The King Who Rode His Misfortunes to Glory
The third child of Maharana Raimall, Rana Saanga’s story of ascent to the throne of Mewar and the subsequent struggles and victories form the most intriguing saga ever to be found around a king anywhere in human history.
Raimall had 13 sons, the elder two being Prithviraj and Jaimall followed by Saanga. The three brothers went to consult a fortune teller who predicted that it is Saanga who will adorn the throne of Mewar.
Prithviraj lost his temper and hit Saanga’s right eye with the rear of his sword which ruptured Saanga’s eye and left him blind with one eye for life. Both elder brothers attacked Saanga to kill him but Saanga was saved by Surajmall, brother of king Raimall.
After a few months, the question again bothered the elder brothers and they took Saanga along with their uncle to a chaaran girl who was supposed to be Shakti incarnate (Mother Goddess), Biri Bai. Biri had arranged a throne and a carpet in the temple of the goddess. Prithviraj and Jaimall sat on the throne and Saanga and his uncle sat on the ground on the carpet.
When the elder brothers asked Biri Bai as to who will ascend the throne of Mewar, she replied, “The decision has been made. This carpet was meant to be for the king of Mewar. Since Saanga sits on it, he will rule Mewar after Raimall. The other two brothers will be killed in war with the enemies of Mewar.”
The two brothers attacked Saanga, determined to kill him there and then. But Surajmall intervened and fought them as Saanga escaped with his life. Jaimall chased Saanga who ended up in a village called Sevantri . An old friend of Mewar family Rao Beeda was at the temple of Roop Narayan at Sevantri. Beeda took Saanga under his protection and gave first aid to his wounds. Jaimall arrived soon and Beeda fought with Jaimall and his forces and laid down his life, but gave enough time and rest to Saanga to escape further westwards to Marudhar (Marwar). Rana Raimall exiled both his sons on hearing of this internal feuds among brothers.
Saanga gave up his horse and started living like a shepherd in Srinagar, near Ajmer at the place of Thakur Karamchand Panwar, who was a Rajput who sustained himself by dacoity. In subsequent years, Jaimall was killed by a fellow Rajput Ratan Singh.
Prithviraj was a valorous prince and fought many battles to victory. He was poisoned by his brother in law and cremated at Kumbalgarh. Raimall was dejected with the loss of his elder sons when he heard of Saanga being alive. Saanga was beckoned and Raimall showered Thakur Karamchand with jageers for protecting his heir all these years.
Raimall died in 1508 AD and thus Saanga became the king of Mewar.
The purpose of narrating Saanga’s turbulent youth and ascent to the throne of Mewar is threefold:-
First — The deep impact of astrology and divine incarnates on Hindu psyche and life is aptly demonstrated by predictions about Saanga’s life by the fortune teller and Biri Bai.
The Hindu Samaj, through ages, has been guided by these metaphysical domains. It is not the author’s attempt to speak for or against the practices. The idea is to merely present an aspect of social life throughout ages which had such a profound influence on royal families. We can only imagine how the ordinary citizens of Mewar yielded to these occult practices.
Second, the evils of polygamy affecting the history of Mewar so adversely too deserves a mention. It is not only a relic for barbarism and primeval necessity, but gave birth to so many trajectories of family feuds that it became impossible to contain them.
While the Islamic marauders were at the door of Hindustan, every queen of the Maharana was engaged in conspiracies to make her son the crown of Mewar. The argument that matrimonial bonds were forced to augment the economic and military might of kingdoms does hold some merit but if we weigh the cost-benefit ratio, the cost of polygamy in royal families far outweighs the benefits of this practice.
Third, the turbulent childhood and violent ascent of Saanga to the Mewar throne also tells us how adversity shapes the persona of a royal warrior. We will get more examples of similar nature in the life of Maharana Pratap and Maharana Amar Singh too.
Prima facie, it appears that Prithviraj, the elder brother of Saanga was of a fit temperament and skills to become the next king of Mewar but his pettiness and his myopic pursuit of his ambition itself ends up with him being killed untimely by his own brother-in-law.
Saanga appears to be a timid and a reclusive person in his youth. Although fit and muscular, he did not fight his brothers aggressively and even endured the loss of an eye with a certain degree of indifference. His naivete in trusting his jealous siblings also shows in his conduct in youth when after losing an eye to Prithviraj, he yet again goes to Biri Bai for the same question. But for his uncle Surajmall, Saanga would have been killed at the temple itself. We can only imagine the consequences if such a disaster would have befallen the Hindus of the subcontinent.
Saanga’s “agyaatvaas” (living incognito) at Thakur Karamchand in Ajmer underlines his aloof persona, calmly resigned to a life of anonymity. But we also witness the metamorphosis of the very same mundane and disinterested person into one of the most aggressive warrior kings ever to have ruled Mewar. Saanga’s expansion of the kingdom matched that of Rana Kumbha in area and reach, though he inherited a war-torn house of Mewar.
It establishes Saanga as a deeply spiritual and fiercely loyal servant of Mewar, who though uninterested in the throne, rose to the occasion and responded wholeheartedly when his motherland beckoned. As we study further the life of this amazing Maharana who defeated the mighty Lodhis of Delhi, we will realize the steely resolve, military acumen and leadership skills of the highest quality seen anywhere.
Maharana Saanga’s life is a tale of how a beaten up timid prince overcame his physical and psychological handicaps and rose from a very pathetic degradation of his being to the highest pedestal mortally achievable.
The single biggest message of Saanga’s life reminds us that no defeat is final, no handicap crippling enough, no hardship severe enough if the inner resolve of a person remains unbent to the external movements. Man has the infinite capacity to recover from every setback in life.
Once on the throne, Saanga immediately got down to the business of governing and expanding the borders of Mewar. The Delhi throne after the Chouhans was filled successively by the dynasties of Ghazni, Ghori, Khilji and Lodhi; but was now only a relic of its past glory.
Rana Saanga set out with 80,000 horses, seven Rajas of the highest ranks, nine Raos, and one hundred and four chieftains bearing titles of rawal and Rawat, along with 500 war elephants to conquer the vast territories of Northern, Central and Western India.
The princes of Amer and Marwar paid homage to him; Raos of Ajmer, Gwalior, Sipri, Raesen, Kalpi, Chanderi, Boondi, Gagroun, Rampura and Abu served him as tributaries and acknowledged him as their chief. Saanga gave Karamchand Parwar, the Thakur who had sheltered him, the grant of Ajmer and title of Rao for his son Jugmal.
It is quite remarkable that a prince who had so meekly surrendered his right as the heir of Mewar and was resigned to live a life of anonymity rose to become one of the strongest premiers of Mewar under whom the expanse of Mewar resembled that of Rana Kumbha. Strange are the ways of life! A meek person who would otherwise have been relegated to the dustbin became the king of Mewar and took her glory to amazing heights.
Saanga’s ambition was countered by the surrounding Muslim kingdoms of Delhi, Malwa and Gujarat. 18 pitched battles were fought between Mewar and the forces of Delhi and Malwa in which two battles were fought frontally between Saanga and Ibrahim Lodhi at Bakrole and Khatauli. At Khatauli, the army of Lodhi was slaughtered and Lodhi’s son taken as a captive. Here also, Saanga lost one of his hands in combat and one leg too was hit by an arrow such that Saanga had a limp for the rest of his life. Saanga took the Lodhi prince to Chittor and released him after extracting a heavy cost.
Saanga attacked Mahmud Khilji at Gagraun and captured him alive, took him to Chittor and took care of him and released him honorably. One cannot fathom the motive of this act of Saanga because though Khilji could never damage Mewar, for the rest of his life, he kept aligning with the enemies of Mewar and never showed any gratitude to Saanga for not taking his life. It must also be remembered that Khilji’s ancestor Allauddin was responsible for the first Saka of Chittor when 30,000 Hindu women committed Jauhar due to Allauddin’s siege and one of Saanga’s forefathers, Raja Ratan Singh died fighting the Khiljis.
It defies any strategic sense that Saanga should have let Mahmud live except for a mercurial streak of grandeur very much prevalent in Hindu kings of those times to forgive their enemies. On the other hand, Mahmud Khilji stayed loyal to the ‘Ummah’ or Muslim brotherhood and saw Saanga as the eternal Hindu rival. Khilji kept aligning with Saanga’s enemies and bothering him till his death. This disease of ‘benevolence’ got over only with Rana Pratap when he would mercilessly slaughter his enemies instead of yielding to a fake morality and individual glory at the cost of the safety of Mewar.
Muzaffar Khan, the Nawab of Gujarat was the third enemy that Saanga overcame in the siege of Ahmednagar towards the south. One particular incident of the siege deserves mention: One of the chiefs of Saanga, Doongar Singh Chauhan, was fighting along with his sons and brother for Mewar and showed exemplary courage. One of Doongar’s sons, Kanha Singh did an unbelievable act of valor. The Muslim army of Muzaffar had locked itself inside Ahmednagar fort and the outer gates had spears on them to deter elephants from breaking them down. Kanha stood between the elephant and the gate and ordered the Mahout to charge the elephant to the gates. Kanha’s body was crushed but the gates of the fort were breached and Mewar won. Doongar Singh’s family survives even today in Doongarpur. Saanga restored the prestigious and impregnable Ranthambore from imperialist General Ali and killed him. Thus, during Saanga’s time, Mewar extended from Peela – Khal (yellow rivulet) near Bayana in North to Malwar and Gujarat in South; up to Sindhu river in the West, while the Aravallis formed the Eastern boundary. Saanga reached up to the Afghan city of Ghazni twice during his victory campaigns. He also killed Firoz Shah Pathan to annex Nagaur.
It is against this might and expanse of Mewar’s Rana Saanga that the Chugtai Turk Babur from Ferghana, Uzbekistan, invaded India’s Northern frontiers. Babur defeated a weak and depleted Ibrahim Lodhi at the First Battle of Panipat in 1526 where Ibrahim Lodhi was slain and his army destroyed. Babur was a fanatic Islamist and always credited his victories to his God and thus inspired confidence of his troops. He is supposed to have remarked after the First Battle of Panipat, “Not to me, oh God, but to thee, be the victory!”
On 21st Feb, 1527 Saanga met the Turk forces at the town of Bayana at the North-Eastern border of Rajasthan. Approximately 2,00,000 forces of Saanga crushed the Turks and Babur escaped with his life. Babur meditated upon his loss and made peace overtures to Saanga which Saanga negotiated but the talks broke down when Saanga insisted that Babur give yearly taxes to Mewar. Babur then appealed to the theological affinity of his troops and gave very passionate speeches to his men to fight and kill the infidels in the name of Islam.
Even when a Mughal astrologer predicted defeat, Babur did not back off and there is a folklore that he beheaded the fortune teller there and then and proclaimed, “Just like his forecast or his own age has been falsified, so will be his prediction of the defeat of Allah’s army.”
Additionally, Babur vowed publicly never ever to touch wine and women and never shave his beard and never tax a Muslim again. Thus, stirring Islamic passion and zeal in his army of mostly Turkish, Uzbek, Tatar, Afghan and Mongol mercenaries, Babur prepared for the final showdown with the Hindu forces.
In the meanwhile, a local Rajput who had converted to Islam, Hasan Khan Mewati, joined Rana with 10,000 horsemen and many subordinates of Ibrahim Lodhi joined the Rana, the main amongst them being Mohammed Khan Lodhi.
The following is a portion of the speech given by Babur as written in his own biography, Baburnama: “Noble men and soldiers, and every man that comes into the world, is subject to dissolution. Allah is only ever lasting. Whoever comes to the feast of life must, before it is over, drink from the cup of death. How much better it is to die with honor than to live with infamy! With fame, even if I die, I am contended; let fame be mine, since my body is death’s.
“If we win, we will be the Ghazis; If we lose, we will be Shaheed; either ways, riches await us. Let us then, with one accord, swear on Allah’s holy name that none of us will even think of turning his face from this warfare, nor desert from the battle and the slaughter that ensues, till his soul is separated from his body.”
Having filled his army with this religious fervor, Babur hatched the evil conspiracy to bribe a Hindu pagan to defect to his side and turn the tables on Saanga’s formidable army. He found the traitor in Salhadi Tanwar of Raisen near Gwalior who had deep grudges against Saanga for subjugating him a few years ago. Babur bribed him and fuelled his anger against Saanga.
Saanga had realised the vile nature of the Turk, Babur, whose religious zeal was unparalleled in attacking the very soul of Hinduism. Saanga kept indulging Babur in superficial talks making impossible demands of him and assessing Babur’s strength in the interim. Babur realised after two weeks of negotiations that Saanga will attack him. Saanga had indeed made up his mind to fight the Turk and capture Delhi once and for all and bring it under Hindu rule.
Below is the text of Rana Saanga’s speech to his troops, which is ample evidence that Saanga was fed up with Islamic invasions and had come to root out the Turks forever:
“Everyone must act according to the warrior’s code remembering the brave deeds of our forefathers. This is the final occasion of destroying the invaders who have tainted our holy land for centuries. Once we seize this opportunity, they will never be able to raise their heads again, and the flag of Hindu Pad Padshahi will fly over the entire country.”
On 16th March, 1527, the forces of Mewar and Babur clashed at the Battle of Khanwa. A very lethal surprise awaited Saanga and his forces in the form of Mughal cannons equipped with their fire power. Rajputs were totally bewildered by the might and effects of gunpowder. Thousands of Saanga’s forces collapsed and the horses and elephants rampaged backwards on their own army.
The Rajputs then came up with an amazing solution to the cannons. In an ultimate act of sacrifice, Rajputs sunk their heads into the blazing cannons thus rendering them useless by studding them with their meat and blood. Mughals were astounded to see this extreme act of valor by Saanga’s army and the tide started turning towards the Mewar army.
Another deadly war tactic amongst Muslim invaders was to depute dozens of their best archers secured by guards to search for the enemy king or leader and bombard him with barrage of arrows to kill, or at least incapacitate him. The Islamic invaders themselves never exposed themselves to the Hindu armies and stayed behind their ranks and file.
Hindu kings on the other hand led from front as an act of valour and leadership — an act of naïveté which cost Hindus a lot of wars with Islamists.
Babur had deputed his best archers to identify Saanga and hit him singularly with the barrage of arrows, and one arrow hit him hard on his skull and Saanga lost consciousness. He was taken away from the battlefield by his lieutenants.
Ajja Jhaala of Halwad, who matched Saanga in height and personality , wore the royal dress himself and feigned as Saanga to keep the morale of his troops high. The trick worked and the Mewar army kept fighting and pushing back the Turks.
Then the death blow was struck to the Hindu army when Salhadi Tanwar along with his 35,000 horsemen defected to the army of Babur. Saanga’s chieftains regrouped and resumed attack even after this treachery but one by one they kept dying. By evening, the fate of the Mewar army was sealed. Every single chief of any consequence had laid down his life to save the Dharma. The entire Hindu army was slaughtered barring a few thousand who escaped without a leader to follow.
The roads to Delhi, Agra, Bayana and Alwar were littered with limbs and bodies of soldiers from both sides. The victory of the Turks was not one sided though. Babur had lost almost all of his artillery and his cannons rendered useless. Most significantly, Babur had witnessed the ferocity and extreme valor of the Hindus in defending their king and land and hence he did not chase Saanga. With his depleted forces, Babur turned Eastwards and created massive destruction in Awadh and today’s UP.
Saanga regained consciousness and was cross with his chiefs for removing him from the battlefield. The knowledge that almost all of the Mewar army was decimated did not deter that spiritual king and he told his chiefs that he will not go to Chittor without defeating Babur.
Among those who carried Saanga away from the battlefield were the kings of Amer, Marwar and Sirohi who counselled him to go back to the safety of Mewar. Saanga retreated to Ranthambhore and started regrouping his army to challenge Babur again.
On a sad day in April, 1527, a year after the Battle of Khanwa, at the young age of 45 years, Maharana Saanga was poisoned by his own Saamants who were tired of fighting wars under him and who thought that his plans to fight Babur will be suicidal. Thus the life of one of the most courageous and visionary Hindu kings that ever ruled Bhaaratbhoomi came to a tragic end at the hands of his own myopic people who bought a few years of a wretched life instead of standing with their king, a king who had fought all adversity with such nonchalant bravery, could have been killed only by such deceit since even death was scared to confront him frontally.
Saanga was one eyed, one armed and one footed with 84 wounds of metal on his body, but his Prana, his spirit, was untouched by physical trauma and he never let his physical handicap overpower his psyche. It is quite remarkable that a king possessing such a wreck of a body inspired such confidence in his troops that they followed him equally to victory or death .
Can we even imagine a king limping his way to mount a horse with some help and a damaged eye, leading his armies up to Afghanistan, Bengal, Maharashtra and Delhi and instead of evoking doubt, weakness and pity at his physical features, evoking such confidence in his generals and the army that he singlehandedly created the largest Hindu kingdom of medieval India !
Death is an inevitability in this fragile world, but before leaving his mortal body, Saanga, in his life and death, sowed the seeds of wisdom, valour and supreme sacrifice for the generations to come. A generation that saw a fighter king like Pratap who singlehandedly withstood the Turkish invasion when all hope has been lost .
Saanga taught the fighters of Mewar that with Islam they were fighting an existential conflict in which there could be no relenting because, since Bappa Rawal, the Islamic invaders had continued attacking Hindustan and they were not going to stop with a war or two. It was going to be an unending conflict till one of the two would be completely annihilated.
Saanga not only continued the traditions of the amazing Ranas of Mewar but took valour and steely resolve to audacious standards, inspired by which, the royal line of Mewar could never be enslaved by the Turk invaders and remained the ‘Hindutwa Sooraj‘ as the apex guardian and protectors of Hindu Dharma for centuries to come.
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.