NCERT textbooks for the longest time have chosen to highlight battles and campaigns in which native Indians are defeated by invading armies from Central Asia and Europe. This was probably done to build a narrative that India was always destined to be ruled and the natives were docile, non-violent people. The textbooks talk about Sultan Mahmud of Ghazniís raids, not the Battle of Bahraich where his army, under the command of his nephew Ghazi Salar Masud, was crushed by Suheldev, leading to a stoppage of raids from the north-west for a good 150 years. The Battles of Panipat are hyped up, especially the third battle, yet it is ignored that the entire Maratha Empire was restored within 10 years of the defeat, not to mention Maratha victories against Afghans or Mughals barely feature. Battle of Plassey is seen as the mark of British rule, when they didnít even rule after the battle and weren’t even a major power. However, the defeat of the British at the hands of Mysore and the Marathas are ignored. Such a narrative has unfortunately also been built around the Battle of Haldighati.
Prelude to the Battle of Haldighati
The Battle of Haldighati was fought on 18 June 1576 between Maharana Pratap of Mewar and Mughal invader Akbar’s forces led by Raja Man Singh of Jaipur and General Asaf Khan. Prior to the battle, Akbar had started a long-drawn campaign against Rajput princes, starting with the Battle of Ajmer in 1559, which resulted in the annexation of Ajmer from Maldeo Rathore, the ruler of Marwar. Akbar ventured into Mewar ruled by Rana Udai Singh II (father of Maharana Pratap and the son of the famous Rana Sangram Singh who fought against Babur). It is said that Rana Udai Singh’s act of providing sanctuary to Akbar’s sworn enemy and ruler of Malwa Baz Bahadur had angered him. Udai Singh knew about the vulnerability of Chittorgarh and it was left in the hands of Jaimal Rathore and Patta. After five months of siege, the small and vastly outnumbered army of Mewar fell to the stronger Mughal army and Chittor was captured. Akbar subsequently massacred the civilians to strike fear among his enemies. The Rana of Mewar, however, remained elusive, dying four years later, to be succeeded by his son Pratap Singh.
Battle of Haldighati: A False Dawn for Mughals
Akbar had, prior to the Battle of Haldighati, started a process of isolating Maharana Pratap with some of his own followers and family members defecting to the Mughal camp. Having been exhausted at the long-drawn siege of Chittor. Akbar chose to send another Rajput, Man Singh of Jaipur, to fight against the Rana. Maharana Pratap had truly been cornered.
Maharana Pratap put together a paltry army consisting of Rajputs, Bhils and Afghans, which lacked artillery. They faced the Mughal army at Haldighati on 18 June 1576. There is a dispute regarding the date, some say it ís 18 June, others 21 June. However, recorded documents in Rajasthan detail the battle to have taken place on the 7th day of the Saavan (Shravan) month. It must be noted that the first time in Rajput history, an Afghan general Hakim Khan Sur was leading an army after having committed fully to the preservation of Mewar’s independence. Maharana Pratap was a well built and able warrior whose bravery was unmatched. His experience at Haldighati helped him develop more tact and guile in dealing with Mughals later on.
Vastly outnumbered, Maharana Pratap adopted the strategy of taking out Man Singh. However, due to his royal umbrella, he was easily identifiable. Mughal forces rushed to the defence of their commander and Rajput forces did the same. Rana Pratap’s strategy almost worked as he shot his lance towards Man Singh who was mounted on an elephant. However, it hit the mahout instead. Pratap was overwhelmed and eventually rescued by the brave Raj Rana Mana, who stubbornly snatched the royal umbrella from the Rana to divert the attention of the enemy. His loyal horse Chetak that was severely wounded took his master away to safety.
The Rajput forces lost the day while inflicting heavy losses on the Mughals. While the victory at Haldighati was decisive for the Mughals, they failed in the objective of capturing Pratap. This would cost the Mughals dearly in the long run. This is where the textbooks fail us, as discussions on the Rana stop with Haldighati. A fearless man who would never surrender, no matter what the odds against an invader who promised unbridled riches! However, the real story of Maharana Pratap begins after Haldighati, does not end with it.
Resurgence of Maharana Pratap
Post-Haldighati, Maharana Pratap’s heroics were about to begin. He matured from a brave warrior to a leader, statesman and an eternal hero, inspiring independence movements against colonists centuries later. Immediately after the Battle of Haldighati, the Rana fell on tough times, living pitifully in the forests and struggling to feed his family. He contemplated surrender. However, his resilience had inspired other Rajputs. One such admirer was Prithviraj, the brother of Raja Rai Singh of Bikaner. As Prithviraj was a poet, he wrote an encouraging letter, requesting the Rana not to surrender. Further help came from Bhama Shah, a minister whose family had served the Mewar court for generations. It is said he presented his entire family wealth to the Rana for his fight to regain Mewar’s independence. Manpower came from the Bhils and Rajput soldiers, slowly but surely. The Rana was now ready for a second round with the Mughals.
Six years after his defeat, the Rana attacked the Mughals in 1582 in a decisive victory in the Battle of Dewar. This started his journey of successfully re-capturing most of the Mewar state from the Mughals except for the Chittor fort. He is said to have died of wounds in 1597. However, he left an eternal legacy and a strong base for his son Amar Singh.
Amar Singh would defeat the Mughals and also suffer defeat at their hands. However, Mewar had done enough damage to start negotiations with a fresh slate and Chittor was returned to Rana Amar Singh by Mughal ruler Jahangir. The state of Mewar would never enter into a matrimonial alliance with Mughals. They recognised the Mughal rule while maintaining their sovereignty. Mughals ceased to interfere in Mewar’s affairs all due to the efforts of one man, Maharana Pratap.
The impact of battles in history has to be analysed with the larger picture in mind. Haldighati gave birth to a stronger Mewar state, which gained admiration from peers. It achieved the goal of maintaining independence and continuing to exist on its own terms without joining the Mughal Empire. The portrayal of the battle as that of a chieftain who fought valiantly against a large Empire to no avail is inaccurate as discussed above. That, freedom fighters against the British could draw inspiration from Maharana Pratap is a testimony to his timeless contribution towards the Indian civilisation.
Such a narrative was also built around the third battle of Panipat. To this day, many people lament the loss of the Marathas to Ahmed Shah Durrani as a major loss that changed the fate of the subcontinent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Lead by Peshwa Madhav Rao, Nana Fadnavis and Mahadaji Scindia Maratha Empire witnessed a resurgence. Within a span of ten years, they retook all their lost territories and defeated their enemies. The base of the Empire was so strong that they could counter the British during the First Anglo Maratha War. Unfortunately, the history books are silent on the Maratha resurgence and subsequent victory over the British in the First Anglo Maratha War. Partial description of historical events creates a false narrative and often a wrong impression in young minds. Hence, it is essential to present the larger picture with proper context and facts to ensure that the truth is known. It will prevent the rise of conspiracy theories, over glorification and historical revisionism while ensuring national pride in heroes who defended the land.