mAna siMha the rAShTrakUTa II

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Military strength of the kacHavAhA-s alone was formidable enough, but when others joined ranks against mAna, including the house of bIkAnera, the French-trained and led infantry of sindhiyA-s, the paid afghAn mercenaries, and the detractor fractions of rAThora-s, the build up simply made jodhapura army look like a marriage party. Faced with such an asymmetrical equation mAna suffered major losses and the jaipura confederacy rapidly ran over mAravADa and invested the very capital of jodhapura. The career of mAna seemed to be done with before it had even taken off.

But the asymmetry of forces arrayed against him was only to make his subsequent turn around in the conflict appear as miraculous as his recent ascent to the throne. When everything seemed to be going against him, in a surprise reversal of fate he turned the tables by luring afghAn mercenaries with promise of bribery (although once his object was met he would suspend the payments of promised installments, a characteristic of mAna to which we shall return). The afghans, whose loyalty was ever flexible to align with the highest bidder unless there was a jehAd, took an about turn and unleashed a series of devastating plunders in the domain of jaipur, allowing a forward force of mAna to dash directly to kacHavAhA capital, forcing the gates of jaipur to be shut down for the first time since the founding of the city. This compelled jagat siMha to abandon the siege of jodhpura and rush to secure his capital, only to find his returning army charged at from two sides by the jodhapura detachments, causing a total stalemate for him. On other fronts, through the diplomacy of his kAyastha and vaishya envoys, mAna successfully extracted the conduct of neutrality from bIkAnera and other houses, although his efforts of engaging holkars in neutralizing sindhiyA-s proved futile.

Pressed badly and the conflict proving more costly than estimated, jaipur abandoned kR^iShNa’s hand and desperately proposed to jodhpura a restoration of friendship, which was accepted and sealed through a reciprocal matrimonial alliance: mAna married a kaChavAhI princess and jagata siMha a rAThorian.

Besides his regular force, mAna had the support of an interesting band of militant sAdhU-s fighting under the command of a sanyAsI general named mahanta karmadAsa bhAratI. [Such bands of militant sAdhU-s of nAgA, nAtha and goswAmI varieties have a history going back several centuries, when they had picked up arms in reaction to the Islamist invaders, generally for shielding the tIrtha-s and maTha-s from any sudden eruptions of allAh-u-akbar, and for resisting the invader until the regular Hindu armies, generally of slower mobility than the AtAtAyins, could relieve them. There is an incident of such a band fighting against Akbar’s jehAd in rAjapUtAnA, there is also a less known incident of their liberating ayodhyA for a brief period during awrangzib’s time, and in all probabilities they seem to have also inspired the sikh bands under bandA bairAgI. lAmA tArAnAtha also mentions the unsuccessful attempts of raising similar sAdhU armies in north-east against the jehAd of bakhtiyAr khaljI. Thus the sannyAsins of eighteenth century who gave British an armed resistance in va~Nga, an event eternalized by ba~Nkima chandra through his AnandamaTha, had a long vintage. Captain James Tod, who had occasioned to witness first hand such sAdhU fighters during his visits to rAjapUtAnA, rightly applied to them the title of ‘Hindu Knights Templar’, and Jadunath Sarkar provides a more detailed account in a less circulated work of his dedicated to the history of the nAgA-s. Even to this date, their descendants still symbolically preserve some of the earlier military rigour in some forms. On the outskirts of where we lived in childhood, a nAgA-maTha used to be situated and we have vivid memories of the naked sAdhU-s working out at their mudgara-s].

In an extremely tragic consequence however, kR^iShNA, for whose hand the very confrontation had begun, committed suicide by drinking poison from her father’s hand, and became immortal in the bardic legends. Many accounts provide varying motivations for the tragedy, but in our view the most reasonable seems to be that victorious mAna now turned his attention to mevADa and along with the paid afghan mercenaries pressurized mevADa for the hand of kR^iShNA. Being already engaged to the defeated prince, her marrying mAna would have meant a disgrace for mevADa, but on the other hand since the rAjapUta to whom she was engaged had himself abandoned her hand, retaliation against mAna was also meaningless. Therefore as becoming of a descendant of pratApa, suicide would have appeared more agreeable to kR^iShNA.

Besides this tragedy, the entire episode legitimized mAna’s ascent, established his authority, and further consolidated his faith in the nAtha-s, for whom he established a great maTha and endowed a district he created called mahAmandira comprising several villages, which became a major center of the nAtha-s in west and flourished until British later dismantled its maTha.

mAna siMha, although now in control of his kingdom, is about to face a much more formidable adversity like most of his contemporaries, arising from the altered configurations of geopolitics across the Hindu Nation and the arrival of the Great Game. In the larger picture of the time, maharaTTA-s were now deeply entrenched in internal conflicts with each other, and it seems while they were able to see through the mechanizations of the mlechcHa, were unable to outwit them at it (true to the prophetic assessment of bhUShaNa who had noted a few decades earlier already that, ‘while Hindus remain unsurpassed in manliness and valour, the Europeans are superb at strategizing and trap-laying!’). The inter-maharaTTA rivalry and the British game in encircling them was about to reach its climax, although even now it was the maharaTTA force of dawlatrAva sindhiyA led by his well known French Generals Pierre Cuillier-Perron and Louis Berquin that was controlling the moghal seat in dillI as a maharaTTA puppet, just like mahAdajI sindhiyA had done before him with his own French General Benoît de Boigne. From Indore, the holkars were also growing powerful, now under yashavantarAv holkar, the grandson of legendary general of peshavA, malhArarAv, famous for leading the maharaTTA legions beyond sindhu to hoist the saffron banner in Attock. yashavantarAv also depended upon the French mercenaries in his leading military positions, the most famous of whom was Captain Dudernac.

As an aside, we wonder whether maharaTTA-s could have fared better under Hindu Generals leading the charge, rather than outsourcing the key leadership positions of military, especially of the infantry and artillery, to French. Besides the backlash or jealousy from the native Generals, there is evidence to suggest the frequent treacheries at the worst moment, desertions, and less than spirited fight back by the European mercenaries fighting on the native side. Or whether they could have done better had they at least kept their own Generals in the lead, like the policy mahArAjA raNajIta siMha was following at the same time with much greater success? [While raNajIta siMha had employed Italian Generals like Jean-Baptiste Ventura and Paolo Di Avitabile, French Generals like Claude August Court, and even an American veteran of Russian army Alexander Campbell Gardner, he made it a point to remain suspicious of foreigners and keep them under close control, either directly under his own command on field, or sandwiched between the native senior Generals like hari siMha nAlvA or jassA siMha AhlUvAliyA.]

But coming back to mAna siMha and it is interesting to view these events from the vantage of his position. British had offered a very favorable treaty to the house of jodhapura before mAna had ascended the throne, under the larger policy of keeping the sikha-s, jATa-s, and rAjapUta-s neutral while they liquidated the maharaTTA-s in North India. Their negotiations were on with bhIma siMha rAThora before his premature death. But once mAna took the reign, he outright rejected the British proposal, refused to ratify the treaty which was already ratified by the East India Company and instead sent to them at dillI a draft of his own, with those conditions next to nullified which were the very objects of the British. Governor General Wellesley refused to sign the new treaty, and this was the end of their negotiations with jodhapura. It would seem a bit strange since by this time many others in rAjapUtAnA had already signed some sort of a treaty with British or the other, and rAThora-s being relatively weak would have looked up to some alliance.

But even before he had come to the throne of jodhapura, he was very friendly with yashavantarAv holkar, and had given him support during the latter’s intra-maharaTTA struggles, particularly after holkar had emerged as the potential rallying point in North India having defeated the joint forces of sindhiyA and peshavA on the dIpAvalI eve of 1802.

Once the Anglo-holkar conflicts broke out, mAna took open sides with yashavantarAva, frustrating the English policy of keeping rAjapUta-s neutral. During the 1804 siege of bharatapura, in which jATa-s and Holkars were able to humble the force of famed Lord Lake for a sustained period, not only had mAna sent a horse detachment to assist holkars, but had also brought the holkar family to the safety of his own city where they remained for a whole year despite all the diplomatic pressures the British resident in dillI applied on mAna to hand them over. No wonder, later on during his own contest against jaipur, he had expected his friend from Indore to come to his assistance, although that did not happen.

mAna was probably also inspired by the gorakhAlI-s of kAThamANDU, who were still successful in repulsing the British, and in fact the initial trial ventures by the British towards nepAla were met with such fierce retaliation that the mlechcHa-s were left quite intimidated and tamed. mAna, a spiritual brother of the shAha-s, bound with them in the nAtha brotherhood, probably underestimated the British at the moment.

However within the next decade the entire landscape changed with British gaining all their objectives on almost all the fronts, and the Hindus losing theirs one step by one. By 1805 itself, British had decisively defeated both the holkar and sindhiyA, thrusting on them very restrictive treaties, especially forcing them to cede most of the territories they had acquired beyond their base – holkar all territory to the north of ga~NgA, and sindhiyA all of his to the west of chambal, in south peshavA was already reduced to a puppet, although one more war in the next decade will ultimately seal the fate of the maharaTTA power. Besides, Europe being completely secure with the decisive elimination of Napoleon Bonaparte, angrez were now able to focus on delivering the sucker punch in the Indian colony, concentrating all their resources, technology, and man power to this theater.

Keeping the superb strategy and technology aside, we think British surely had a clear upper hand simply from the point of the quality of their battle-hardened military leadership, with such men leading their companies as Maj. General Charles Cornwallis, who had resisted George Washington in battles of New York, Princeton, Philadelphia and Virginia, before now coming to India to redeem his repute; Arthur Wellesley, whose war-resume boasted of extremely diverse experience across the continents ranging from the Flanders Wars along side the Austrians against the French, the naval war against Spanish in Philippines, action in Iberian peninsula, and finally the Waterloo campaign that ended the career of Napoleon, besides being a superb politician – he retired as the PM of UK; Thomas Hislop who had seen action on the British side during the American as well as French Revolutionary Wars, had commanded naval operations against Dutch in West Indies, had successfully led the Siege of Gibraltar defeating joint armies of Spaniards and French, now leading British action against the maharaTTA-s; General Gerard Lake, veteran of American, French and Irish wars; General David Ochterlony, an American colonial product born in Boston and veteran of a variety of battles in America and Europe before arriving in India (famous for his harem in dillI of over a dozen women). We must also say that the Europeans had also gained a very diverse exposure in different theatres even within India, from va~Nga to karNATa and nepAla to maharaTTA country, and the resulting cross-pollination of experience was a huge advantage to them which Hindus lacked at this stage of conflict to a large extent, with the old generation of the Great maharaTTA Generals gone, who had once scaled the whole map of Hindu Nation. Besides, the British Plan already had the solid backing of a very thorough study of India by now and evaluation of its people. Consider this: Captain James Tod had already surveyed the history and geography of the entire rAjapUta country with every single one of its clan – even though they were politically still independent – and had already produced in the first two decade his celebrated ‘Annals and Antiquities of rAjapUtAnA’, not to mention that the European Indology as a discipline was already flourishing with its second generation with the likes of Colebrooke and Schlegel now in chairs, William Jones dead just a couple of years back. In contrast, we seriously doubt if there was even one Hindu at the time who properly knew the basic history and geography of Britain! We must keep these views in mind when evaluating how the native states fared against such a well informed adversary with such a great military exposure, not to mention their technology and strategy for the Great Game.

But what did it mean for mAravADa, and mAna siMha its last independent king? In one single decade all his hopes of independence were dashed and he had come to realize that it was no use openly confronting the British. Those he looked upto, the holkar of indore and shAha of nepAla, had given up, and he himself was now facing renewed internal threats to his throne.

Continued

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