Maharana Pratap- Victor in life and in death
"Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them": George Eliot
Maharana Pratap remains eternally stamped in our collective consciousness. He breathed his
last this day 425 years ago at Chavand. Of several thousand years of subcontinents history, having a galaxy full of great and mighty kings, Pratap burns brightest. Not for the fortune he amassed or the greatest empire he built or ruling for the longest period of time, but for spearheading an Indian equivalent of a David and Goliath struggle, lasting for a quarter of a century against the then world's most powerful empire without being subjugated. Pratap remains to this day the symbol of freedom, personal valor and sacrifice. He became a legend while alive, and immortal in death.
Pratap was born on 9 May 1540 in the fort of Kumbhalgarh. Rana Udai Singh, the father of Pratap, had a relative lack of affection for Pratap's mother Jaivanta Bai. This had him raised outside the palace in a modest environment. The physical distance from the palace helped him escape palatial intrigue, machinations, and manipulation, giving a certain form to the Pratap's character.
All this while he grew to be at ease with commoners, bonding so naturally with the largely tribal populace that he remained Kika (the younger one in tribal dialect) to them for life. This natural affection acquired early crisscrossing the jungles and mountain trails with Bhil friends, riding on horseback chasing wild boars, hunting deadly tigers and leopards, kept him endeared to his subjects forever. All this instilled a lot of character that palatial pride and company would not have allowed to take seed in an impressionable mind.
This ability to be alone but not lonely helped greatly in the long struggle carried largely from the mountains and jungles of the Aravalli ranges. The prince matured to be a patriot skilled in horse riding, warfare and with time acquiring the qualities of a master General.
Pratap ascended the throne of Mewar on 28 February 1572 at Gogunda. He inherited a kingdom of which the fertile part and seat of power Chittorgarh were under imperial control.
The difficult and rocky terrain, dampened spirit of the forces and constant fear of a looming attack were all he had to start with. The King in Pratap along with trusted nobles reorganized the administration; giving new grants, readying forces for the inevitable war, moving the population away from plains to hills, while enhancing the fortification of Kumbhalgarh (new seat of power), Gogunda, and hill forts to serve as sanctuaries when needed. The time he gained by keeping Mughals busy with exploring diplomatic channels to accept imperial suzerainty helped him build a force able to take on the might of the imperial army.
Clausewitzian war was to be the foregone conclusion of this policy and Pratap met the imperial forces head-on at the famous battle of Haldighati. The battle saw the fighting spirit of the Mewar under the generalship of Pratap shine through in the initial attack. The chaos created in the Mughal ranks gave a chance to end the battle by getting rid of the commander.
This is famously described as the intrepid charge of Pratap on his legendary stallion Chetak with Pratap coming close to killing Man Singh, the imperial general. The arrival of reserves and restoring of the order in the imperial ranks made the fight even. With no victory in sight for both sides, a stalemate ensued. This led Pratap to abandon the field for another day. With this began the long war of independence culminating in the decisive victory at the battle of Dewair, effectively ending the imperial control over the entire Mewar except for forts of Chittorgarh and Mandalgarh.
The long years of relative peace followed. This helped reclaim the lost glory of the Mewar. The long peace made the eternal sentinel in Pratap gave way to King Pratap. He remodeled agriculture with advancements in water harvesting and agricultural practices suited to the hills. New land grants were given to the supporters of Mewar's cause. The palace became a hub of literary and artistic pursuits with treaties written on agricultural practices, astrology, mining. A full series of miniature paintings under Raag-Mala created a new school of painting, the Chavand school. The peace and prosperity ushered in an era of relative abundance. The people's prince while growing up was the people's king now.
Like difficult times, good times too don't last long. At the age of 57, an internal injury on a hunting expedition brought him near to death one last time. He lay on the deathbed with life-force unwilling to let go of him until the nobles promised to be unwavering in honoring the commitment to the cause of the Mewar's freedom.
The vow is poetically described by JS Singhvi in The last dialogue.
"Sleep well O master without peer in chivalry and fame, We swear by Bapa's throne and Ekling's name, Despite foe's legions strong and their might, We will stand together for the country and the Right."
The assurance by the nobles had Rana die peacefully on the 11th day of the bright half (Shukla paksha) of Magha Vikram Samvat 1658 at his capital Chavand. The last rites were performed a couple of miles away near a flowing stream at Bandoli. A modest cenotaph stands at the place. The spirit emanating from which is immortal, timeless.
The news of the passing away of the great Rana reached emperor Akbar at Lahore. The court waited patiently to see the emperor's reaction. A long wait ensued. The silence was broken by Dursha Adha, a Charan poet of eminence from Marwar. A spontaneous eulogy flowed declaring final victory to the Pratap.
"O Gehlot King(Pratap), you have won,
Your death brings no joy,
For Badshah remains tongue-tied,
Head down in sorrow,
with tears welling up in the eye.
The courtiers waited in anticipation for a rebuke to the audacious poet, but the emperor ordered an encore pronouncing, Dursha, you got my feelings just right, rewarding the poet most handsomely. It has been said, Arjuna had two vows: never to be helpless and never to run away (na dainyam na palayanam). Pratap remains victor in life and so in death, never helpless never deviating from the virtuous path.
The writer of this article Mr Lalait Narayan Singh is an IAS officer serving in Gujarat and a PhD scholar in Gandhian economics.