Maharana Pratap – The First Freedom Fighter of India

Maharana Pratap was a Hindu rajput ruler of Mewar Kingdom.

Nearly all of Pratap’s fellow Rajput chiefs had meanwhile entered into the vassalage of the Mughals. Even Pratap’s own brothers, Shakti Singh and Sagar Singh, served Akbar. Indeed, many Rajput chiefs, such as Raja Man Singh of Amber (later known as Maharaja of Jaipur) served as army commanders in Akbar’s armies and as members of his council.

Akbar sent a total of six diplomatic missions to Pratap, seeking to negotiate the same sort of peaceful alliance that he had concluded with the other Rajput chiefs. Each time, however, Pratap politely refused to accept Akbar’s suzerainty, arguing that the Sisodia Rajputs had never accepted any foreign ruler as their overlord, nor will he. It is worth noting that both these rulers’ grandfathers, Rana Sanga and Babur, had previously fought against each other. Thus the enmity was not only political, but was also a bit personal.

Pratap maintained that he had no intention to fight with Akbar but he could not bow down to Akbar and accept him as the ruler. Some scholars argue that there was some possibility that Maharana could have become friends with Akbar but in the siege of Chittor when Akbar killed 30,000 civilian, unarmed residents of Chittor, because they refused to convert to Islam, left a lasting impression on Maharana’s mind and he decided he cannot bow to such an unjust and cruel human being as Akbar was.

Akbar felt insulted and thought of teaching this Rajput ruler a lesson.

Battle Of Haldighati:

On June 21, 1576, the armies of Maharana Pratap & Akbar met at haldighati.

Maharana Pratap has some 10,000 soldier at his command, but they were outnumbered 1/8 against the mighty mughal army consisting of some 80,000 soldiers.
The battle of Haldighati, a historic event in the annals of Rajputana, lasted only four hours. In this short period, Pratap’s men essayed many brave exploits on the field.

When he was fighting, he saw Man Singh, a rajput prince who was fighting as a commander from Mughals side. Maharan was so angry that he personally attacked Man Singh: his horse Chetak placed its front feet on the trunk of Man Singh’s elephant and Pratap threw his lance; Man Singh ducked, and the mahout was killed.

However, the numerical superiority of the Mughal army and their artillery finally began to tell. Seeing that the battle was lost, Pratap’s generals prevailed upon him to flee the field so as to be able to fight another day. To facilitate Pratap’s escape, one of his lieutenants, a member of the Jhala clan, donned Pratap’s distinctive garments and took his place in the battlefield. He was soon killed.

Chetak was severely injured in the attack, but he still managed to take Pratap away from the battle, two turkish soldiers were following Maharana Pratap. The moment they started chasing him Pratap’s younger brother Shakti Singh, who was fighting from the Mughal side (he had some disputes with Pratap at the time of Pratap’s coronation; hence he had defected and gone over to Akbar’s court) realized that his own brother was under threat.

Pratap’s army general’s sacrifice had already been discovered by him. He could not help but react against a threat to his own brother. He followed the Turks, engaged them in single combat and killed them. In the meanwhile, Chetak collapsed and Pratap saw his brother Shakti Singh killing the two Mughal riders. Saddened by the loss of his beloved general and horse, he embraced his brother and broke into tears. Shaktisingh also cried and asked for his brother’s pardon, for having fought as his enemy. Pratap pardoned him (later on he was given a huge estate near Chittor). Shaktisingh then offered him his own horse and requested him to get to a safe place.
The impact of the battle on the Mughal army was also significant. In terms of numbers the Mughal army suffered heavier losses. This was also because of the intensive arrow showers by the Bhil tribes of the surrounding mountains who had aided with Pratap. To honour their contribution, a Bhil warrior was placed next to Pratap in the Royal Coat of Arms of Mewar.

Pratap retreated into the hilly wilderness of the Aravallis and continued his struggle. Using the hills as his base, Pratap harassed the large and therefore awkward Mughal forces in their encampments. He ensured that the Mughal occupying force in Mewar never knew peace: Akbar despatched three more expeditions to ferret Pratap out of his mountainous hideouts, but they all failed.

As James Tod writes: “There is not a pass in the alpine Aravalli that is not sanctified by some deed of the great freedom fighter, Maharana Pratap Singh; some brilliant victory or, more often, some glorious defeat.”

The exiles were facing the prospect of actual starvation.
In one incident that caused him extreme pain, his children’s meal – bread made from grass – was stolen by a dog. It is said that this cut into Maharana Pratap’s heart deeply. He began to have doubts about his resolute refusal to submit to the Mughals. Perhaps in one of these moments of self doubt – something each and every human being goes through – Maharana Pratap wrote to Akbar demanding “a mitigation of his hardship”.

Pratap’s first cousin (his mother’s sister’s son) Prithviraj Rathore, who was one of Akbar’s courtiers, heard of this overture. He is said to have grown despondent and written thus to his cousin Pratap:

Patal sun Patshah, bole mukh hunta bayan
Mihir picham dis mahn, uge kasap rao ut
Patakun munchyan pan, ke patakun nij tan karad
 Dije likh Deewan,in do mahali bat ik

(The mouth of Pratap has begun to say “Badshah”. O Rao! has the sun started rising in the West, as well? Should I keep my hand over my mustache or should my body fall with my own hands? Write, O Deewan! to give an answer choosing between the two.)

This letter sparked the honour of Maharana Pratap, he wrote:
Pratap replied to this letter like this.

Turak kahasi turakado, in mukh sun Ikling
Uge jya hi ugasi, prachi bich Patang
Khushi hunt Peethal Kamadh, patako munchyan pan
Jete hai pachatan Pato, kilama sir kewan

(Lord Eklingji will always make my mouth call him “Turk”. The sun will rise in the east always. O Prithviraj Rathod be happy and put your hand over your mustache. Till Pratap stands on his feet, his sword will keep hovering over the heads of the invaders.)

Maharana Pratap had vowed that he will never sleep or like a King till he frees all his kingdom.

He was able to free most of his kingdom, but in January 1597, Rana Pratap Singh I, Mewar’s greatest hero, was seriously injured in a hunting accident. He left his body at Chavand, aged 56, on January 29, 1597. He died fighting for his nation, for his people, and most importantly for his honor.

Written By: Naveen Thakur

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