So Who Won at Haldighati?
It is for historians to rise up to the challenge and defend their discipline against arbitrary claims
The Board of Studies in Rajasthan University is reportedly considering a proposal to commission history textbooks with a definitive statement that Rana Pratap had won the battle of Haldighati against the Mughal forces in 1576.
The existing knowledge, as made available by practising historians, is that he had lost.
This, mind you, is different from the fact the he had not admitted defeat, and continued to offer resistance to Mughal forces until much later. That is clearly mentioned in every credible history book dealing with the episode. There is no need to recall at the moment that Akbar’s troops in the battle were led by a certain Man Singh, who incidentally had been a Rajput himself.
The dispute is, therefore, one of fact, not of opinion. Did Rana Pratap win the battle or lose it? Surely, if some Rajasthan ministers, without any specialised study or training in history, can claim authority in arbitrating facts of history, so can readers of this column. Indeed, it should not require rigorous training in history from any university or research institute to decide a particular fact.
There are debates about the valence of individual facts, whether each of them is an abstract unit, and makes sense as such, independent of how they are organised in a story. These debates can wait. For the moment, let us assume that facts as independent units can be verified.
Let us consider one contemporary source. The term ‘contemporary source’ refers to documents or recorded voices from the time in which the event in question has occurred. They are considered more reliable than later recollections, or memory. The point has been made in several pieces by historians in regard to the Padmavati controversy a few days earlier.
This is not to say that the later memory has no real value. It simply means that it has a different kind of reality. There is a difference between what happened, and what you recall having happened 20 years later, for instance. Your recall is not necessarily without any value. But it is not truth value of the kind associated with the graphic description of an eyewitness, for instance.
His-story, My Story
Recollections and myths are not history. They are useful but not as history, but within history. As a methodological strategy, therefore, a contemporary testimony is preferred more than a later recall. It is a settled practice, in India and abroad, among professional practitioners of history.
A historian of warfare in Mughal India was kind enough to pass on a primary source, one that is not terribly unfamiliar to an informed audience: Akbarnama.
Incidentally, not too many contemporary Rajput sources for details of the battle are available.
This lack of information is to be regretted and, indeed, lamented. They cannot, however, be replaced by later recollections circulating through family memories or 19th-century romance novels about the valour of Rajput kings.
The Akbarnama, written in Farsi by Abul Fazl, is more widely read in the English translation by Annette Beveridge, published by the Asiatic Society, Kolkata, in 1939. Pages 244247 of this over-1,000-page work refer to the battle of Haldighati in some de- tail. The description is graphic, and the Rana’s valour is actually praised, mind you, by a chronicler sponsored by his enemy.
Rana Pratap’s forces, which were a confederacy of a number of Rajput tribes and not just the Rana’s own forces, even secured initial advantages. Then, according to the Akbarnama, the elephants entered the battle and it took a different turn, particularly after the sudden death of Ram Prashad, the prize elephant of Rana Pratap’s forces.
There was reportedly a cry at the time that Emperor Akbar himself was now entering the battle on a swift horse, and Abul Fazl writes that that might have made the enemy lose heart. What really happened is that a reinforcement arrived to strengthen the Mughal army. “The wretched fled and hastened to the defiles of the hill country,” Fazl concludes, and the tired imperial army did not pursue them.
There are other contemporary sources too, such as Nizamuddin Ah- mad’s Tabaqat-i-Akbari, and Abdul Qadir Badauni’s Muntakhwab-utTwarikh. Both the works are available and the curious are most welcome to consult them.
Second Battle of Haldighati
There is no doubt, frankly, that the Rana had indeed lost the battle. If detractors have to displace this version of events, they must produce contemporary sources, with equal, if not more, details.
There is no need to presume, as yet, that historians to be appointed by the Board of Studies in the Rajasthan University will accede to the unreasonable demands of a handful of ruling party MLAs.
It is for the historians on the board to rise up to the challenge and defend their discipline against arbitrary claims. History will not change if they fail. To err is human, and to submit to pressure from paymasters is even more human. It is only their credibility as historians that will be consigned to irrelevance.
Reconstruction of history, 2017 AD