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The Legend of Chatrasal Bundela

The Legend of Chatrasal Bundela

Publication: Shakti Marg (shaktimarg@yahoo.com)

Lacerating across the heart of India stretches a wild and untamed land known as the Chambal valley and beyond to Bundhelkhand which houses an equally untamed and proud people.  With a rugged love of independence and pride they have a long history of resistance and struggle against oppressors and are even celebrated in numerous films in the Indian Film Industry as the 'honourable bandits'.

The people of the region say that the only offering that they can make the Goddess of the River is their blood and that their land has always cried out for it.  Throughout their history they have remained unsubdued by successive waves of invaders and oppressors with even the British Army moving only with great care through their land.

The most celebrated of their warriors, revered to this day, is Chatrasal Bundela, a young man of 18 years who challenged one of the mightiest empires of the world in 1665.  The Mughal Empire was at its zenith of power and glory when the puritanical Islamic emperor, Aurangzeb, began to unleash the full flow of Islamism over India.  Taking up the inspiration of the Maratha warrior Shivaji, Chatrasal gathered the hardy Bundela warriors to his side to raise the banner of Hindu freedom.

His father, Jujhar Singh had raised the banner for freedom a generation earlier but was killed in battle with the Mughals after himself killing the favourite of the emperor, Abu Fazl.

The freedom loving people of Bundelkhand however refused to submit and kept raising their heads and fought for freedom.  A deadly struggle, which eventually spread over nearly fifty years, then ensued with wave after wave of Mughal and Pathan attacks over the land being beaten back. Each successive invasion brought with it the desecration of Hindu temples and population, including cold-blooded murder of unarmed civilians, the rape of women and slavery for captured women and children.  This only redoubled the Bundela intensity for the fight for freedom and vengeance.

The 'Jizyah' tax or Islamic poll tax upon the Hindus was imposed by the Mughals.  The Maulvis who came to collect in Orchha, the capital of Bundelkhand, had their severed heads sent back to the Emperor with pages of the Koran stuffed in them as a sign of the Bundelas contempt for the Mughal's fanaticism.  The emperor himself led a huge expedition to Bundhelkhand to smash the 'idol worshippers' in 1684 but was forced to retreat without achieving any lasting successes, leaving behind trails of horror and destruction but still failing to subdue Chatrasal and the Bundelas.

From there onwards the Maratha attacks began to shake and then crumble the Mughal empire and, following the death of Aurangzeb, the Bundelas steadily began to gain ground over their Muslim adversaries.  The cream of the Mughal generals were sent one after the other to subdue the Bundelas but all their campaigns ended up in failure.

Eventually in a last desperate attempt the famous Pathan warrior Muhammad Khan Bhangash was sent with his fighters in 1730 and engaged in a final struggle.  The now aged Chatrasal with his sons and warriors drew the Pathans into battle and with the help of the Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao they won a final victory over the Mughals in 1730 expelling them finally from their lands.

The relentless wars of the past half century eventually ended with Chatrasal dying a free man leading a free people: an inspiration to successive generations of Hindus and an apt lesson that freedom is not something that can ever be taken for granted but must be maintained by endless and continuous vigilance.  It shows us that the endless waves of cruelty and barbarity unleashed on the Hindus failed to destroy or subdue their innate love for freedom and dharma.  When nation after nation from the edge of Europe to the very borders of India had their past obliterated by waves of genocidal and fanatical attacks by the votaries of the 'One' and 'Only True' 'God' which swept through Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, the  Hindus survived.  Not only survived, but struggled and fought and clung to their dharma as all around fell and their cultures and ways of life were forgotten and relegated to the museum.

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