This is the fifth in the series of posts on our visit to Polo Forest. See the earlier four posts on the Heritage Palace, Vijaynagar, the natural beauty around the forest, the ancient Shiva Temples and the Jain Temple ruins, Angkor Wat of Gujarat here.
Polo Forest turned out to be a dream for exploring fascinating sites. After our amazement at finding the Angkor Wat of Gujarat (!) we made another discovery – the hideout of Maharana Pratap and his horse, Chetak Ghoda, after he lost the famous Battle of Haldighati!
Maharana Pratap (1540-1597) was the 13th king of Mewar, in the present day state of Rajasthan, India. He is famous for his military resistance of the expanding Mughal Empire. The battle of Haldighati was fought on 15th June 1576 between Maharana Pratap and Man Singh of Amer. Most of the Rajput kingdoms including Amer had become vassal of the Mughul Empire. When Maharana Pratap ascended the throne, the Mughul Emperor Akbar had sent a number of envoys to ask him to become a vassal of the Mughul Empire which he refused. Maharana Pratap is considered the only Rajput king to resist and never surrender to the Mughuls. Hence he is revered by the people of Rajasthan.
Before the battle of Haldighati Maharana Pratap had already lost a large part of the fertile lands of the eastern Mewar to the Mughuls. But he fought bravely with the help of some Bhil tribes and his army chief, a Muslim Afghan Pathan, Hakim Khan Sur. Maharana Pratap was defeated at Haldighati but managed to escape with the help of this faithful horse, Chetak. He roamed the area in hiding for many years including the forest area of the Vijaynagar kingdom, the princely state which is said to have been friendly to him. After the pressure from the Mughul armies ceased he returned and recaptured Mewar in 1582. On his death bed he is said to have told his son Amar Singh I to never surrender to the Mughuls.
Our discovery of the hideout of Maharana Pratap was dramatic as our guide seemed unclear as to how to get there. At our homestay Vijayvillas we were told that we would have to walk a long distance as the hideout was not approachable by road. On the road near the site passersby pointed us to a dirt track, seemed like a road under construction. The dirt track went up and down steep slopes. We finally had to get off and cross a dry riverbed and scramble up a steep slope where some kids were playing on a swing.
I approached from one side and saw a contemporary temple with a Shiv Ling, with a huge idol of Lord Shiva outside. Shiv Ling is a symbol of Lord Shiva. My husband approached from the other side and I heard a shout ‘Here is Maharana Pratap’!! I ran around the huge banyan tree and sure enough there stood a larger than life statue of Maharana Pratap and his faithful companion Chetak in all their glory! The statue was large and rather crude. There was a Shiv Ling under the trunk of the banyan tree. It was an amazing discovery and we stood mesmerized.
Soon a lady came along and started to do puja, worship, of the Shiv Ling under the banyan tree truck. She broke five coconuts and chanted some slokas. Later when we spoke to her we discovered that a family maintains this temple area and regularly performs puja here. She offered us the coconuts as ‘prasad’ (Blessed offerings). It was a most exciting experience. On our way out I was able to swing on the swing that the boys were occupying earlier. They were perched on top of a slide and were watching us closely! The temple was obviously part of the nearby village. There was an approach road and gate from the side of the village as well, perhaps the route that we could have walked down to reach the hideout! But ours was a much more exciting route!! The entire region is filled with such amazing sites and a visit to Polo Forest area, Vijaynagar, is highly recommended as a weekend outing