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~ Avik Sengupta*
HENB | Kolkata | May 7, 2020.
“Give them hope. Here, the men’s only choice is between German bullets and ours.But there’s another way. The way of courage.The way of love of the motherland. We must tell magnificent stories. Stories that extol, sacrifice, bravery.We must make them believe in the victory. We must give them hope, pride, a desire to fight. Yes we need to make examples, but examples to follow. What we need are heroes.”Thus goes the conversation between political commissar Danilov and Nikita Khrushchev in the world war 2 movie ‘Enemy At The Gates’ set at the backdrop of the brutal war of Stalingrad.
The Hero in question was Vassily Zaitsev. Fast forwarding to present day Bengal, do we really need heroes? The fall from grace for Bengal has been fast and steady. Persona non grata in two thirds of united Bengal, survival in the remaining one thirdis also at stake as the threat of greater Bangladesh looms large. Classified as a non-martial race by the conniving British, caricatured in popular culture, economically inconsequential, we need heroes more than ever.
Do we have the equivalent of Shivaji, Maharana Pratap or Lachit Borphukan? Dusting through decades of Marxist decadence, we might find one in the annals of history, often misrepresented in popular folklore and memory relegated to a street in Southern Calcutta.Maharaja Pratapaditya of Jessore. The independent sovereign who challenged the might of the Mughal Empire and almost shook its roots.
In the olden times, the marshy lands of Jessore were known as Yashohara, literally translating to ‘depriver of glory’. The glory of Gauda was deprived Yashohara when Pratapaditya’s father Bikramaditya Srihari amassed the wealth from the Pathan rulers and established Yashohara in south Bengal. Pratapaditya was born in 1561, and it was predicted at his birth that Pratap would soon supplant his father by the state seer. While apprehensive Bikram did not kill the boy upon hearing the seer’s premonition, as would be the norm prevalent at the time but was sent to Agra as a de-facto exile but by a strange twist, this act actually sealed the prophecy.
Pratapaditya prospered immensely, building numerous forts and temples and rapidly expanded through conquest. Finally went on to declare himself sovereign lord from the shackles of Mughal Empire. He presided over a Hindu kingdom in Bengal, which, at its zenith encompassed the districts of Nadia, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas in West Bengal, as well as extending up to modern-day Bangladesh from Kushtia in the North, Barisal in the East and Sundarbans and Bay of Bengal to the South.
Maharaja Pratapaditya built several fortifications to secure his kingdom. The principal fourteen of them were at Jessore, Dhumghat, Raigarh, Kamalpur, Vedkashi, Shibsha, Pratapnagar, Shalikha, Matla, Haidargarh, Araikaki, Mani, Raimangal and Chaksri, even seven were built in and around present-day Kolkata. They were at Matla, Raigarh, Tala, Behala, Salkia, Chitpur and Mulajor and one near present-day Jagaddalin the North 24 Parganas.
Maharaj Pratapaditya’s army was divided into six divisions – infantry, cavalry, artillery, archers and elephant division. The infantry consisted of the Dhali and Raibneshe soldiers, under the command of Kalidas Ray and Madan Malla. Madan Malla belonged to the Bagdi (Barga Kshatriya)caste. In fact, the Raibneshe soldiers of Pratapaditya’s army were all Bagdi in origin, brought from Mallabhum by Pratapaditya since the Bagdis were proven warrior clan of Bengal. According to Bharat chandra, Maharaj Pratapadaitya had 52,000 Dhalis under his command. There were many Kuki soldiers in his army and the Kuki regiment was under the command of Raghu. In fact many of these communities form proud contingents of the modern day Indian Army and wreaked havoc on the enemy during the Kargil War.A cavalry of 10,000 was commanded by Pratapsingha Dutta, assisted by Mahiuddin and Nurullah. The archers were led by Sundar and Dhulian Baig. There were 1,600 elephants trained for war. Apart from these Pratapaditya had a network of spies, under the command of Sukha. Precisely Pratapditya formed a rainbow coalition of classes and communities in his armed forces.
He also boasted of a powerful navy.The maritime borders of his kingdom was frequently raided by the Portuguese and Arakanese pirates along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Most of the Bara Bhuiyans of the time were well equipped in naval warfare and Maharaj Pratapaditya was no exception. Historian Radhakumud Mookerjee observed thus, “But by far the most important seat of Hindu maritime power of the times in Bengal was that established at Chandikhan or Saugor Island by the constructive genius of Maharaj Pratapaditya, the redoubtable King of Jessore. Numbers of men-of-war were always to be found ready for battle and in a seaworthy condition at that naval station. There were also three other places where Maharaj Pratapaditya built his shipyards and dockyards: these were Dudhali, Jahajaghata, and Chakasri, where his ships were built repaired and kept.”
Magh pirates from Arakan (present day Rakhine State of Myanmar) and the Portuguese wreaked a havoc in the coastal areas by abduction for slave trade. The villagers were kidnapped from their settlements and allegedly , their hands were drilled and a thin cane stick inserted and hoarded into holds of pirate ships to be transported and sold in faraway countries. Maharaja Pratapaditya routed these pirates through his naval armada.
Pratapaditya openly defied Mughal suzerainty by self-declaration as a sovereign ruler and started to mint his own coin and used his own insignia on his banners. He also tried to inspire other chieftains but was dismayed.This was provocation enough to enrage the Mughal hegemony. A large Mughal contingent was dispatched consisting of 1,000 cavalry, 5,000 matchlock men and a number of tried and experienced officers, such as Mirza Makki, son of Iftikhar Khan, Mirza Saifuddin, Shaikh Ismail Fathpuri, Shah Beg Khaksar and Lachhmi Rajput, and a fleet consisting of 300 men-of-war, besides the war boats of new vassals like Musa Khan and Bahadur Ghazi, was selected for the war. The Mughal forces were under the command of Subhadar of Bengal Islam Khan’s brother Ghiyas Khan or Inayat Khan, while the fleet and artillery were under Mirza Nathan, son of Ihtimam Khan. Another force was sent against his son in law, Raja Ramchandra of Bakla, so that he cannot come at the aid of Jessore.Maharaja Pratapaditya and his son Udayaditya fought valiantly literally to the last man and the last bullet. There is a folk lore that 12 of the Mughal Amirs were killed during the campaign and were buried in a place called ‘Baro Omrar Kabar’ (Tombs of the Twelve Amirs) within the battle grounds.
Phonetically similar to Haldighati of Rana Pratap, the significance of Kagarghat was no less. This was Pratapaditya’s last stand. The Mughals launched a surprise attack on the Jessore fleet and compelled it to seek shelter near the fort. But their further advance was checked by a heavy barrage of the Jessore artillery. After the dilapidated fleet was completely destroyed, the attack intensified on the fort with the elephants in front, thereby compelling Pratapaditya to evacuate the fort and retreat. His valiant army strategist Rudraditya was forced in exile after being captured during this war. His son was martyred in war.
After Pratapdityas defeat after a superhuman defiance against insurmountable odds, Raja Man Singh, Akbar’s regent requested Lakshmikanta (foster son of Basanta Roy, Prataditya’s uncle) to ascend the throne, but he refused. Instead, Bhavananda Majumdar, who had been in the service of Maharaj Pratapaditya as a Brahmin scholar, was given the throne on a platter and he went on to lay the foundations of the Nadiya Raj family.
After the fall of Pratapaditya, the Mughal army ruthlessly ransacked Jessore in the spirit of Jihad and ‘Maal-e-Ghanimat’. Srish Chandra Basu quotes historian Tapan Kumar Ray Choudhuri,“Plunder and rape appear as the concomitants of Mughal campaigns, and even a sensible man like Mirza Nathan boasts of his ruthless exploits. Udayaditya’s (Pratapaditya’s son) failure to satisfy this officer’s lust for gold drew upon the head of the Jessore people a terrible vengeance. He threatened to show what is meant by looting, and true to his words, wrought such havoc that he became an object of terror to the people of the country. Yet, to be sure, Mirza Nathan was more humane than his brother Murad who during a Jessore campaign bought as captives four thousand women, young and old, stripped of their clothing.”
For 13 years, Maharaja Prataditya fought to keep land of Bengal independent defying the Mughal Emperor. It’s said, though he was chained and caged and was being transported back to Delhi for his trial. Much to their dismay Pratapaditya succumbed to his injuries and vagaries of the journey, ending a glorious period of Bengal.
There is a lengthy interview of former KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov who talks about presenting disinformation among foreign cultures for breaking of nationalistic spirit as a part of the Communist propaganda. Also Mithrokin Archives talks in length about intellectuals and intelligentsia being on the payroll of the Soviets to supplant nationalism with Communism. The nationalist spirit in Bengal has withered away in 34 years of Communist rule. It is no surprise that such a glorious icon of Bengal is not celebrated, instead imported figureheads such as Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevera has been ingrained into the Bengali minds. Pratapditya Utsav, once started by Sarala Devi Chaudhurani at the heydays of revolutionary nationalism in Bengal, is unknown to the Bengalis at present. No wonder that Bengal of today doesn’t remember Pratapaditya, the man ahead of his time, who gave Bengal the taste of freedom after centuries of foreign rule.
About Author: *Avik is a HR professional by training. Has worked with national and international organizations of repute. A seeker of his root and a self taught history buff, Avik wants to be a part of the journey to reclaim what is rightfully ours.