Accounts relating to famous personalities in India tend to be hagiographic and distance the hero from the social and historical realities of that period. This account of Maharana Pratap is written by a scholar-historian of repute who narrates a great story while maintaining academic sobriety. The imagination stops short of becoming historical fiction and the book is an account based on sound research yet very interesting for the lay reader.
It is 1572, the 54th custodian of the illustrious house of Mewar has inherited a seat of stone instead of a gilded throne accompanied by an open air anointment. In spite of being his father’s eldest son, Pratap has not been appointed heir but unlike his arrogant ancestor Vikramaditya, he has powerful friends both among his own clan members as well as other castes and tribes. This positive trait has ensured Pratap’s quick accession and will hold him in good stead in coming times. Brought up with tales of valour, honour and pride, Pratap is profoundly influenced by these lofty ideals which are deeply ingrained in his persona and will dominate his destiny. The age old adage that impressions from early upbringing have a profound impact on adult life stands confirmed.
Akbar’s Rajput policy encouraged co-opting enemies, near enemies or potential enemies as friends in order to use them as proficient warriors and allies for future campaigns. Forging bonds through matrimony, some of the kings saw political advantage and acknowledged Mughal supremacy. Following an alliance with Amber, several Rajput rulers reached amicable arrangements with the Mughals. Once again, Pratap like his father and grandfather refused imperial dominance and stood as the odd one out. The years of resistance and conflict that followed produced a rubric around which legends, stories and poems were composed both around his persona as well as the principles and ideals he upheld.
In 1576 Pratap confronted the imperial Mughal army at Haldighati using a traditional battle formation. Experience would teach him to change his attack tactics and adopt innovative strategies in future. He stood steadfast and unchanged only on his core beliefs and commitments. The travel writer Badayuni who witnessed the event reported 500 slain. Later accounts would quote much higher figures possibly to emphasise the gravitas associated with the chief protagonists. Both sides claimed victory as there was no surrender by Mewar and the Mughals continued in the field. The author points out the important role played by Raja Mansingh of Amber who was in charge of the Mughal forces. This resulted in the Maharana’s escape from the battlefield and on the Raja’s part attracted severe censure from the emperor.
Pratap continued to evade capture and remained a profound symbol of defiance to the mighty Mughals. Attracted by the very desperations of Pratap’s fortunes several others pressed to his standard. He was supported by the wealth and fidelity of his relatives, clansmen and well wishers. The famous Bhama Shah came up with a large amount of wealth which would sustain the Maharana’s war efforts. When faced with insurmountable challenges assistance from sympathisers and supporters would soon be forthcoming. Pratap like his ancestors shifted the command and control to locations inaccessible to the unwieldy Mughal army. To commemorate the desolation of Chittor, the Maharana interdicted to himself and his followers all articles of luxury and pomp until their honour was restored. Why was it so important for Akbar to subdue Mewar? As explained, the reasons went beyond the obvious and had deeper roots in the individual psyche of the opposing protagonists.
Much later Col. James Tod would write “Mewar pride themselves as having preserved their blood uncontaminated and became an object of respect and envy to those who had forfeited the pretensions of a Rajput”. Chittor may have been sacked before and during the reign of Pratap but the spirit of the Mewar rulers always remained undefeated. Social scientists and teachers alike would draw much value and inspiration from this and other veracities of Pratap’s life. Much after his death his stand would yield dividends for his successors as none would dare challenge the illustrious house of Mewar. Rahim the 16th Century poet in Akbar’s court who is famous for his couplets would write “Land and wealth will disappear but the virtue of a great name lives forever”
The author points out that trade and the arts continued to survive if not flourish in this difficult period. The Chavand school produced unique miniature paintings and various Ragamalas depicting the changing moods and seasons were composed. This is an interesting feature which underlines the popular support Pratap received and sustains the belief that conflict and social change can coexist and flourish. The book refers to periods before and after the incident of Haldighati and provides a rich canvas to understand the enigma of Pratap as well as the social history of those times. The Maharana was most certainly an inspiration for Shivaji in the following century. Though Chittor was not won back during his life time Pratap’s son was able to get it back albeit under terms of a treaty which saved face and prevented further bloodshed.Courage in the face of adversity, death before dishonour and other lofty ideals of valour and bravery were deeply embedded in Pratap’s psyche. He so impressed and mesmerised his opponents that on his death the poet Dursa Charan lamented “ Now as the Badshah learns of your passing he does not rejoice. All know (the Emperor) has fallen into a deep silence”. The author concludes that this was indeed Pratap’s final victory.