Posthumous portrait of Rao Chandra Sen - Jodhpur, c.Late 19th Century

The Lost Rao of Marwar

Year 1570, the Emperor of India, Akbar the Great – holds a Darbar of Rajput chieftains of Rajputana in Nagaur, on the fringes of the Rajputana desert. His Rajput father-in-law, Raja Bhaarmal of Amber (now a part of Jaipur) sits by his side, his armies waiting in the wings to pounce upon, as Akbar asserts his power and demands suzerainty over the Rajput Rajas of Rajputana. Present in Darbar, bending to his authority are the Rathores of Bikaner, the Bhatis of Jaisalmer and the Hadas of Bundi and Ranthambore. But Akbar’s eyes are looking out for the Ran Banka Rathore of Jodhpur – Rao Chandrasen.

Who Chandrasen? Seems, I am getting ahead of the story. Rao Chandrasen was the King of Jodhpur, the heir to the formidable Mehrangarh Fort – the fort that is said to be impregnable – standing tall overlooking the blue painted city of Jodhpur.

The Formidable Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur
The Formidable Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur

Jodhpur had been founded by Rao Jodha of the Rathore clan of Rajputs in 1459, lording over other vassal states of Marwar as an independent kingdom. None of the Delhi Sultans could manage to control even a speck of dust in this august land for over 85 years thereafter, till Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan emperor of Delhi defeated Jodha’s descendent – Raja Maldeo – in 1544 in the Battle of Sammel (the story of Battle of Sammel and bravery of his chieftains is a story for another day). Raja Maldeo however won back Jodhpur within an year (1545) and retained his lost territories.

Pretty soon, Sher Shah Suri was out, and Mughals under Akbar were on the ascendancy. Akbar, initially, kept away from the territories of the Jodhpur kingdom, but had one of his governors – Hakim Quli Khan – keeping an eye at Jodhpur from nearby Nagaur principality (around 165 kms from Jodhpur).

In 1561 – Akbar managed to force Rao Maldeo into submission and took his son – Udai Singh – as hostage, a sort of guarantee against Maldeo’s independence. An year later, Maldeo was on his deathbed and had a decision to make about the next king in his line. He had four sons, some say six. Well, one is never sure about progenies of medieval rajas and their retinue of multiple queens. Rajputs then had a tradition to pass on their kingdoms or territories to the eldest son; however, the youngest son of Maldeo was too able a man to be ignored by him for the throne. God knows what benchmarks Rao Maldeo used to assess, but he bypassed the elder sons and appointed youngest, Chandrasen, as the next ruler of Jodhpur.

Year 1562, Rao Chandrasen, was the Raja of Jodhpur at the age of 21. First thing he did was to promptly disown any allegiance to the imperial demands of Akbar. Akbar was presumably zapped but didn’t have the will to attack Jodhpur yet. Chandrasen’s elder brothers weren’t happy as well with this arrangement. Akbar’s agents sensed it and motivated the disgruntled princes to launch a rebellion against their brother.

1563 – Within an year of his rule, Chanrasen’s eldest brother, Ram Singh, attacked him and after a fierce war, Ram Singh is forced to flee. Akbar’s Hakim in Nagaur senses this opportunity and offers shelter to Ram Singh. Also, he pampers the other prince Udai Singh to join sides in an attack on Chandrasen. His other estranged brother Udai Singh too attacked Chandrasen but in a sword fight was hit on the foot by his brother. Running for his life Udai Singh left the field.

In 1564, Akbar’s army, directly under the leadership of our old friend, Quli Khan of Nagaur, attacked Mehrangarh Fort, bolstered by Chandresen’s estranged brothers and the forces of Bikaner. After a siege of around 7-8 months, Chandrasen was forced to vacate the Fort. He flees to a village called Bhadrajun near Jalore, around 140 kms to the south of Jodhpur.

After this war, Jodhpur loses it’s Sovereignty and Quli Khan became the governor of Jodhpur, directly reporting to Akbar. Chandrasen’s brothers – Udai Singh and Ram – of course accepted suzerainty of Akbar over Marwar and assisted him in the rule, happy as minor chiefs in the imperial machine. Meanwhile, Chandrasen, from his remote Bhadrajun Fort, refused to accept Akbar’s supremacy and continued to rebel against the emperor.

Bhadrajun Fort Jalore, where Chandrasen entrenched himself
Bhadrajun Fort Jalore, where Chandrasen entrenched himself after his defeat of 1564

Well entrenched in Bhadrajun (Jalore), he initiates hit and run guerilla attacks on Akbar’s occupied territories,

Year is 1570 – we are back to the beginning of this story – Nagaur and rest of Marwar is in midst of a severe draught and Akbar is on the way to Ajmer to perform Ziyarat at the abode of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Enroute to Ajmer, Akbar stops for a few weeks at Nagaur and orders building of a large pond to preserve water to avoid a famine. On the pretext of inaugurating the pond of water, Akbar organises the Nagaur Darbar and invites all major Rajput princes of Marwar and Hadoti. He also respectfully invites our rebel hero – Chandrasen.

As the Nagaur Darbar starts by the edge of the Pond, Akbar’s eyes are looking out for Chandrasen. Also awaiting Chandrasen are his brothers Udai Singh Rathore and Raimal Rathore sitting subservantly in the Darbar.

Nagaur Fort and the pond therein
Nagaur Fort and the pond therein – the site of the Nagaur Darbar of Akbar

In walks Chandrasen, his head held high and occupies his chair in the Darbar. He has an ugly feeling of being let down by his brothers who are already there in attendance of the Mughal emperor and are presumably having secret parleys with him. Proceedings begin and Akbar begins his Darbar, setting conditions and seeking loyalty from the gathered Rajput chiefs. They are expected to either accept the imperial suzerainty or to face the might of Akbar’s army. Pretty soon, each of them bows down and the sovereignty of all of them fall down one by one; Bikaner goes down, Jaisalmer too, proud Hadas of Bundi, Ranthambore too. And when Chandrasen resists and tries to discuss, Akbar tends to pitch his own brothers and fellow Rajputs against him. Chandrasen can’t handle it anymore and he refuses to accept the conditions of Akbar and he walks out. One can imagine this proud deposed king of Marwar – a king without a crown– proudly getting up and slowly walking out of the Darbar with a hand on his sword, as the whole Durbaar is stunned into silence.

Out walks Chandrasen and takes flight out of Akbar’s territories with his small band of horseman. Akbar’s horsement are on his trail but Chandrasen manages to cross over into the other independent Rajput kingdom still holding out to Akbar – ‘Mewar‘. Rana Udai Singh of Mewar welcomes him and offers an alliance with him by marrying off his daughter to Chandrasen. For some time Chandrasen leaves Rajputana but then returns with renewed vigour and initiates his guerilla attacks on Mughals, perhaps inspired by similar tactics of Udai Singh.

With Udai Singh’s support, Chandrasen continues his guerilla attacks on Mughal outposts in Marwar and gradually nibbles away some territory for himself on the south of Marwar, bordering areas of Mewar, while fortifying himself in Bhadrajun Fort, Jalore. He is on the way to gather resources and army for a fight back to Jodhpur when Udai Singh dies in 1572. Udai Singh’s son – Maharana Pratap – has enough troubles of his own to give any meaningful support to Chandrasen and regrets any further support. One can only wonder in awe, imagining an alliance between these two giants which was not to be.

Also in 1572 – Akbar appoints Rai Singh Rathore of Bikaner as the administrator of Jodhpur; and Rai Singh asserting his authority over Jodhpur, attacks Chandrasen’s Bhadrajun Fort at the head of Akbar’s army. Chandrasen has to vacate Bhadrajun.

He seeks help of his nephew – Kalla Raimalot (another forgotten brave-heart martyr – the son of his elder brother – Rai-mal) of Siwana, who supports him and offers him all support. Chandrasen manages to entrench himself in the Siwana Fort near Barmer and starts expanding his small kingdom around it.

In 1574, Akbar dispatches an army under Jalal Khan to pursue Chandrasen but fails to get him. In fact, in a fierce battle, the commander of the army, Jalal Khan, is killed by Chandrasen and his army is routed.

In 1575, Akbar launches another powerful campaign against Chandrasen under joint forces of Shah Quli Khan of Nagaur, Rai Singh of Bikaner amongst others like Shahbaz Khan of Ajmer. Chandrasen wins some skirmishes but is at the thin end of his resources. Still he continues his fight and does not give up.

In 1576 – Akbar’s army led by Shahbaz Khan again lays a siege of Siwana Fort and manages to dislodge Chandrasen from Siwana (This is also the year when Akbar has the major Battle of Haldighati against Maharana Pratap – the fight for Rajputana is truly on).

But our hero, Rao Chandrasen, is not the one to give in, is he? He flees to fight another day. With his small band of faithful warriors he retreats to the Hills of Sarang near Sojat City and fortifies himself amongst the hillocks and continues to attack Mughal outposts and continues his struggle.

Around 1579-80 – Akbar’s army under Jalal Khan Korchi, one of the most trusted courtiers of Akbar, attacks Chandrasen in the hillocks of Sarang. Chandrasen gets the better of Jalal and manages to kill him, with the rest of the attacking army melting away.

1581 – in the middle of his struggle from Sojat, Chandrasen is on the move near Pali when at the age of 39 years, he is suddenly struck by some illness. Some say he was poisoned by the chieftain of Sanchiao (near Pali) since Chandrasen was continuing to pressurise the local chieftains for war resources. Anyways on 11 January 1581, Chandrasen breathes his last.
He dies as an independent sovereign of a sovereign territory in the middle of the Mughal empire of Akbar the Great, never for a moment surrendering his right to his land.

Memorial of Chandrasen near Pali
Memorial of Chandrasen near Pali

So ended the struggle of Chandrasen – the first and last ruler of Marwar to fight, live and die as a rebel. Bards in Rajasthan call him the ‘Marwar ro Bhoolo Bisro Rao‘ – loosely translated as the ‘The Lost Rao of Marwar‘. Lost? Time to find him, I say.

Rao, nay! Maha Rao, Chandrasen – I bow to you.

Post Script

Maharana Pratap is said to have followed the script of Chandrasen by entrenching himself in Kumbhalgarh and continuing his successful guerilla warfare against Akhar. Both were contemporaries. Rao Chandrasen starts his struggle in 1561, eleven years before Pratap. From 1572 onwards, Maharana Pratap and Chandrasen both adopt parallel struggles. It is a strange irony of fate that Pratap is known by all and sundry while Chandrasen remains on the margins of history books. His statues don’t exist even in Jodhpur, as descendants of his estranged brother, Udai Singh (placed on Jodhpur throne by Akbar in 1583), continue to occupy the royal house of Jodhpur. For the Royal House of Jodhpur, Rao Chandrasen might just be an interlude into their unbroken lineage. I think it is time that the Royal House of Jodhpur honours this glorious ancestor of theirs.

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