Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sanga and Prithviraj

The aptly named Amar Chitra Katha (immortal illustrated stories) series of comics, brought Indian History and Culture alive for generations of modern young Indians. It was a tremendous task, undertaken by a private entrepreneur, to narrate and picturize stories from the many periods, and the many different parts, of India. The writers and illustrators had to consult the many conflicting accounts for the same events and characters, and while they played safe by reproducing the most popular versions, they honestly revealed that main source in the introductory text to each comic. This was seen in the illustrated story of Maharana Sanga, the 16th century ruler of the Rajput Kingdom of Mewar, the source for which was described as the Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan by Colonel James Tod, in the introduction.

This ruler's given name was Sangram Simha, Sanga being an affectionate nick of the first name, and Simha or lion being a popular surname of Rajput warriors. Sanga ruled Mewar from 1509-28, after the death of his father Maharana Raimall. However it is his early life as prince, which was incorrectly narrated by Tod, and following his lead by the Amar Chitra Katha writers. In their version Sanga, the eldest son and heir-apparent to the throne of Mewar, was at loggerheads with two younger brothers Prithviraj and Jaimal over who would rule Mewar. Their uncle Surajmal intervened on behalf of Sanga. Ultimately Sanga agreed to put the question of succession to the Charani (oracle) in the temple of Nahar Magra (tiger's mount, see Rajasthani names) who could predict the future.

The Charanidevi predicted that Sanga would be ruler and a portion of Mewar would be bestowed on Surajmal, upon which the furious Prithviraj and Jaimal drew their swords and a fight ensued. The wounded Sanga escaped from the temple and after many adventures took up service as a trooper with a minor Rajput chieftain near Ajmer. Sanga's future status as king was revealed when he was seen resting under a tree, while a king cobra shielded his face from the sun with his crested hood. The Rajput chieftain inquired about Sanga's identity and promised to shelter him from Prithviraj, also marrying his daughter to the future ruler of Mewar. It was only after the death of Prithviraj that Sanga could return to his father.

Mewar was the greatest kingdom in North India at that time, hence it is surprising that no escort was present with the crown prince and that no officer or noble of the state came in defence of the heir-apparent. Secondly when their father Maharana Raimal, noted for his victories over the Sultanate of Malwa, was still alive why did Sanga feel the need to remain in hiding and take up employment as a common trooper? Sanga's demeanor as depicted in the comic is one of other-worldly detachment....he does not fight for his rights as the eldest and shies away from battle. And his portrait as Maharana is entirely different, making bold military strikes against the Sultans of Delhi, Malwa and Gujarat, and holding ambitions of spreading his rule over North India.

These questions are easily answered, not from Colonel Tod's confused narrative, but from contemporary inscriptions and literature (Mehta Nainsi's Khyat) which reveal that Prithiviraj was the heir-apparent and Sanga the third brother. Their uncle Surajmal, who supported Sanga, was a cousin of Maharana Raimal; his father Kshema had tried to usurp the throne of Mewar when Raimal was young. This explains their alliance and also suggests that Sanga's character as prince and ruler remained the same: determined, ambitious, and unscrupulous.

Prithviraj and Tarabai

The character of Prithviraj is explored in another Amar Chitra Katha comic, titled Tarabai, which was about a Rajput warrior princess of that name. Her father belonged to the Solanki clan, which ruled the territory of Toda near Ajmer, but had been deprived of the same by Afghan invaders. From their refuge in Mewar father and daughter made several attempts to recover their lands.

Meanwhile the Mewar crown prince Prithviraj was engaged in securing his kingdom's western border and campaigning against dacoits...he was also trying to locate his rebel brother Sanga. Jaimal, the second son of Maharana Raimal, sent his proposal of marriage to the beautiful and famous Tarabai's father. This was accepted on condition of his aiding in the recovery of Toda...but Jaimal attempted to see Tarabai in a state of drunkenness and was killed by her enraged father. To redeem the honor of his family, Prithviraj met the Solankis and told them he would, "restore Toda to them or he was no true Rajput."

Prithivraj and Tarabai chose the occasion of Muharram to attack the Afghans. Mingling inside the crowd at the religious gathering with their 500 horsemen, Prithviraj and Tarabai killed the Afghan chief and his leaderless followers fled in panic. The Afghan governor of Ajmer, Nawab Mallu Khan, attempted to recover Toda but was defeated. Prithviraj and his new bride made their home in the western Mewar fort of Kumbalgarh, where a bastion called Tara burj was named after Tarabai.

In their absence, Surajmal took the aid of Sultan Nasiruddin Khalji of Malwa and invaded Mewar from the east, even attempting an assault on the capital Chittor. Maharana Raimal fought against his cousin and the rebel army till Prithviraj and Tarabai rode to the rescue. Surajmal was chased out of Mewar and killed, but his descendants lived to establish the state of Pratabgarh in southern Mewar, thus fulfilling the prophecy of the Oracle.

Prithviraj's regard for family honor and the safety of his female relatives, led him to two other great achievements. He rescued his aunt Rama Bai, who was being ill-treated by her husband the Raja Mandlik of Girnar in the Kathiawar peninsula to the west of Gujarat. Contrary to custom, which says that a woman's home is with her husband's family, Rama Bai was welcomed back by her brother Maharana Raimal and given an estate. She constructed the Ram Swami Temple and Rama Kund (reservoir) in Jawar district.

Prithviraj similarly punished his brother-in-law, the Rao of Sirohi west of Mewar, for ill-treating Prithviraj's sister. The Rao submitted to Prithviraj but fed him poisoned sweets in retaliation. Prithviraj died while riding home to Kumbalgarh; his chattri (memorial) is built near the temple of Mamadeo.

The ambitious Sanga became ruler of Mewar and led his kingdom to great military successes up till the Battle of Khanua.

Descendants of Prithviraj

Prithviraj and Tarabai died without any heirs, but the crown prince did have progeny through concubines. One of these named Banbir grew up to inherit his estates and was granted a position in court after the death of Maharana Sanga. Banbir rose to be regent of the young ruler Udai Singh, but attempted to murder him and seize the throne, upon which he was defeated by the Mewar nobility and expelled from Mewar.