There are many aspects that define a ruler’s character and how he/she should be judged by history. How they treat the non-combatant population of their opponent during or after the battle is one of them. While it is true that in the latter part of his reign, Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556 – 1605 CE) changed his policy towards the Rajputs, probably realising that in order to rule India, he had to be a lot more accommodative of its native rulers, inhabitants and religion, but the early part of his reign shows a different picture. The best example of it is his sack of Chittor.
Chittor had been a symbol of Rajput pride, the jewel fort of the mighty Sisodias of Mewar whose glory had risen to new heights under the illustrious Rana Sanga. Though the Rajputs lost the heated battle of Khanua to Babur in 1527, the House of Mewar remained defiant as ever. During the nine years after that, Mewar was ruled by three Ranas one after the other till the throne was passed to Uday Singh, the minor son of Rana Sanga, in 1537 under the regency of a council. During this time, Rajput nobles considered it pragmatic to accept the nominal suzerainty of Sher Shah Sur after his victory over Jodhpur in 1544. But after attaining majority, Rana Uday Singh proved true to his blood by pursuing a successful military career and again placed Mewar on top of the hierarchy of Rajputana.
Akbar, on the other hand, wanted to capture Chittor for more than one reason. Though financially not that attractive, Chittor was situated en route to Gujarat, and Gujarat was a financially rich maritime province. Chittor also controlled the lines of communication between Delhi and the Arabian Sea. Rana Uday Singh had also given shelter to Baz Bahadur, a fugitive ruler of Malwa. These reasons were enough to spark Akbar’s interest. But, most importantly, the symbolism of capturing the pride of Rajputana, Chittor was too attractive an opportunity for Akbar to let go.
It was a mammoth affair for which preparations were made on a massive scale. The Mughals were personally commanded by Akbar and the huge army included various military generals of high calibre. On October 20, 1567, the army reached the outskirts of Chittor. Just as the army reached, the Rajputs realized the futility of endangering the lives of Rana and the royal family by keeping them in Chittor and thus, Rana Uday Singh was sent away along with his family somewhere in the Aravalli Hills, making it hard for him to be traced. He was accompanied by the best of his army and treasure.
Now, Chittor’s defence came under Jaimal Rathor. Jaimal was the chief of Merta and a vassal of Rao Maldev of Jodhpur when Merta was conquered by the Mughals in 1562. After that, Rana Uday Singh gave refuge to Jaimal Rathor. It was a humongous task to defend Chittor which Jaimal took on his shoulders. He had barely eight thousand men under him against the might of the entire Mughal army. Even then the Mughals took almost a month to lay the siege of Chittor. The position of the fort also made it difficult for the Mughals, as it was a huge fort and was situated on a separate hill with plenty of supplies. The Rajput soldiers gave a tough fight to the Mughal commanders whenever they took to fight. Every day, the Mughals were losing almost 200 men on an average. At last, Akbar decided to change his strategy and gave an order to construct sabat, a sort of an underground tunnel which is partly above the surface with a covered pathway. The construction was done by almost 5000 labourers. In December, when the tunnel was ready, the Mughal miners made two excavations under the wall and put gunpowder in them, but, when the gunpowder was lit, the explosion resulted in an accident in which a lot of soldiers on both sides lost their lives. Rajputs continued to fight despite all odds and in a short time raised another wall to defend the fort.
Akbar gave the orders of an all-out attack on the night of February 22. The fort was surrounded and breached by his army. Jaimal was shot by Akbar using a matchlock when he was busy supervising the repairs of the breached wall of the fort. This affected the morale of the Rajputs and they decided that it was time to do or die. In true Rajput spirit, the ladies committed Jauhar and men opened the gates of the fort. Wearing saffron robes, Rajput men took the offensive and fought till the last man. Other than Jaimal, the hero immortalized in the annals of Indian and especially Rajput history is Phatta or Fateh Singh Sisodia. A young man of only sixteen, who along with his mother and wife, fell with all his fury on the enemy and fought valiantly with the Mughals but was crushed to death by an elephant.
What happened after this is tragic. Akbar ordered a general massacre. Every single person inside the fort was killed by the Mughal army and almost 30,000 people perished. The slain included non-combatant civilians. Women, children, infirm men, all were killed in cold blood. Akbar measured the success by weighing the quantity of zinar taken from the necks of the fallen Rajputs. It measured 74 and a half mans . To this day, numerals 74.5 are considered accursed by the Rajputs as they signify the slaughter of Chittor.
When Akbar entered Chittor, there was no one left to give submission of the fort to the Mughals. Only one man came forward named Isar Das Chauhan. With all his courage, he attacked the elephant of Akbar and commented sarcastically, “Be good enough to convey my respect to the world-adorning appreciator of merit”.
Akbar put Khwaja Abdul Majid Asaf Khan as the in-charge of the sarkar of Chittor. Akbar even put statues of Jaimal and Phatta seated on elephants at the gate of Agra fort, apparently to commemorate their valour. But, it is a bit rich to massacre an entire population of the fort including thousands of civilians and then put statues to signify the valour of its defenders. Chittor fell, but the fight was continued by the House of Mewar under the leadership of the illustrious Rana Pratap.
As mentioned at the start of this article, it is true that Akbar later followed a different policy, especially when taken in the context of what the Islamic invaders and conquerors had followed till then. But, what is also true is that Akbar ordered a general massacre of the civilians of the fort of Chittor in which thousands of innocents were slain. Why is this not general knowledge? Telling about it would not take away the positive changes he made later in his reign, whether he genuinely changed his mindset towards the majority or he considered it pragmatic to change his policy in order to successfully rule such a vast country. Whatever were his reasons, why not discuss this aspect of his policy as well? Why this need to keep the Chittor massacre under the cover? Probably, because it does not fit in the grand scheme of his “greatness”.
- Advanced Study in the History of Medieval India. Volume ii. By J.L. Mehta
- The History of India as told by its own Historians by Elliot and Dowson.
- Akbarnama by Abul Fazal.
- Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan by Col. James Tod.
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