Last week, as I sat down to pen this month’s travel article for My Destination Rajasthan, I looked for a subject, an inspiration. After deliberating on many topics, I started watching the ‘idiot box’ before zeroing on any particular topic. A serial coming on one of the channels caught my fancy. It was the tale of valor and sacrifice of Maharana Pratap, the heroic Rajput king of Mewar (present day, southern Rajasthan). That coupled with the fact that my hometown of Udaipur, just about celebrated Maharana Pratap’s 473rd birthday on 11th June, gave me my topic for this month’s travel article-
“On the trail of Maharana Pratap-Retracing the journey of the great Rajput warrior king”.
Presenting to you the article I have written for MyDestination for the month of June.
Rajputana as Rajasthan was once known has been the homeland of the Rajputs, a fierce martial warrior clan for centuries. The clan which is renowned for its fighting prowess and love for the motherland has produced many great warrior kings but Maharana Pratap Singh of the Royal House of Mewar is arguably the most famous amongst them.
Born to Maharana Udai Singh II and his wife Rani Jeevant Kanwar in the magnificent fortress of Kumbhalgarh on 9th May 1540 AD, Maharana Pratap spent his whole life fighting the invading army of Akbar, the Mughal emperor of Delhi who had captured Chittorgarh, the traditional seat of power and the capital of the state of Mewar. The brave Maharana took an oath renouncing royal lifestyle, eating simple food from plates made of leaves and sleeping on the floor till he drove away the invaders from his beloved motherland, endearing him more to the masses and making him a part of folklore.
The sight of Maharana Pratap on his loyal steed Chetak backed by a legion of the native Bhil tribesmen of the Aravali ranges and Rajput warriors, perfect in the art of guerrilla warfare apt for the hilly terrain, struck fear in the hearts of the marauding army for years. By the time of his death, the Maharana had freed most of Mewar from the Mughals with the exception of Chittorgarh.
In an attempt to retrace the trail of the most famous son of Rajasthan, I am presenting to you the places that have utmost importance in the life and times of Maharana Pratap.
1) Kumbhalgarh Fort- About 85 kms north-west of Udaipur, perched magnificently on top of a 3,500 feet high hill of the Aravali ranges, is the famed fortress of Kumbhalgarh. This formidable fort on the border of the kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar was strategically built on the remnants of an old citadel in the 15th century by Maharana Kumbha. As mentioned above, the fort is also the birthplace of Maharana Pratap. So in effect, it is where it all started.
The Kumbhalgarh fort is huge and is in a pretty good condition even today, after centuries. In fact, the walls of the fort extend over 36 kms and are the second-longest continuous wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. Within the fort, there are seven fortified gateways, palaces, gardens and more than 360 temples, the most famous of which is the temple of the Hindu god, Lord Shiva.
The lush forest encompassing the fort has been converted into the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary and adds to the spectacular panoramic view that is on offer from the top of this ‘impregnable’ fort, especially during the rainy season.
2) Chittorgarh Fort- The erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Mewar is located at a distance of about 110 kms east of Udaipur, overlooking the rivers Berach and Gambheri. It was the seat of power of the royal house of Mewar and Maharana Udai Singh II ruled his territories from here till 1559 AD when the fort was attacked, ransacked and captured by Emperor Akbar. Maharana Pratap waged a life- long struggled to win back the fort of Chittorgarh.
The Chittorgarh fort is the largest fort in India in terms of area and traces its origins to the 7th century AD. The fort has seven fortified gates, four palace complexes and innumerable historical monuments such as the Vijay Stambh and the Kirti Stambh besides 19 main temples. In the present, the fort is a major tourist attraction attracting visitors not only from India but the world over.
3) Gogunda- Situated about 35 kms north-west of Udaipur, this is the town that Maharana Udai Singh II sought refuge after the fall of the fort of Chittorgarh. Its precarious location on top of a hill made it an ideal place for the Maharana to make it his base. It was the temporary capital of Mewar and in fact the coronation of Pratap Singh as Maharana Pratap Singh took place in Gogunda after Maharana Udai Singh II died here in 1572 AD. It was also the place where Maharana Pratap had his final war council meeting before the battle of Haldighati.
Present day, Gogunda has a palace, many temples and also remnants of a town that once was the epi-centre of power in Mewar, albeit for a short duration.
4) Haldighati- After his coronation, Maharana Pratap became a thorn in the flesh of the Mughals and there were numerous skirmishes between the two forces. The hostilities between them finally culminated into the famous battle of Haldighati. Haldighati, literarily meaning the turmeric valley (because of the turmeric colored soil of the valley) is a mountainous pass about 40 kms north-west of Udaipur and it was here in 1576 AD that a fierce battle was fought between the forces of Maharana Pratap and a huge Mughal army under Raja Man Singh of Jaipur. The greatly outnumbered Maharana Pratap and his men up a valiant fight and inflicted enormous casualties on the Mughal forces but in the end the Maharana was persuaded by his generals to retreat, to fight another day. The royal steed Chetak was killed in the battle but now before it saved its master.
Today, Haldighati has a museum which exhibits various weapons and paintings of the famous battle and hosts a light & sound show which gives a glimpse of the events that unfolded during the battle. The museum visualizes the incidents from Maharana Pratap’s life and brings them alive through animated statues. Also there is a mausoleum to Chetak at the site of the steed’s death which is about 3 kms away.
5) Moti Magri- The battle of Haldighati took an enormous toll both financial as well as with respect to manpower on Maharana Pratap, who took refuge in Udaipur, the city that was founded by his father Maharana Udai Singh II. A famous incident happened in the wilderness of the Moti Magri, a pearl shaped hillock overlooking Lake Fatehsagar. In the absence of anything better to eat Maharana Pratap’s young son was given a roti (Indian bread) made of grass which was stolen and eaten by a wild cat. The sight of his crying hungry child caused Maharana Pratap extreme pain and he even contemplated discontinuing his fight for freedom and submitting to the Mughals. That he did not was a result of the timely financial assistance provided to him by Bhama Shah, a wealthy trader of Mewar and a letter of encouragement from Prithviraj Rathore, a Rajput courtier in Emperor Akbar’s court.
At present, Moti Magri has a memorial dedicated to Maharana Pratap, a bronze statue of the Maharana mounted on Chetak, the faithful royal steed. A beautiful Japanese rock garden and the ruins of the ancient Moti Mahal (a dilapidated palace) are also within the premises.
6) Chavand- 60kms south of Udaipur lays Chavand, the last capital of Maharana Pratap and the place where he breathed his last. After having realized the futileness of engaging the vastly superior Mughal army in direct confrontation as evident from the battle of Haldighati, Maharana Pratap continued to torment the Mughals through guerrilla warfare and regained most of his lost territories. At Chavand, he built 16 hideouts and many secret depots. He also constructed temples and made fortified structures that remained camouflaged in the hilly terrain. The last ten years of Maharana Pratap’s reign were relatively peaceful and he administered over most of Mewar (with the exception of Chittorgarh) from Chavand. He died in a freak hunting accident on 29th January 1597 AD at the age of 57 years.
Today, Chavand besides having the ruins of the structures made by Maharana Pratap, also has a statue memorial, that of the great warrior king and four of his aides.
Maharana Pratap led a life fighting for his people, his honor and most importantly for the freedom of his beloved Mewar and the places mentioned in the article bear a testimony to the love, pain, hardships and successes that he faced during his struggle.
A visit to these places therefore is a must to soak in the deeds of valor of the great warrior king and to relive a past that is drenched with human endurance and glory!