Chetak, a Hindi word that signifies “the one who remains conscious”, is by no wonder the name of Maharana Pratap horse. Chetak had shown its immense loyalty and reverence to the king till its last breath. Moreover, with its consciousness at the highest level of its alertness, Chetak had lifted the king on his back during a major period of his kingship and accompanied him bravely in multiple battles, including the battle of Haldighati. Sadly, the battle of Haldighati brought doom for the Chetak and it died on 18th June 1576, after a long brave fight. But, the mark of its friendship, bravery, and loyalty towards the king is to be remembered till date with wet eyes. Certainly, Chetak was not just a horse, but a hero of India’s history, who created a tale of courage. Let me tell you the tale that will give you goosebumps.
When the Rathors or Rajputs went to settle into the Marwar region (also called “the land of death”) or Maru Pradesh, they never knew that a great ruler of history was to born in the region and along with him a story of loyalty in the embodiment of Chetak the horse, was to follow.
After the defeat of Maharaja Udai Singh at Chittorgarh in 1568, the capital was shifted to Udaipur. And four years later (i.e, 1572), his son Rana Pratap Singh took charge of Mewar. Maharana Pratap Singh, the thirteenth king of Mewar, ruled the region with full patriotism and dedicated his life to his land. However, there came a major testing time, in 1576 when Akbar’s army with an intention to capture Mewar, attacked the region from the western side. So, Maharana Pratap on the back of a Chetak and an army of his loyal men went to guard his land and face the battle at the Haldighati pass. Haldighati, a 1 km long pass in the Aravalli ranges of Rajasthan, was the only accessible way to Mewar. (It lies near Gogunda in present-day Rajsamand.)
With Maharana Pratap and his determined men facing Akbar’s army led by Man Singh 1 of Amer, the battle of Haldighati began. The huge army of Akbar was proving to be heavy on the Mewar king’s army. But with all its courage, Chetak the wonder horse was there to support its king. The brave horse carrying Maharana on his back reached the elephant of Man Singh. The tusk of the elephant injured Chetak’s one leg in the front. Yet not giving up, Chetak with full force hoofed the elephant with another leg. Following this, the king threw his lance which killed the rider of the elephant.
The fierce battle that continued for almost six hours, led to the defeat of king Maharana Pratap of Mewar. But the wounded Chetak didn’t forget to pay his reverence to his friend like a king even in its last times. Even though one injured leg, it took the king to a safe place. There Chetak took his last breath. Due to this loyal act of Chetak, the king was able to hide in the mountains and the Mughals could not capture him. Years later, Pratap and his army came out to recapture their land.
What if Chetak would not have taken the king finally to a safe place? The answer to this question contains the depth of Chetak’s action of valour. Legend also says that Akbar went into tears when he came to know that Maharana Pratap died and Akbar lost the chance to kill him!
There were three popular breeds of horses in western India during that period, namely, Sindi, Kathiyawadi, and Marwari. Chetak was a horse of the Marwari breed. The Marwari breed horses with their beauty and alertness of their actions left the Rajputs of the time enchanted as soon as they settled in Marvar. Rajputs had a huge cavalry of over 50,000 men.
As it was a characteristic of the Marwari breed horses, Chetak had a small size of 14.2 – 15.2 hands height. With a body of true beauty, it had eloquently shining eyes and magically curved ears. The neck of Chetak resembled that of a peacock. Citing the reason, it is often called “Mayura Greeva” ( Maurya for peacock and Greeva for neck). Chetak was hard to control by anyone other than Maharana Pratap due to its aggressive and arrogant nature. Noting the various aspects of its characteristics, Chetak can indeed be called an exemplary horse of the Marwari breed.
It is also said that, in order to protect the horse, Maharana Pratap put a trunk-shaped armour on him. The opponent army often used to mistaken it for an elephant and Pratap’s strategy worked.
There are no fewer instances of Chetak’s bravery apart from the Haldighati battle. The horse once jumped a twenty-five feet deep trough to save the life of his master cum friend Maharana Pratap. It was the Chetak horse’s longest jump. The horse indeed had put his own life in danger and shielded his king’s life selflessly.
The folklores sung in the Mewar region describe the coat of the Chetak horse as blue in colour. This can be the reason why Chetak is referred to as “the blue horse” in several sources. We will come to know about this in the latter part of the article.
Legends also say that Chetak was often called “Neela Ghoda”, Hindi for “Blue Horse” owing to his brilliant blue eyes.
Though historical sources talk highly of the brave horse of Maharana Pratap, they don’t name it as Chetak. In fact, a horse named Chetak is found nowhere in the historical records. The Chetak horse poem “Khummana-Raso”, a ballad, coins the term “Cetak” for the horse, for the very first time. The ballad was published in the eighteenth century.
Further, a book called “Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan”, published in 1829 named the horse “Chytuc”. The book was written by James Todd, a political officer to the Marwari court. The Chetak’s story that it portrays seems to be influenced by “Khummana-Raso”. It is in this book that the Chetak horse of Maharana Pratap is referred to as “the blue horse” and Pratap as “the rider of the blue horse”.
While talking about the Chetak horse, it becomes interesting to talk about his fellow horses. The two fellow horses of Chetak were “Atak” and “Natak”. They were all trained for fighting in battles. However, Atak was injured during its trial in hilly areas. Nevertheless, Maharana Pratap bought all three horses. He gifted Natak to his younger brother and Chetak to himself. Atak was sent for treatment.
Since then, Chetak had been Pratap’s permanent companion.
Maharana Pratap’s horse Chetak tomb is situated 2 km west of Haldighati. It is dedicated to the valour of the horse. The spot of Chetak Smarak is said to be the same spot where Chetak actually died. Residing in the lap of Aravalli hills in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, the memorial was declared as a “Monument of National Importance” by the Archaeological Survey of India. Surrounding the memorial is a museum that tells the story of the battle.
There are several other statues and monuments dedicated to the horse. There is a statue of Maharana Pratap riding Chetak in Moti Magri Park in Udaipur. Bhagwant Singh of Mewar is said to have installed the statue there. Also, there is another statue in Jodhpur dedicated to the blue horse.
Chetak’s bravery and loyalty are imprinted forever on pages of India’s history. And various poets often attempt to reflect the same bravery and loyalty in the essence of their own words. One such great poet was Shyam Narayan Pandey, who dedicated a poem called “Chetak ki Veerta” to the brave horse. I would like to quote the poem here.
“रण बीच चौकड़ी भर-भर कर
चेतक बन गया निराला था
राणाप्रताप के घोड़े से
पड़ गया हवा का पाला था
जो तनिक हवा से बाग हिली
लेकर सवार उड़ जाता था
राणा की पुतली फिरी नहीं
तब तक चेतक मुड़ जाता था
गिरता न कभी चेतक तन पर
राणाप्रताप का कोड़ा था
वह दौड़ रहा अरिमस्तक पर
वह आसमान का घोड़ा था
था यहीं रहा अब यहाँ नहीं
वह वहीं रहा था यहाँ नहीं
थी जगह न कोई जहाँ नहीं
किस अरिमस्तक पर कहाँ नहीं
निर्भीक गया वह ढालों में
सरपट दौडा करबालों में
फँस गया शत्रु की चालों में
बढ़ते नद-सा वह लहर गया
फिर गया गया फिर ठहर गया
विकराल वज्रमय बादल-सा
अरि की सेना पर घहर गया
भाला गिर गया गिरा निसंग
हय टापों से खन गया अंग
बैरी समाज रह गया दंग
घोड़े का ऐसा देख रंग”
“A FRIEND IN NEED IS A FRIEND INDEED!” To sum up, Chetak was a horse who was a living example of this popular saying among humans!