The Fortification Of Mewar
Rana Udai Singh died at the young age of forty-nine at Gogoonda, four years after the loss of Chittor. He left behind 25 sons, all from royal blood and thus laid a fertile ground for a civil war in the state of Mewar.
Udai Singh’s last act could have actually triggered this civil war when he nominated Jagmal, the son of the Bhati Rani as the heir of Mewar. It must be said to the credit of the democratic traditions of Mewar and the foresight of the Saamants serving the royal house, who immediately gathered to discuss this grave injustice committed by Rana Udai Singh. Below is the account of how the events unfolded from Udai Singh’s death to Pratap’s ascendance: In Mewar, there is no interregnum; the last rites of the departed king and the Rajyabhishek of the new king is done simultaneously at the same priest’s house.
So, while his brothers and nobles attended the funeral of the departed Rana, Jagmal took the throne in the new but yet unbuilt capital of Mewar, Udaipur. The Songara prince and the Jalore Rao, both asked Kistna, the ‘great ancient’ of Mewar and the leader of Chundawats, how this injustice of Jagmal sitting on the throne was sanctioned by him.
“When a sick man has reached the last extreme and asks for milk, why refuse it?” replied Kistna. Kistna also added, “Songara’s nephew is my choice and I stand by Pratap.”
The Nobles gathered, and heated and concerned discussions ensued amongst them. Akshay Raj Songara is recorded to have said to Rawat Krishnadas of Deogarh and Rawat Sanga of Saloombara, “If Jagmal is to be the king, it has to happen with your consent.”
‘On one hand, we have a formidable enemy like Akbar, Chittor is gone, Mewar is becoming barren, if the royal house sinks into infighting, then Mewar is sure to be ruined and enslaved ‘ mused the Saamants.
Both the nobles consented with Songara adding that for what fault should the eldest son Pratap, worthy and brave, be rejected?
Pratap never wanted a bloodbath in the family and, reconciled to his fate, was saddling his Chetak to ride away to his solitude when the Saamants approached him and informed him of their decision to name him the king of Mewar.
Pratap was reluctant to dishonor his father’s wish but he saw the doom of Mewar if Jagmal was to remain the king. Thus, Pratap’s Rajyabhishek was done at Gogoonda itself.
Pratap rode to Udaipur where Rawat Kistna and Akshay Raj along with Ram Shah Tanwar of Gwalior, took the arms of Jagmal and, with gentle violence, removed him from the throne.
The hereditary Premier Kistna remarked, “You have made a mistake Maharaj, that place belongs to your brother.” Then, girding Pratap with a sword, thrice touching the ground, hailed him the next king of Mewar.
Maharana Pratap Singh became the ruler of Mewar at the age of 32, in the midst of the gravest existential crisis faced by the Sisodia clan and people of Mewar. Pratap’s ascendance to the throne is a strange mix of human weakness and strength in the most trying times. Udai Singh’s traumatic childhood and insecure journey to becoming the king of Mewar turned him into a weak, insecure and indecisive person who dwelled perpetually in his victimhood and yielded to sycophants and ended up making poor judgements all his life.
Pratap, on the other hand, turned the insults and trauma of his childhood into his strengths and overcame all insecurities to make a true leader and warrior out of himself. Pratap’s turbulent life began with his childhood itself, but because of his iron will and a deeper understanding premised on spiritual guidance by the likes of Muni Roopnath, Pratap did not deviate from his goal of serving his motherland to his fullest.
To quote Col. Tod: ‘Pratap was often heard to exclaim, “Had Dajiraj Sa (as every Mewar King was referred to by his sons) never been, or none intervened between him and Rana Saanga, no Turk would have ever given laws to Rajasthan.”
‘Hindu society had assumed a new form in the century preceding. The wrecks of dominion from the Ganga and Jamuna had been silently growing into importance; Amer and Marwar had gained such power that the latter single handedly coped with the mighty imperialist Sher Shah; a prince of commanding genius alone was wanting, to snatch the sceptre of dominion from the Islamites.
‘Such a leader they found in Saanga, who possessed every quality which inspires spontaneous obedience, and the superiority of whose birth, as well as dignity, were acknowledged without cavil from the Himalayas to Rameshwaram. These states had powerful motives to obey such a leader in the absence of whom their ancient Patrimony was lost; and such they would have found in Saanga’s grandson Pratap, had Udai Singh not existed, or had a less gifted sovereign than Akbar been his contemporary’.
Fate had put Pratap in the most difficult predicament faced by any Hindu king of India at his time. After his humiliation, Jagmal left Mewar for Delhi and prostrated to the arch enemy of the house, Akbar, proving the decision of Mewar Saamants to be right. Jagmal was a petty prince, who aspired for power that wasn’t his in the first place. It is to the credit of the foresight of Mewar chieftains who saw this and defied the royal decree to replace him with Pratap.
Jagmal was granted the Jagir of Jahajpur in Bhilwara by Akbar. Jagmal was married to the daughter of Sirohi king, Man Singh, who died without a heir in 1571. Jagmal approached Akbar to help him annex Sirohi from Surtaan, the royal nominee of Sirohi. Akbar sent his two Rajput generals and the royal army to assist Jagmal in annexing Sirohi.
On 17th October, 1583, Jagmal attacked Abu where Surtaan was fortified and one of the most glorious battles of Rajasthan was fought there in which the army of Akbar was crushingly defeated by a very small army. The two Rajput generals, Rai Singh and Koli Singh, along with Jagmal, were killed by Surtaan and Surtaan became the undisputed king of Sirohi.
Thus ended a threat to Pratap and Mewar which could have complicated the resistance of Pratap to Islamic imperialists.
Pratap became the King of Mewar and succeeded to the titles and renown of an illustrious house, but a kingdom without capital, without resources for his clan and Saamants dispirited by reverses, his subjects demoralised; and yet equipped with the noble spirit of his race, and a steely resolve to overcome the immense challenge in front of him, Pratap meditated on recovering Chittor and vindicating and recovering the pride and power of his clan.
Akbar, though unstable in Delhi, was gaining strength and allies rapidly. The houses of Amer, Bikaner and Marwar forged alliances with Akbar and thus Pratap had to reconcile with the fact that he was going to fight not only Turks but also his own brothers in faith and blood. A fact which would weigh very heavily on the mind of Pratap in subsequent wars he was to fight with Turks.
One of his other brothers, Sagar also deserted him and allied with Turks.
The scars of the Third Saka of Chittor ravaged the consciousness of Mewar and the whole population of Mewar was dejected and demoralized. Pratap inherited a wounded Mewar but was also nobly supported by old friends like the sons of Jaimal Rathore and Patta Chundawat. The houses of Saloombara, Deogarh, Amet etc. announced full loyalty to Pratap. The erstwhile chief of Gwalior, Ram Shah Tanwar became his main army general and the chief of Dailwara became the king’s ‘Right Hand’.
Bhaama Shah, the Oswal Jain cashier of the royal house, was an even fiercer and greater warrior than a finance manager. He, along with his valorous brother, Tarachand, swore his loyalty to Pratap and was instrumental in both the funding and war strategy of the two major wars that Pratap was to fight against the Turk imperialist : Haldi Ghati and Dewair. A special mention must be made of Shakthi Singh, his estranged brother who played a critical role in Pratap’s life by spying for Mewar all his life in Akbar’s court , saving Pratap’s life at Haldi Ghati and eventually joining hands with Pratap at the decisive Battle of Dewair .
From 1572, his ascendance to the throne to 1597, his year of moksha, all 25 years of his life, Pratap single handedly withstood the might of an Empire and ultimately defeated it. His own people deserted him for greener pastures, but Pratap stood ground, alone in the wilderness. Fighting wars, killing his enemies ferociously, losing friends and allies to death and deceit, flying from one rock to another, causing much destruction in the planes to Guerilla warfare in the mountain passes, feeding his family and army from the fruits of the native hills and rearing the nursling hero Amar Singh amidst savage beasts and savage men, Pratap energised his people and army with his amazing leadership and resolve to continue fighting the Turk imperialist.
The magnitude of the perils he faced only strengthened his fortitude. The mere idea that the ‘son of Bappa Rawal should bow to a mortal man’ was unthinkable.
It must be said to the immense credit of the Saamants and general population of Mewar, that they stood by their king through unimaginable suffering, death and poverty.
Mewar had witnessed the destruction caused by Akbar at Chittor on 25th February 1568 at the third Saka and yet she rose to defend her freedom and honor from the ashes of Jauhar at Chittor. She rose to become the beacon of Hindu hope in the subcontinent just because of one man — Maharana Pratap Singh, the greatest Hindu warrior of all times.
One man, who changed the entire discourse of the attempted Islamic subjugation of the Indian subcontinent by his insurmountable grit and determination. One man who was not a reckless, self serving, indulgent monarch sucking the blood and money of his people but a Mahayogi, who donned the mantle of a warrior to free the motherland and fight the dark clouds of slavery that loomed over the Hindus of the subcontinent. One man who gave up all comfort and riches that a Maharana could have enjoyed, had he compromised with the Turk Imperialist, and chose a life of hardship because honour was dearer to him than a few years of a mundane life of ignominy. A true spartan who chose to sleep with his spear as his pillow than to rest his head on velvet at night.
Following are the four vows that Pratap took on becoming the king of Mewar, and they became part of the folklore of Mewar and readied the most insignificant and remote subject of Mewar to take on the Mughal marauder:
- All articles of luxury and pomp will be abandoned until Chittor is reclaimed.
- The gold and silver dishes will be laid aside for “Pattals” or plates and utensils made out of leaves.
- The beds of cloth and soft velvet will be replaced by straw and leaves.
- The martial ‘nagadas’ which used to lead royal processions will be placed at the rear to mark and remember the fallen fortunes of Mewar and stimulate its recovery.
Pratap got down to the business of governing and generating revenues immediately. New grants were issued to the nobles, with regulations defining the services required. Kumbalgadh was declared the capital of the state and strengthened. Similarly, Gogoonda and other mountain fortresses were strengthened and fortified.
As fellow Rajput houses of Bikaner, Amer, Marwar and rest of Rajasthan barring Boondi, surrendered and aligned with the Turk, Pratap severed all alliances with them, and to carry forward the line of the heirs of Mewar, he sought out and incorporated with the first class of nobles of his own kin. Pratap married several princesses from in and around Mewar to ensure the loyalties of those houses, thus multiplying the might of his own house.
Pratap started attacking and looting the Mughal caravans traveling through Mewar and even carried such campaigns as far as Gujarat in South and Malpura in North. This was done to incentivise and enrich the Mewar warriors.
Unable to keep the plains, Pratap reverted to the ancient system of his ancestors commanding his subjects to retreat to the mountains. Pratap prepared himself for the impending protracted war with Turk imperialist with meticulous implementation and unrelenting severity to enforce compliance of his edicts. The fertile area between Banas and Beris was to be evacuated and left ‘bey-chiragh’ i.e without a lamp.
The idea was to burden the Mughals with carrying their own supplies whenever they were to attack Mewar. There would be no local supply of any kind and also no slaughter of ordinary citizens, which was the norm of the Turks at that time.
Pratap would personally enforce the strict rules on the people of Mewar. Once, accompanied by a few horsemen, Pratap set out to invigilate the implementation of his orders. The silence of deserts prevailed in the once green pastures of Mewar; jungle grass replaced the fields of corn; the highways were chocked with thorny babools; beasts of prey inhabited the deserted villages. In the midst of this wilderness, a lone shepherd took out his flock to the remnants of vegetation in the once luxurious meadows of Ontalla, on the banks of Banas river. After a short enquiry, the shepherd was killed and his corpse hung high on a tree to send a message to the violators of Pratap’s plan of fighting the Turks.
To quote Tod: ‘By such patriotic severity, Pratap rendered ‘the garden of Rajasthan’ of no value to the conqueror, and the commerce established between the Mughal courts and Europe, conveyed through Mewar from Surat and other ports, was intercepted and plundered.’
We can only imagine the resolve and determination of the people of Mewar who rallied behind Pratap in following his plans to make life hell for the invading Turk forces. All farming community shifted out of Mewar between 1572, Pratap’s becoming the king, and 1583, the Battle of Dewair. Ordinary citizens relocated into the hills of Aravalis and thus thousands of new villages came into existence. This also resulted in close contact between the people of Mewar and the mountain dwelling ‘Bheels’ who welcomed them with open arms and fed an entire population on the fruits of the jungles, and kept them protected as well.
Bheels were instrumental in this movement of population from plains to the hills and this community has had the distinction of adorning the royal insignia of Mewar for centuries now. Bheels were also the mainstay of the armed resistance by Mewar as will be detailed later.
Inspired by Pratap, the Saamants and the chieftains became liberal with tax collection from their impoverished subjects. The love and trust the people of Mewar showered on Pratap is unparalleled in the history of mankind. Armies fight wars and soldiers die and kill for honour and riches, but never had an entire population fortified itself against a foreign invader as happened in Mewar.
If any other king were to pass such edicts, Mewar would surely have been littered with traitors and revolts making it ungovernable. This only shows how extraordinary Pratap was as a leader, war strategist, compassionate king and a man of foresight who could anticipate the hardships that he and his people would have to endure and had prepared for them accordingly. Not only did he plan the campaign against the Turk imperialist but very effectively communicated it to the last of his subjects. The wars of Haldi Ghati in 1576, the seven years of interim rule, and the final victory at Dewair in 1583, were to prove the effectiveness of Pratap’s genius in pushing the Turk invader away for as long as he lived.
Pratap learned from his grandfather Saanga’s mistakes of exposing themselves to Mughal fire power and decided to fight Mughals from the safety of Aravallis. Pratap hired the services of Hakim Khan Sur, an Afghan descendant of Sher Shah Sur, who had a personal score to settle with Akbar. Pratap learned from the third Saka that the enemy was a ruthless marauder who will pitch Rajputs against Rajputs and will mercilessly slaughter Hindus without remorse. Pratap had seen how fellow Hindu kings like Bhagwandas of Amer had stood meek witness to the slaughter of Hindus and plunder of Hindu and Jain temples at Chittor and how he had to fight this battle on his own to retain his freedom and honour.
Pratap observed the vile and hideous nature of Islamic imperialists and was convinced that war was the only option with these barbarians and coexistence was not an option. Pratap devised a long term campaign to defeat Akbar and weed him out of Mewar permanently. He struck alliances, subjugated rebellion, purchased loyalties of the fence sitters, created a socially cohesive alliance of all communities in Mewar and implemented the campaign with clinical precision.
We Hindus haven’t truly understood and recognised the military genius and supreme sacrifice of Maharana Pratap Singh, the one man who had shaped the contours of the Hindu Muslim conflict in the Indian subcontinent with unparalleled ferocity towards Islamic imperialists and had established the Dharma so effectively into the psyche of a dying Hindu Samaaj that dozens of kingdoms rose against the Mughals, and within three generations of Akbar, the Mughals were finished while Mewar, in all its glory, stands even today. Not as a relic of a turbulent past but a glorious reminder of power, sacrifice and fortitude.
This article is extracted from Shri Omendra Ratnu’s forthcoming book on the true, hitherto largely unrevealed, Mewar history to be soon published by BluOne Ink in India. The article is copyrighted and no part of it may be reprinted without permission.