It seemed like a scene straight out of a movie. The night was dark and rain fell incessantly. A Rajput noble, Durgadas Rathod, tensely guarded an infant wrapped in a shawl and his mother and step mother. The group, along with a few dozen armed Rajputs, stealthily made their way out of Delhi, many fighting Mughal troops and dying in the process. The infant was Ajit Singh, heir to the throne of Jodhpur and the region of Marwar. But his life was in danger, for the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb wanted to finish the Jodhpur dynasty!
In 1678, the powerful Rajput ruler of Jodhpur, Raja Jaswant Singh, died near the Khyber Pass. He was childless and Aurangzeb saw this as a godsend opportunity to put Jodhpur under Delhi’s direct rule. Mughal troops poured into Jodhpur and the Rathods melted away into the surrounding Aravalli hills. Jaziya tax was soon imposed and many temples brought down in the absence of any kind of Hindu rule in Marwar.
Rathod also escaped with the infant into the Aravallis, and gathering together the remnants of the deceased Jaswant Singh’s army, waged war against the Mughals. Although the cities and fortresses of Marwar belonged to the Mughals, the hills, ravines, passes and plains were held by Rathod and other Rajputs.
Rathod and his soldiers carried out repeated raids on the Mughals, using the shelter of the Aravallis. Before escaping from Delhi, he had, in fact, petitioned Aurangzeb to recognise Ajit Singh as ruler of Jodhpur and allow things to continue as before. But the Mughal emperor did not want a powerful kingdom to come in the way of his dream to conquer the whole country and impose Sharia. Rathod was left with no option but to make good his escape from the capital and rebel against the Mughal emperor. As Mughal troops laid bare the cities and forts of Marwar, various Rajput tribes such as the Hadas of Bundi and the Bhattis of Jaisalmer also rose in revolt.
Rathod established himself in the hills near Udaipur and was helped by the Rana of Udaipur Raj Singh. Aurangzeb responded by waging war on Udaipur and destroying the temples in its vicinity.
About this time, Rathod scored another diplomatic victory by bringing over to his side, Akbar, Aurangzeb’s son and heir to the throne! In fact, at one point Aurangzeb’s defeat and capture by Akbar and Rathod at Ajmer looked certain, but the prince chose to wait for reinforcements, thus missing a golden chance. Aurangzeb soon defeated the Udaipur Raja and was in hot pursuit of Akbar and Rathod.
Rathod went south to the Deccan and met Chhatrapati Sambhaji, who was himself engaged in a war with the Mughals, and in him the Rajput saw an able ally. But Sambhaji’s hands were more than full with the colossal danger Hindavi swarajya was in and hence could hardly spare anyone to help Rathod.
So a few years later, he returned to Marwar and once again fought the Mughals. In 1691 though, Shujaat Khan was appointed the faujdar at Jodhpur, and for the next few years peace was more or less maintained by him by buying off many Rajput clans supporting Rathod with entitlements and money. Rathod himself became a mansabdar, with the aim of freeing Jodhpur. Shujaat Khan’s death around 1700 renewed the Rajput-Mughal battles.
The Mughal prince Azam Shah then tried to kill Rathod by inviting him for a hunt, but the shrewd Rajput saw through the game and rebelled once again. Ajit Singh was by now a youth of twenty years and together they formed a formidable opposition for the ever-weakening Mughals. Raids and attacks on the captured cities and forts renewed. The Mughal grip was slipping fast.
In February 1707, far away from Delhi, at Ahmednagar the Mughal emperor died. With the empire in disarray, Ajit Singh’s troops marched into Jodhpur. The Mughal faujdar and soldiers simply wilted and ran away from the impending disaster awaiting them. One account says they put on the clothes and symbols of Hindus to avoid being persecuted. Maharaja Ajit Singh ascended the throne of Jodhpur. The fort was purified with Tulsi leaves and water from the Ganges. Rathod’s lifelong struggle had ended in a grand success.
The writer is the author of Brahmaputra — Story of Lachit Barphukan, and, Sahyadris to Hindukush — Maratha conquest of Lahore and Attock