Monday, December 11, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (Rajput resistance)

Routes to the South

Ala-ud-din promoted his four chief followers to lead the vast Turk army and gave them the titles of Ulugh Khan, Zafar Khan, Nusrat Khan and Alp Khan[6]. Prior to the Mongol invasion of Turan and Iran few Muslims bore the title or surname of Khan and it seems that this Mongol title was adopted by the Muslims since Chingiz Khan's Mongols had come to symbolize unmatched power and strength. Ulugh Khan and Zafar Khan made good their elevation to power by defeating a Mongol raid into Punjab that very year. Next Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan were sent south towards Gujarat.

It was the wealth of the southern kingdoms that gave Ala the throne of Delhi and more of that wealth was needed to sustain his position on that throne. In his raid on Devagiri the Khalji chief had used the route through the plateau of Malwa---while the raid was successful the army's passage was made slow and difficult because of the ravines and thick forests. The more open and traditional roads to the south passed through the regions of Marwar and Mewar but these paths were flanked by numerous Rajput forts. Thus on the way to Gujarat Ulugh Khan conquered Jaisalmer (1298) and along with Nusrat Khan attacked Chittor where they were either defeated or bought off. That same year Zafar Khan had defeated the Mongol raiders at Siwastan and had returned to Delhi with many prisoners who were converted to Islam.

Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan conquered the cities and ports of Gujarat, slew thousands of civilians, broke and polluted temples, and took innumerable prisoners. On their way back some of the newly converted Mongol soldiers revolted and escaped to the shelter of Rajput forts like Chittor and Ranthambhor. The two generals returned to Delhi in time to join the fight against a massive retaliatory invasion by the Mongols that had reached the outskirts of the city---Zafar Khan was killed in this battle (1299). In 1300 Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan attacked Ranthambhor but here Nusrat Khan's luck ran out---a stone launched from a Rajput catapult smashed the Turk chief to a bloody death. At that critical moment the Rajputs opened the gates of the fort and attacked the disheartened Turks who broke formation and fled back to Delhi.

Ala-ud-din now attacked Ranthambhor in person and conquered the fort in 1301---encouraged by the Sultan's difficulties at that fort numerous revolts broke out against his authority. On his return to Delhi Ala centralized his government to an unprecedented level and attempted to find new routes to the south. This time a Tughlak chief, Jauna Khan[7], led an attack on the fort of Warangal through the incredibly roundabout route via Bengal and Orrisa---the attempt (1302) was a colossal failure. Ala-ud-din now concentrated his resources on the fort of Chittor, south of Ranthambhor, and thus sought to open a short route to Malwa and Gujarat. After a long siege the fort was finally won in 1303 but the Mongols took advantage of this conflict to launch another attack on Delhi that year. The invaders plundered the city unopposed for two months and then returned to Central Asia with all their plunder, unchecked by the frontier Turk garrisons.

To replace the deceased Nusrat Khan and Zafar Khan Ala-ud-din elevated some new generals to lead the army. Ain-ul-mulk was sent to conquer the Kingdom of Malwa (1305) via Ranthambhor and Chittor. In that year a Mongol horde attacked the Gangetic plains, bypassing the now strong defences of Delhi, but were defeated and forced to retreat. The next year they again attacked the Delhi Turks in a massive double invasion from the north and the west. They were eventually overcome by Ghazi Malik Tughlak[8] and a new general named Malik Naib Kafur[9]. This was the last Mongol invasion of North India for some time. The Mongol Khan of Turkestan, Duwa Khan, died in 1306 and his successors quarreled among themselves for several years leaving the Khanate weak and impoverished.

Thus relieved on the northern frontier the Khalji Sultan organized a massive invasion of rebellious Devagiri in 1307---Malik Naib Kafur from Delhi was joined on the way by Ain-ul-mulk of Malwa and Alp Khan of Gujarat. In 1309 Malik Kafur invaded Warangal and in 1310-11 the same general plundered the Hoysala and Pandya Kingdoms of South India. In 1313 Kafur finally conquered and annexed the Kingdom of Devagiri to the Sultanate. In 1315-16 the illness and death of Ala-ud-din Khalji brought all his main nobles to conflict at Delhi but long before that the Turkish rule had been challenged and overthrown in several places of Marwar and Mewar.
[6]Ulugh Khan was Ala-ud-din's younger brother while Alp Khan was Ala's brother-in-law.
[7] The future Muhammad Tughlak; son of Malik Ghazi Tughlak.
[8] The future Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlak. The Tughlaks came as refugees from Central Asia and are either of the Qaraunah tribe or the Taghlik tribe. Some writers believe that Tughlak was the Malik's personal name and that is why his son was described as Muhammad-bin-Tughlak.
[9] Translates to the chief (ennobled by his master on conversion to Islam) deputy (of the Sultan) infidel (describes his origins). He was a Gujarati lad who was captured by the Turk invaders, converted to Islam, and taken to serve Ala-ud-din.

Rajput Resistance

The region of Mewar was known in an earlier period as Medpat. An important road connecting the city of Mathura with the southern Kingdom of Gujarat passed through Mewar and went on to join the highway (dakshinapath) to Southern India---this road was guarded by the mighty fort of Chittor (Chitrakut) that stood like a colossus in an otherwise plain countryside. To the west of that fort rise the Aravalli hills and in the east are the ravines and jungles of Malwa. The Marwar region extends to the west of the Aravallis. On its western and northern fringes are stretches of desert while the bulk of the region is a flat plain marked with scattered hillocks. The Marwar region had extensive grasslands, shrubs and deciduous forests---ideal country for breeding horses.

To the north lay the Muslim colonies of Ajmer and Nagaur, which were surrounded by petty Rajput holdings. The early Sultans of Delhi failed to expand from these bases and their attempts at entering Marwar and Mewar were also marked by repeated setbacks. Thus Sultan Iltutmish passed through Marwar on his way to invade Gujarat relying on the support of the Chauhans of Jalor with whom he had an alliance---however the Rajputs brought out their army in support of their compatriots of Gujarat instead. Trapped between two Hindu armies the Sultan was defeated (1226) and forced to retreat to Delhi. Similarly the army of Sultan Balban was routed (1285) when caught between the Guhilas of Chittor and the Chaulukyas of Gujarat who had made a hurried alliance against the common enemy.
The Ranthambhor fort of the Chauhan RajaputrasThe Chauhans of Ranthambhor defied the Delhi Sultans for nearly one century

Concentrated attacked on individual Rajput forts did not bring any result either. In these cases the Rajputs would stock their forts with provisions and military stores, move the civilian population into these strongholds, and burn all crops and grasses around to starve the besieging army. In the Marwar and Mewar regions these Rajput chieftains had units of cavalry that would make counter-attacks on the invaders, destroy their supply columns, and loot caravans carrying their wares to Delhi.

With the advent of the Khaljis these forts eventually succumbed to the long and severe periods of blockade by their much larger armies. However the loss of these forts was only the beginning of the dogged Rajput resistance, which eventually overcame the invaders and threw them out of their motherland.

Up to this point the saga of Khalji expansion has been provided by the information drawn from books and chronicles written by contemporary Muslim writers---these individuals never traveled with the army or saw the situation with their own eyes. They got all their information second-hand and thus their accounts are full of exaggerations and poetic flourishes. However they are important in describing the personal details of Turk rulers and generals and in giving an outline of their movements and campaigns.

The Rajput version is provided by a few books written by Hindu writers of a later period but the most important sources of information are the songs and tales of the bards of each Rajput clan. These songs were passed down orally from generation to generation in the same tradition as the Vedas of ancient India---they were finally put down in writing by European historians in the 19th Century[10]. The bards sang praises of their patrons but saw events with their own eyes on the battlefield---they provide interesting stories and details that are absent in official chronicles. These songs also relate the chronology of Rajput kings and the time periods of their rule. Where the bard's version falters is in the pronunciation of Muslim names and titles[11].

The most accurate sources of information are the inscriptions found within temples, mosques, and forts. These provide the correct dates and names of the different rulers who constructed these buildings and dominated the surrounding area. The inscriptions also lack the exaggerations of Muslim chroniclers and the colorful stories of the Rajput bards. It is these inscriptions that give us the correct dates when the Turk invaders were defeated and driven away from the Rajput forts---how they were defeated is an interesting tale gleaned from all the sources put together.
[10] Lieutenant Colonel James Tod and Dr. LP Tessitori are prominent among them.
[11] Amir becomes Hammira, Sultan is Surtrana, Firuz becomes Piroja etc.


In the same year that Ala-ud-din was planning his raids into the southern kingdoms his uncle the Sultan lead an army to Marwar against the fort of Mandor ruled by Parihar Rajputs. Jalal-ud-din Khalji finally won the fort after a long siege (1292) but could not prevent the ruling family from escaping to the shelter of the fort of Jaisalmer. The latter fort belonged to the Bhaati Rajputs and stood in the middle of a desert tract but it was besieged by the Turks for several years and as related above it was finally won by Ulugh Khan in 1298. However this time there was no means of escape for the inhabitants. It is said that the Bhaati Rawal consulted his chieftains on what was to be done next---they advised him the following, "Immolate the women and children, destroy all wealth by fire and water, open wide the gates of the fort and sword in hand rush open the enemy and thus attain Swarga."

Jaisalmer Fort of the Bhaati Rajputs

The Turks entered the fort (above) to find only ashes---there was nothing to loot and no one to convert. The Islamic wave that had risen from the sands of Arabia more than six hundred years ago and had swept across west and central Asia, sweeping up everything in its path, finally came crashing down in front of forts like Jaisalmer. But more than finding converts to Islam the Turks were faced with the immediate problem of starving in their new home---the scorched earth tactics of the Rajputs had left nothing for the invaders in that desert kingdom. For a year provisions from Delhi and Ajmer attempted to feed the occupying army but these long supply lines were disrupted by attacks from the remainder of the Rajput clan who lived in smaller forts around Jaisalmer. In 1299 the Turks were forced to abandon the fort[12].

This mass sacrifice of lives and wealth acquired the name jauhar[13] and was repeated at Ranthambhor in 1301 and at Chittor in 1303. Unlike Jaisalmer these forts were surrounded by a fertile countryside that was home to a large civilian population. In the case of Ranthambhor the Chauhan Rajputs had been a fighting a ceaseless war of attrition against the earlier Sultans for nearly a century. Jalal-ud-din Khalji had conquered the outlying portion of the kingdom by sacking Jhain so when his nephew took the capital there was no one left to continue the resistance. However in the final sacrifice of jauhar the Chauhans destroyed all their hoarded wealth and ensured that Ranthambhor never became a prominent stronghold of Islam---it fell later to neighboring Rajputs from Mewar[14].

The fort of Chittor[15] too did not become a base for the Turks---even though Ala-ud-din put his own son Khizr Khan in charge of the fort with a large garrison and renamed it Khizrabad. The Turks were unable to conquer the surrounding Mewar region where the mantle of resistance now came to the brows of the Sesodia clan (in the clan hierarchy they were a branch of the Guhilots). The Sesodias had shed their best blood in defending Chittor and the remnants of the clan had fled to the shelter of the Aravalli hills. From this secure base they began fighting a guerrilla campaign against the invaders---raiding the villages that paid tribute to the Turks, plundering supply columns and trade caravans, and disrupting the communications of the Chittor garrison[16].
Chittorgarh dominates the plains between the Aravalli Hills and the Malwa PlateauThe massive fort-city of Chittor dominates the landscape of eastern Mewar

In Marwar also the resistance was growing stronger especially from the Chauhan strongholds of Siwana and Jalor. These chieftains had allowed the Muslim armies safe passage on their way to attack Gujarat but once the pressure was removed they returned to their old ways---accordingly the Turks besieged Siwana but were unable to take the fort. This failure prompted the return of Ala-ud-din Khalji to Marwar---it should be noted that at this time the southern campaigns had been practically left in the hands of Malik Kafur. The Turks now took Siwana (1308) and Jalor (1310) but trouble broke out in other places even as the Sultan was returning to his capital. The Bhaatis of Jaisalmer and the Rathors of Kher took advantage of the Turk preoccupation at the Chauhan forts to increase their own plundering raids. In Mewar the Sesodias under Rana Hammir made a strong attack on the villages around Chittor.

Ala-ud-din is said to have been bewildered by these harassing raids and first tried force to settle the issue. Accordingly Jaisalmer was attacked once again while another force was sent to assist Khizr Khan at Chittor---but there were just too many enemies on all sides and these attempts did not decrease the troubles of the Sultan. At last Ala bowed to the inevitable and tried diplomacy where force had failed---Jaisalmer seems to have been delivered to the descendants of the ruling family, two young brothers secretly smuggled out at the time of the jauhar of 1298, who had now reached manhood[17]. The Sultan then took Rao Maldev, the brother of the dead ruler of Jalor, and put him in charge of Chittor---Maldev was expected to keep better control over that fort since his mother had been a Guhila princess of Chittor. Ala took his own son Khizr Khan out of Chittor and with his Turk soldiers returned to Delhi---this was his last military campaign. It was also the last time that a Delhi Sultan led his army into the region of Mewar.
[12] After the Turk withdrawal the fort was occupied by the Rathors from the south. However the remnants of the Bhaati clan collected together and ejected the usurping Rathors. They elected one Dudu to be their Rawal.
[13] Jauhar or Johar is said to mean salute in Sanskrit, the word could be derived from the jatugriha (house of lac) in the Mahabharat. However Jauhar is also the Persian word for ink and is used to indicate valor in that language!
[14] The Muslim governor of Ranthambhor could not declare independence unlike the governors of Malwa or Mandor. The fort was targeted by Rajputs of Mewar and Turks of Malwa and Delhi and the local governors survived by playing these overlords against each other. Eventually Ranthambhor fell to the Ranas of Mewar and was garrisoned by their subordinates, the Hada Rajputs.
[15] Chittor was the capital of the Guhila clan whose chiefs bore the title of Rawal. When attacked by Ala-ud-din all branches of this clan in the Mewar region came to the aid of the Guhilas. Prominent among these were the Sesodias whose chiefs bore the title of Rana.
[16] Time and again these Aravalli hills of Western Mewar proved to be an unassailable base from where later Ranas maintained their independence and fought strategic campaigns---Rana Kumbha against the allied Sultans of Gujarat and Malwa, Rana Pratap against Akbar, Rana Amar Singh against Jehangir, and Rana Raj Singh against Aurangzeb.
[17] They were Ghadsi and Kanar, smuggled out by Nawab Mahbub Khan who had also arranged for the funeral of his Rajput friends. They were brought up in Delhi by his Brahman servants and are said to have impressed the Sultan with their fighting skills at the time of a Mongol invasion (1306?). On returning from Siwana Jaislamer was invested again by Ala's men and the jauhar performed by Dudu Rawal following which Ghadsi finally liberated Jaisalmer. The local chronicle says that Ghadsi expelled the Muslims from Jaisalmer, and if true, suggests that Alauddin tried to keep the fort for himself despite promising it to Ghadsi.
With the liberation of Chittorgarh, a new era dawns on the history of Mewar, of Rajasthan, and indeed of India. This is the third of the three main phases of Rajput History, where Mewar (collectively with the neighboring Rajput kingdoms) becomes the dominant power in Western India for the next two centuries.