Maharana Rana Pratap (born in 1540) was the eldest son of Udai Singh. Though Pratap had not incurred the displeasure of his father in his lifetime, yet Udai Singh had willed that Jagmal, his second son from his favourite wife should succeed him. When the nobles came to know about the decision of Udai Singh after his death in 1572, they took a collective decision not to abide by the will of Udai Singh and instead crowned Pratap as the new Rana of Mewar on March 1572 at Gogunda.
Soon after taking over the reign of the kingdom, Maharana Pratap tried to consolidate those unorganized areas once again, which could be saved from Akbar’s hand. The genocide of 30,000 innocent people by Akbar after he vanquished Chittor had made Pratap and his subjects so much bitter that nobody could ever think of having some kind of pact with the Mughals. People considered that whatever Akbar did in Chittor was merely a sample of the extent of tyranny, which he could unleash.
Efforts for reconciliation
Pratap had not even been enthroned when Akbar began his efforts to win over the remaining parts of Mewar. Akbar would have attacked Mewar, had not the coronation of Pratap taken place in time. But Akbar changed his policies when the fame of the self-respecting and resolute character of the new king reached him. He tried to arrive at a pact through peaceful method.
The first emissary sent by Akbar for reconciliation with Pratap was Jalal Khan Korchi. This was six months after Pratap’s coronation. Korchi, however could not succeed. Akbar then chose Kunwar Man Singh, who had become a relative of Akbar through marriage alliance. In April 1573, Man Singh proceeded from Ahmedabad and returned in June to give the report of his failure to the emperor. In September –October, Akbar sent Bhagwan Das to Pratap, but even he could not move Pratap from his firm stand. Then Akbar sent his cleverest Hindu courtier Todal Mal, but in vain. Dr. Ashirvadi Lal has very clearly observed that Pratap had agreed to accept the supremacy of Akbar during 1572-73 only on the condition that he would never be forced to present himself in the Durbar. The pact could not be finalized due to obduracy of Akbar. Some senior nobles had tried to conciliate with Akbar when he had besieged Chittor during the reign of Udai Singh on the terms that Mewar would accept the supremacy of the Mughal empire, the internal freedom of Mewar would remain intact and the Maharana would not have to present himself at the Mughal Durbar. Udai Singh had also conciliated with Sher Shah on somewhat these terms. During the reign of Pratap’s son Amar Singh, a pact was negotiated with Jahangir on these terms only. Thus Akbar had lost two opportunities to conciliate with Mewar on honourable terms, first before the battle of Chitor and second before the battle of Haldighat. After the battle of Haldighat in 1576, Pratap had determined not to conciliate with Akbar on any terms.
Pratap’s reluctance for Pact with Akbar
The Rajput chiefs who had submitted to Akbar had to surrender their possessions to the emperor, and receive them back as a jagir for the Mansab to which they were appointed. Their lands were imperial jagirs in theory and they were liable to be tossed from place to place by imperial orders. Their armies and strength were at the command of the emperor and if he liked the emperor could change the line of succession. It was essential for a chief, who submitted, either to be present at the imperial court himself or to keep his eldest son in attendance on the emperor. Along with all these came another unwritten injunction. Almost every prince who had submitted had made the path of imperial forgiveness easy by matrimonial alliance with Akbar or one of the royal princes. Thus Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jaipur had all pocketed their traditional pride and given princely daughters of their houses to Akbar. There were also other minor indignities like mounting guard on the imperial camp and keep standing when in court, etc. Hence for Pratap, sacrificing his principles and surrendering the independence of his house to the upstarts of yesterdays was out of question.
Battle of Haldighat
Rana Pratap had been ruling whatever had been left to him of Mewar for about four years now when Akbar made up his mind to invade Mewar once more and terminate its independence. Akbar was in the habit of visiting Ajmer almost every year after the birth of Prince Salim on August 30,1569. This visit always served two purposes; it was an act of pious pilgrimage and it enabled the emperor to have a sharp eye on Rajputana. This time Akbar left Fatehpur for Ajmer on February 17, 1576, where he reached on March 18. About a fortnight was spent in discussing plans and on April 3 Man Singh was appointed to command expedition against Pratap.
Man Singh left Ajmer and entered Mandalgarh where he restrained himself from engaging with Pratap for nearly two months. On one hand he was waiting for the whole army to arrive to ensure the safety of the routes of the transit of the soldiers and on the other hand, he wanted to provide another opportunity to Pratap to have a rethinking. He must have done so in consultation with Akbar. This is an example of tackling the Mewar issue through peaceful means by Akbar and Man Singh’s cooperation in it.
Pratap came to Gogunda from Kumbhalgarh after receiving the news that Man Singh had reached Mandalgarh. Here he consulted his nobles regarding the imminent battle. Pratap wanted to combat Man Singh in Mandalgarh itself. But his nobles advised that Man Singh should be combated from behind the shield of mountains as he had come with the imperial army. Secondly, Mandalgarh was on the way to Ajmer where the probability of getting reinforcements was more. Pratap accepted this advice.
A true Kshatriya
Another example of how Pratap was following the tradition of Mewar to work on the advice of the nobles surfaced just before the battle. One day, Man Singh went for hunting along with a few of his friends. Pratap got the information about it. Some of his nobles advised that it was the right opportunity to catch and kill the enemy. There was another group of nobles prominent among whom was Bari Sadariwalon ka Jhala Veera. They said that it was improper for a true Kshatriya to kill an enemy by deception. Pratap also had the same thing in mind and Man Singh was not attacked. After returning from Mandalgarh, Man Singh put up his camp at Melila near Khamnaur.
The battle between Pratap and Man Singh is famous as the battle of Haldighati. This is about 11 miles northwest of Nathdwara and is an unwieldy mountain range between Gogunda and Khamnaur. Its name comes from the colour of its soil, which is as yellow as turmeric (Haldi in Hindi). But in reality, the battle did not take place within the valley and was fought at the entrance of the valley and the field, which is located between the valley and Khamnaur village.
The Mughal army had light but modern cannons. They did not have heavy field guns, as it would have been difficult to drag that along in the hilly region. There were no cannons in the army of Rana. The main weapons of his army were swords, spears and bows and arrows. It was a strange co-incidence that a Rajput, Jagganath was leading the frontal contingent of Man Singh whereas Hakim Sur, a Muslim Pathan was leading the frontal contingent of Pratap’s army.
Pratap took the initiative and on June 18, 1576 issuing from behind the Haldighati, he made a frontal attack on the Mughal army which lay on the plains to the northwest of the foot-track at the northern entrance of the ghati. So desperate was the charge that the Mughal vanguard and left wing were scattered and its right wing and center were hard pressed. But the Rana’s army was very small in number and he had no reserve or rear guard to back up his initial success. In his attempt, therefore to break the enemy center and right wing he hurled his war elephants against them. But the arrows and bullets from the other side proved too much for the death-defying Sisodia heroes. The imperial reserve now arrived in person to assist Man Singh. The Rana was now surrounded by the enemy and was about to be cut off. But Bida Jhala snatched the crown from Pratap’s head, rushed to the front and cried out that he was the Rana. The enemy crowded round him and the pressure on Pratap was released. At this critical time some faithful soldiers seized the reins of the Rana’s horse and took him safely to the rear of the line. Bida fell fighting loyally to save his master. At this Rana;s men lost heart and turned away from the field leaving a large number of their dead behind. The battle of Haldighati was over. The loss on both sides was very heavy, the Rana losing nearly half of the entire force. The imperial troops were so much exhausted that they could not think of pursuing the Rana and passed the dreadful night in apprehension of a surprise attack. The Rana evacuated Gogunda and Man Singh made arrangements for its occupation.