Maharana Pratap & The Phenomena of Legenditis

In the times of manufactured perceptions and image gloss-over PR factories, it is rather commonplace to find humans being inflated into super-humans and truth being replaced by post-truth. But distortion, exaggeration or propaganda aren’t that new to this global trend. Back in history, Orientalist gaze used this trick to change the lens with which the world saw the East; all with a mild tweaking of narrative. Cinema acted as a propaganda tool to malign certain communities or push forth the specific ideologies during the Cold War era. Anglicization of African and Asian history, literature and culture made their own identity appear alien to them.

Such has been the case of the ruler of Medieval Mewar, Maharana Pratap, who has been tossed between binaries of bardic puffery and conspiratorial diminution.

Maharana is remembered as an icon of moral uprightness, courage and perseverance but with time, this posthumous popularity of Maharana has been appropriated by political ideologues to retrofit him into their respective molds. While the Right wing tries to project Maharana as the staunch Dharmic puritan, who wouldn’t even dine with Man Singh for allying and marrying off their daughters to a ‘Turk’; on the other hand, Progressive Left and Liberal lobbies would cancel the stature of Maharana by ridiculing the legends associated with him. Extremities of both these schools of thought mete gross injustice to the life and account of Maharana, which largely remains incomprehensible & clouded by controversies, owing to this political slugfest.

Trend of Canceling the Bardic Accounts and Oral History

“Haldghat Rann Ditithiya, Ik Saathey Treya Bhaan!

Rann Udai Ravi Astga, Madhya Tapt Makwaan!!”

(It was an exceptional coincidence that in the battlefield of Haldighat (18 June 1576), three Suns shone at the same time. The first was the illustrious shining star and Royal Scion Maharana Pratap. The second morning rising star that as the bright Sun everyday moves physically through the sky towards the western mountains to be set during evening hours. The third Sun was Jhalamaan, on that day of battlefield like the midday scorching Sun plunges ahead in war to stand by the side of brave warrior Maharana Pratap.)

Downplaying of such bardic compositions by calling them invented accounts and sponsored royal self-fashioning has its roots in the periodization of Hindi literature into two periods (branches) of Bhaktikaal and Ritikaal; while Bhakti was attributed to the folk and Ritikaal was associated with the feudal system. After having been linked to the feudal system, literature of the Ritikal was considered of ‘low status’. Ramvilas Sharma even called Riti Kavya as feudal or court poetry, thereby denying the respectable recognition to orally preserved Royal accounts of Rajputana rulers. This lays the basis for Progressive Left Liberal thinktanks’ contempt for the bardic tradition and academic denialism of the historicity of any such poetic odes and folklores. Hence, the bardic references to Maharana’s valour and the poetic saga of his sacrifice is seen with suspicion and questioned on authenticity.

Element of exaggeration in folklores can be explained as a tool used by Charans (a class of bards that used to accompany warriors at warfront) to motivate the troops in Rajput armies by praising their martial exploits. The character of ruling kings used to be apparently praised and rendered to be as Saviour and equal to Gods, so the lyrics of folklores used to idealize the legendary figure which was almost like doing, in Carlyle words, ‘hero-worship’. Despite the literary embellishment, these verses represented poets’ deep-rooted indebtedness, consciousness and dedication for the illustrious warrior, whose persevered and instinctual drive to stake his life for the honor of his countrymen, region and by and large his motherland against injustice and oppression.1 Hence, bards and folklores cannot be plainly judged for aptness of projection.

Thin line between Myth and Mithya

All human civilizations of the world have had myth in their culture and manifestations from the very beginning but there is a fine line between myth and mithya (‘lies’ and ‘imagination’). At times, the myths and farfetched imaginations overlap to such extent that they create a larger-than-life image of the subject; a phenomena to which even legend of Maharana Pratap has fallen prey to.

Oft cited poem ‘Harey Ghas Ri Roti’ by Kanhaiyyalal Sethiya has birthed the myth of Maharana and his family yearning for a daily bread made of grass during their ambushment. But reasonable explanation of this ‘grass bread’ myth is that during the hiding, Maharana had vowed to capture Chittaur again and until he accomplishes this vow, he imposed an austerity regime, in which food was to be eaten only in ‘leaf plates’, not in gold or silver vessels. Additionally, he vowed that beards were not to be trimmed, and they would sleep only on straw mats, till Chittaurgarh was regained. It is possible that an interpolation between ‘leaf plates’ and ‘grass bread’ was sketched, which later coalesced into an overblown myth. Few scholars like Col. Todd are of the opinion that it was due to an old Mewari custom of eating on a banana leaf that Maharana ate on a leaf plate even during his period of hiding.2

“The Rajas eat from the earthen pots ,

You still eat from the leaf-plate ,

This is your way, O  Rana,

O son of Udai Singh”3

Arms and Armor: Weighing Facts against Fiction

Often used as a petty tool of scaling up the fiesty image of Maharana Pratap, claims about the exaggerated weight of his arms and armour and his own height are circulated in popular discourse, which becomes an object of ridicule because of its bogusness. It is falsely claimed that Maharana’s armour weighed 80 kgs and he was himself a 7 feet tall man.

However, proofs suggest otherwise. Bhupendra Singh Auwa, the Administrative Officer at Udaipur Museum says, “Maharana Pratap was not a giant man. His height must have been about five feet seven inches. The weight of his spear, shield, sword, chest armor is not as much as people are claiming. We opened this museum in 2003. And we got all of Maharana Pratap’s armour weighed. Then kept it in the museum. Along with this, the authentic weights of the arms and armour are also written on the board so that people would know that the total weight of all was 35 kg. But for the last several years, this rumor has been floating about his weight.”

Now, the question arises that why the detail about the arms & his own physique was was literally blown out of proportion, when his actual feat of achievements need no puffed up prologues and exaggerations to be lauded? The answer lies in the South-Asian perception of manhood, where archetypes of heroism have a strong component of masculinity. Our perception of masculinity is strongly influenced by a set of traits, behaviors and roles associated with men and boys. Attributes like strength, courage, independence, leadership, and assertiveness are the basic parameters of masculinity, and any aberration from it is likely to be considered shameful.4 Hence, the historians who distorted the facts and adulterated it with fiction did it to reinforce the image of their king as an outworldly muscleman, who invoked fear amongst the foes and pride amongst the followers. Although, a resilient warrior like Maharana Pratap, who fought valiantly against all odds, needs no extravagant praises to attest to his valour but to lubricate the public perception of his heroism, this false narrative of his heavyweight armour is circulated & then mocked, resulting in deterioration of his image.

Usurped by the Whirlpool of Hyper-Nationalist & Bigoted Rhetoric

Although in this critical time of hyper-nationalism and bigotry, the cauldrons of boiling sentiments churn everything historic in its mould; but it has been rather sacrilegious the way Maharana Pratap’s identity and life events have been appropriated to fan the partisan rhetoric of caste staunchism and religious monopoly.

Oft cited event of Maharana Pratap refusing to dine with Man Singh for his family’s matrimonial alliance with the Turks is exhibited as his ‘staunchness of caste ideals’ and notions of purity & pollution. But eminent historians, including Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Dr Raghubir Singh and Dr Gopinath Sharmahave dismissed this far-fetched narrative.  “This story has no tinge of truth about it. The simple fact of an interview and Rana’s objection of going to the court has been coloured by bardic imagination,” Dr Sharma writes.

In fact, such narrow-mindedness was out of question for a liberal person like Maharana, who had a secular army. An Afghan contingent led by Hakim Khan Sur, Ram Singh Tanvar of Gwalior with all his sons, the descendants of Jaimal and Patta and a Bhil contingent led by Rana Poonja were all on Pratap’s side. As a matter of fact, Maharana bore no monolithic entity ever and was therefore, called the invincible king of the people, Rana Kika. Historically, the rulers of Mewar enjoyed the support of the neighboring tribal Bhil community. “When the chips were down, Pratap moved from one place to the other, living among the people, endearing himself to them,” Historian Rima Hooja adds that His clout with the masses paid off. The leader’s life of exile amplified his contact with his subjects, enriching the repertoire of stories about his nobility, generosity and courage that grew with the years. After his exile, Pratap once again, managed to raise an army, and resources with the help of Bhama Shah, a philanthropist & minister of kingdom of Mewar.

Maharana Pratap’s princely conduct, for instance, was such that it was praised far and wide, even by those from the enemy camp. For instance, poet Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana, one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court, wrote the stanza in praise of Maharana after he spared the lives of his female family members & freed them, out of chivalrous Rajputi tradition.

“या कुल को यही वाक्य है, जानत सब संसार..जो दृढ़ राखे धर्म को, ताही राखे करतार”,

…which was later embodied into Mewar coat of arms. These testaments speak of the broad minded and inclusive ethos of Maharana Pratap and belie those fractious claims which are deviously designed to typecast Maharana in the monolithic mould of caste & religion.

Contesting Claims on Battle Won or Lost

The Hero of Haldighati is often dragged into the textbook battles with different versions on the battle of Haldighati, with some mentioning that the battle was inconclusive while the others stating that Maharana Pratap lost in the clash. This proxy war of narratives has turned academics and social media into a boxing ring, with one side pitching their narratives against the other, in the meantime, sidelining objective facts and crushing actual history.

While caste leaders make it a prestige issue to pitch Mewar as a winning side, the politicians slip into the side which is most convenient to them; while some factions leave no stone unturned in parroting that Mewar lost the battle of Haldighati as the Rajputs had been ‘defeat-specialists’.5

Haldighati, seen in a historic perspective, speaks of its own tale. Historian and Archaeologist Rima Hooja shows in her book, Maharana Pratap: The Invincible Warrior, was far more complicated to allow for such pat, self-serving appropriation. In the chapter on Haldighati, which comes well into the book, Hooja concurs with the middle path: “both sides claimed victory” but no one emerged as the decisive winner, she argues.

While Akbar’s army, led by Raja Man Singh, was left in control of Mewar, Pratap and his men fled into the surrounding forests, refusing to surrender. The typical Rajput code of accepting defeat involved committing Shaka by the men (who fought unto death) and Jauhar by the women and children (who immolated themselves to escape dishonour at the hands of the conquering enemy). None of these rituals was followed at the end of the Battle of Haldighati. As the 20th-century scholar Kesri Singh wrote, “…for the Emperor’s army, no victory was ever more like defeat; for Mewar, no retreat ever more glorious.”

Maharana and his army’s ‘strategic retreat’ from Haldighati cannot be broad-brushed as either a defeat or as a victory, as the more decisive Battle of Dewair followed in 1582 that saw Mewar’s army retaliating against the imperial forces with a changed warfare of Guerilla technique and recovered most of their Mewar kingdome except Chittaur, Mandalgarh and Ajmer. Col Todd, the colonial anthropologist, described these momentous battles as “Haldighati is the Thermopylae of Mewar while the field of Dewair is the Marathon of Mewar”, outlining their decisive outcomes.

These attestations deflate the one-sided rumours & preferential versions of different motivated quarters and lays bare the ground reality of ‘what happened and when and how’.


Battling Narratives

History cannot be a balm for ego-massage and can neither be an instrument of humiliation or demoralization. Sacredness of facts can never be violated, no matter how much that dents our popular perceptions or political rhetoric. Maharana Pratap’s magnanimity owes no credits to the misinformation and fake news circulated about him by detractors and followers alike. It is high time that true history of Mewar’s Maharana is insulated from false exaggerations and belittling attempts and is resurrected with the sacredness of its unsullied truth.

© Aeshvarya Thakur


  1. Singh, Jayshree. (2019). FOLK-LORE OF VEER RASA IN CONTEXT OF MAHARANA PRATAP’S VALOUR. 10.33329/joell.61.48.
  2. Rana, Bhawan Singh. Maharana Pratap. India, Diamond Pocket Books, 2005.
  3. Satyarthi, Devendra. Meet My People: Indian Folk Poetry. India, Navyug, 1987.

क्षत्रिय सामाजिक, राजनीतिक और धार्मिक चेतना मंच।

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