Pratap Takes Over (Part 2)

Maharana Pratap – Pratap Takes Over

Pratap, being groomed to be Mewar’s next ruler, was now given charge of Mewar’s forces. The young commander led the forces to reclaim the kingdom’s territories of Chappan and Bhomat. He proved himself to be a man of great courage, foresight, and character; in short the ideal kingly material. He was tall, with a majestic physique,—a high forehead, prominent moustaches and bright eyes. Besides the usual princely pursuits, he was also fond of roughing it in the wilds of the Aravalli hills in his youth. Here, he met the local forest-dwellers, the Bhils, and struck up friendship with them. Pratap’s wanderings taught him patience, perseverance and courage and, ‘an unswerving attachment to its soil, to every shrub and flower that grew there’.

The Bhils are descendants of tribes like the Minas, Meras, Gonds, Abhiras, and Gujars that also inhabit the hills and forests of the Vindhya, Malwa and the north-western Deccan. Called children of the forest, Bhils were the free lords of the jungle, and practised rites and followed customs alien to orthodox Hinduism.

They tended flocks and cultivated crops and were famous for their skill in archery. Their language, consisting of numerous dialects, and their religion differed from the Rajputs. They, however, adopted many of the customs and popular mythologies of the Rajputs. On many occasions the Bhils fought wars as bowmen on the side of the princes of Mewar, supplied them with provisions, or guarded the safety of their families when the Mewar warriors went off to battle.

The Bhils formed the infantry, attacking the rear and flanks of the enemy, breaking their supply lines and then vanishing quickly to the hills and forests. It was a relationship based on equality. Nowhere is this special brotherhood reflected better than in the Mewar coat- of-arms: a Mewar Rajput warrior and a Bhil warrior stand on either side of a shield beneath the Sun God symbol. It was with these Bhil jungle-dwellers of Central India that the Rajputs established highly enduring alliances. Pratap’s was the most celebrated one.

During the third siege of Chittor in 1567, twenty-seven-year-old Pratap offered to lead a force against the Mughals. The nobles were adamant that he should not go. If he died in the siege, they would lose Mewar’s only hope for the future. But, as Udai Singh lay dying in 1572, in deference to his favourite queen, Rani Bhatiyani, the Maharana disregarded the tradition of primogeniture. He willed that her son, Jagmal should succeed him. Pratap did not dare resent his father’s last wishes and dutifully accompanied the funeral procession at Gogunda, after Udai Singh’s death. The heir-apparent, Jagmal remained at the palace. Following the Mewar tradition, he began to ready himself for his imminent coronation.

Mewar’s nobles and chiefs had other plans, though. The Choondawat chiefs, known for playing a decisive role in the kingdom’s destiny in times of crisis, held a meeting with the other nobles. They noted that the kingdom needed a strong ruler and an able administrator who could hold out against Emperor Akbar who, they knew was going to try and capture Mewar. Rao Akhai Raj of Jhalor, the maternal uncle of Pratap, took the lead. As soon as the cremation was over, they hurried to the palace where Jagmal’s coronation had begun. Krishna Das, the leader among the Choondawat chiefs, diplomatically requested Jagmal to step down from the throne. ‘You have made a mistake Maharaj,’ he said. ‘That place belongs to your brother.’ When Jagmal refused, the nobles took an arm each and with gentle violence, removed him to a seat in front of the throne.
Pratap was carried to the throne amid the cheers of all those who had gathered.