A young child walked up to me and asked, who my favorite hero was. He gave me some options. Interestingly all of them were movie actors. I wondered what was so heroic about pretending to be someone in front of the camera. Then it dawned. Perhaps children today are not aware of what a hero could be, besides possessing six pack abs or a pair of dark glasses.
Hero, as I understand, is someone who puts his life or interest at stake for upholding dharma, or in other words, for protecting the weak. The writeup below is my attempt to answer the child’s query…some heroes as I know them.
Maharana Singh Pratap, (1540 – 1597), ruler of the state of Mewar, southern Rajasthan, never accepted the Mughals as rulers of India, and fought them all his life. Persia and England, Baghdad and Arabia felt honoured in sending costly embassies to the Mughal court, but Pratap was content with sending his word of defiance. His army was defeated in the battle of Haldighati, however he escaped and Akbar could not gain control over Mewar. RanaPratap regained strength and fought fiercely against the much larger Mughal army to regain control over most of Western India. What stands out about MaharanaPratap was his defiance to Akbar—almost unaided by any other Rajput army.
SambhajiMaharaj, (1657 – 1689), current generations in India most likely know very little about the son of the great king ShivajiBhonsle who at the age of 23 years ascended the throne after his father’s death. He was immediately plunged into a battle as Aurangzeb confidently entered Burhanpur to finish off the Maratha race with his 5,00,000 army. Sambhaji endured an onslaught from the Mughals from the North East and the Portuguese who attacked from the West, and though encircled his small band dispersed and battled them back in that first year.
In 1682 the Mughal army was defeated in Ramsej, in 1683 the Portuguese army was defeated in Goa with Ponda successfully captured, despite further joint attacks from the Mughals and the Portuguese from the East he not only retained those territories but captured further territories in Gujarat in 1685. During his nine-year reign, Sambhaji had battled the Mughals 69 times and the Portuguese 15 times—a story not often spoken in India’s history book but is regarded as one of the greatest Hindu resistances.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780 –1839), Ranjit Singh in 1797, at age 17, fought fiercely against the Afghan Muslim ruler Shah Zaman of the Ahmad Shah Abdali dynasty, who attempted to annex Punjab through his general Shahanchi Khan and 12,000 soldiers. In 1798, the Afghan ruler sent in another army. This time, Ranjit Singh let them enter Lahore, then encircled them with his army, blocked off all food and supplies, burnt all crops and food sources that could have supported them forcing their retreat. In 1807, Ranjit Singh’s forces attacked the Muslim ruled Misl of Kasur and, after a month of fierce fighting, defeated the Afghan chief Qutb-ud-Din. In 1813, Ranjit Singh’s general DewanMokham Chand led the Sikh forces against the Afghan forces of Shah Mahmud defeating them at Attock.
He took Multan in 1818 from Muzaffar Khan leading to the end of Afghan influence in the Punjab. In 1819, he successfully defeated the Afghan Sunni Muslim rulers and annexed Srinagar and Kashmir. In November 1819, Dost Mohammed accepted the sovereignty of the Maharaja over Peshawar. In 1823, Ranjit Singh defeated a large army of Yusufzai north of the Kabul River. In 1834, Mohammed Azim Khan once again marched towards Peshawar and the Maharaja defeated the forces.
Singh is remembered for uniting Sikhs and founding the prosperous empire. Also noteworthy were his reforms to set up a well-trained, self-sufficient army to protect the empire against the enemy forces.
MangalPandey, (1827 – 1857), a member of the 34th Regiment of the Bengal native infantry of the East India Company, attacked his senior British officers in an incident, which is today remembered as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 or The First War of Independence. The reason behind his burst of anger was that the cartridges for the Enfield rifle to be used by the Indian sepoys were greased with cow and pig fat.
MangalPandey’s reaction to the humiliation of his troops brought about an inner awakening such that he overcame fear of death.