Book Review | In Omendra Ratnu's 'Maharanas', Ranas overshadowed by Maharana Pratap immerse in glory

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There has been a lot of research in recent years and very good attempts at writing the correct history of our nation, Bharat with meticulous research. I have read some really good work on Turkic and Mughal invasions by Sandeep Balakrishna, Amit Agrawal, also waiting eagerly for Aabhas Mahaldiyar’s book on Timurids. Recently, I received a book on Indian Mathematics by Bhaskar Kamble and read a book on the Ancient Indian Education system by Sahana Singh. Of course, Sanjeev Sangal’s path-breaking history books. And there are many more. I am editing a wonderful book on Temples by Sandeep Singh which covers a very wide canvas.

But, I dare say, that there has been no thoroughly researched new perspective on Rajput history and specifically the history of Ranas clan which has an illustrious lineage of warriors from Bappa Rawal to Maharana Pratap to Maharana Raj Singh. May be, there is a lack of evidence and it is too scattered and a person other than a Rajasthani would find the task daunting. May be most of our historians are convinced with the Marxist-British history of Maharana Pratap and his lesser-known clan members. However, Omendra Ratnu has bravely ventured into this field with deep commitment and chosen to go as far as possible to trace this inspiring tale of 1,000 year of a relentless struggle against the invaders from Mohammad Bin Qasim to Aurangzeb.

Screenshot from Amazon.in

As we read the book, we are struck by our utter ignorance about this uncelebrated saga of 1,000 years of sacrifice and sustained struggle of one family. I would say, we outside Rajasthan know zilch and even people in Rajasthan may be aware of only scattered tales of bravery of the Maharanas. I am ashamed to admit that I was not aware that the most famous king of Mewar who chased out the Arabs till their own lands, expanded his kingdom and outposts in Afghanistan and reached till Caspian sea, Bappa Rawal, (whose exploits I did know about) was the ancestor of Rana clan to which Maharana Pratap belonged.

We know that most of our written history had been wiped out by the invaders. But, our history lives in our oral history and folklore. There are signposts of history scattered over the sacred land of Rajasthan. But, not much work has been done to bring these landmarks, oral history and history written by British, Arabian court historians, royal records of Rajasthani kings, history etched on stones by many kings and their commanders etc. Omendra Ratnu has done precisely that.

As one reads his account, one is surprised and wonderstruck at the extraordinary courage and sacrifices of our forefathers. The stories of Jauhar and men helping their own women folk embrace death by fire to avoid dishonour and atrocities and to sacrifice their own lives with courage shake you up. One is stunned and shocked at sheer debasement of human values by the invaders who never fought ethical wars, whose only reason for winning them was their lack of ethics and duplicity. Their utter contempt for morality saw them behave abominably with non-combatants, women infirm men and children. Their sheer bestiality makes one angry and wonder how our brave forefathers still never gave up on ethics even as they lost some battles, won some; never compromised on time honoured principles. Whether it was right or wrong, we at a distance of thousands of years can debate, but they actually faced never ending wars but still nurtured art, science, spirituality and their people.

Omendra Ratnu has written this book with painstaking research, travelling to distant lost places, foraging through royal records and old forgotten historic accounts. Despite his deep devotion to Rana clan and respect for Rajputs, he has not tried to paper over problems with evidence or the mistakes committed by these warriors. He talks dispassionately about disunity and petty-mindedness that saw many battles lost during the time.

Your heart aches as you read about the simple sparse life that Maharana Pratap lived along with his of subjects, including his tribal brethren Bhils, who were the mainstay of his long-stretched war with Akbar and his cohorts. But, for the braves like him, Rajasthan too might have been a part of Pakistan.

The writer doesn’t just talk about 1,000 years of Rana (Sisodia) clan but also weaves together stories of other Rajput kingdoms too. He goes back in time and forward to cover nearly 1400 years of resistance of Hindus to foreign invasions. He is relentless. He is critical. He not just compiles history but has given his commentary throughout the book. Apart from this, he devotes an entire chapter at the end to debunk all the arguments about continuous 1,000 years of slavery of Hindus as a condemnable lie. He also presents his considered opinion about the possible solutions to avoid a repeat of history.

He brings together facts to show that Hindus never accepted their defeat and kept fighting the unscrupulous invaders who were not just invaders who pillaged but also committed genocide, destroyed our centres of faith and our temples. There was sustained resistance and almost no invading king had a peaceful reign. He takes headlong, the Marxist historians and intellectuals who have tried to write a defeatist history of Bharat.

As an objective reader, I might add that I would have liked the commentator Omendra Ratnu to curtail his own views in the main chapters where the historian Omendra Ratnu is on record; and kept his insightful observations and commentary in the last concluding chapter. I can understand the fire that he has internalised during his research and I can understand that it would not be easy to control one’s feelings. At the same time, his objectivity is clearly seen when he explains the circumstances under which certain actions were taken or not taken by the historical characters, why cooperation between various Rajput clans happened or did not; the compulsions under which some Rajputs compromised with Mughals for the better future of their subjects. He does not, rightly, see history only in black and white but is able to discern the grey areas dispassionately. For this, one needs to compliment the historian and commentator Ratnu.

The book has many photographs and one feels saddened by the utter neglect that has left many precious historic monuments in utter disrepair. A nation that doesn’t respect its history and its brave cannot have self-pride and self-confidence. I am not getting into the details about who should preserve, how should we preserve. But, definitely, we all know how countries world over preserve even minutest signs of history.

This book, Maharana, is available both in English and Hindi. I have read Hindi version which is the original language of Omendra Ratnu and naturally it is able to convey his thought very powerfully. Despite lot of care taken, there are a few oversights in proofing, and a very serious oversight of missed bibliography, though references have been given meticulously. I would suggest that the publishers should put the bibliography on their website in soft copy so any reader, who wishes to, can download it. I am sure, the new edition will take care of this issue.

Do read the book and internalise the pains and sacrifices of our brave forefathers who saw to it that we could live a free life under a wonderful civilisation called Bharat.

Publisher: ‎ Prabhat Prakashan Pvt. Ltd.; 1st edition (17 April 2022)
ISBN-10: ‎ 9355211643
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-9355211644

The reviewer is a well-known author and political commentator. Views expressed are personal.

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Book Review | In Omendra Ratnu's 'Maharanas', Ranas overshadowed by Maharana Pratap immerse in glory
Book Review | In Omendra Ratnu's 'Maharanas', Ranas overshadowed by Maharana Pratap immerse in glory
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