Chetak, the most famous Marwari horse in the world
Our very own Luci, maybe a descendant of Chetak?
The Marwari horse breed holds an important place in the heart of north Indian culture. It owes a lot to the most famous of all Marwaris: Chetak.
According to traditional literature, poetry and songs, Chetak was the stallion of Maharana Pratap, the king of Mewar in Rajasthan.
Folk stories describe Chetak as what, today, would be considered the quintessential Marwari horse. He was relatively short - between 14.2 and 15.2 hands height. He had a long face, expressive eyes, a neck in the shape of a peacock and ears that curled and touched each other at the top. His coat had a tint of blue which earned him the name of ‘blue horse’ in some epics.
Personality wise, he was said to be very similar to the king: aggressive and arrogant. With a mind of his own, he only submitted to the Maharana. It is said that Chetak was the one to choose the king, not the other way around. One of many stories telling the prowess of Chetak involves climbing a 10 feet wall and breaking a leg, from which he recovered.
Chetak reached the peak of his fame during the battle of Haldighati on 21 June 1576. The Mughal Emperor Akbar was on his way to take Udaipur, at the heart of Mewar. Maharana Pratap and his army stood in a 1km mountainous pass in Haldighati in the Aravalli chain of mountains. That pass was the only route for the Mughal army to reach Udaipur.
The Maharana’s army was vastly outnumbered and the battle lasted a mere 4 hours. During the fight, the king tried to kill Raja Mansingh, the commander of the imperial Mughal army, who was riding an exceptionally big elephant. Chetak, wearing a mask of a baby elephant to confuse the enemy, charged Raja Mansingh's giant elephant, putting his front hooves onto his trunk in a bid to give the king a chance to throw his lance. Unfortunately, Maharana Pratap missed and ended up killing the elephant driver instead. In the process, the elephant’s tusk went through Chetak’s back leg, causing an injury that would soon lead to his death.
The battle of Haldighati
The king, too, was wounded. His closest aid took the crown and, wearing it on his head, galloped away to mislead the enemy. Chetak took advantage of the diversion (which cost that aide his life) to carry his king to safety. He was only on three legs but he managed to jump over a 25 feet deep river. When he had covered a big enough distance, Chetak collapsed and died under the weeping gaze of Maharana Pratap.
It took him 25 years, but the Maharana eventually managed to capture most of his kingdom back.
The Mughal Emperor Akbar was very impressed by the Maharana’s resilience and determination. He is said to have shed a tear when he learned that the king he could not defeat had died.
A statue of Chetak in Udaipur
Chetak continues to be celebrated by thousands of tourists every year who visit his memorial, Chetak Samadhi, in Haldighati, which is said to have been built on the exact spot the horse died.
Interestingly, experts say that historical sources neither name the king’s horse during the battle nor attribute it any exceptional achievement. It is only later, in the 17th Century that Chetak was mentioned in court poems. Similarly, some historians say that the Chetak Samadhi is, in fact, a sati (self-immolation) pillar that was built later on.
But this is of little importance. The story inspired millions of Indians over hundreds of years and became emblematic of loyalty, pride and eventually resistance against the British colonial presence. Today, many shops and restaurants (and even a scooter) continue to be named after him. There are also some Marwari horse breeders who claim to own stallions descending from the Chetak line.
Chetak is so famous that you would be hard pressed to find an Indian who doesn’t know his story.
1. Stories people told me