What follows is a feast of Rajasthani Dingal poetry in translation. There are few, perhaps none, as well equipped as Kesri Singh to create such translations. He is a master of Dingal and of English. His translations reflect not only his command of both languages but also his poetic imagination and fluency. It takes a poet to translate a poet.”
I hope The Story of the Battle of Haldighati — Which is as close to authentic history as can he -will be found interesting by the general reder; the essay discussing some of the Controversies Concerning the Battle, to be of some worth by serious scholars and researchers in the field of medieval Mewar history; and The Maharana and the Muse, delightful by lovers of property.
Born on June 1, 1927, he graduated from the Mayo College, Ajmer, in 1946. He was a Member of the Third Legislative Assembly of Rajasthan from 1962 to 1967, and the first General Secretary of the Swatantra Party in the State, and a couple of decades later, a Vice President of the Rajasthan State unit of the Bhartiya Janta Party.
Hiking in the high mountains of the Himalayas, observing wild life in the sanctuaries and national parks of the country, or just gazing up at the star-spangled night skies of the desert, and reading good books on History and Philosophy, Travel and Adventure, and Rajasthani Literature, have been his favourite pastimes.
Besides this present book, he has also authored “An Anthology of Rajasthani Poetry in English Translation”.
He lives in Roopawas, in the Pali District of Rajasthan.
Shri Keen Singhji of Mundiyar who was my class-mate at Mayo College, Ajmer, brought to me a narrative that he has written on the 400th anniversary of the Battle of HaIdi Ghati.
His description of the Battle, which is based on a study of eye-witness accounts as well as the works of later historians of renown, bears the impress of his own intellectual inferences. Significance should be attached to the fact that it was a fight for freedom, and not a communal war.
The battle of Haldighati, unlike any other battle in the military history of warfare, has aroused the greatest and most multifaceted interest. This single occasion has raised issues of social context, the composition of opposing forces, the efficiency of execution of the adopted strategy and tactics and finally most touchingly the acts of unparalleled bravery, unmatched sacrifices and unimaginable fighting skills of a few individuals who participated in this battle. All these issues have assumed tremendous significance, as time goes by, for a lot of us.
In terms of each of the above aspects, this momentous baffle, fought in June 1576 A.D. at Khamnor, has assumed awesome proportions to a researcher of history. The author has very manfully tackled this highly complex and often contradictory versions floated by many in the past. What is most commendable is the commitment, dedication and above all the authenticity and originality of approach by Shri Kesri Singhji of Mundiyar.
The author has spent a long time researching the battle of Haldighati by thawing upon contemporary historical evidence as also the writings of later historians of note. He had earlier brought out a publication in June, 1976, to which a foreword was written by my revered late father. N.I.H. Maharana Bhagwat Singhji Mewar then wrote, ‘ love and labour he has bestowed, and the warmth of emotion he has expressed in writing this story, can only be appreciated by reading it. The graphic description of the battle of Haldighati, not neglecting the emotional aspects involved, one would hardly find in any other single book.”
The present volume is a much more comprehensive effort presenting, first the graphic description of the battle, followed by a valuable essay to clear the differences among the historians regarding the details of the events. The presentation of the English translations of the writings of noted poets on the great ‘Hero of Haldighati’ is an invaluable addition. Equally important is an annexure which introduces some of the noted protagonists, successfully presenting for the reader the most comprehensive view to date of the battle and its participants.
On a more personal note, although this event took place several centuries ago, it is sometimes difficult for me to forget and forgive the invidious role of some of those involved. At the same tire, I cannot sing the praises of others, often or loud enough. Haldighati is one such happening that will always arouse intense emotions, both of extreme yet sublime reverence on one side, while on the other, abject contempt and unbridled fury. Be as it may, this laudable effort goes a long way in immortalising the values and principles adhered and practised by the people of Men at the time.
I trust this work would go a long way in fulfilling the vacuum felt by all the people who believe in the cause of freedom, self respect and self reliance like Kika Rana.
Kesri Singh’s three essays and appended notices offer a creative neo-traditional interpretation of the history and historiography of Rana Pratap and the battle of Haldighati. We say historiography as well as history because how one reads the history of Rajasthan, particularly its history in Mughal times, turns on the framework used to interpret the events and motives associated with Ram Pratap at Haldighati.
The volume includes three essays. The first, “The Story of the Battle of Haldighati (A tale retold for the 400th anniversary of the Battle in 1976), is in the spirit of what we would call imaginative truth. The second, “An Essay Discussing Some of the Controversies Concerning the Battle of Haldighati’, is in the spirit of positive truth. And the third, “The Maharana and the Muse’, a sample of Dingal poems on Pratap in translation, presents an epical Pratap in the making, the poets’ construction of Pratap’s personality and his struggle in defence of honour and freedom against the might of empire.
The strength and charm of Kesri Singh’s essays lie in the variety of ways he tells us about the man and the battle. Each is written in a different spirit and with different methods. The essay written on the 400th anniversary of the Battle of Haldighati is crafted in the romantic mode pioneered in Rajasthan by Cal. James Tod, whose Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan remains, after 150 years, the canonical work.
Tod cast a long shadow. His romanticism does not arise, as Edward Said might have put it in his Orientalism, as a strategy of subordination. Tod is very much a product of his era; he constructs Rajasthan in general and Mewar in particular in terms drawn from the rising historical and literary paradigm of his time, Romanticism4. He wrote in an era when Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley celebrated the Greek struggle for “national liberty” against the rule of the allegedly despotic and alien Ottoman Turks. Byron’s death in Greece in 1824, three years after the Greek struggle for independence began, symbolized the Romantics’ passionate commitment to national sovereignty and freedom, terms whose career began a generation earlier in the aftermath of the French Revolution.
Tod identified Mewar with Greece; Haldighati he says was Mewar’s Thermopylae. Ted also admired European feudalism, whose fealty, herosim and chivalry seemed to him so different from and so much more admirable than the self-interested commercial spirit then sweeping England and the continent. Tod relied on Henry Hallam’ s trend-setting two vol time work, first published in 1819, View of the State of Europe During the Middle Ages’. Ted tells us that Hallam’s story of medieval Europe drew aide “the veil of mystery which covered the subject I of the ancient feudal system of Europel, owing to its being till then imperfectly understood” For Tod, Hallam was “the enlightened historian of the Feudal System in the Middle Ages”. Unlike Hume, Gibbon and Montesquieu, upon whom Tod also drew for his comparisons between European and Mewar feudalism, Hallam depicted feudal Europe not as the “dark ages” but as an era of valor and chivalry whose “natural seeds” were implanted at Mewar well before they were in Europe.
It is Ted’s Romantic provenance and historiography which lie behind much writing about Rajasthan. His cadences and vocabulary, though not his factual assertions, can be heard to echo in Kesri Singh’s Haldighati essay. In it he is more interested in imaginative than objective truth about the past, in truth that inspires, that shapes a vision or a myth about the past. His essay suggests that he would are with Ted that if “the moral effect of history depend on the sympathy it excites, the annals of these states possess commanding interest, The struggle of a brave people for independence during a series of ages, sacrificing whatever was dear to them for the maintenance of the religion of their forefathers, and sturdily defending to the death, and in spite of every temptation, their ii guts and national liberty, forms a picture which it is difficult to contemplate without emotion’ Like Ted, Kesri Singh says that his Haldighati essay involves ‘retelling a tale that really thrilled me to the core.”
We hear echoes of Tod’s passionate admiration of Mewar in Kesri Singh’s “The Story of the Battle of Haldighati” and “The Maharana and, the Muse” essays. How was it that Ted came to be such a keen admirer of Mewar ? The answer lies in Tod’s involvement with the Romantic movement in Europe, particularly its manifestation in Britain. The Romantic movement opposed the French revolution’s enlightenment rationalism, the budding industrial revolution’s commercialism and utilitarianism self-interested individualism. Its principal spokespersons were the romantic poets, Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, author of feudal romances like Ivanhoe, and Lord Byron, the prophet of nationalism who, seemingly, gave his life in the cause of Greek freedom.
How did Tod become a Romantic? There is no obvious answer, although the result is clear. He came of age with the Romantics and in this sense could have shared in their reaction to the French and industrial revolutions. But he was not formally educated - i.e. he did not, like the Romantics, attend Eton or Harrow or Oxford or Cambridge. Instead, in 1799 at 17 he arrived in Bengal as an East India Company cadet and began a military career in India. One has to infer from the content and footnotes of his Annals and Antiquities that he educated himself in a most remarkable way. A careful study of his footnotes in relation to the arguments and interpretations of his text makes clear that his guru was Henry Hallam [17’77-1859]. Tod frequently cites with approval Hallam’s book against the likes of Hume, Gibbon and Montesquieu, who diet the middle ages as dark and depraved. Hallam presents the virtues of the feudal era against the Enlightenment and Utilitarian image of an era of whose religion and priests taught superstition and ignorance, whose knights glorified violence and whose landlords perpetuated poverty. For Enlightenment and Utilitarian authors feudal Europe was an era of evil priests, parisitic nobles and despotic kings. For Hallam it was an era when honor, heroism and devotion inspired great deeds by great men. Hallam provides the intellectual context out of which Tod constructs his notions of feudalism Mewar and of its struggle for ‘national liberty’ against a despotic empire. We hear echoes of Tod’ s leitmotifs in Kesri Singh’s essay on Haidighati.
The essay, The Maharana and the Muse, concludes the volume. Here again voice and mood change. Rana Pratap, Kesri Singh tells us, ‘has remained a perennial source of inspiration for the poets.” What follows is a feast of Rajasthan Dingal poetry in translation There are few, perhaps pone, as well equipped as Kesri Singh to create such translations. He is a master of Dingal and of English. His translations reflect not only his command of both languages but also his poetic imagination and fluency. It takes a poet to translate a poet.
In the pages that follow we find the poems of Pratap’s contemporaries, the much cited Rathor Prithviraj; Durso, “the premier poet of his times”; Malo who, on meeting Pratap, “felt [his....body and soul cleansed of all impurities and guilt” and Sandoo Rama who, wounded while “fighting along with Pratap against the imperial army of Akbar on the field of Haldighati”, recounts in verse the encounter between the Mughal warrior, Bahlol Khan and the Maharana Kesri Singh concludes with some nineteenth century poems about Rana Pratap by Swami Ganeshpuri and with his own “geet” of eight stanzas about Pratap’s prowess on the field of Khamnor.
The poetry, unreservedly inspirational and iconographic, is epitomized by the concluding couplet by Maithili Sharan Gupta addressed to Lord Rama which, Kesri Singh avers, “could be addressed with equal truth to Pratap, the magnificent monarch of Mewar, and ‘the Helicon still of the Musk.”
It is not surprising that Kesri Singh should be in effect a modem charan. Descendant of several distinguished charan families and a Mayo College graduate in an era when English was the master subject, he reflects in his historical and literary concerns the fruits of both legacies. His reading of Rajput history reflects too, as we have noted, Tod’s hermeneutic and literary language. It does not follow that he accepts Tod’s history. Indeed he corrects him on several points such as who commanded the Mughal army at Haldighati and the size of the forces involved.
Kesri Singh finds Tod’s account of Rana Pratap’s conduct at the baffle unacceptable. Pratap he contends, did not flee the battlefield in a manner inconsistent with the Rajput ethic. His withdrawal was strategic as well as tactical, both deliberate and planned. Rana Pratap, he argues, did not “lose” the baffle, as partisans of Akbar or Raja Man Singh want to claim. But neither did he ‘win”. As Kesri Singh so felicitously puts it in his Haldighati essay: “The field no doubt remained with Man. But for the Emperor’s army no victory was ever more like defeat; for Mewar, no retreat more glorious”. In the eyes of votaries of “national liberty” Mewar in Pratap’s lifetime remained independent. And if his successors, starting with his son Rana Amar Singh, made peace with the emperor in Delhi, they did so on terms that distinguished Mewar from the other Rajput States. But the Mewar of Pratap and his successors was not the Mewar of Rana Kumbha or Rana Sanga, the hegemonic state leading the “confederacy” that dominated northern India and, as the most ancient among Rajput Kingdoms, assigned the most honored position. Still honored, but diminished, the Mewar of Pratap’s successors reluctantly participated in the shared sovereignty of the Mughal and British empires.
Why does it matter Because at Haldighati, Man Singh of Amber and Pratap Singh of Mewar compete for the master narrative of Indian history. Pratap’ s struggle symbolized, in the surrogate history that Indian nationalists constructed at the turn of the century, the heroism of the freedom struggle against the despotic power of empire.
But there are other possible constructions. Man Singh of Amber was all that Pratap refused to be, commander of conquering Mughal armies, governor of Mughal provinces, an honored figure at the Mughal court, courted by the empire, which was solicitous to preserve his loyalty. Man Singh stood in the service of a different vision of Indian polity, one in which regional kingdoms were subsumed to a larger sub-continental polity. and in which culture was, to use a current phrase, composite. Pratap was not only the emblem of independence. He was also the emblem of the regional kingdom refusing larger sub-continental governance, and of resistance to composite culture.
Because history provides the metaphors in terms of which men and women lead their current lives, Haldighati and its symbolism will continue to attract the poet and the historian, and listeners to Kesri Singh’s muse.
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