Pratap’s life and times are known to us through three main sources, the official history of the Mughal period written by court historians, the Rajasthani chroniclers, and, Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. The Mughal historians, Abu’l Fazl and Badauni, wrote of Rana Pratap as a renegade and a trouble-maker who caused Akbar many difficulties due to his refusal to accept his sovereignty and become an ally of the Mughals. The Rajasthani chroniclers, including bards who composed heroic verses, regard him as the greatest hero of medieval India and the bravest of Rajputs. It is a view that is corroborated by Tod’s account of the exploits of the warrior-king. Tod’s book is regarded as a storehouse of material dealing with various facets of Rana Pratap’s life not usually found in historical works.
All the three sources shed valuable light on the type of man that Rana Pratap was and what compelled him to act the way he did. The exploits of Rana Pratap narrated by the bards and Tod combine myth with legend and make for a fascinating reading. Both relate romantic tales of a ruler made penniless and his sturdy frame exhausted by years of fighting, all because of his refusal to surrender his freedom. His family was Pratap’s chief source of anxiety as he dreaded their captivity. On one occasion faithful Bhils saved the women and children by carrying them in wicker baskets and concealing them in mines, where they guarded and fed them. Witnessing sons and relatives, his bravest nobles, and many of his faithful subjects die on the battlefield made him acutely aware of his misfortunes. He was often heard to say, ‘For this the Rajput was born.’
A favourite tale of the bards is the one where a despondent Pratap, after years of fighting Akbar, sent a note to the emperor demanding an end to his ordeal. An overjoyed Akbar, who thought that this meant submission, showed the letter to a Rajput at his court, Prince Prithiraj, who was the younger brother of Rai Singh, the ruler of Bikaner. Astonished and grieved by the decision, Prithiraj told Akbar that the letter was a forgery of sorts as he was sure that Pratap would never submit to the emperor’s terms. He requested and obtained the emperor’s permission to send a letter to Pratap. He told Akbar this was to ask Pratap the reason for his submission, but his real purpose was to prevent it. He wrote, ‘The hopes of the Hindu rest on the Hindu; yet the Rana forsakes them.
But for Pratap, all would be placed on the same level by Akbar; for our chiefs have lost their valour and our females their honour. Akbar is the broker in the market of our race: he has purchased all but the son of Udai (Singh II of Mewar); he is beyond his price. What true Rajput would part with honour for nine days (nauroza); yet how many have bartered it away? Will Chittor come to this market. . .?’ The highly emotional content of the missive had its effect on Pratap, who decided against submitting.
But the effect of holding out against the Mughals took its toll on Mewar. The kingdom was devastated by a decade of constant fighting and deliberate destruction by the Mughal army and, Pratap’s stern order for not cultivating the land. A large number of people also died of hunger, malnutrition and disease as a result of the war, and many peasants left Mewar and settled in other peaceful neighbouring regions. These effects mainfested themselves keenly during the reign of Pratap’s son, Amar Singh.
Pratap had eleven queens and Amar Singh was the eldest of his seventeen sons. Amar had to fight the Mughals and at the same time maintain a stable administration that would provide him the means to carry on the struggle for freedom. He began by introducing certain necessary administrative reforms meant to reduce the growing power of the nobles in his court. Tod has graphically described the nomadic wanderings of a penniless Pratap following the battle of Haldighati. But this is more fiction than fact. Not only did Pratap have enough financial resources to carry on the struggle, he ensured that Amar Singh, too, was not short of funds. Pratap’s judicious use of the wealth that had been hoarded in the treasury by Kumbha and Sanga, allowed his son to continue fighting the Mughals till 1614.
Maharana Amar Singh fought several wars with the Mughals, the first one in 1600, when Akbar sent an army under Crown Prince Salim and Man Singh. But Salim failed to accomplish anything due to his indolence, remarks Abul Fazal, and rebelled soon after. He reconciled with Akbar and, in October 1603, was sent from Agra at the head of a well-equipped army. This venture, too, was abandoned by the wayward Salim. Finally, Akbar appointed Kunwar Sagar Singh, a younger brother of Pratap, to rule the conquered territory, but he died before he could make Sagar the Rana.
Salim who, after succeeding Akbar, became Jahangir, sent his son Parviz to conquer Mewar. He told Parviz to talk peace with Amar Singh only if the Rana or his eldest son, Kama Singh, came to wait upon him. But rebellions were breaking out and Parviz agreed to Amar Singh’s condition to send Bagha Singh, a younger son of Amar to Jahangir’s court.
Nothing much happened as a result of the visit. It was only in 1614, that Prince Khurram, Jahangir’s heir-apparent who became known as Shah Jahan later, achieved some success against Amar Singh.
By now, the condition of the Mewar army was really bad with an acute shortage of provisions, sources of supply and weapons. The proverbial last straw that broke the Mewar camel’s back was Khurram’s inhuman practice of making prisoners of the women and children. Fed up, the nobles came to Prince Kama one day. They had been fighting for forty-seven years, were without food, dress or even weapons, and now had to bear the indignity of seeing their children being captured by Mughals and forced to become dancing girls or slaves. While preserving the honour of the state, they were forced to endure the loss of the honour of their families.
The nobles urged Kama to come to some sort of agreement with the Mughals. Kama agreed with the nobles, but he was afraid his father might not. So, he sent two nobles, Subhakarna and Jhala Haridas to Khurram without letting Amar Singh know about it.