Forgotten Heroes – Veer Durgadas Rathore

What I narrate here is folklore as heard in various ballads sung even today in the interiors of Rajasthan

माई ऐड़ा पूत जन, जेड़ा दुर्गादास,

बाँध मुंडासे राखियो, बिन थांबे आकाश

Mother, give birth to a son just like Durgadas, who stopped the flooding dam of Moghuls single-handedly

Veer Durgadas was one of the chieftains of Maharaja Jaswant Singh, the ruler of Jodhpur when Aurangzeb ruled over Delhi. When the young Jaswant Singh contracted a terminal illness, he became anxious for the fate of his infant son. He was not oblivious to the danger, on his death, to his child’s life from some of his more ambitious chieftains.

Sensing that the dying king was worried, Veer Durgadas approached him and sought to know the reason for his anxiety. Jaswant Singh disclosed his fears to Durgadas, and said he was fending off death on account of his anxiety for the child’s future! To assuage the King’s fears, Durgadas assembled a few other trusted chiefs loyal to the King and made them swear on Maa Jagadambaa, that as long as even one of them was alive, they would protect the king’s family. Entrusting the custody of his toddler to Durgadas, Jaswant Singh bid adieu to the mortal world.

Those were treacherous times; there were people who wanted to join hands with the Moghuls and take over the reins of Marwar (Jodhpur). No one could be trusted!

Aurangzeb himself wanted to annex Jodhpur under the pretext that Ajeet Singh was an infant. To counter this, Durgadas created espionage and counter-espionage networks to keep himself informed of every move of both the locals and Mughals. His shrewdness, intelligence and foresight ensured that he was always ahead of the enemies of Marwar.

However, Aurangzeb, with the support of some disloyal Rajput chiefs, annexed Jodhpur and took the child Ajeet Singh into custody. Durgadas, with the Thakur of Balunda (a small riyasat in Marwar), made plans to rescue the young Ajeet Singh from the clutches of the Mughals. Jadaawji, a Chaaran (poet warrior), disguised himself as a snake charmer and gained entry to the room where Ajeet Singh was held prisoner. He hid little Ajeet in a basket and took him out of the palace. Discovering his disappearance, the Mughal soldiers gave hot pursuit. Ten to fifteen valorous Rajputs would lag behind to engage the Moghuls, providing time for Durgadas and Ajeet Singh to gain some distance. All the warriors would be slain and then the pursuit would resume! In the end, Durgadas, Thakur Mokham Singh of Balunda, Jadaawji, and 7 horsemen were all that managed to reach the safety of Marwar.

Ajeet Singh remained in Balunda till his teenage years. During this time, Durgadas showed great strategic acumen and engaged the Moghuls in relentless guerilla warfare thereby inflicting heavy damages.

With Aurangzeb growing old, wars of succession broke out amongst his children. Durgadas supported one of the sons, Akbar, in the succession war. Soon, Akbar died of an illness and Aurangzeb made a request to Durgadas that his daughter in law and grandchildren be returned to him. Durgadas, the man of honour, permitted the lady and her children to return to Aurangzeb!

On their return, Aurangzeb is supposed to have asked his daughter in law –

कैसा दिखता है वो चूहा?

         How does that mouse look?

The daughter in law replied –

कैसा दिखता है? जहाँपनाह, जोधपुर में उन्हें बाबोसा कहा जाता है और किसी की हिम्मत कहाँ कि उनसे नज़र मिला के उनकी तरफ देख सके! हमने तो सिर्फ उनकी रौबदार आवाज़, या जूतियों की आहट ही सुनी है!

How does he look? O Emperor, in Jodhpur everyone respectfully calls him (Durgadas) Babo-sa and no one dares to meet his gaze. I have only heard his powerful voice or the light sound of his footsteps.

It was inconceivable for a barbarian like Aurangzeb that his daughter-in-law would have escaped untouched, but Veer Durgadas was a man of such honour that he never even looked at the Moghul princess! He was a true worshipper of Shakti – one who respects and protects the honour of women, even if they belonged to the enemy camp! Such decency, in times when the norm was to have the women of the opposite camp for yourself! Alas! My head hangs in shame whenever I read news of the rape nowadays, and sociologists say those were the dark ages!

आठ पहर चौबीस घडी, घुडले ऊपर वास

सैल अणि सूं सेकतो, बाटी दुर्गादास

Riding horseback, days and nights would pass! On the rough terrain of Aravalis, Durgadas baked flour balls with the tip of his spear!

Durgadas Rathore Painting in Jodhpur Museum (Wikipedia)

For a good 20-25 years, Durgadas kept fighting the Moghuls from the hills of Sirohi and Pali. In 1707, Aurangzeb died. Seizing this opportunity, Durgadas quelled the disarrayed Mughal Army and took control of Jodhpur. He performed the Rajyabhishek (coronation) of Ajeet Singh, and fulfilled the promise he had made to his father Jaswant Singh.

This exemplifies the greatness and the true character of Durgadas. There have been many warriors who fought for their own land and women, but only one Durgadas who fought for concepts as abstract as loyalty and Religion. He could have easily eliminated Ajeet Singh and become King himself, but he chose to remain loyal to his word and gave the kingdom unhesitatingly to Ajeet Singh! There are few parallels of such unflinching loyalty to one’s motherland and such absolute detachment from power!

Alas! If only we Hindus had learnt of and been inspired by this soul, the history of this subcontinent would have been different. Instead of defeat to those who managed to cross the Sindhu, we would have been a proud race, loving humanity, detached from worldly riches, but unyielding in our honour and self-respect!

The tragedy of Veer Durgadas begins now….

सिंघां देस विदेस सम, सिंघां किशा वतन्न

सिंह जिका वन संचरे, सो सिंघां रा बन्न

Homeland or foreign, is the same for lions! What nation can contain a lion? Whatever land he wanders into, that land belongs to the lion!

The final chapter of Durgadas’s life – tragic, but also one that raises Durgadas to sublime heights! Sometimes, I find it difficult to believe that we Hindus are progeny of such brave, dignified souls!

Having crowned Ajeet Singh as the King, Durgadas relegated himself to the background, spending his time and energy in rebuilding temples destroyed by the Moghuls. Then alas, unfortunate events occurred, as has been the misfortune of this great land. Ajeet Singh, probably as a consequence of his insecure childhood or below-average mind, became jealous and suspicious of Durgadas, the very man on account of whom he was alive!

There is a story that Ajeet Singh is supposed to have once said to Durgadas

बाबोसा, आप म्हारे हामी मति बैठिया करो

Old man, you must not sit in front of me in the Durbaar

When Durgadas gave him a questioning look, Ajeet said –

आपने देखूं तो मने विखा रा दिन याद आवे!

When I see you, I get reminded of the days of my deprivation!

So much for the wisdom and grace of some of our lesser rulers!

Durgadas endured such insults for the sake of his loyalty to his motherland, till one day Ajeet Singh’s cronies convinced him to do away with Durgadas. Durgadas got scent of his plans and the day he was to be murdered, he approached the King in the Durbaar and spoke aloud – “I came into possession of a lot of gold during the battles in South Bharat. I am old now and want to retire after gifting you the gold”.

Ajeet Singh indicated to his men to refrain from killing Durgadas. An appointment was fixed for Durgadas and Ajeet Singh to meet in the outskirts of Jodhpur. Durgadas had asked 500 horsemen loyal to him to lie in ambush, and as soon as Ajeet Singh turned up, he was surrounded. Durgadas said to him –

ऊंदरा, थूं मने मारेला? हूँ तुर्कों रे हाथ नी आयो, थूं मने मारेला? अगर थारा बाप ने वचन नी दियो वेतो तो अबार थारो माथो वाड देतो! थाने सोनो चावे? औ जोधपुर रो राज दियो नी थाने, अबे आगो जा!

You rat! You will kill me? I could not be contained by the Turks! You will kill me? Had I not promised your father to protect you, I would have beheaded you right now! And what more gold do you expect from me? I have given you the kingdom of Jodhpur! Now, get lost before I forget my promise to your father

Durgadas Rathore, well into his 70s, along with a few friends, turned away from his beloved motherland and rode away into the sunset. He walked away from the land where he was born, nurtured with his blood and sweat, for the sake of a promise. The lion of a man walked away after showing his prey his real worth, his head held high, in honour and unflinching loyalty!!  The eagle cast a final glance on the kingdom of Jodhpur, spread his wings, and took flight into oblivion. And the land of Marwar lost a worthy son to the treachery of lesser mortals!

From Jodhpur, Durgadas went to stay in Udaipur. One day, the Maharana of Udaipur, gifted watermelons to the camp of Durgadas. Immediately Durgadas asked his men to prepare to leave. When asked the reason, Durgadas replied – “The Maharana has asked us to leave.  Watermelon is called ‘matiro‘ in Mewari. It can be broken into ‘mati ‘ and ‘rho‘ meaning – don’t stay!”

Durgadas then went to Ujjain where he lived an ascetic’s life. On 22 November 1718, on the banks of the Kshipra, aged 81 years, Veer Durgadas breathed his last, with only a handful of his loyal friends by his side to witness his journey to the heavenly abode.

The samadhi (memorial) of Veer Durgadas had lain in tatters for almost 250 years, when, in the 1950s, my grandfather, the late Akshay Singh Ratnu went to Ujjain and wrote at least 300 letters to various Rajput  organisations, urging them to rebuild the samadhi. Sometime in the 1980s, the current Maharaja of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh, a fine and compassionate soul, went to Ujjain and got the Jeernoddhar done. Renamed the Chakrateertha, the samadhi of Durgadas was rebuilt in red sandstone.

I went to Ujjain in 2005. It took me 4 hours to find the monument as it wasn’t on the tourist map. Ultimately, meandering thru a shamshaan, I reached the most sacred place for a Kshatriya!

I stood spell bound, looking at the proud Chhatri for a real man, the passage of time had not diluted the impact of Veer Durgadas on my being. I asked my auto driver to arrange for a broom. As I cleaned the place of dust and cobwebs, I called up my father, late Karni Singh Ratnu. He asked me to describe how it looked and if it was well kept!

Both of us cried on the phone when I told him about the barrenness and the filth in which the grand old man’s memory lay! Papa asked me to sit there and meditate for a while. The auto driver, a Muslim, came up to me with a bottle of water and asked – “Sir, is this a Chhatri of one of your ancestors”? I looked back at him and replied – “Yes! A Chhatri for our ancestors, both yours and mine“. He then heard the whole story. He folded his hands in reverence and both of us cleaned the place. A so-called ‘small’ man had the wisdom to understand the value of timeless valour and loyalty, something which evades our so-called educated masses and intelligentsia!

We Hindus can never regain our lost pride and glory till we are obsessed with pseudo morals of ahimsa and peace, shorn of contextual application with dharma. Men of honour have to fight for truth to prevail in this wide, wicked world; the valorous are duty-bound to keep barbarians at bay from our motherland!

If one Durgadas could confront the supposedly mighty Moghul empire, imagine the fate of this country, if even one of the Riyasats of Rajasthan had joined hands with him! Alas, that was not to be! And sadly the same myopic attitude and infighting continue even today, one of the most dangerous times for our civilization!

History never looks back kindly at those who do not learn from it!

After sharing this story with my friends, I got a response from a doctor colleague who said she will read out this story to her son. I wrote back saying – “Yes, you must! No matter, what these leftist historians might shove down our throat, tell him that his ancestors were valorous and loyal. Tell him that the Mughals did not have a cakewalk over our motherland. Tell him that they will watch over him when he conducts himself with dignity and pride. Tell him that a word, a shabd, is (para)brahman itself, and is worth laying our life for. Tell him that the values one lives for, make a man out of him. Riches, fame and respect follow such men wherever they go, as the shadow follows one’s body, in this life and after”

If we can stand up and clap for Western heroes, then let our children look up to our past too with pride and draw inspiration from the likes of Veer Durgadas! That we resisted against wrong! That we chose to die rather than be taken slaves! That we stood up, not for selfish gains, but for the motherland. From that confidence alone shall Hindus rise and claim their rightful place in the league of nations!

Shubhamastu!

Omendra

-By Dr. Omendra Ratnu

(Article edited by Dr. C. Abhijeeth, who along with Dr. Ratnu is part of Nimittekam – an organization working for the rehabilitation of Pakistani Hindu and Sikh brethren, website – Nimittekam.org)