Saturday, March 14, 2009

Roses of Haldighati
From being the site of a heroic battle to a field of roses, Haldighati in Rajasthan has undergone a sea change, reports Tribune correspondent Jupinderjit Singh

Even  33 years after a huge statue of Maharana Pratap, riding his famous steed, was built, it is yet to be unveiled
Even 33 years after a huge statue of Maharana Pratap, riding his famous steed, was built, it is yet to be unveiled

Haldighati, the mere mention of the word throws up images of valour, heroism and honour. The battle of Haldighati was fought between the forces of Maharana Pratap and Emperor Akbar for the honour of the motherland and Rajputs. Over 20,000 soldiers were slain in the bitter clash. According to a story so much blood had been shed that it had formed a large pool. That place is called Rakt Talai in memory of those who died there.

While these tales have become legends, the dusty valley lies forgotten barring a few signs reminding of its existence.

A large cut-out of Rana Pratap in battle outfit, holding a spear and riding his famous steed Chetak, invites passers-by to the valley, which lies on the Udaipur-Nathdwara road, 16 km off the highway and 40 km short of Udaipur.

As one turns towards the link road off the highway to the place that was an inseparable part of the Indian folklore since centuries,`A0a hostile and depressing topography meets the eye, conjuring up images and sounds of war cries, clanking of swords, hoof-steps and the wails and moans of the injured.

The colour of the land and the hills changes rapidly as one gets closer to the actual`A0valley. From a depressing brown it becomes a bright turmeric. The valley, hence, got its name from the deep yellow colur of its sand.`A0

As one drives further into the valley, a surprise awaits. The valley, which was once filled with blood, still retains this crimson, albeit in a different form. Roses bloom where once death ruled.

Colourful boards advertising several rose products dot the landscape. They claim to have the world’s finest perfumes as well as gulkand, gulab jal, and several other products, including a special medicine for diabetes.

Rare blooms

There are rows of boards tempting visitors to buy roses and rose products. In this valley of valour, roses of one of the finest varieties — the chaitri — bloom in plenty, though only for a month in a year.

The place is the biggest exporter of rose products. Savita, who sells these products, says anyone who comes here is amazed on seeing the roses. "It is like an oasis. It’s a pity that these crimson red and milky pink flowers bloom for just one month. Otherwise, many big industries would have rushed here, manufacturing tonnes of rose products," she says.

But doesn’t the single crop make it more special? "Yes," agrees Mohan Shrimali, an expert in rose products and owner of Maharana Pratap Memorial Museum. "Doctors and beauticians all over the world prefer products made from chaitri rose, for its proven therapeutic benefits. It tightens the skin, making it look younger, and is also a natural moisturiser. According to ayurveda, rose is associated with romance because it balances sadhaka pitta, the subdosha of pitta that governs the emotions and their effect on the heart," says Shrimali.

An interesting fact is that the seed of this bloom was sown in the battle of Haldighati. Folklore has it that soldiers of Akbar had brought along saplings of this rare variety of rose. Rose plants have been growing here for the past four centuries, but it was only in the last two decades or so that the cultivation became organised.

It seems a marvel of nature that amidst this lifeless blood-soaked land, nicely cultivated rose beds greet the visitors. There are rocky, barren, parched hills, dotted with thorny bushes. There is hardly any vegetation in the Aravali Hills. Yet rose plants are being cultivated in the valley.

This phenomenon seems to be the Nature’s way of paying tributes to the brave sons of the soil, who died here defending their motherland.`A0

Haldighati, which connects the present day Rajsamand and Pali districts, was a symbol of Rajputana pride as it was the gateway to Udaipur, and Kumbalgarh, the Kashmir of the desert. More than winning the forts, Akbar wanted to crush the esteem of the Rajputs.

The battle took place between Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar and Raja Man Singh of Amber, general of the Mughal emperor Akbar.

Today a magnificent park has come up at the place, courtesy the Archaeology and the National Conservation Department. Sadly, there is no befitting memorial.

Unique tribute

An impressive and modern museum has been built by a local teacher Mohan Shrimali after state and Central authorites failed to do so
An impressive and modern museum has been built by a local teacher Mohan Shrimali after state and Central authorites failed to do so

All governments in the state and at the Centre have treated Maharana Pratap with equal apathy. None has erected a memorial despite making tall promises.

But where the governments failed, one son of the soil came forward to do the needful.

Way back in 1976, Indira Gandhi launched a project of erecting a memorial to Rana Pratap. Even after 33 years the memorial is yet to be built.

But the government apathy has not prevented a local son of the soil from doing his bit in remembering the great warrior. Born and brought up in the Haldighati area, Mohan Shrimali became a teacher and went to teach in a school in Udaipur. But his heart was always in his birthplace. And there was pain, too, that how Rana Pratap’s own land has forgotten him.

For years he implored the government and private agencies to build a memorial. But when no one obliged, Shrimali ventured on his own.

Today an impressive and modern museum has been built in the valley. Shrimali has spent every penny in his pocket to achieve that. "I have already invested Rs 2 crore in the project. For years, I made rounds of government offices, met politicians and bureaucrats but no one bothered. So I took it upon myself. That was the only way I could sleep peacefully."

The museum has a gallery of paintings and models depicting the life and times of Maharana Pratap. The best feature of the museum is a light-and-sound show in a cave-like structure. Visitors can also buy good-quality rose products at nominal rates here.

Speaking about his dream project Shrimali says, "I was born in Haldighati. I started building the museum on my own land. In these 20 years, I have sold all my ancestral property, except a house in Udaipur. All my savings, family jewellery etc. were put in the project."

He faced more downs than ups. No bank agreed to finance him. "We don’t fund non-profitable ventures, especially a museum. Who will come to these cruel ravines?" Shrimali was told. But undeterred, the man went on.

Interestingly, after the museum took shape, the government tried to take control of it. "Even now, one or the other government agency harasses me on different pretexts," he says.

In sharp contrast to this individual effort, stands the memorial by the government, announced in 1976 by Mrs Indira Gandhi when she visited Haldighati.

The full memorial is yet to come up. Only a terrace garden overlooking the valley and a huge statue of Maharana Pratap, riding his famous steed, has been installed there. Ironically, even after 33 years the statue is covered with`A0a plastic sheet waiting for some VIP to unveil it.

Battle for honour

The battle of Haldighati was not just one of the many fierce clashes between the Mughal and Rajput forces to annexe land or retrieve it`A0(in case of Rajputs). It was the battle for the Rajputana honour. Many powerful kings of Rajasthan, including those of Jaipur, Bikaner and Boondi, were with Akbar. Rana Pratap had already alienated them by taunting how they had given their daughters and sisters to Akbar to barter peace.

James Tod, in his highly acclaimed book Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, recorded that the great Rana took on Akbar despite all odds. After all efforts by Akbar to win over Rana Pratap failed, the Mughal king sent his son Salim to lead the battle.

Aided by the advisers of Maharaja Maan Singh of Jaipur, whose sister Jodha was the mother of Prince Salim, the Mughals amassed their force in the valley. The great Rana, too, had been looking for such an oppurtunity.

Haldighati provided him the best opportunity. He observed that the Mughal forces had camped on a large ground in the valley, which later came to be known as Badshah Bagh. Rana enticed the forces to march towards the treacherous valley, where he had strategically placed the gallant Bhil tribals.

When the Mughal forces marched through the narrow gorge called the Neck of Haldighati, the tribals attacked and butchered them mercilessly. Several attempts of passing the narrow and deep ravine failed as thousands lay slain.

The demoralised Mughal forces were pushed to the wall. The brave and clever Rana then attacked the Mughal camp. The Rana’s horse, whose tale of valour and duty is as immortal as his rider, looked different that day. Pratap had put an elephant’s mask, including the trunk and the teeth, on the face of the horse. This was done to confuse the elephant of Raja Maan Singh.

The ploy succeeded as Chetak successfully brought the Rana within striking distance of Maan Singh. Providence saved him as he managed to flee, hiding under the seat on the elephant.

Rana Pratap and his soldiers followed the fleeing Mughal forces. In its enthusiasm and over-confidence, the Rana’s army forgot that the combined forces of the Mughals and Rajputs still outnumbered it. Both armies came face to face in a large ground where, according to historians, thousands died in a battle that lasted for four hours.

Both sides suffered huge losses. Chetak succumbed to injuries but only after it had taken his master to safety, jumping a wide river only on three legs. And as Rana wept at the loss, skies too cried in form of rain, forming the Rakt Talai (pond of blood). Folklore has it that red sand came out while digging centuries after the famous battle.