Battle of Haldighati (18th June 1576)
Rana Pratap Singh Sesodia ascended the throne of Mewar in February 1572—the fertile eastern half of his kingdom, commanded by the ancient forts of Chittor and Ranthambhor, had been occupied by the Mughal Empire. The new Rana thus had very few resources to continue the resistance against the Mughals—fortunately that year the Mughal Emperor Akbar began his conquest of Gujarat, and this gave Pratap time to consolidate his rule.
After the conquest of Gujarat, the Mughals invaded the Rajput Kingdom of Dungarpur, south of Mewar and ruled by clan-brothers of the Sesodias. In June 1573, having received the submission of the Rawal of Dungarpur, Akbar's general Man Singh Kachwaha paid a visit to Rana Pratap. This embassy was a result of Akbar's belief that the new Rana, confined to a hilly corner of Rajasthan, was in no position to continue his father's resistance and would have to submit. The meeting between the two youthful warriors did not go well since Man Singh, overly proud of his conquests, expected to be treated as an equal by the Rana, even though he was then neither a king nor the head of his clan.
To placate the Rana a second mission was sent under Man Singh's father, Raja Bhagwant Das, in October. This time too Pratap refused to submit to Akbar on any terms but sent back Bhagwant Das with diplomatic replies—he utilized the time gained to build up his strength by collecting allies and raiding Mughal territory. The Mughal caravans making their way to and from the ports of newly-conquered Gujarat were a special target for his warriors.
After waiting a few years for the Rana's submission, Akbar sent Man Singh at the command of a 5000-strong army towards the Rana's new capital—to add more weight to this military pressure, Akbar himself moved to Ajmer in April 1576. The Mughals still believed that the inexperienced Pratap would not, and could not, fight them because of his absolute lack of men, resources, and allies.
But they forgot that the biggest resource for Pratap was the illustrious name of his ancestral kingdom, which since the days of Rana Kumbha, had grown to become the dominant power in North India. Under his grandson Rana Sanga, Mewar had commanded the vassalage of numerous Hindu and Muslim states—even now from the many states conquered by the Mughals, the dispossessed rulers and their clansmen, flocked to the side of Pratap, seeing in him their only hope of defeating the Mughals and recovering their states.
Among these were the Rathors of Merta, the Tanwars of Gwalior, and Hakim Khan Suri, a Pathan adventurer from the south. Other chiefs dependent on Mewar's resistance for their own independence, but not present at the battle, were the Rathors of Idar, the Deora Chauhans of Sirohi, and numerous other states bordering Mewar.
So while the Mughals were marching leisurely up the course of the River Banas, Rana Pratap declared his intention of immediately attacking this force and driving Man Singh out of Mewar—his wise ministers restrained him from leaving his secure position in the hills. Man Singh entered the plain of Khamnor, usually dotted with cornfields, mango and babool trees—but this was the torrid month of June, the fields were bare and the spring emerging from the hills was reduced to a mere trickle. Still this was the ideal site for setting up a camp for those 5000 men and all their equipment and animals.
Getting news of this, Rana Pratap left his capital, and reached the rugged hills surrounding Khamnor on three sides. His camp was in the 3 km long and narrow Haldighati Pass, which was the only route to his capital Gogunda. On the morning of 18th June, 1576, the Mewar army issued from Haldighati and prepared to roll down upon the enemy in the distance.
On the plain of Khamnor, Man Singh marshaled his 5000 men in the conventional divisions. The center he commanded with his own clansmen, his brother Madho Singh stood at hailing distance with the advance reserve (iltimish), his uncle Jagannath was placed in the vanguard (harawal) with Asaf Khan, the left wing was under Rao Lunkaran and Ghazi Khan Badakshi, the right wing under the Sayyids of Barha, and the rear protected by Mehtar Khan.
The vanguard and some skirmishers were cautiously threading their way up towards the hills when the Mewar cavalry came galloping down, roaring their terrible battle-cry. The Mughal van was defeated and broken, many of their men fleeing away without standing to fight. The victorious Mewar army, in three parallel divisions, kept up the momentum of their charge and rammed into the main Mughal army. The enemy left wing crumpled under this furious assault—its shaken and confused mass of Uzbeks, Kazzaks, Rajputs and Badakshis, all fled for their lives.
The right wing was also dented by the heavy slaughter in their front ranks, but the Sayyids held their ground and were now bolstered by the advance reserve sent by their commander. Mounted on his elephant, and getting a panoramic view of these successive defeats, Man Singh moved forward with the center and commanded Mehtar Khan to bring up the rear-guard and protect his exposed flank.
The horse-archers of the Mughal army, or at least those that had not fled away, plied their arrows on the mass of the enemy now mingled with their own men. As per the bigoted Al-Badauni, present at the battle, he asked Asaf Khan how their archers would distinguish between friendly and enemy Rajputs—the Mughal commandant cynically replied, "On whichever side they may be killed, it will be a gain to Islam."
The Mewar army had by this time lost the momentum of their initial charge—those of their men that lost their horses wielded the double-edged khanda in a bloody hand-to-hand fight. The rest rallied back to their respective commanders and followed them in making repeated charges—but due to the short distance, and the litter of the dead on the ground, they could not gain enough momentum to pierce the Mughal line.
Rana Pratap commanded the center of his small army, his vanguard was led by Ramdas Rathor and Hakim Khan Sur, the right was under the Tanwar Rajputs, and the left under his vassal Man Singh Jhala. There was also a very small auxiliary force of Bhil archers perched on the hills, but these were too few and too distant to have an impact on the battle. All the artillery of Mewar had been lost at the sieges of Chittor and Ranthambhor, and there were only a few guns reserved for the defence of the distant fort of Kumbhalgarh.
Because of these small numbers (3000 cavalry as per the Mughal accounts but probably even less) there was no rear-guard and no reserve—Pratap staked everything on making one bold charge on all three fronts and was rewarded with initial success.
But now the battle had entered a stalemate as the Mughal center and rear-guard closed up to repair the damage, and the broken men returned behind them.
Clash of the elephants
The Mewar vanguard was shattered by this time—its leaders dead. The left wing faced off against the Mughal right, but the movements of his units by Man Singh had placed the advanced reserve (Madho Singh) against the Mewar center, commanded by Pratap. The Mughal center faced the Mewar right wing, which Mehtar Khan of the rear-guard was positioned to attack in the flanks. In other words after the initial defeat the Mughal line had now been stabilized.
The constant showers of arrows, and the occasional discharge of artillery, were boxing the Mewar army in. Despair arose among their ranks when the Mughals began appearing on three sides. But their resourceful commander never despaired—Rana Pratap ordered an attack by his two war-elephants, named Lona and Ram Prasad. These had been waiting for the Rajput cavalry to break through, after which they were to charge and complete the Mughal defeat into a rout, but now the Rana wanted to use the charging elephants to create gaps in the enemy line through which his cavalry could ride through and cut up the enemy force.
Neither arrows, nor bullets, nor even artillery shots, could stop the terrible advance of these armor-plated elephants. Wielding swords in their trunks, Lona and Ram Prasad cut down the enemy troopers, sweeping up horses with their tusks, and leaving behind them a trail of crushed soldiers. The panic-stricken Mughals brought forward their own elephants to stem this irrepressible advance.
Lona, coming from the Mewar center, was opposed by the Mughal elephant Gaj-mukta. The two beasts clashed head-on leaving the Mughal elephant wounded and dazed—just then a bullet shot down the driver (mahout) of Lona. Without a driver to goad it forward, Lona wandered off without completing his victory.
Ram Prasad, from the Mewar right wing, sent the Mughals flying and was followed closely by the exultant Mewar Rajputs. Two Mughal elephants, Gajraj and Ran-madar, came up to stop his bloody advance. Before the beasts could clash, an arrow hit the driver of Ram Prasad, who fell down to the ground. Then one of the drivers of the Mughal elephants jumped on the back of Ram Prasad and brought it under control.
Mewar army withdraws
The last gamble had failed. But neither Pratap, nor his men, thought of giving up as long as they could maintain cohesion in their ranks and had the strength to wield their swords and spears. The bloody contest continued till mid-day, despite the intense heat of summer. It was probably at this stage that Pratap attempted an attack on Man Singh himself—his horse Chetak is said to have jumped on the enemy commander's elephant, enabling the Rana to hurl his spear, which missed. This incident is not corroborated by the Mughal accounts who only state that the two commanders came within sight of each other, but there is no reason to doubt the story.
In making repeated charges, Rana Pratap had been wounded by the enemy arrows and spears, and some of his troops were fainting from the lack of water. The cohesion of his army was breaking down—the right wing had crumpled, its leaders were dead, and the men had crowded in on the center. The same happened to the left wing.
But the leader of this broken wing, Man Singh Jhala, saw the precarious situation of the army and realized that the battle was lost. However, the war could still be won if their lion of a leader lived to fight another day. The Jhala chieftain snatched the silver umbrella (chhatra) of royalty from the Rana's back and placed it on his own. He then charged forward roaring at the Mughals to come up and fight him. The Mughal soldiers crowded around his glittering person, eager to win the honor of being the captor of their emperor's great enemy.
Man Singh Jhala met a warrior's death but the wounded Rana was taken away in safety—his army followed close behind. It was an orderly withdrawal since the bloody fighting and the intense heat had also taken their toll on the Mughal army, which was in no position to give chase. Man Singh also held his men back in fear that an ambush had been planted in the long and narrow Haldighati Pass by the Sesodia Rajputs and the Bhils. For these reasons the Mewar army also took away their camp and baggage from Haldighati and left nothing for the Mughals who followed behind the next day.
Apart from losing the chance to loot the enemy camp, the Mughals failed to take a single prisoner. The only noted spoil gained by the Mughals in this hard-fought battle was the elephant Ram Prasad.
On the way back to the capital the Rana's faithful horse Chetak died from his multiple wounds—a memorial at the spot commemorates his role in the battle.
Some versions of this battle give inflated figures for the two armies. Man Singh Kachwaha is said to have 22,000 soldiers and Rana Pratap Singh 8,000—some others multiply these further to 80,000 and 26,000 respectively!
The sober reality is that in the 17th century, during the Rajput war against Aurangzeb, the Kingdom of Mewar had fielded a 12,000 strong army, which is confirmed by all sources. Even in the age of Maharana Sanga, Mewar had an army of 20-25,000, while the rest came from their vassals and allies.
More importantly, before Pratap became the Rana in 1572, the fort of Chittor had fallen to Akbar in 1568—its 8000 Rajput defenders, forming the core of the Mewar army, and their families had all died fighting.
As other small forts fell to the Mughals in eastern Mewar, the total armed strength would have suffered further losses. And in the process depriving the Ranas of a large recruiting ground for their army.
The allies who came to Rana Pratap (ex-rulers of Gwalior and Merta) did not have their kingdoms or armies but only a small following of their closest clansmen. They were given estates to sustain themselves by Pratap—taking all these realities into account his total armed strength would be under 4000. And taking away the garrisons at Kumbalgarh and a few other forts, the total fielded at Haldigahti would be under 3000.