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.
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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.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Pakistan Army and Muslim communities

Sardar Patel at home May 1946. Photographer: Margaret Bourke-White source: Life Magazine

Speaking at the All India Congress Committee on 14 June, 1947, where a resolution accepting the division of Punjab, Bengal, and Assam (and the secession of Sind, Baluchistan, and NWFP) by the British Empire was passed, Sardar Patel said, "Today they had 75 per cent to 80 per cent of India which they could develop and make strong according to their genius. The League could develop the rest of the country."

Implicit in this statement is the age-old idea of India's oneness, and the reality that this hasty act of partition was between two political formations, and not any communities.

By accepting partition of those provinces, and the secession of others, the Indian National Congress (INC) had accepted that it did not represent all communities in those areas. This was a debatable fact because in elections held in NWFP and Sind the party had strong representation....it actually formed the government in NWFP. While in Bengal and Punjab also the INC had considerable seats.

Under the "separate electorates" devised by the British Empire to divide the Indian people, the Muslim League (created to represent the interests of upper-caste Muslims), only began winning seats reserved for Muslims with the open support of the British administration in India. And even then they did not manage to win the support of Muslim communities in Sind, Punjab, and NWFP. By agreeing to partition, the Muslim League accepted that it was dumping its supporters (Muslims in India's heartland) and would be imposing its rule over NWFP, western Punjab, and Sind.

The British Empire, as the true creators of Pakistan, had always claimed that the Muslim League were the sole representatives of Muslim communities in the Indian Continent. They fostered this myth by limiting the electorate to those with a certain income level, education, and property. After partition the INC extended the electorate to cover the entire Indian population and won the first general elections. By contrast, the Muslim League was reduced to a minority in the first elections in the Pakistani provinces! For all their bombast, and British propaganda, the League never had a true political base, no agenda for development, and no forward-looking leaders.

Pakistani polity fragmented on ethno-linguistic and regional lines, some Muslim League leaders were killed, others driven out of Pakistan. The League not only failed to "develop the rest of the country" but condemned it to army rule....Jinnah and his British friends had used the army to invade and occupy Baluchistan, and to invade J&K princely state and fight India. With a fragmented polity Pakistan was not fulfilling its assigned role for the British and their American allies, hence the Pakistan army established its dictatorship over the country.

The Pakistan Army repeats the methods and claims of the Muslim League


The remnants of the Muslim League in India had also failed to win the support of the different Muslim communities, who instead voted for the INC and other parties. This again revealed the Muslim League to have been a party representing upper-caste Muslims (ashraf), which could not spread its influence without the use of communal terrorism and the support of the British administration in India.

The All India Momin Conference, an association of poor Muslim communities like weavers and mill workers, described Jinnah's league as, "controlled and manned chiefly by such Muslims as belong to the rich section or Superior-Group, whose interests are obviously antagonistic to those of the poorer section or Inferior-Group Muslims." They naturally opposed the creation of Pakistan, fought elections against the League, and had violent clashes with its members.

Despite the claims of the Muslim League of being a representative of Muslim communities in British India having been disproved, the Pakistan army, which came to rule Pakistan, repeated the undemocratic and bloody methods of the League in trying to stake the same claim for itself. These included supplicating foreign support, organising violence and bloodshed, and intimidating those Muslim communites who did not share their aims (Bangladeshis, Baluchis, inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan, etc). The violence they relied on was overt war, carried out with western arms and support, but each time the Pakistan army failed in its aims. All through these wars the Muslim communities in India did not rise up in support of the invaders.

The repeated failures have not stopped the Pakistan army from continuing with its methods; part of the reason is the attitude of the Indian political leadership which tries to live in peace with the Pakistan army despite all provocation.

The INC and Muslim communities


After the death of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, the INC came under the complete stranglehold of Nehru, who fostered leftist ideas for development and social changes. Leftist intellectuals under him and his daughter Indira altered Indian History, and covered up even recent events, to portray the various ethno-linguistic Muslim communities as a monolith. According to these morons all Muslims had a right to be proud of the "glories" of the Mughal empire, whereas the reality was that many of the poorer and depressed Muslim communities had suffered great opression under what was a feudal and medieval system of government!

Their objective was to turn the Muslims into a permanent vote-bank, under a mostly religious leadership, and prevent the formation of local leaderships which could articulate the different problems and demands of these different Muslim communities. Under this system India's foreign policy towards West Asia, Afghanistan, and even Pakistan became hostage to the "Muslim viewpoint"; even though most of the poorer Muslims were concerned only with issues concering their daily lives.

This problem of painting all Muslim communities in India as a monolith has stopped India from carrying out the liberation of Indian territory under Pakistani occupation, from taking strong action against terror cells and supporters inside India, and from recognizing the rights of the ethno-linguistic Muslim communities inside Pakistan. But even this self-imposed Indian reluctance and the Pakistan army's restless ambition were not enough to create the present problem of state-terrorism.

This current problem has emerged firstly from the funding, since the 1970s, by oil-rich Arabs of madrasas throughout the world. These religious schools have imposed a uniform Arabic dress, regressive culture, and militant ideas into the many diverse Muslim communities in India and its neighboring countries. Secondly the Pakistan army has used products of these schools, and its own soldiers, to form terror groups to carry out low-intensity war against its neighbors. Thirdly it has created supporters for these groups inside India and other countries.

Inside its own borders the Pakistan army continues to supress the different ethno-linguistic groups, much like the Muslim League supressed poorer Muslims with British support. While economic sanctions and military pressure is critical in destroying the terror capabilities of the Pakistan army, global recognition of the ethno-linguistic identity for such groups, which are stronger than religious identity, will lead to the eventual break-up of Pakistan.
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