbrella, which he would not lay aside, and which collected the might of the enemy against him, Partap was thrice rescued from amidst the enemy, and was at length nearly overwhelmed, when Manah, the chief of Jhala, gave a signal instance of fidelity, and extricated him with the loss of his own life. Manah seized upon the insignia of Mewar, and, rearing the gold sun over his own head, drew after himself the brunt of the battle, while Partap was forced from the field. The noble Jhala fell with all his brave vassals ; and in remembrance of the deed, his descendants have, since the day of Haldighat, borne the regal ensigns of Mewar, and enjoyed ” the right hand of her princes.” But their valour was unavailing against a force which, besides being vastly superior in numbers, had the advantage of field artillery and a dromedary corps mounting swivels. Of Partap’s 22,000 warriors, only 8,000 quitted the field alive.
Unattended, the Rana fled on the gallant Chitue, who had borne him through the day, and who saved him now by leaping a mountain stream when closely pursued by two Mogul chiefs, whom this impediment momentarily checked. But Chitue, like his master, was wounded. Partap’s pursuers were gaining, the flash from the flinty rock announced them at his very heels, when there fell on his ear, in the broad accents of his native tongue, the salutation “hot nila ghora ra aswdr /” (ho ! rider of the blue horse !) and, looking back, he beheld but a single horse- man — that horseman his brother.
Sukta, whose personal enmity to Partap had made him a traitor to Mewar, beheld from the ranks of Akbar the ” blue horse ” flying unattended. Resentment was extinguished, and a feeling of affection mingling with sad and humiliating recollections, took possession of his heart. He joined in the pursuit, but only to slay the pursuers, who fell beneath his lance ; and now, for the first time in their lives, the two brothers embraced in friendship.
Here, too, Chitue fell, and as the Rana unbuckled his caparison to place it upon Ankaro, presented to him by his brother, the noble steed expired. An altar was raised, and yet marks the spot where Chitue died ; and the entire scene may be seen painted on the walls of half the houses of the capital.
The greeting between the princes was necessarily short, but Sukta quitted his brother with the assurance of reunion at the first safe opportunity. On rejoining Salim, the truth of his words was greatly doubted when he related that Partap had not only slain his pursuers, but Ankaro as well. Salim pledged his word to spare him if he related the truth, and Sukta replied: ” The burden of a kingdom is on my brother’s shoulders, and I could not witness his danger without defending him.” Salim kept his word, but dismissed the future head of the Suktawats from his service. Sukta joined Partap at Udaipur. On his way thither, he captured Bhainsror. His brother made him a grant of the conquest, and it long remained the chief abode of his descendants.
Of the Rana’s kin, 500 were slain in the battle of Haldighat. The ex-prince of Gwalior, with his son and 150 Tuar retainers paid the debt of gratitude with their lives. Since their expulsion by Babar, they had found sanctuary in Mewar, whose princes diminished their feeble revenues to maintain inviolable the rites of hospitality. Manah lost 150 of his vassals, and every house of Mewar mourned its chief support.
Elate with victory, Salim left the hills. The rainy season had set in, which impeded operations, and obtained for Partap a few months of repose ; but with the spring the foe returned, and he was again defeated. He then took post in Komulmfr, which was at once invested by Shabaz Khan. Here he made a gallant and protracted resistance, and did not retire till insects rendered the water of the well, their sole resource, impure. This circumstance is imputed to the treachery of the Deora chief of Abu, who had gone over to Akbar. Partap withdrew to Chaond, in the heart of the mountainous tract on the south – west of Mewar ; while the Sonigura chief defended the place to the last. He was slain in the final assault, and by his side fell the chief bard of Mewar, who inspired by his deeds as well as by his song the spirit of resistance to the ” ruthless king.”
On the fall of Komulmir, the castle of Gogunda was invested by Raja Man. Muhammad Khan took possession of Udaipiir, and Farid Khan approached Chaond from the south. Thus beset on every side, dislodged from his most secret retreats, and hunted from glen to glen, there appeared no hope for Partap. Yet even whilst his pursuers deemed him panting in some obscure lurking place, he would, by mountain signals, reassemble his bands and assail them unawares. By a skilful movement, Farid Khan was blocked up in a defile, and his force cut off to a man. The Moguls became weary of combating their ubiquitous enemy ; and once more the monsoon, swelling the mountain streams, brought respite to Partap.
Years thus rolled away, each ending with a diminution of his means and an increase to his misfortunes. His family was his chief cause of anxiety ; he dreaded their captivity — an apprehension often on the point of being realised. On one occasion they were saved by the faithful Bhils, who carried them in wicker baskets and concealed them in the tin mines of Jaora, where they guarded and fed them. Bolts and rings are still preserved in the trees about Jaora and Chaond to which baskets, the only cradles of the royal children of Mewar, were suspended to preserve them from the tiger and the wolf. Yet amid such complicated evils, the fortitude of Partap remained unshaken, and a spy sent by Akbar described how he saw the Rajput and his chiefs seated at a scanty meal, maintaining all the etiquette observed in prosperity, the Rana bestowing the dunah on the most deserving, which, though only of the fruits of the country, was received with all the reverence of better days.
But there were times when the wants of those dearer to him than his own life almost drove him to frenzy. His wife was insecure even in the mountain cave, and daily his children wept around him for food. Meals ready prepared had frequently to be abandoned for want of opportunity to eat them. Once his queen and his son’s wife had prepared a few cakes from the flour of the meadow grass, of which one was given to each child ; half for the present, the rest for a future meal. Partap was stretched beside them pondering on his misfortunes, when a piercing cry from his daughter roused him from his reflections. A wild cat had darted on the reserved portion of the food, and the starving child shrieked with despair. Until that moment his fortitude had been unsubdued. He had beheld his sons and his kindred fall around him on the field without emotion — ” for this the Rajput was born ” ; but the lamentation of his children for food unmanned him. He cursed the name of royalty if only to be enjoyed on such conditions, and he demanded of Akbar a mitigation of his hardships.
Overjoyed at this indication of submission, the emperor commanded public rejoicings, and exultingly showed the letter to Prithvi Raj, a brother of the prince of Bikaner, who had been compelled to follow the victorious car of Akbar. The state of Bikaner had recently grown out of the Rahtors of Marwar, and, being exposed on the flats of the desert, had been able to offer but little resistance. Prithvi Raj was one of the most gallant cavaliers of the age, and, like the Troubadour princes of the west, he could grace a cause with elegant verse as well as aid it with the sword : indeed, in an assembly of the bards of Rajasthan, the palm of merit was unanimously awarded to the Rahtor cavalier. He adored the very name of Partap, and
Akbar’s intelligence filled him with grief. With all the warmth and frankness of his nature, he told the king that the letter was the forgery of some foe to the fame of the Rajput prince. ” I know him well,” he said ; ” for your crown he would not submit to your terms.” He requested and obtained permission to transmit by his courier a letter to Partap, ostensibly to ascertain the fact of his submission, but in reality with a view to prevent it. The stirring couplets which composed the missive were to the following effect : ” The hopes of the Hindu rest on the Hindu ; yet the Rana forsakes them. But for Partap, all would be placed on the same level by Akbar ; for our chiefs have lost their valour and our females their honour. Akbar is the broker in the market of our race : all has he purchased but the son of Udai ; he is beyond his price. Despair has driven many to this mart to witness their dishonour : from such infamy the descendant of Hamir alone has been preserved. The world asks, whence the con-cealed aid of Partap? He has no aid but the soul of manliness and his sword ; with them well has he maintained the kkatrfs 1 pride. This broker in the market of men will one day be overreached ; he cannot live forever : then will our race come to Partap for the seed of the Rajput to sow in our desolate fields. To him all look for its preservation, that its purity may again become resplendent.”
This effusion of the Rahtor was equal to 10,000 men ; it nerved the drooping mind of Partap, and roused him into action, for it was a noble incentive to find every eye of his race fixed upon him. Unable any longer to hold his own in Mewar, he determined to lead his Sesodias to the Indus, plant the crimson banner on the insular capital of the Sogdi, and leave a desert between himself and his inexorable foe. With his family and all that was yet noble in Mewar, he descended the Aravalli, and had reached the confines of the desert when an incident occurred which caused him to change his plans, and to continue a dweller in the land of his forefathers. To Bhama Sah belongs the honour of having saved his country at this critical juncture. He was the Rana’s minister — an office which had long been hereditary in his family ; and he now offered to his master the accumulated wealth of himself and his ancestors, which, with other resources, is stated to have been sufficient for the maintenance of 25,000 men for twelve years. This magnificent offering enabled Partap once more to collect his bands ; and, while his foes imagined that he was endeavouring to effect a retreat through the desert, he fell suddenly on Shabaz in his camp at Deweir and cut his troops to pieces. The fugitives were pursued to Amait, whose garrison suffered the same fate. Ere the royal forces could recover from their consternation at this astonishing resurrection, Komulmir was assaulted and taken ; Abdulla and his garrison were put to the sword, and thirty-two other fortified posts were carried by surprise, the troops being put to death without mercy. In one short campaign, Partap recovered the whole of Mewar, except Chi’tor, Ajmfr, and Mandalgarh ; and as some slight return to Raja Man, who had fulfilled to the letter his threat that Partap should ” live in peril,” he invaded Ambar, and sacked its chief mart of commerce, Malpura.
Udaipur was also regained, though this acquisition was so unimportant as scarcely to merit remark. In all likelihood it was abandoned by Akbar from the difficulty of defending it when all around had submitted to Partap, though the annals ascribe the event to a generous sentiment of the emperor, prompted by his great khdnkhdnan, Abul Fazil, whose mind appears to have been captivated by the actions of the Rajput prince. For the repose which he enjoyed during the latter years of his life, Partap was indebted to a combination of causes. In the main it is to be attributed to the fact that Akbar had found new fields for his ambition in the south, though full weight must also be given to the influence which the conduct of the Hindu prince had exerted, not only upon Akbar, but upon the many Rajput princes who swelled his train, and whose inclinations it would have been dangerous to treat with indifference.
Repose was, however, no boon to Partap. A mind such as his could enjoy no tranquillity while, from the summit of the pass which guarded Udaipur, his eye embraced the kangras of Chitor, to which he knew that he must ever be a stranger. Burning for the redemption of the glory of his race, the mercy thus shown to him was more difficult of endurance than the pangs of Tantalus. Imagine the warrior, yet in manhood’s prime, broken with fatigue and covered with scars, casting a wistful eye to the rock stained with the blood of his fathers, whilst in the “dark chamber” of his mind the scenes of glory enacted there appeared with unearthly lustre. First the youthful Bappa, on whose head was the ” mor he had won from the Mori ” ; next, the warlike Samarsi, arming for the last day of Rajput independence, to die with Prithvi Raj on the banks of the Caggar.
Again, descending the steep of Chitor, the twelve sons of Arsi, the crimson banner floating around each, while from the embattled rock the guardian goddess looks down on the carnage which is to secure a perpetuity of sway. Again, in all the pomp of sacrifice the Deola chief, succeeded in turn by Jaimal and Patta, and, like the Pallas of Rajasthan, the Chondawat dame leading her daughter into the ranks of destruction ; and at last clouds of darkness dim the walls of Chitor and out of them Udai Singh appears flying from the rock to which the honour of the house is united.
Aghast at the picture his mind had portrayed, imagine him turning to contemplate his own condition, indebted for a cessation of persecution to the most revolting sentiment that can assail an heroic mind — compassion, compared with which scorn is endurable, contempt even enviable. These he could retaliate, but for the high-minded, the generous Rajput, to be the object of that sickly sentiment, pity, was more oppressive than the arms of his foe. A premature decay assailed the pride of Rajasthan ; a mind diseased prayed on an exhausted frame, and prostrated him in the very summer of his days. The last moments of Partap were an appropriate commentary on his life, which he terminated like the Carthagenian, swearing his successor to eternal conflict with the enemies of his country’s independence.
A powerful sympathy is excited by the picture which is drawn of this last scene. The dying hero is represented in a lowly dwelling ; his chiefs — the faithful companions of many a glorious day — await round his pallet the dissolution of their prince. A groan of mental anguish makes Saliimbra enquire what afflicts his soul that it cannot depart in peace.
“It lingers,” is the reply, u for some consolatory pledge that my country shall not be abandoned to the Toork;” and with the death pang on him, he relates an incident which had guided his estimate of his son’s disposition, and led him to fear that, for personal ease, he would forego the remembrance of his own and his country’s wrongs. On the banks of the Peshoda, he tells them, he and his men had constructed a few huts to protect them from the inclemency of the rains in the days of their distress. Prince Amra forgot the lowliness of the dwelling, and a projecting bamboo of the roof caught the folds of his turban and dragged it off as he entered. A hasty ejaculation disclosed his annoyance, and Partap, observing it, formed the opinion that his son would never withstand the hardships to be endured in their cause. ” These sheds,” said the dying prince, ” will give way to sumptuous dwellings, thus generating the love of ease ; and the independence of Mewar, which we have bled to maintain, will be sacrificed to luxury. And you, my chiefs,” he added, ” will follow the pernicious example.” They pledged themselves, and became guarantees for the prince, ” by the throne of Bappa Rawul,” that they would not permit mansions to be raised till Mewar had recovered her independence ; and then the soul of Partap was satisfied, and he expired in peace.
Thus closed the life of a Rajput whose memory is even now idolised by every Sesodia, and will continue to be so, till renewed oppression shall extinguish the remaining sparks of patriotic feeling. It is worthy the attention of those who influence the destinies of states in more favoured climes to estimate the intensity of feeling which could arm this prince to oppose the resources of a small principality against what was at that time one of the most powerful empires of the world, whose armies were more numerous and far more efficient than any ever led by the Persian against the liberties of Greece. Had Mewar possessed her Thucydides or her Xenophon, neither the wars of the Peloponesus nor the retreat of the “ten thousand” would have yielded more diversified incidents for the historic muse than the deeds of this brilliant reign. Undaunted heroism, inflexible fortitude, perseverance which “keeps honour bright,” with fidelity such as no other nation can boast, were the materials opposed to soaring ambition,commanding talents, unlimited means, and the fervour of religious zeal ; all, however, insufficient to contend with one unconquerable mind. There is not a pass in the Alpine Aravalli that is not sanctified by some deed of Partap — some brilliant victory or more glorious defeat. Haldighat is the Thermopylae of Mewar : the field of Deweir is her Marathon.