Saturday, January 31, 2009

Maharana Sanga's military campaigns



While traditional accounts of Maharana Sanga's military campaigns, whether narrated by bards, compiled by later writers, or deduced from inscriptions, provide the outline of his victories, they are short on details. This has allowed myth-making and boastful claims to attribute these purely to Rajput valour and chivalry, as in the case of most other heroic figures from Indian History. Such myth-making prevents modern-day Indians from uncovering the truth and learning the true lessons of our past.

The power of Mewar was founded by Maharana Hammir (1314-78) of the Sesodia clan of Rajputs, who retook Chittor from the Turks and also raided neighboring Ranthambhor and Ajmer, even as the Delhi Sultanate began to disintegrate. Under his grandson Lakah (1405-20) silver and lead deposits were discovered in the kingdom, which increased the financial resources of Mewar. The real power of the Turks in India was now in the Bahmani Sultanate (southern India) and in the sultanates of Gujarat and Malwa (in western India).

New Rajput states also to rose to power in other parts of Rajasthan where the tide of Islam was turned back. Mewar's wars against the sultanates are described as a succession of victories, but the sober reality is that no major territory was actually gained, and the same places were "conquered" repeatedly by different Maharanas. In fact the Rajputs were paying back the Muslim invaders in their own coin by raiding their towns and cities and forcing them to pay tribute.

When Sanga became ruler of Mewar, the Delhi Sultanate had been revived under the Lodi Afghans, who enforced tribute from Ajmer and built Agra as a base to check Rajput expansion. However Afghans are their own worse enemies, tough opponents but never empire-builders as per Jadunath Sarkar, and rebellions in the sultanate allowed Sanga to launch attacks on Ajmer and Bayana. Sanga was 27 when he became Maharana of Mewar (1509); among his first acts was to bring Ajmer under control and bequeath it in salary to his father-in-law Rao Karam Chand of Srinagar (near Ajmer), with whom he had taken shelter during his rebellion and fight with Prithviraj.

Disintegration of Malwa


In the Sultanate of Malwa Rajput nobles under Medini Rai and Silhadi became so powerful and influential that the ruler Mahmud Khalji II had to take the assistance of the Sultan of Gujarat to recover his capital Mandu in 1518. Medini Rai took up service with Maharana Sanga, and his men continued to hold much of Malwa's territory. The sultan attempted to recover these by sending his men to besiege the fort of Gagraun, but an army from Chittor fell on them with such ferocity that the Muslim ranks were annihilated and the sultan taken prisoner.

Mahmud had to pay a large war indemnity and surrender his son as hostage to be lodged in Chittor. In return he was restored to those parts of Malwa which he had held before the battle at Gagraun in 1519. What this meant was that all the territory under Medini Rai and other Rajput nobles was annexed by Mewar. In Bhilsa, another portion of Malwa, a Muslim noble named Sikandar Khan declared his independence. Thus came about the disintegration of the Sultanate of Malwa, which shrank to a thin sliver of land along the River Narmada.

Sanga had restored Mahmud Khalji to his throne to prevent a takeover of Malwa by the Sultan of Gujarat, with whom Sanga had already come into conflict early in his reign.

Invasion of Gujarat


Disputed successions in the Rajput principalities of Idar and Sirohi, both lying between Mewar and Gujarat, renewed the age-old warfare between these two states. In Sirohi Maharana Sanga's son-in-law won the throne. In Idar the ruler Rai Mal received Sanga's aid while his brother Bhar Mal was supported by the Gujarat Sultan Muzaffar Shah II.

In 1519 while Mewar was fighting Malwa, a Gujarat noble Nizam-ul-Mulk captured Idar, and placed Bhar Mal on the throne. Nizam-ul-Mulk was taunted by a wandering bhat (minstrel) that he would soon lose Idar to Rai Mal, since he was supported by Sanga. In anger the Muslim noble tied a dog outside the town and named it 'Rana Sanga'.

Fresh from his triumph over Malwa, Sanga led an army estimated at 40,000 horse and foot, which included contingents from Dungarpur, Jodhpur, and Merta, to invade Gujarat. Nizam-ul-Mulk fled against these impossible odds; Rai Mal was made the ruler and the mosque (majeet in old Rajasthani/Apabhramsa) built by the invaders was broken and the original temple (prasad) rebuilt:
Idar thake majeet uthape
Thay Idar thapya prasad

Sultan Muzaffar had left Ahmadabad for the more secure fort of Champaner (renamed Mahmudabad)and The Rajput army crushed away all opposition in the open and besieged Ahmadnagar. Elephants were sent to ram the gates open, but shied away from the iron spikes lodged in them. Then a brave Rajput youth, Kanh Singh Chauhan, climbed up on the spikes and urged the elephant drivers forward. Even as he was impaled and was taking his last breath, Kanh Singh saw his comrades rushing in and falling on the surprised Muslims.

Many of the nobles, including Nizam-ul-Mulk, sought safety in flight while the rest were slaughtered and many civilians taken prisoner. The city was sacked by the Rajputs throughout the day. The next day they began hunting the remnants of the Gujarat army, and reached Vadnagar, which was spared on the plea of its Brahman inhabitants. Visalnagar though was sacked and its governor Hatim Khan slain. Laden with plunder the army then returned to Mewar.

That this invasion did not destroy the power of Gujarat is evident from subsequent events. Sultan Muzaffar Shah, dismayed by the destruction in Ahmadnagar, prepared his army to invade Mewar for which an alliance was also made with Mahmud Khalji of Malwa. Since the other nobles had failed against the Rajputs, Malik Ayaz was appointed commander. In 1521 this army first invaded Dungarpur but then swerved east to besiege Mandsor, where Mahmud Khalji joined them. Maharana Sanga also reached close to Mandsor but did not immediately launch an attack.

He first won over Mahmud Khalji by releasing his son who had been kept prisoner in Chittor for so long. Within the Gujarat army there was disquiet among the nobles because nothing of value had been gained in the campaign and the Mewar army was now arrayed against them. They blamed Malik Ayaz for this failure and their jealousy over his appointment added to the disquiet. Sanga learned of these internal dissensions and opened negotiations with Malik Ayaz, who ultimately retired from the siege, followed by the rest of the Gujarat army.

War against the Delhi Sultanate


Early in his reign Sanga had taken advantage of rebellions among the Lodi Afghans to raid the Delhi Sultanate territory. But the ruler Ibrahim Lodi had brought his nobles under control and desired to recover his lands. He had besieged and won Gwalior and taken its ruler in his service. The disintegration of Malwa also opened up fresh opportunities for Sultan Ibrahim in the south; but here too Maharana Sanga had spread his rule and his men occupied the principal forts.

Mewar map under Maharanas

From Agra the Afghans advanced towards Mewar but the Rajputs barred their path near Dholpur, defeated and drove them back with slaughter. Ibrahim organized another army under Mian Makan, but while it was making its way into Mewar, ordered him to arrest another noble Hussain Khan Farmuli who had been one of the rebellious nobles. Hussain Khan then deserted to Maharana Sanga whose men fell on the Delhi army and drove it back to Bayana in disarray. Hussain Khan taunted his fellow nobles from Delhi: "It is a hundred pities that 30,000 horsemen should have been defeated by so few Hindus."

Shortly after this Hussain Khan was assassinated on Ibrahim Lodi's orders and fresh rebellions broke out in the Delhi Sultanate. The territory now under Maharana Sanga spread across Western and Central India, and the weakness of all his rivals gave the Mewar ruler an opportunity to spread his rule north and east.