In September, 1567, the Mughal emperor Akbar undertook one of the most famous military operations of his life, the siege and capture of Chittorgarh. To the ruler of Northern India the importance of Rajasthan was great, through it lay the route to Gujarat, the Narmada valley and the Deccan and without the possession of its strong fortresses he could not feel himself secure. The key to Rajasthan was Mewar whose capital Chittorgarh was the ‘sanctuary of Rajput freedom'. The solemn vow of the ranas of Mewar, that they would not sully their blood by matrimonial alliance with any Muslim ruler nor diminish the honour of the house of Bappa Rawal by acknowdedging his sovereignty, wounded the imperial pride of Akbar.
The Rajput annals refer to an unsuccessful attempt before that of 1567 when Chittorgarh was saved by ‘the masculine courage’ of its queen, but Muslim chronicles are absolutely silent on it.
Akbar attacks Chittor
Legend and history are equally eloquent in praising the grandeur and strength of the historic fortress of Chittorgarh, the handiwork of both art and nature, which stands on a long narrow hill, lying almost exactly north and south and about 500 feet above the surrounding plain. Its length is about three miles and a quarter and its greatest breadth, half a mile. In the time of Akbar the city was on the hill within the fort. On 23 October, 1567, Akbar pitched his camp before Chittorgarh. On the approach of the Mughul army rana Udai Singh, the unworthy son of a worthy father who had fought gloriously against the emperor's grandfather, abandoned the capital and took refuge in the defiles of the Aravalli hills. But this did not facilitate the capture of the fortress in which there was a strong garrison commanded by Jaimal Rathore of Bednor who had bravely resisted Sharaf-ud-din Husain in Merta.[ref]
Jaimal's Strong Resistance
There was a strong garrison in fortess commanded by Jaimal Rathore. Abul Fazal describes the battle of Chittorgarh in the Akbarnama as -
"The two armies raised their lances they were all iron-fisted, they were all biters of steel, All were famous and were clad in iron;The heroes brandished swords red with blood; They mowed down with swords and elephant - trunks; You'd say serpents were being rained down from the clouds; One paid off hus debt of hate with lance and sword;Sometimes the heart was riven, sometimes the breast was consumed; Tulips were painted by his dagger ; There was a rain of rings from the heroes' armour."
Akbar made many unsuccessful attempts to take it by direct assault which caused heavy loss of 200 men a day. Finding the attempts to capture the fort by assault useless, three principal batteries were erected and mines were constructed to create gaps in its walls. The first battery was set up just opposite the Lakhota gate in the northern side of the fort under the charge of Hasan Khan Chaghatai, Rai Patiar Das, Qazi Ali, Ikhtiyar Khan Faujdar and Kabir Khan. The second battery was located opposite Suraj Pol in the east under the command of Shujat Khan, Raja Todaml and Qasim Khan. The third one was erected in the south at Chittori Buij under Klwaja Abdul Mazid and Wazir Khan. In the meantime Sabats or covered ways were built for the safe passage and advance of the miners. For this erection work nearly five thousand workers were employed and nearly more than one hundred out of them were daily killed in the course of their work by the shots of the Rajputs. When these preparations of a preliminary nature were ready ,two mines on the northern side of the fort were filled with 120 and 80 md. of gun powder respectively and were set fire to hurl down two bastions on both die sides of Lakhota gate. But unfortunately they did not catch fire at the right moment owing to the shortness of match in the shorter mine. Only the first one took fire on the 17th of Dec., 1567 and when the invaders rushed to enter the fort the second mine also took fire and brought devastation to the rushing friends and defending foe alike. A shower of heads, limbs, mutilated trunks the mingled remains of hundreds of human beings fell on ground. The noise of explosion resounded in the ether all around for several miles. The ramparts and walls were shattered at many places, but men in the fort worked day and night and repaired the breaches as fast as they were made.[ref]
The Mughal could make no great head-way In their attacks by mining operations and battery charges due to the strong defence and natural strength of the fort, yet they did not lose heart and continued steadily with the siege. For four months the little garrison held the Mughal host at bay and checked their advance by swords, spears, stones and catapults. However,suddenly the tide of the battle turned in the midst of tremendous efforts and reckless bravery. Jaimal, the spirit of the Rajput defence and the main stay of their hope while supervising the breaches of the walls near Lakhota gate was shot dead by a stray bullet from Akbar’s gun.[ref]
According to the Muslim historians, Jaimal died and the other officers, despairing of success, had their women and children perform the right of jauhar and opened the gates of the fort the next morning and died fighting . According to Kaviraj Shyamaldas, however, Jaimal was wounded in the leg, and culled a council of war. He explained to them that the stores were exhausted, so it was preferable for the women and children to perform the jauhar and the men to fall on the enemy and die fighting. Most probably, the provisions in the fort were exhausted, the Mughul preparations were almost complete, and on the top came Jaimal's accident. All these factors seem to have influenced the decision of the besieged generals.[ref]
Jauhar and Saka
With his death matters threatened to come to a close. The fame and fortune of Chittorgarh were at that moment under a cloud. The occurrence had made it evident to the Rajputs that the destruction of the fort and the devastation of their garrison were imminent. Instantly the defenders withdrew into the heart of the fort and chose Patta as their next leader to guide them in the action.
In order to deliver their wives and children from the enemies they made them embrace fire. Speechless nurslings and infants embraced the burning fire in the arms of numberless patriotic Rajputnis, headed by the family of Jaimal and Patta, decked in all glory. Accompanied by strains of music and prayer they ascended the pyre with serene assurance. Matrons and virgins engaged themselves in this awe-inspiring self-immolation called ‘Jauhar' with a courage and self-possession, that makes us wonder. Conscious pride had taught them to suppress every tender emotion that stood in the way of honour and chastity.[ref]
When the matrons and children were engaged in this great sacrifice, all men who were fit to bear arms became ready to stake their all for a final attempt. ‘Har-Har-Mahadeo’ the sounds of cymbals, the thumping of terrible drums, shrieks and screams of barbaric horns resounded the atmosphere. The fort wore the face of stern preparedness which in itself must have daunted the enemy. Ac daybreak of the desperate day of the 13th of the dark-half of Chaitra, V.S. 1624 (25th Feb. 1563) the whole fort was on arms and its gates thrown open by the death defying inmates. In spite of the tremendous attempts made by the courageous Rajputs the enemies made successful rush from die gates. Between Hanuman Pol and Bhairo Pol there was a fierce fight and Kalla the notable hero of the Rajputs met a heroic death.[ref]
Then followed the pouring of the Mughal soldiers who rushed to all sides of the fort with sword and fire. Simultaneously a batch of fifty and then of three hundred elephants were sent with swords in their trunks , they trampled many a warrior to death.During the course of this action the emperor riding on an elephant himself was making a round of the fort with his followers. As he reached the temple of Kumbha Shyam, Patta’s body which was trampled under foot of an elephant was presented before him in half-gasping state who after a short while breathed his last then and there.[ref]
Post War Slaughter
Towards the end of the sack, another terrible misfortune descended upon the fort. A population of 30,000 inside the fort, mostly civilian who had taken little part in the actual struggle, was put to sword by the orders of the emperor in a kind of frenzy of victorious aggressiveness. The tide of the battle followed hither and thither, through every street, lane and temple. The ill-armed inhabitants faced their enemy, but could do nothing against the superior strength of the enemies. The horrors continued till afternoon, scarcely any life remained in the miserable fort. The fort which once glowed with wealth and splendour, was changed to a charnel house with smoke and spinel. The Mughal fury was the fire which consumed them to ashes. Ruins of demolished temples, towers, hearths and huts’ of Chittorgarh which remain even to this day have preserved the memory of the horror inflicted on this occasion, though innumerable monuments have sunk into oblivion. But never was there a more monstrous massacre in the blood-stained history of Mewar. How far was Akbar justified in this senseless shedding of blood is for the posterity to decide. The manner in which innocent and illustrious Rajputs were sacrificed at the altar of this inhuman cruelty, excites in our breasts the most lively sensation of terror and pity. This immense slaughter has left a deep stain on the memory and character of the emperor who scarcely deserves the labour of an apology. The triumph of the invading Mughal was a indeed sullied by this act of disgraceful cruelty, which was grave violation of the laws of humanity and justice. Akbar occupied the fort on the 25 th Feb. 1568 A.D. He remainad in his camp for three days arranging affairs and dictating letters announcing his victory. Chittorgarh was made a Sarkar of the Mughal dominion and put under the charge of Asaf Khan.[ref]