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The Grandson of Maharana Pratap who sacrificed his life for Shah Jahan 

Among Shah Jahan’s most valuable princely allies was Raja Bhim Singh, a grandson of Maharana Pratap Singh, who remained continuously by his side ever since that decisive campaign in Mewar in 1615.

After Shah Jahan turned rebel, his men first saw battle at Bilochpur, where they lost one of their finest generals, Raja Bikramjit. With the imperialists hot on their trails, the rebels hurriedly pushed west, and soon entered Rajputana.

Raja Bhim then exercised his influence over his brother, Karan Singh, the Rana of Mewar, to arrange for Shah Jahan’s comfortable stay in Udaipur. Granting asylum to a rebel, even if of royal extraction, was always a daunting task, something which even the richer and bigger Sultanates down south would desist from doing. But, thanks to Bhim Singh’s entreaty, the Rana of Mewar agreed to host the fugitive Shah Jahan, his family, and his men.

Picture taken from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

After getting refreshed in Mewar, Shah Jahan took a southeastern detour to reach Bengal, entering the province from the side of Orissa. Bengal’s capital, Dhaka, fell into his hands swiftly, and a succession of other victories followed. Shah Jahan was now the master of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and it suddenly seemed that his fortunes had turned around.

But a rude shock was lurking around the corner: at Allahabad, Shah Jahan met Mahabat Khan, by far the best general in Jahangir’s army, not to mention his own brother, Prince Parvez. The rebels decided with one voice to retreat, but Raja Bhim Singh rejected that proposal outright: he gave out that he would not move back even by an inch, come what may.

Perhaps driven by a sense of gratitude, Shah Jahan finally gave in to Raja Bhim’s demand. Battle would be given to the imperialists, he declared.

Once the battle commenced, Raja Bhim straightaway charged at Mahabat Khan. The Khan’s troops rallied to their master’s rescue, and Raja Bhim, inspite of his desperate valour, was soon hacked to pieces. “As long as Raja Bhim had a breath of life left, he fought on”, even Jahangir had to admit Raja Bhim’s daring spirit in his diary. However, for all that bravado, it was a total defeat for Shah Jahan, who himself barely managed to escape alive.

Thus, after serving his friend Shah Jahan for over a decade, and while fighting for him on the battlefield, came to an end the life of this grandson of Maharana Pratap Singh. He left behind his son, Raja Kishan Singh, in the service of Shah Jahan. However, Kishan Singh too wasn’t destined to witness Shah Jahan’s accession to the Mughal throne: he passed away two years after, probably undone by a heatstroke in the city of Nasik, where Shah Jahan and his men were living at that point.

Picture taken from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston
Picture taken from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In this context a question could arise: was Bhim Singh just another Rajput vassal who was throwing in his lot with his Mughal overlord in the hope of reaping rich rewards later on? The answer in one word is — No.

Before Emperor Jahangir’s sudden death, Shah Jahan’s prospects hardly looked promising — the fact that there were two other men between Jahangir and Shah Jahan, Shahryar Mirza and Dawar Baksh respectively, who would ascend the Mughal throne, even if only formally and very temporarily, should serve to highlight the murky waters of Mughal politics at that point.

It isn’t surprising therefore that throughout the spell of his rebellion, Shah Jahan was beset with the problem of desertion in his ranks. Even the venerable Abdur Rahim Khan-i Khanan and his son reneged on their promise to Shah Jahan when they found his fortune plummeting. It was precisely through those hours of uncertainty, that the descendant of Sanga (Raja Bhim Singh) kept standing like a rock by the side of the descendant of Babur (Shah Jahan).

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Neelesh Chatterjee

Neelesh Chatterjee is an aficionado of medieval Indian history, and counts among his passions writing telling episodes down from that epoch. He is also an out and out secular, who intends to uphold through his write-ups the secular ethos enshrined in the Indian constitution.