So Who Won at Haldighati?

It is for his­to­ri­ans to rise up to the chal­lenge and de­fend their dis­ci­pline against ar­bi­trary claims

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas - Anir­ban Bandy­opad­hyay

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

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