Bharatpur - Rajasthan The Heritage State
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History of Bharatpur
Bharatpur, like Alwar, was once a part of the Matsya Desh of old. History binds itself inextricably linked with mythology; for it was here that the Pandava brothers are supposed to have spent their 13th year of exile some 3500 years back . And all of it is not hogwash, for there're some fine archaeological remains of this ancient civilization preserved in the Bharatpur Museum.
A Jat Legacy Takes Shape
But the most interesting bit in Bharatpur's history comes much later, in the late medieval times when it belonged to the Jats. Actually it all started in the late 17th century, with the Jats of the villages of Sinsini and Thoon rising against the Mughal power. The leaders then were the father-son duo, Bhajjasingh and Rajaram. Though the Jats claimed to have descended from the moon god (it was a matter of great prestige to claim descent from the gods themselves), many historians give them the status of nothing more than a gang of robbers. Whatever it was, the Jats were out to declare their arrival on the scene. The noted historian James Tod quips: "Though reduced from the rank they once had among the 36 royal races, they appear never to have renounced the love for independence." So how could there be no conflict between these daring sons of the soil and the powerful Mughals, who had already established a stronghold in India way back in the 1526?
So leaving aside the plough, the Jats took up the sword instead. They became more than active in the 18th century, when leaders like Churaman and Badan Singh brought them together and turned them into a formidable force. Churaman first started with a few neighbouring villages of Bharatpur. Then his ambitions grew – he rose against the Mughal power and his men attacked and plundered the Imperial capitals. They staged rebellions around Delhi during Aurangzeb's time (1658-1707) that were not easy to quell. The Mughals, finally irked to the maximum, killed Churaman in 1721 and tried to crush the Jats. But the Jats being Jats were quite indomitable. They rose again with Badan Singh (Churaman's brother) and by the 1750s their armies were marching all over the tract between Delhi and Agra. Now the Mughals had no other choice but to recognize the Jat potential, and with that, Jai Singh II of Jaipur conferred the title of 'Raja' to Badan Singh and installed him in the town of Deeg. And Deeg was on its way to having its glorious share of fame and beauty.
The dauntless Jats did not have a smooth sailing with the blood 'n' blade Rajputs too, who had established themselves all over Rajasthan. Obviously! Marital alliances between the two did lessen the tension, but only marginally. (Pssst! This must have been quite a fad in those days, for the Mughals were also into marrying Rajput princesses. The two warring groups went into frequent showdowns, but their greatest enemy, however, remained the mighty Mughals.
After Badan Singh came his eldest son, Raja Suraj Mal, inheriting all the turbulence and energy of his predecessors. He further consolidated the Jat Empire and put the resources to good effect, building many forts and palaces all over the place. The greatest among them are the Deeg Palace and the Bharatpur Fort (Badan Singh had built a fort at Wiir too, but justly gave it to another son, Pratap Singh). Suraj Mal's ambitions rose, and he regularly raided the cities of Agra and Delhi and carried back unimaginable booty. Under his strong leadership, the Jats were able to hold Agra for 13 years, until ousted by the Marathas in 1774. They even marched on to Delhi in 1763, much to the alarm of the Mughals whose once-mighty empire was then speeding towards inevitable collapse. But with a final heave of strength, the Mughals managed to kill Suraj Mal. Following the death of Suraj Mal, his son Jawahar Singh, was installed on the throne at Deeg.
The British Gain Ground
In the meantime the British (then the East India Company) tried to gain ground with these powerful Jats. With their long term plans in mind, they were soon pushing their way into Bharatpur Fort. But Colonel Lake's siege (1805) was fended off well by Ranjit Singh, another of Suraj Mal's son. The Brits could remain there for merely four months, and that too by suffering heavy losses. Lake lost over 3,000 men, the most disastrous setback in his illustrious career. Ultimately the British had to go into an agreement with the Jats in 1818. But this proved to be a disastrous step in the long run, because it was in Bharatpur that the British first developed their fatal Doctrine of Paramountcy, the result of such alliances. The doctrine was first enunciated as a concept by Charles Metcalfe in 1820, and implied the duty of the British to act as "supreme guardians of general tranquility, law and right to maintain the legal succession" in the princely states. It obviously meant the planting of a British Resident or sometimes even troops in these states wherein the prince became a puppet ruler. This ultimately led the British to become the supreme political power in India.
In 1825 Lord Combermere attacked Lohargarh from a strategic point in the north east and successfully captured it after a month-long seige. And with that, Bharatpur became the last one to acknowledge British suzerainty in Central India.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…
The Jats, being of peasant stock, were never held in high esteem by the elitist Rajputs of Rajasthan. No matter how bravely they fought, they would invariably be snubbed as a 'gang of robbers'. In fact historians, too, did not pay much heed to their doings before the 17th and 18th centuries, that is, until the pinnacle of their glory.
Obviously the Jats were always trying to assert their supremacy over other fellow human beings. Once what happened was that a maharaja of Bharatpur was snubbed by an insolent young Rolls Royce salesman. It hurt the Jat's pride immensely, and to counter that, he brought a whole fleet of Rolls Royces. And guess what he did with them? He made them Bharatpur's garbage collecting vehicles!
Here's something more, though it has nothing to do with elitism. Maharaja Jawahar Singh, Badan Singh's grandson, was a figure of note. It is said that he had a harem of 150 women and 30 sons. How he managed to bring up so many children is beside the point; he didn't even recognize them off hand. One French missionary, Father Wendel, writes that "The swarm was so large that he had difficulty in recognizing his own offspring; each of them had to announce his mother's name and his own name and the place of residence, when he came to his father's reverence."