Maharana Pratap was crowned as ruler of Mewar in 1572. Though majority of Rajputs had accepted Delhi’s leadership, Pratap refused to surrender to Akbar and continued to fight against Mughals. On June 21, 1576, the two armies met at Haldighati. Pratap led 20,000 Rajputs against a Mughal army of 80,000 men commanded by Raja Man Singh. The battle of Haldighati, lasted only four hours. In this short period, Pratap’s men essayed many brave exploits on the field. Pratap personally attacked Man Singh: his horse Chetak placed its front feet on the trunk of Man Singh’s elephant and Pratap threw his lance; Man Singh ducked, and the mahout was killed.
However, the numerical superiority of the Mughal army and their artillery finally began to tell. Seeing that the battle was lost, Pratap’s generals prevailed upon him to flee the field so as to be able to fight another day. To facilitate Pratap’s escape, one of his lieutenants, a member of the Jhala clan, donned Pratap’s distinctive garments and took his place in the battlefield. He was soon killed. Meanwhile, riding his trusty steed Chetak, Pratap made good his escape. But Chetak was critically wounded on his left thigh by a Mardana (Elephant Trunk Sword) while Pratap had attempted to nail down Man Singh. Chetak was bleeding heavily and he collapsed after jumping over a small brook few kilometres away from the battle field.
Two turk knights followed Pratap. The moment they started chasing him, Pratap’s younger brother Shaktisingh who was fighting from the Mughal side (he had some disputes with Pratap at the time of Pratap’s coronation; hence he had defected and gone over to Akbar’s court) realized that his own brother was under threat. He could not help but react against a threat to his own brother. He followed the Turks, engaged them in single combat and killed them. Saddned by the loss of his beloved general and horse, Pratap embraced his brother. Shaktisingh asked for his brother’s pardon, for having fought as his enemy. Pratap pardoned him. Maharana Pratap continued to fight against Mughals until his death in 1597.
Akbar succeeded his father Humayun at the age of 14 years. The kingdom Akbar inherited was little more than a collection of frail fiefs. Akbar continued his military expansion throughout his reign. Known as much for his inclusive leadership style as for his war mongering, Akbar ushered in an era of religious tolerance and appreciation for the arts. By the time he died, his empire extended to Afghanistan in the north, Sindh in the west, Bengal in the east, and the Godavari River in the south. Akbar’s success in creating his empire was as much a result of his ability to earn the loyalty of his conquered people as it was of his ability to conquer them. He allied himself with the defeated Rajput rulers, and rather than demanding a high “tribute tax” and leaving them to rule their territories unsupervised, he created a system of central government, integrating them into his administration.
Akbar was known for rewarding talent, loyalty, and intellect, regardless of ethnic background or religious practice. In addition to compiling an able administration, this practice brought stability to his dynasty by establishing a base of loyalty to Akbar that was greater than that of any one religion. He did not force India’s majority Hindu population to convert to Islam; he accommodated them instead, translating Hindu literature and participating in Hindu festivals. Akbar in 1563 repealed a special tax placed on Hindu pilgrims who visited sacred sites, and in 1564 completely repealed the jizya, or yearly tax on non-Muslims. What he lost in revenue by these acts, he more than regained in good-will from the Hindu majority of his subjects.
Akbar also formed powerful matrimonial alliances. When he married Hindu princesses—including Jodha Bai, the eldest daughter of the house of Jaipur, as well princesses of Bikaner and Jaisalmer—their fathers and brothers became members of his court and were elevated to the same status as his Muslim fathers- and brothers-in-law. While marrying off the daughters of conquered Hindu leaders to Muslim royalty was not a new practice, it had always been viewed as a humiliation. By elevating the status of the princesses’ families, Akbar removed this stigma among all but the most orthodox Hindu sects.