Here's a story of a legendary king and his battles. But it's also a story about a horse…
From a story of an eternal tree to an eternal legend. . . Come listen to an unforgettable tale of a man and his horse!
This story comes from Rajasthan, a land that is part desert and part mountainous. The many clans of Rajputs who live in this inhospitable land are as fierce as the sun that beats down on them and as strong as the Aravalli mountains that run along the state's eastern boundary. They bring colour and life to an otherwise barren land.
Nearly a thousand years ago, the clan of Rathores moved into Maru Pradesh or Land of Death as the region of Marwar was then called. There they found one of the greatest treasures of all times — the Marwari horse. Do you know that it is one of five indigenous horse breeds of India? Well, on with my story. The beauty, spirit, intelligence and loyalty of the horse amazed the new settlers; they went about the business of breeding them. In a few hundred years, Rathores and other Rajputs had an impressive cavalry of over 50,000 men. From then on began the great romance of Rajput warriors and their marwaris.
Maharajah Udai Singh, a Rajput ruler, was defeated at Chittoorgarh in 1568. Much to his disgrace as a Rajput warrior, he fled his capital to form a new one at Udaipur. Four years later his son Rana Pratap Singh took the reins of Mewar and for the next 25 years, ruled with courage, patriotism and determination.
Shall I now begin one of the greatest love stories, one of a warrior king and his horse?
Then came a supreme test of his kingship.
In 1576 the imperial army of Mughal Emperor Akbar made its way to capture Udaipur. Maharana Pratap and his men waited at the entrance to a narrow one-km long pass in the Aravalli Mountains. The pass called Haldighati was the only access to Mewar for the advancing army. A bloody battle between the armies lasted four hours. People remember not the defeat of Maharana Pratap but the courage and loyalty of his men and his horse.
Chetak, for that was the name of his horse, proved to be a marwari horse and more. In the thick of the battle, an elephant's tusk tore through one of Chetak's rear legs and crippled it. But the horse would not give up. With his wounded king on the saddle, Chetak made his way back to safety on his three good legs and collapsed.
Another remarkable act of loyalty which the king could never forget was of a soldier who grabbed the king's crown and wore it, as the Mughal army closed in on the Rajputs. The deception worked. While the enemy soldiers followed the “king” and killed him. Maharana Pratap had time to escape.
Beautiful, isn't it?
The years after the Battle of Haldighati were difficult for the ruler of Mewar. Living in the jungles, sleeping on straw and eating off leaf plates, the warrior king, his family and his subjects continued their fight to recapture their land. In 25 years, the king had regained most of his kingdom except Chittoor. On his death bed, he made his successor and eldest son Amar Singh promise that as long as Mewar was not completely won back, no ruler should eat off gold or silver plates and sleep on mattresses. Even today, the Mewar royal family places a leaf under their plate and straw under their beds to keep the promise made to Maharana Pratap Singh.
The greatest tribute to this great warrior were the tears that welled up in Akbar's eyes when he heard of the news of the death of a king he could not defeat.