In February 1572, Maharana Pratap ascended the throne of Mewar. At that period, the new Rana had very little resources to continue his struggle against the Mughals because the fertile region of his kingdom, the eastern part of Mewar including the forts of Ranthambhor and Chittor were captured by Akbar and his army. But, fortune was in his favor because Akbar started his conquest from Gujarat and gave Rana Pratap Singh time to consolidate his forces.
Mughal’s Invasion of Rajputana
Akbar had realized that the Rajputs were not easy opponents and so as a shrewd administrator, he used a policy of not just military actions, but diplomacy. Akbar after defeating a Rajput Raja, started making him as his ally instead of deposing him, as long as he accepted his suzerainty. No wonder, this policy won Akbar a great number of Rajput kingdoms and weekend the overall Rajput unity.
He was successful everywhere but not in Mewar, as Rana Pratap was not ready to submit. So, starting from Dungarpur, situated towards the south of Maharana Pratap’s Mewar, Akbar began his Mewar invasion. Favorably, he received the submission of the Rawals in June 1573.
The Mughal Attempt Towards Mewar
Soon, Akbar sent his general Maan Singh to Mewar’s Maharana Pratap for discussions. However, the meeting didn’t go well between the two warriors. Maan Singh who was neither a head of the clan nor a king, wanted to be treated as an equal of Maharana Pratap. But, Maharana Pratap, the ruler of Mewar who saw Maan Singh as a desh drohi wasn’t so keen meeting a Rajput who was now a Mughal General.
Next, Akbar sent Maan Singh’s father Raja Bhagwan Das but Maharana Pratap refused to submit again, giving diplomatic replies. Meantime, he started strengthening his force by making allies and raiding the Mughal territories.
Battle of Haldighati
After almost waiting for 3 years for Rana Pratap’s submission, Akbar finally sent his general Maan Singh with an army of four times more than Rana Pratap’s army, and he himself moved towards Ajmer. While, Akbar and his army underestimated Pratap initially due to his lack of men, resource and allies, they forgot that Rana Sanga’s Mewar commanded numerous small Muslim and Hindu states. Also, even though the Mughals were on the conquering end, there were rulers and clansmen who sided Maharana Pratap as he was their only hope to defeat the Mughal army.
Maharana Pratap’s supporters present in the battle of Haldighati were the Tanwars of Gwalior, the Rathores of Merta and even Hakim Khan Suri, a Pathan from south.Those who supported Rana and were not present in the fight were Deora Chauhans of Sirohi and Rathores of Idar along with several other states that bordered Mewar.
On hearing that Maan Singh has entered Khamnor with the Mughal army, Rana Pratap left his capital and reached Khamnor. Pratap’s camp was positioned in the Haldighati Pass which was only route to Gogunda, his capital. On 18th June, 1576, Mewar army was ordered to take upon the enemy’s army from a distance.
The skirmishers and vanguard were slowly moving towards the hill when the Mewar cavalry came roaring, the Mughal troop was defeated, many even did not stand to fight.
When Maan Singh sitting on his elephant got the panoramic view of the situation, seeing his right wing and left wing getting defeated, he moved forward with his centre commanding Mehtar Khan.
Rana Pratap was commanding the center of his army, while the left wing was under his vassal Maan Singh Jhala, and right under Tanwar Rajputs. His vanguard was led by Hakim Khan Sur and Ramdas Rathore. In addition, there was also a force of Bhil archers. Mewar army though strong had little or only few gun for their defense as all the artillery was lost in the siege of Chittor and Ranthambhor.
Maharana Pratap with his little army though had an initial success entered in a stalemate as the Mughal army bounced at them, shattering Mewar’s vanguard and even killing its leaders.
Maharana Pratap then had to send his war elephants Lona and Ram Prasad. Nothing stopped them, neither arrows nor any artillery shots. They like beast would throw horses from their task and advanced through the pile of Mughal dead bodies, until the mahouts of the elephants were killed by the Mughal army.
The Great Sacrifice of Jhala
Although Maharana Pratap’s last gamble failed, neither he nor his other members gave up. Maharana Pratap on his horse Chetak continued warring against Maan Singh. At one point of time, Chetak even bounced at Maan Singh’s elephant so that Maharana Pratap could hurl the spear, but it was missed. However, Maharana Pratap was heavily wounded since the spear and arrows hit him continuously.
Meanwhile, Maan Singh Jhala saw the degrading condition of Mewar’s army. He thought as long as Mewar’s leader Maharana Pratap will be alive, there will always be a hope of freedom against the Mughals. He quickly took the silver chattra (a sign of royalty) from wounded Maharana Pratap’s back and placed in his back.
The Mughal army thinking him as Maharana Pratap surrounded him and even killed him. Meanwhile, Maharana Pratap’s horse Chetak took the wounded warrior far away from the battleground (roughly 2 miles) finally succumbing to death while crossing a river stream.
Not Really a Mughal Win…
When Maan Singh, Akbar’s general realized the dead man is not Pratap but Maan Singh Jhala, he was shocked. However, since the intense heat had already taken a toll on the Mughal army he was in no position to chase Maharana Pratap. Also, he feared that an ambush must have been planted in the narrow Haldighati pass by the Bhils and the Sesodia Rajputs.
This gave enough time for the Mewar army to take away their baggage and camps. Next day, when Maan Singh followed the same path, no traces was found. Thus, in spite of the Mughal win, they didn’t win at all!
Reference 2 : A History of Jaipur: C. 1503-1938 by Jadunath Sarkar
Maharana Pratap by Bhawan Singh Rana