Akbar's attack on Chittor (1567-68) as illustrated in the Akbarnama miniature paintings.
An attempt to dig beneath the fort walls and plant explosives backfires, as the charge blows back at the Mughals sending men and horses flying in the air. From the fort the Rajputs shoot arrows and stones at the confused mass of Mughals. Below at the Mughal camp Akbar is informed of the disaster:
After several failed attempts to breach the fort walls of Chittor, the Mughals construct towers to gain a vantage point to fight the Rajputs inside the hill-fort. One day Akbar, armed with a matchlock, shoots down the Rajput commander Jaimal Rathore by a lucky shot. Akbar can be seen at the top of the tower, while on the left Jaimal is taken inside the fort. The fort wall is also breached at some places but the Mughal attempts to storm inside and capture Chittor at this critical point are repulsed.
February 23 1568, Rajput women and children perform jauhar, while the men prepare for their final death ride into battle....to embrace death and kill as many of the enemy soldiers as possible in the final cavalry charge.
The battle for Chittor lasted 123 days (23 October 1567 to February 24 1568). Akbar had started his campaign by taking smaller forts of Mewar before directing his army to surround Chittor....but before this Maharana Udai Singh (father of Maharana Pratap) took his family out of the trap and based himself in the western Aravalli Hills. From here he could send forces to harass the Mughal army besieging Chittor.
But the invading army was large and besides laying siege to the fort, Akbar sent cavalry detachments to ravage the Mewar villages and prevent any supplies or military help from reaching the fort. As can be seen in the last painting, the Mughals besieging the fort had constructed a wall around their camp with space for guns, to protect themselves from any surprise attack of the Rajput cavalry from inside Chittor Fort.
Towards the end of 1568 Akbar concentrated his forces around the fort of Ranthambhor, held by a vassal of the Maharana of Chittor, Rao Surjan Hada of Bundi. Ranthambhor lies at the northern edge of the Malwa Plateau and to the northeast of Chittor.
This fort had been attacked earlier in 1560, but that Mughal army had been defeated by the Rajputs. The fort of Gagraun, to the south of Bundi, had however been captured that year. Now after the reduction of Chittor Akbar could turn once again to Ranthambhor.
Ramparts and walls are constructed on a neighboring hill and huge guns are dragged up with teams of bullocks, while the Ranthambhor garrison fires on the Mughals. After gaining elevation, the Mughal guns exchange fire with Ranthambhor. After some time Akbar negotiates with the fort commander Surjan Hada through his Rajput generals Bhagwant Das and Man Singh.
Surjan Hada is enrolled as a Mughal mansabdar, raised to the rank of Rao Raja, and assigned new estates along with his ancestral kingdom of Bundi.
The Rajput garrison leaves the fort with their weapons and goods, Surjan Hada also takes out several Hindu murtis to prevent their desecration by the occupying Muslims. In this miniature painting one can see how far the Mughal fortifications extended, practically surrounding the fort, except for the marshy stretch of forest on the other side of the fort. This portion is today seen in innumerable wildlife documentaries and photographs with sambhar deer and tigers frequenting that water body.
A curious painting depicts a battle outside the fort of Bundi in 1577. This incident is not described either in Mughal or Rajput documents....but since Surjan Hada spent the rest of his days in exile at Benares, it seems he may have risen against the Mughals following the Battle of Haldighati (1576).
Sirohi later kept switching its allegiance from the Mewar to the Mughals and back, with every change in the military conflict between Pratap and Akbar.
Akbar and the sannyasis
Akbar's massacre of 30,000 Hindu civilians at Chittor, after the fort had fallen in 1568 is well known. Many of these were inhabitants of the city-fort, but most others were villagers from the surrounding regions, who had taken shelter in the fort on the advance of the Mughal army.
One year before this, in 1567, the Mughal Emperor was at Thanesar (Haryana). At a holy tank in that town, different groups of sadhus had assembled to bathe as part of their religious duty. A fight broke out between two leading groups over who would have precedence in bathing in the holy tank.
As the fight turned bloody, the Mughals gathered to watch; Akbar himself came to investigate the scene from his camp. As one group of sadhus began to prevail, Akbar commanded his soldiers to intervene on the side of the other group! So Mughal soldiers stepped into the middle of the poor sadhus and turned their swords, axes, and arrows on them. See the picture as portrayed in the Akbarnama:
The Muslim scholars praised Akbar's action because according to them the true Islamic king must forget his responsiblity for imposing order in the kingdom; instead following the holy task of looking on jubilantly as his infidel subjects fight and kill each other.
He should even assist them in reducing the number of infidels, so that on whichever side a man falls, Islam is the gainer!
But later in his reign when Akbar became more rational and began respecting other religions, these same Muslim scholars bitterly criticised him, pronounced him a kaffir, and encouraged Muslims everywhere to rebel against him. Fortunately these rebellions were crushed by Akbar's Hindu allies.