“He stands for all that is usually associated with that romantic word, Rajput, and more. If courage was the distinguishing badge of the Rajputs, Pratap had more than his share of it; if unflinching resolution and indomitable will, ever made a hero of a man, Pratap was one.”
~ Sri Ram Sharma, introducing Maharana Pratap in his biographical work on the Rajput warrior.
Maharana Pratap, one of the most celebrated Rajput warriors in history, is renowned for the honour, integrity and dignity he showed while dealing with the Mughals, especially Akbar. The Battle of Haldighati and the use of the Guerilla warfare against the Mughals, have been talked about through ballads and paintings, down the centuries. A hero, who did not stoop to the Muslim rule and kept fighting for the rights of his land and kingdom, is a story told with pride all over India.
Pratap Singh was born to the eldest wife of Maharana Udai Singh II, Maharani Javanta Bai Songara (Chauhan) on 9 May 1540, in the Kumbalgarh Fort, near Udaipur (Rajasthan). The family originally ruled Chittor, but due to Mughal invasion they had to leave and settle in Gogunda. Pratap was not happy with the shift. He wanted to fight the Mughals and take back their land. His elders although convinced him not to.
As a common norm of that era, Udai Singh had 25 wives, and “more than a score of legitimate sons” and daughters. His favourite was Jagmal, his second wife’s son, whom he wanted to ascend the throne after him. But, the chiefs in the kingdom did not agree with Udai Singh. Thus, after his death, they removed Jagmal from the throne, and persuaded Pratap to take his ‘rightful’ place. Maharana Pratap Singh became the 54th Mewar ruler. His sole purpose in life became taking back Chittor from the Mughals.
Maharana Pratap and Akbar
Unlike many Rajput kings of the time, Maharana Pratap was not ready to accept Akbar as “the ruler of India.” Despite Akbar’s attempts for diplomatic negotiations, Pratap did not budge. After six tries, a battle between the two seemed inevitable, especially when Raja Man Singh, Akbar’s brother-in-law and fellow Rajput approached Maharana Pratap on the Mughal’s behalf. According to historians, Pratap was angered by the fact that a Rajput had joined the opposite force.
The Battle of Haldighati
The Battle of Haldighati, between Maharana Pratap and Akbar is remembered with great pride among the Rajputs (and Indians). This war not only displayed Pratap’s courage and integrity, but also showed the loyalty of his supporters, including his horse, Chetak. It all began in 1573, when Maharana Pratap was alienated by his “kith and kin” at the behest of Akbar. Mewar was isolated as well. Two of Pratap’s brothers were believed to have joined the opposite forces.
Maharana Pratap knew that he couldn’t get his freedom and kingdom without a fight. In order to prepare, he moved into the Kumbalgarh Fort with his warriors. He also instructed his subjects to relocate far away into the Aravalli Mountains. He even swore that he would not shave, or sleep on a bed, or even eat lavishly until Chittor was won. His biggest supporters were the Bhil tribes who lived in the Aravalli Mountains.
The exact date for the Battle of Haldighati is disputed, but the year was 1576. Maharana Pratap, with an army of 20,000, faced the more advanced and larger (80,000) army of the Mughals. Despite the disadvantages, Pratap’s army fought fiercely, much to the Mughals’ bewilderment. However, towards the end, Pratap found himself surrounded by the Mughals. He had to leave the battlefield with his injured horse, Chetak. Legend has it that Chetak showed exemplary bravery in the war. He collapsed a few kilometers away from the war zone.
Other examples of bravery and loyalty were shown by Pratap’s General Jhala, and his brother Shakti Singh. When Pratap had to escape, Jhala took his place and disguised himself like the Maharana, to prevent the Mughals from knowing that he had left the war. Jhala was eventually killed. On the other hand, Shakti Singh, even though fighting against the Rajputs, helped his brother Pratap by offering his horse, after Chetak died.
Maharana Pratap’s conviction and will are still spoken of with great pride. Even though, the battle did not win him Chittor, it did show Akbar the prowess of Maharana Pratap. The Mughals in fact lost more in the battle than Pratap did.
Pratap was unable to win Chittor back from the Mughals, but he continued his struggle with a hope to win. Maharana Pratap died on 29 January 1597 at the age of 56, near Chavand. Down the years, many verses and paintings depict Maharana Pratap’s legends and stories with great respect.
Also on this day:
1866 – Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Indian freedom fighter and politician, was born
1998 – Talat Mahmood, Indian playback singer and actor, died
Maharana Pratap-A Biography by Sri Ram Sharma
The Amazing Udaipur website