The Rana of Mewar, head of the illustrious Sisodia Rajput lineage refused to become a vassal of the Mughals. Akbar had captured his capital Chittorgarh after a bloody siege in 1568 and occupied the eastern part of his kingdom but Maharana Pratap eluded him.
Akbar sent Raja Man Singh I, heir to the Kachhwaha house of Amber who had risen to the highest rank and power by entering the Mughal service to convince Maharana Pratap to accept his authority over India. But, Maharana Pratap had no time and interest in Raja Man Singh, who was fighting against his own countrymen siding with a Muslim invader.
Maharana took refuge in the western hills and forests of his dominion in the rock fortress of Kumbhalgarh and made Gogunda as his base. Akbar formulated a plan to drive out Maharana Pratap from his safe position to secure an easy route to Gujarat from his own province of Malwa.
Man Singh called the Mughal detachments from his base at Mandalgarh and made his way through Mohi to the large village of Khamnor, south of the Banas River and seven miles west of the famous temple of Nathdwara. This place was only fourteen miles north of Gogunda and separated from the latter by a lateral ridge of the Aravalli Range called Haldighati (for its rock when crushed yields a bright yellow powder (sand) that looks like turmeric (haldi) powder).
Maharana Pratap met the advancing armies on 18 June 1576 in what is known as The Battle of Haldighati. Rana’s army comprised of three thousand horse and around four hundred Bhil bowmen of Punja. Man Singh commanded an army of twelve thousand.
The Mughal army had a front line of skirmishers (eighty-five in number) led by Sayyid Hashim of Barha, the vanguard consisted of Rajputs and Mughals, an advanced reserve, centre under Man Singh, left wing and the right wing headed by the Sayyids of Barha and of course the rear.
The Rana arranged his army with eight hundred horsemen in the vanguard led by Hakim Khan Sur, Bhim Singh (Baron of Dodia), Ramdas Rathor (son of Jaimal, the martyred defender of Chittorgarh) and others, right wing was led by Ram Sah Tonwar (dispossessed Raja of Gwalior) with his three gallant sons and Bhama Shah, the Minister, with his brother Tarachand and the left wing had Bida Mana and other Jhala clansmen. He placed himself on his beloved Chetak in the centre with the Bhils, priests and traders in the rear.
The Mughal left wing was placed at the mouth of the narrow pass and therefore, the army stretched westwards from this point to a bend in the Banas River. The Rana came from behind with his vanguard, Hakim Khan Sur attacking from the west side of the hill.
The first clash occurred north-west of the Haldi range. The Rana pressed forward to take advantage but did not have a reserve army or anyone guarding the rear. After the left wing of the Mughals was dispersed, the Rana’s commander, Raja Ram Sah Tonwar pushed forward to shield the Rana who was in the centre.
Soon, the Rana’s men sent the Mughal vanguard and left wing fleeing for their lives and the battle raged on in the centre. The arch rivals, Sisodia Rajputs and Kachhawas of Amber fought with indescribable fury and bitterness with the Muslim cavalry shooting their arrows and bullets indiscriminately at all the Hindu warriors irrespective of whose side they were on.
The Rana’s prized war elephants faced the brunt of the Mughals who started shooting off their riders. The Mughals increased the pressure on three sides striking down the Rana’s commanders one by one. The Afghans under Hakim Khan Sur and Rajputs under Ramdas, son of Jaimal mercilessly attacked the Mughals from the western mouth of the pass sending the front line of skirmishers into the jungle.
The left wing of the Mughals was broken by Raja Ram Sah and Bhama Shah who then took refuge in their right wing. The right wing was attacked by Bida Mana and the Jhala men but they were subdued by the Sayyids. The reserve army of the Mughals under Madho Singh came forward to protect the vanguard and the battle moved to the centre.
Bhim Singh came forward and challenged Man Singh and lost his life. The Maharana angered by the death of his loyal commander sent the famous rank-breaking elephant, Lona to break the artillery formation. The Mughals sent their elephant, Gajmukta to oppose him. A bullet struck the rider of Gajmukta sending the elephant away from the battlefield.
The famed elephant Ram Prasad was sent in by the Rana’s man. The Mughals sent Gajraj and Ranmadar to stop him in his tracks. The rider of Ram Prasad was hit by an arrow and a resourceful Mughal climbed on the back of Ram Prasad and steered him towards the Mughal army to be captured.
Hand to hand combat ensued with Ram Sah Tonwar and his brave sons destroying the Mughal defenders at will. But the Mughals fought back and those shielding the Rana fell fighting. Six hours had passed since the first clash.
The Rana was now well and truly surrounded by the Mughals. Bida Mana charged forward and took the royal umbrella from Maharana shouting that he was the Rana and went straight into the Mughals. The Mughals fell for the ruse and were eager to capture him. This gave Maharana valuable time to plan his next move.
Mewari legend says that Chetak jumped on Man Singh’s elephant causing it to stumble. The leg of the elephant was cut off and it hobbled on three legs for two miles carrying Man Singh, till it fell down dead.
It was only after the departure of Man Singh from the battlefield that Maharana Pratap who was wounded was led out from the rear. Bida was killed by the Mughals fighting for his king. The remaining Mewar army followed their leader into the jungle. The Mughal army could not capture Maharana Pratap and could not breach the walls of Kumbhalgarh.
Maharana Pratap till his last dying breath never acknowledged the invaders, Akbar or the Mughals as Emperor. A beautiful statue of this mighty warrior is placed in Udaipur.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about The Battle of Haldighati is taken from archives