‘Haldighati’ The Thermopylae Of Rajasthan – III

By Smita Mukerji

Read the previous section of this series here.

“The magnitude of the peril confirmed the fortitude of Partáp, who vowed, in the words of the bard, ‘to make his mother’s milk resplendent’ …and he amply redeemed his pledge”[1]

T H E   B U I L D – U P   F O R   B A T T L E

When blandishments and implied threats both failed in achieving the consummation desired by Akbar, to persuade Maharana Pratap to accept a place in his court and make Mewar an appendage to the Mughal crown, the veil of conciliation fell and the emperor set his mind on annexing Mewar to the imperial territory. But being beset by unrest in Kabul and uprisings in Rajputana he was constrained to settle these before he contemplated action against the Rana, referred to as ‘Rana Kika’ by Muslim writers.[2]

The Battle of Haldighati was not an isolated fight of a singular state for survival, but one in a series of battles fought by the remaining independent Rajput kings in a renewed, concerted struggle to retain autonomy that, according to Akbarnama, was widespread[3] and actively supported by the Rana, and which tried Mughal strength to the utmost. But as previously, it was possible for Akbar to break the allies[4] one by one.

First to be attacked was Rao Kalla’s stronghold 44 miles from Jodhpur in Sojat, which was brought down after a heroic resistance. The kingdom was restored to him but he was made to submit to the emperor.

Fortification of Sojat City (Source: SojatRajasthanOnline.in)
Ramparts of Siwana Fort ‘Garh Siwana’ (Source: gkexams)

Next to feel the imperial heel was Mahoba (now Mallani, in Jodhpur). Rao Meghraj fended off the Mughal attack for some time, but pressed hard he submitted eventually. But the most challenging yet for the Mughals was proving to be the fort of Siwana, 54 miles from Jodhpur, which was doughtily defended by Rao Chandrasen[5]. An intense attack was mounted on Siwana, but so fierce was Chandrasen’s counter that the besiegers had to repair back to Ajmer in December 1574, asking for reinforcements. By the time they returned to the position, Rao Kalla had again risen up against them making the prospect of reducing Siwana still more difficult. Meanwhile the Rana created trouble for the imperial forces in the southern mountains in the immediate neighbourhood of Chandrasen’s scene of action and apparently in concert with him, making it hot for the Mughals. According to Samsam-ud-Daula Shah Nawaz Khan (Ma’asir-al-Umara), Jalal-ud-Din Qurchi and Sayyed Hashim were sent to Siwana to check them. The Rajputs managed to inflict heavy losses on the Mughals and in November 1575, Qurchi was killed in the operations against Chandrasen.

The costly, long-drawn conflict strengthened Akbar’s conviction that a powerful Mewar would continue to be a threat to his gains made in Rajputana, a rallying point that would encourage insurgency in the subdued Rajput kingdoms, and that at least as long as Mewar was ruled by Pratap it would continue to be hostile towards the Mughals. According to the ‘Rana Raso’, the emperor was also alarmed at the depredations carried out by the Mewari ruler in the imperial territory of Sironj. These factors induced him to make war on Pratap to conclusively terminate the independence of Mewar. But before he could take on the Rana, he had to bring under his control the unconquered citadel of Siwana, one of the strongest forts in Rajputana which had repelled Mughal forces repeatedly, kept them at bay over two years. At last, the prize that had eluded him so long was won and in March 1576 Siwana fell to the Mughals. Chandrasen joined the Rana in Mewar.

Successful completion of Bengal Campaign (Surrender of Daud Khan)

Akbar in the meanwhile freed himself from the arrangements of the Bengal expedition[6] and on March 18, 1576 he went to Ajmer to bethink possible means of proceeding against the Rana. After about a fortnight of discussions the charge of the expedition against Mewar was entrusted to Raja Man Singh. The reason for his selection is variously described in the sources, by Abul Fazl[7] and Nizamuddin Ahmad[8] attributed to Man Singh’s own qualities. According to Mutamid Khan Bakshi (‘Iqbalnama-i-Jahangiri’) his appointment was made with the specific object to compel the Rana for a pitched battle.[9] Interestingly, Badayuni (‘Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh’) mentions that some of the Mohemmedan officers resented his appointment as General-in-Command because he was a Hindu.

Man Singh set out on his mission on April 3, 1576, accompanied by Ali Asaf Khan as bakhshi (Paymaster General). The imperial army arrived at Manadalgarh by regular marches and tarried there (mid-April to mid-June) waiting for additional detachments and for establishing lines of communication to Mughal outposts through the devastated territory of the Rana. He was possibly also biding time, knowing the Sisodia impatience to try conclusions with the foe, hoping the Rajputs would grow restive and open the offensive. By Mughal accounts[10] the Rana was incensed at Man Singh’s impertinence, that he should have set foot in the land marked with his ancestors’ memory and wanted to attack, but was held back on the sane advice of Raja Ram Sah Tomar. This would have been a spectacular blunder considering Mandalgarh’s proximity to Ajmer from where a constant stream of Mughal reinforcements could have poured in. But it is unclear whether this was a wishful or factual account failing any corroboration in Rajput sources, which on the contrary speak of the Rana placing a careful watch on the Mughals’ movements. According to Nensi[11], Man Singh was spotted by the Rana’s sleuths during one of his reconnoitring/hunting excursions in the area with about a thousand men. Hakim Shah Sur and some chiefs had urged immediate action, an attack by the dark to extinguish the foe, but the Rana had withheld bound by code of honour.

(Source: ‘Mewar and the Mughal Emperors’)
(Source: ‘Mewar and the Mughal Emperors’)

It appears the Rana was determined to entice the enemy to the heart of the defiles of Girwa (a mountainous terrain ~30 kms east of Udaipur), was keenly observing their moves and positioning his forces accordingly completely unapprehended by the enemy. The experience of the siege of Chittodgarh in 1567-8 made him realise that the key to winning  against a much larger force is not withdrawing to an enclosed embattlement, which could turn into a trap with dwindling resources in case of a long-drawn siege, but to confound the enemy from hidden vantages in a wider landscape.[12] The Rana therefore descended from Kumbhalgarh moving southwards towards Khamnor and set his encampment in Lohsingh[13] about 13 kms from Haldighati. And this is how the battleground was transferred to the legendary glen.

Man Singh, in the meanwhile, had moved from Mandalgarh and taking the conventional route through the plains via Mohi (south of Rajsamand Lake) arrived by forced marched near Khamnor, at Molela,[14] on the opposite south bank of the Banas, and set up camp at a distance of ~16 kms from the Mewaris. When the Rana’s scouts, Duras Purabia and Neta Sisodia, informed him about the enemy’s position, he arrayed his army just beyond the neck of the pass. The position was so guarded that it could be reached by the enemy only after traversing over 2 kms of rugged terrain negotiating its narrow notches not more than one man at a time, the horses could be led up only with great difficulty and it was impassable when it came to transporting artillery. Two men could barely walk abreast on the precipitous route, so narrow on the edges in some stretches that one would have to either watch his step or watch for the enemy. Added to this, the entire vale was a labyrinth of natural ramparts from which assailing troops would find it difficult to find their way out once they had entered it. Just a score bowmen posted at the neck of the gulches could check the rush of hundreds of men. The spot chosen to station the Rana’s troops was strategically selected which could be successfully defended with a small body of determined men, and in the event of an unfavourable outcome it would be possible to withdraw to the security of the mountains where chase would be perilous and loss of life bound to be higher for an invading army used to fighting in the plains. They would starve to death if provisions ran short because of the difficulty of maintaining logistics. It would be possible for the defenders to withstand the enemy over extended periods engaging native militia hidden in the forest growth without a confrontation of regular troops. As it turned out, the Rana had fore-reckoned the action perfectly.

Girwa Terrain (Source: TheThinkingParticle)

The Rana’s ranks were much diminished, most of his allies having been either conquered or baited into submission by the Mughal Emperor. “The wily Mogul arrayed against Partáp, his kindred in faith as well as blood.”[15] Sakta Singh, the renegade brother of the Rana was also in the Mughal army, his hand raised not only against his brother[16] but also his motherland.[17], [18] But his own chiefs stood by him stoutly,[19] bonded by devotion and loyalty to their traditional leader and duty towards their motherland, a sense of chivalry and consciousness of their higher standing in ideals compared to those who had prostituted their capabilities to the service of a powerful outsider.

Cover Picture: Aerial View Of Haldighati (Source: Swami Paramtej) Read the next section of this series here.

[1] Tod (Annals of Mewar) [2] Picked up from the Bhils who called him by this name [3] Akbarnama III, pgs. 110-111 [4] In reality however, the battle lines were never so clearly drawn. The small principalities and the various claimants were constantly engaged in feuding among themselves and every now-and-then some scion would approach one of the superior powers, the Mughal Emperor, the Gujarat Sultan or the Ranas of Mewar, in order to buttress their claim, making and breaking alliances as it suited them. Deoras Rao Kalla, Rao Surtan of Sirohi and Bija Harrajot had been contending with each other for several years, which also embroiled the Rao of Idar, Rao Rai Singh of Bikaner, Malik Khan of Jalore, and similar was the case of Rao Chandrasen’s dispute with his brothers, Udai Singh and Ram Singh, who had sought service with the emperor in 1563. In the event that they got together for bigger battles, it was not owing to a higher ideal they committed themselves to, but to effect their own petty, selfish purpose what was being served at the particular moment in time. It is indeed tiresome to read about the endless intrigues, infighting, self-serving alliances among these principalities and not difficult to see why the prospect of a unified Hindu front was so bleak, failing the slightest idea of such in the minds of most Hindu rulers, who were simply incapable of safeguarding the overall civilisational whole, of which they had no conception. This critical lack of perspective very much characterises Hindus even today. That they all fought bravely proved futile and saved neither the individual nor the land, because they never took any principled stand against Islamic imperialism and in the end, one-by-one they all succumbed to it. [5] Ousted from Jodhpur in 1564 by Mughal forces under Husain Quli Khan-i-Jahan, he retreated to Bhadrajun and established himself in northern Marwar. But pushed to his limits, depleted of men and material, he was forced to present himself along with his son Rai Singh, at the Mughal durbar in Nagaur. Though received with favours, he apparently found the conditions of the treaty unacceptable and left the durbar leaving his son behind. Bhadrajun was besieged following this and unable to hold the bastion, he withdrew to Siwana. Interestingly, not either of Maldeo’s elder sons who had joined imperial service, but Rao Rai Singh of Bikaner, a close ally of Akbar and related to him through marital ties, was appointed to look after the affairs of Jodhpur with the idea of keeping an eye on Rana Pratap. [6] Cambridge History, Vol. II [7] “Kunwar Man Singh, who was among the first in the court for wisdom, loyalty and bravery, and who, among other favours, had been granted the lofty title of Farzand (son), was nominated for service.” (Akbarnama III) [8] “Man Singh was distinguished with the attributes of courage and manliness, and the qualities of high spirits and wisdom.” (Tabaqat-i-Akbari) [9] Since his ancestors had been the liegemen of the Ranas of Mewar, it was hoped that his presence as commandant of the imperial army would provoke the Rana and draw him out to confront him. [10] “He [Rana] …regarded the leader of the victorious army [Man Singh] as a landholder subordinate to himself. His whole idea was that he should come to the town abovementioned and fight a battle. But his well-wishers did not suffer him to increase his loss (khasārat) by this act of daring (jasārat).” ~ Akbarnama III; also Iqbalnama II [11] Nensi Ki Khyāt (Dugar), Vol. I, pgs. 68-69 [12] This can also be seen as the precursor to the use of guerrilla tactics which was perfected into a most potent and efficacious form of warfare in later centuries by Maharaj Shivaji of the Marathas and his own descendent, Maharana Raj Singh I, against Aurangzeb. [13] Nensi’s Khyat, Folio II (b) [14] ‘Darah’, according to Badayuni [15] Tod (Annals of Mewar) [16] The Rana was not the only one faced with this ironic situation. Rao Duda Singh of the Hadas who fought for the Rana was also pitted against his own father Rao Raja Surjan Singh and younger brother Bhoj Singh, who were part of the imperial army. [17] In a quarrel with Pratap which had turned violent, he made a lunge at his brother with a spear which struck and killed the family purohita who had thrust himself between the two combatants to prevent them from killing each other. He was thereafter exiled for the crime of ‘brahma hatya’. He joined Akbar’s service and was granted the jagir of Bhainsror in Udaipur. [18] There is however no mention of Sakta Singh in Mughal records of the event or the run-up to it. None of the Rajput sources mention him either, except the Raj Prashasti which gives an account of a rather improbable encounter between the Rana and Sakta Singh at the time of the former’s withdrawal from the battle of Haldighati with Mughal soldiers in pursuit. [19] “Partáp was nobly supported; and though wealth and fortune tempted the fidelity of his retainers, not one was found base enough to have deserted him.” ~ Tod (Annals of Rajasthan)
First published July 9, 2018 at Jagrit Bharat.

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