Thursday, December 29, 2005

Battle of Dharmat - I

Aurangzeb as a young manAurangzeb as a young man

The Battle of Dharmat: Fought by the rebel Mughal princes, Aurangzeb and Murad, against the leading Rajput mansabdar in the Mughal Empire, Raja Jaswant Singh, on the 15th of April 1658. The battle was fought near the village of Dharmat outside the city of Ujjain—the capital of the Mughal province of Malwa (the western portion of modern India’s Madhya Pradesh state).

Background: To understand why the battle was fought, we need to understand the power structure in medieval India. The leading powers of that age were the Mughal Emperor (badhsah or padishah), his sons (shahzada), and his officers…in that order. These officers included the prime minister (wazir), the army chief (mir bakshi), the artillery chief (mir atish), the provincial governors (subahdars), and the military officers (mansabdars). Each of these officers had their own separate armies and each was assigned agricultural estates by the emperor to finance those armies—the principal force of these armies was cavalry formed by horses imported from Central Asia, Iran, and Arabia.

In this power structure the large Hindu population was represented in the lower ranks as infantry, gunners of the artillery, and camp followers. These Hindus were recruited from the villages in every Mughal province where their brethren tilled the soil and paid land revenue but could always rebel and engage in plunder whenever they saw the opportunity (the leading infantry group were the Purbias for a variety of reasons. See this article:

There were also Hindus (and Muslims) engaged in commerce and trade, who financed the military activities of their rulers in the form of loans. From this class were recruited the clerks, secretaries, and accountants that administered each Mughal province and each Hindu state.

At the very top of Hindu society were the Rajas (of Rajasthan), the minor Rajas in other provinces, and their armed followers. For the minor Rajas in the provinces the local governor (subahdar) was like a mini-emperor with whom they could either negotiate or fight.

Rajasthan or, more accurately, Rajputana was in an entirely different category. Its rulers had the resources to fight, and negotiate as equals, directly with the Mughal Emperor or his sons. From their local breeds of horses the Rajputs of Rajasthan recruited large cavalry armies and by negotiations or battles raised their position from military officers to provincial governors. The highest ranks of prime minister, army chief, and artillery chief were out of their reach in an Islamic state but their position was one of equality with the Mughal princes, and sometimes with the Emperor himself.

The Mughal princes began their careers by administering provinces and by leading independent military campaigns on behalf of their father. In this process they acquired the resources and capability to fight for the position of Emperor on their father’s death—the Islamic state did not recognize hereditary succession of the eldest son.

The War of Succession: In 1658 the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan was ill and on his deathbed. He was extremely fond of his eldest son Dara and considered him the fittest to rule after him—to secure Dara’s position Shah Jahan proclaimed him as his heir and transferred administrative matters to him. Dara held the provinces of Allahabad, Multan, and Punjab to pay for his army…in addition he had access to the Mughal treasury and to his father’s capable officers at the capital Agra.

Shah Jahan with DaraShah Jahan with his favourite son Dara

His three brothers Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad had always been jealous of the fatherly affection showered on their sibling and refused to accept his role in the administration. Shuja held the province of Bengal, the richest province in that period, and was the first to declare himself the new Emperor and the first to lead his army towards Agra. Against him Shah Jahan sent an army commanded by Raja Jai Singh of the Jaipur state in Rajasthan. To blood him in battle Dara’s son Sulaiman was sent in the Raja’s care along with several high officers.

Shah Jahan’s youngest son Murad had been assigned the province of Gujarat. Murad looted the port city of Surat to acquire more money and then declared himself Emperor.

Shah Jahan’s third son Aurangzeb was administering the Deccan (modern Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka) and was quietly intriguing with his brothers and with the nobles at Agra. He was the most austere and Islamic of the four brothers…but more than that Aurangzeb was the most capable of them in military matters. To further complicate matters for Dara, Shaista Khan, a partisan of Aurangzeb held the province of Malwa, lying north of the Deccan and east of Gujarat.
Dara naturally feared Aurangzeb the most, but the latter was too clever to follow the lead of his headstrong siblings and did not declare himself Emperor. He instead proposed to visit Agra and meet his sick father—in those days a prince could not travel without the protection of his army so this proposal was merely a ruse for attacking Agra. Dara had to take steps to defeat Murad, and more importantly, to prevent Aurangzeb from marching north through Malwa.

Unfortunately most mansabdars refused the dangerous task of opposing the military genius and resources of Aurangzeb. From the geographical reality they knew that Murad was likely to join forces with his older brother and follow his lead. Opposing their combined might was only possible for a military commander who had comparable resources.

Maharaja Jaswant Singh of the Jodhpur state in Rajasthan had the resources in money and cavalry to oppose one of the princes. Seeing the fear of the other nobles he volunteered to not only defeat Aurangzeb but boasted of bringing him back to Agra as a prisoner! He was assigned the province of Malwa to boost his resources.

Dara did not do what he should have done as an Emperor-to-be....he did not place himself in the command. For opposing Murad another army was assembled and led by a Mughal officer Qasim Khan. For his payment Qasim Khan was assigned the province of Gujarat—and since the road to Gujarat passes through Malwa, Qasim was ordered to follow the lead of Jaswant Singh until the situation in Gujarat was clear.

The Rajput chief was first in the field. Murad, marching from Gujarat, was intimidated by Jaswant Singh’s army and swerved south to join Aurangzeb. Their combined forces entered Malwa and began seizing the outlying forts and towns. Jaswant Singh made a clumsy attempt at diplomacy and intrigue by stating that he had no power to fight Aurangzeb and that if the princes pardoned him and returned to their provinces, Jaswant would take their case to the Emperor.

Aurangzeb was too clever to fall for that and replied that if he really wanted their pardon Jaswant should come alone and submit. Such submissions were only made by those who had been crushed into defeat and taken prisoner—so the Rajput chief prepared for battle.


Also see later tension between Aurang and Jaswant.
Read More......

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Chapter Five

I've uploaded chapter five of "Knockout" at

Battle of Dharmat has been delayed as a consequence. Read More......

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rajputs and Aurangzeb

Another question that caught my notice on that forum was “why did Rajputs support Aurangzeb when Dara was more friendly to Hinduism, he was a philosopher and writer?

That was the problem. Dara spent too much time in philosophizing and writing and paid little attention to military capability. But even with this shortcoming all the Rajputs initially supported Dara....there was not a single important Rajput chief in Aurangzeb’s army. But Dara divided his forces by sending Jai Singh against his third brother Shuja, and Jaswant Singh against Aurangzeb, while he stayed behind at Agra with a large army to protect his father Shah Jahan.
Aurangzeb on the other hand joined his forces with the fourth brother Murad, and together they crushed Jaswant Singh at the Battle of Dharmat. More than 2000 Rajputs perished in this battle, after killing an equal number of the enemy.

After this loss Dara led his army from Agra and fought Aurangzeb and Murad at the Battle of Samugarh. His Rajput, Sayyid, and Afghan soldiers fought loyally but the Mughals (Sunni Turks) betrayed them and joined Aurangzeb. Here again after the ferocious fighting thousands of Rajputs were killed while Dara escaped back to Agra. But making no attempt to defend that city he fled away, leaving his father to be captured by Aurangzeb.

Jai Singh and Dilir Khan along with Dara’s son Sulaiman Shikoh had meanwhile defeated Shuja in Bengal. On their way back to Agra they learnt of Dara’s flight, and of Aurangzeb’s occupation of the city and the fort. With possession of Shah Jahan and all the money in the Mughal treasury, Aurangzeb was now too powerful to be opposed by these two generals, and they advised Sulaiman Shikoh to flee and join his father.

So it was Dara’s bad planning that cost him the throne. The Rajputs fought on his side to the last…and Dara was not betrayed to Aurangzeb by Jaswant Singh. While escaping to Iran via Baluchistan, Dara was treacherously captured by a Muslim chief named Malik Jiwan, who turned him over to Aurangzeb.

But that apart, why should Rajputs continue to die for a loser like Dara? They accepted the ground realities and swore loyalty to the new Emperor.

But even then one last attempt was made by Jaswant Singh to dethrone Aurangzeb. Murad had been treacherously imprisoned by his darling brother and former ally Aurangzeb, and out of the four brothers only Shuja was left. At the Battle of Khajwa, Raja Jaswant Singh secretly proposed an alliance with Shuja…in the night before the battle the Rajputs looted the Mughal camp and fled, causing great confusion and terror in Aurangzeb’s army.

If only Shuja had taken advantage of this tumult to crush Aurangzeb, the history of India may have turned out differently! But he hesitated for a long time and the moment was gone. At the battle the next day he was defeated and driven to the jungles of Arakan (Myanmar) where this last surviving Mughal prince was murdered by the local tribes.

See also: Aurang and Jaswant. Read More......

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rajputs in school textbooks

Following from the previous post on resistance let’s see how Rajputs are “mentioned” in history textbooks. By way of illustration we can restrict the coverage to the story of greatest Rajput state of Mewar (Udaipur). All are agreed that on the question of military power, land area, and financial strength, Mewar can be called the greatest Rajput Kingdom.

The period 1206-1526 was termed as the age of the Delhi Sultanate in the history textbooks written by the British and this terminology was followed unchanged by their successors. The first detailed mention of Mewar really is during the attack on Chittor by Ala-ud-din Khalji (1303). The textbooks then study each succeeding Sultan of Delhi until the invasion of Babur (1526) where, almost out of the blue, a ruler called Rana Sanga of Mewar appears to challenge the invader. He is defeated and there is no more mention of his kingdom until the next period of the Mughal Empire.

Now this creates an impression in most minds that Rajputs fought bravely but were always on the losing side. But those who study military history will ask: how come Rana Sanga was able to muster a large army when his ancestors had been supposedly conquered by the Delhi Sultans? How and when did he create a confederacy of Rajput chiefs? And where did all these powerful Rajput chiefs suddenly appear from in this “Muslim period”?

The answer is found not in the text books but in the history of Mewar, which has been published privately in several books and websites. This history reveals the guerrilla warfare of the Mewar and other Rajput rulers against the Turk invaders and their victory, after which the region came to be called Rajputana. It also reveals the trade routes passing through Rajasthan, the surprisingly high status of agriculture in what is wrongly called the “desert” state, and the mineral deposits and stone mines that together made these states financially strong.

It also shows how Mewar was really the leading kingdom of North India from the reign of Rana Kumbha (1433) down to the reign of Maharana Sanga (1509-28). Their campaigns dented the power of Muslim sultanates like Nagaur, Malwa, and Gujarat and ensured the survival of Rajput principalities within those areas. Now what kind of “Muslim period” was this where a Hindu Kingdom dominated for nearly a century?

Terms like “Delhi Sultanate” followed closely by “Mughal Empire” naturally create a myth of continuous Muslim rule in India. Whereas the actual story is the failure of the Turk invaders to conquer India and form a viable empire, or even to convert Indians to Islam in large numbers. This idea of continuous “Muslim rule” also encouraged Sikh separatism because the overseas Sikhs (Khalistanis) had convinced themselves that India was weak until the rise of the Sikhs. Their websites make such laughable claims even today! This logic can now be applied to some Jats, though they are in a minority, who are making similar claims about their rise to power.

In fact the term “Delhi Sultanate” should cover the period 1206-1388, which latter date is the year of Firuz Tughlak’s death. Independent kingdoms like Mewar, Marwar, and Gujarat in the north and Vijaynagar and Bahmani in the south have already made their mark on history and this next period (1388-1526) should ideally be called the age of independent kingdoms.

In this period we can study not only the Rajput Kingdoms, but also Vijaynagar and the Muslim Sultanates, Orissa, Mithila, Nepal, and the Ahom kingdoms. The resistance of the AJGARs can also be covered in this section, to which we can add Muslim converts like Meos, Ranghars, and Maula Jats who also resisted the Turk rulers.

Other kingdoms/regions that were important in this period were the Jammu & Kangra hills, Kumaon-Garhwal, and the Gakhars of the Salt Range. Read More......

The question of resistance


The fact is that everybody resisted. But the resistance of the Rajput clans in Marwar and Mewar was successful and the tide of invasion was repulsed (the Sultanate of Nagaur was reduced to vassalage and practically extinguished by both these Rajput States). Not only that, this success led to state formation, which is proved by the coins and inscriptions left behind by the rulers of these kingdoms. Only a state that commanded military and economic power over a large area could strike its own coins (these would have to be acceptable as currency in the neighboring areas also).

Secondly, these powerful states became home to a large civilian population that lived in commercial towns like Pali, Merta, Udaipur and Bhilwara or in the capital cities like Bikaner, Jodhpur, and Jaipur. The Rajput rulers also built several temples and forts, which indicates not only their financial strength but also their military power. Only a militarily strong state could protect such temples and towns from being looted and occupied by foreigners.

The resistance within the Delhi Sultanate area covered the Rajput, Jat, Ahir, Gujjar, and other communities, which formed groups of villages (mandals) to improve their chances against the militarily superior Turks. This maintained a state of permanent hostilities within the Sultanate (as can be seen in the writings of the eyewitness Ibn-batuta) but it did not lead to state formation. Only when the Delhi Sultanate was weakened by the losses in Rajputana and South India did these mandals get a chance for independence. In this same category were the innumerable Rajput village-strongholds further east (UP-Bihar), which had a similar experience against the Sultanate of Jaunpur.

And what your “experts” of Jat History don’t realize is that all this resistance was closely linked together. Whenever the Muslim armies laid siege to a faraway Rajput fort, the military strength of the Delhi Sultanate was drained away for that purpose. This gave a chance to the villagers to rebel and withhold revenue, and fight off the small numbers of soldiers that were left behind in the Sultanate. Read More......