The word is used to denote something that glows, and signifies glory and majesty.
The name, though, must stand for absolute stubbornness in the noble pursuit of retaining independence.
Why, one might ask, should such stock have been placed on retention of freedom? Why should you have strived to remain free, in process inviting war upon your people in a desperate bid to retain your own ancestral kingdom? Why should have you alone remain unbowed when others around you had no compunctions in raising the banner of the one you considered to be a foreigner and was you’re the sworn foe of your way of life?
Why this insistence on living and dying free? Why this arrogance of untethered wind and unruly flood water in a mere mortal?
Address him as Rana or Maharana, it does not really matter. No Raja, Maharaja, Rai, or Rawal, ever born on the soil of Rajputana, enjoys a stature that could surpass this unassuming son of Chittor. Mere mention of Pratap is enough to remind us that this man never accepted the inevitable fate that befell the rest of Rajputana kingdoms, and lived and died a free man, a sovereign himself, and never quite a King without a Kingdom either.
By the time he fell victim to his injuries in 1597, Pratap had regained most of the territories that his father, Rana Uday Singh, had lost to the Mughals in and after 1567-68. In the legendary Battle of Dewair in 1586, Rana’s son Amar Singh cut down Mughal commander Sultan Khan and his horse with a blow of his sword. 36000 Mughal soldiers surrendered after the rout, and the armies of Chittor managed to capture 36 Mughal thanas and 84 chowkis. An unguarded Udaipur fell back into Pratap’s lap soon after. The King who always placed a pinchful of Mewari dust in the folds of his Pagdi/Safa to remind him of the love and debt to the soil of this motherland was never forced to perform sijdah before the Great Emperor of Liberals, Akbar.
To think that Uday Singh II did not want Pratap, the eldest, to succeed him, rather preferred his ninth son, Jagmal, who later went over to the Mughals and accepted a jagir! To think that Pratap was on the verge of leaving for exile, when other feudal lords intervened on his behalf in his absence, and placed the Crown on Pratap’s head! To think that the same Crown was placed on the head of Jhala Man Singh (Jhala Manna) in the battlefield of Haldighati to divert the Mughal attention from Pratap and enable him to escape to safety! (What happened to Jhala Manna and how his clan got the title of Raj-ranas is a separate chapter) And to think that his Arabic horse, Chetak, injured by an elephant which held a sword in its trunk, then ran the race of its life and jumped over a wide ditch to take the Maharana to safety, over-exerted himself in the process, and died in Pratap’s arms, and is perhaps as much of a legend as the indefatigable warrior himself! Add the long exile in the hilly jungles of Mewar, and the life and times of Pratap become as romantic as anyone’s.
Pratap was never a power-hungry prince, and was certainly never blinded with ambition even as the King. His argument was simple- why should I bow before a foreigner? Why should Mewar become a vassal state of the Mughals? He understood tactics, for he resorted to guerrilla warfare when it suited his cause and hurt the enemy. Fake bravado did not push him into a pitched battle with the Mughals. He understood strategy well. He gave in to the demand of his generals during the heat of Haldighati, and withdrew to safety. Pratap did not let pride come in the way of personal retreat. If he were caught or slain that day, the resistance of Mewar and the Sisodiyas would have well been over.
Perhaps Pratap could have been a tad more diplomatic. He received three missions from Akbar, the first one to visit being Man Singh Kachchawa of Amber. Pratap excused himself from the scheduled dinner with the visiting ambassador citing severe back pain, and sent Amar Singh to dine with the Raja instead. Something unsavoury must have happened during that fateful evening for Man Singh to storm out of the dinner mid-way. Later, Pratap is said to have taunted Man Singh about his ‘foofa’, that was Akbar, and even ordered the utensils used by the Raja to be consecrated, in order for them to be rendered fit for further use. The counter-view can be that by insulting the Raja, Pratap had aimed to send a message to the other Rajputs to not compromise with their honour, and throw in their lot with him, being the symbol of resistance. Later, Man Singh’s father, Raja Bhagwan Dass, and then Raja Todar Mal also led diplomatic missions to Mewar to convince the doughty Maharana to give up and arrive at some sort of understanding.
Galores of eulogies have been sung in the honour of Mewar, Pratap, Chetak and the resistance. His fans and detractors, the nationalists and the socialists, historians and eulogists, Rajasthanis and outsiders, Rajputs and others, have been guilty of caricaturing Pratap into a symbol of Rajput pride, which to me, seems rather too simplistic and convenient. Of course, Pratap was a proud Rajput, but every Hindu is a proud “some caste”. There are proud Jats, Meenas, Yadavs, Brahmins, Kayasthas, Rajputs, Thevars, Kurubas, Gonds, and so on, in every nook and corner of this county. People of his caste and clan did throw in their lot with him, as they could be expected to, but the Maharana rode a wave of Mewari resistance, in which peasants scorched their own earth to deny supplies to the invaders, traders led by Bhamashah donated heavily to provide for upkeep of the armed forces, and tribals like Raja Punja Bhil lent their arms and expertise to bolster the ranks.
The Maharana was addressed as Kika, the son of the soil, in the language of the Bhils. A naïve question is often hurled by the communist historians – would not the masses of Mewar have faced less hardship had Pratap reached some sort of token compromise with Akbar? Only a naïve fool would argue that to be ruled by an alien, an intruder, a foreigner, a race of religious zealots is quite the same as being ruled by a son of the soil, your fellowman and worshipper of the same Gods like Eklingji. Let us not forget that more than 30000 people were massacred in 1568 during and after Akbar’s seize of Chittor. To suggest that Pratap should have accepted the overlordship of the person responsible for that genocide is rather humiliating. Longstanding resistance draws its sustenance from ground, for the people desire not just lives, but liberty as well. That is the long and short of it.
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