Itihaas
May 9, 1999
Akhilesh Mithal

The Legend of Chittor

 

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Of the many pieces which come together in a mind that can see "Unity in Diversity and Diversity in Unity" to make India into a land of fable Akbar and Chittorgarh is among the most dazzling.

ChittorGarhFort.jpg (47853 bytes)
The fort at Chittor (Chittorgarh)

The victor Emperor Akbar strides the pages of history books and the chronicles like a colossus and gets ranked alongside Vikramaditya in the folklore of India. The loosers, Jai Mull and Pattaa were so impressive that their vanquisher Akbar ordered lifesize statues of them for permanent display in the Imperial capital city. We hope that the facts we narrate will help readers understand that what was at stake was Unity versus local patriotism. There was no "Hindu-Muslim" angle. Muslim soldiers, in particular the snipers known as Baksarias from Kalpi fought for the Rana of Udaipur and gave an excellent account of themselves. There were Kachchwaahaa Rajputs and the redoubtable Raja Todar Mull on the Imperial side. Both Bhagwan Dass Rajput and Todar Mull Tandon Khattri were believing Hindus who observed all the rites and rituals of their dharma as did all the Hindu soldiers of the Imperial army.

Loyalty was to the salt. Men fought for izzat and also for zarr, zunn and zumeen (gold, women and land or territory).

Akbar was a leader of men who led from right up front. Every day and on many nights he rode up to the most forward of the posts occupied by his army besieging Chittor. When he saw a "hot" engagement he would pause to fire a shot and try to pick out a promising target. He had sustained the morale of his troops by his actions.

The chief of the Baksaria snipers, Ismail had been struck dead by a bullet fired by Akbar’s gun trained by him on this most annoying target. Similarly, on a night patrol he saw an impressive looking man wearing chainmail called huzaarmeykhee or thousand studnail head embedded armour directing repairs. He sent for his favourite fowling piece called sangram, had it loaded, targetted the figure on the battlement and fired. The man fell and the lights were extinguished.

Akbar thought he had killed his quarry. The victim Jai Mull was too doughty a warrior to succumb to just one bullet fired from afar. He fell because the bullet had shattered a knee. Not a fatal wound. But most disabling as the Fort Commander lost mobility. He could no longer hold a horse between his legs and ride from Gate to gate and see how things were going and encourage his men.

The chronicles give his identity as Jai Mull Biramdevoat Meyratiya: "Jai Mull son of Biramdev of Meyrtaa. He was of the Raathaud clan of Rajputs the same who ruled Jodhpur and Bikaner. He served the Sisodiyas of Udaipur and not the Raatthauds of Jodhpur and Bikaner because of namak (salt/salarium).

Jai Mull saw his sudden and most unexpected injury and incapacitation as a sign and augury. There was now no more future in fighting defensive. The mines had blown huge holes in the fort’s walls and caused towers to shatter and tumble. The repairs were far behind the damage. It was time to change tactics and strategy.

A war council was held. It was agreed that defeat was only a matter of time. It was inevitable. How to make the best of a bad job? The enemy had suffered huge losses in the siege. When one of the mines blew up it caused havoc in the ranks of the besiegers. They all rushed up to exploit the breach opened by their explosion. At this point the second mine exploded and killed some 500 imperialists including some 20 senior and middle level commanders. The storming of the fort would see grim fighting. No quarter could be asked for: given or taken. It was a time for the ultimate remedy. The act of Jauhar. In this ritual a huge pile of wood would be formed in an open square. It would be be flat in the middle and banked high on the sides. The ladies and the young children would be seated in the centre and the wood covered with oil and ghee (clarified butter) and aromatics of all kinds. Then, and with the chanting of prayers and invocations and panegyrics the faming torches touch the oil-soaked wood and a great conflagration arise to consume all.

The thousands who perished in Chittorgardh on that fateful day include members of the noblest families. The chronicler records "Rai Pattaa seated his mother Sajjanbai Songari along with the thakuranis Samantsi’s daughter Madaalasaabai Kuchhwaahee, Isardas’s daughter."

Bhaagwati Bai Chawhaan, Padmawatibai Jhaalee, Ratnabai Raathaud, the Parmar Doogarsi’s daughter Baagdeychee Aasaabai besides two sons and five daughters. The hungry flames devoured them all and thousands of others.

The high flames and the very dark black smoke of the Jauhar rose above the high walls of Chittor Fort. It could be seen in the Imperial Camp. The Central Asians Mughal, Turuk Kyrghyz, Kipchak, Tajik, Uzbeg, Qazzaaq and the like could not figure out what was happening. They looked askance at the Kachhchhwaaha Raja Bhagwan Das. He spoke, "When Rajputs are faced with certain defeat and remember all the humiliation and suffering the vanquished have to suffer they decide to end it all rather than suffer indignity and worse. They then set their families afire and after they are consumed by the flames sally forth and attack the enemy with all their might and main. They then fight not to win but to die a glorious death. We should therefore take heed and be prepared for a last desperate attack."

As forecast by the grizzled old warrior Rajput the Chittorgard defenders threw open the mighty gates of the fort at dawn and cries of "Jai Eklingeshwara" rent the air as knot after knot of intrepid horsemen fell upon the imperial army.

Continued in The Capture of Chittor.

 

Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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