Indian History Part 84 Aurangzeb Section V: Shivaji Carves Out A Kingdom

Canberra, 13 February 2021

Aurangzeb spent the first half of his reign immersed in the affairs of Hindustan, North India, and dealing with the repeated Hindu rebellions, first of the Jats and then the even more serious Rajput uprising that led to veritable war. The Deccan was left to be administered by viceroys who were not as committed as the emperor to conquer and annex the region; at best they were indifferent to this Mughal ambition, being fully engrossed in bettering their own financial prospects. Even though both Bijapur and Golconda were in individual states of decay and on the verge of collapse, the succession of viceroys lacked the concerted initiative necessary to push these kingdoms over the brink and to oblivion. It is also true that the imperial army was concentrated in Hindustan and therefore the Mughal army in the Deccan was more a token force than one that could wage and win wars. There was also prevalent mistrust between the viceroy, his administrative officers and the military commanders, thus making it impossible for the senior Mughal representative in the Deccan to annex these two moribund states.

In this somewhat somnolent environment, a third kingdom was gradually taking shape—the Marathas were in the process of creating the embryo of a kingdom through sheer zeal and untiring efforts of their young and energetic leader, Shivaji. Shivaji was the son of Shahji Bhonsle, who had been in the service of the Adil Shah of Bijapur since 1636.

Creating the Rudiments of a Kingdom

(A detailed account of the rise, decline and fall of the splendid Maratha kingdom will be the central theme of the next volume in this series of books on Indian history, From Indus to Independence: A Trek through Indian History. This chapter only gives an abridged version of the Mughal-Maratha interaction, and focuses on Aurangzeb’s actions and the repercussions thereof.)

The decline of Adil Shah power in Bijapur had created a situation of limited and lax administrative control within the crumbling kingdom, which was exacerbated by the illness of Muhammad Adil Shah, the ruling king, from 1646 till his death in 1656. This was a golden opportunity for Shivaji to capture a number of Bijapur forts—Torna, Kondhana (Sinhgarh), Rohira, Chakan and Purandhar. He also built his own fort at Raigarh near Torna, which subsequently became the de facto capital of the fledgling kingdom. The Adil Shah’s forces were preoccupied with annexing the Karnataka region from the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire and could not have confronted the Maratha leader. However, to ensure that Bijapur remained placated, Shivaji wrote to the Adil Shah that he was capturing the forts on behalf of the Bijapur administration to better control the turbulent regions of the state.

Shivaji went on to create a strong, but small army, recruiting the hardy Mavals from the western belt of the Pune district. In 1656, Shivaji decided to annex the state of Javli in the Mahabaleswar ranges. Javli was ruled by the Mores who could not be persuaded to ally themselves with Shivaji and they were far too powerful to be taken-on in direct confrontation. Shivaji contrived a plot through which he managed to get the senior members of the More family assassinated by a Brahmin agent who inveigled himself into the family. This was a treacherous act but was justified in Shivaji’s eyes because, firstly it succeeded and secondly it avoided unnecessary bloodshed. He would employ similar methods to achieve his objectives many more times in his illustrious career. With Javli annexed to his burgeoning kingdom, the path to further incursions to the south and south-west opened for Shivaji. He went on to construct the fort of Pratapgarh west of Javli.

Shivaji was now strong enough to capture Kalyani, Bhiwandi and the fort at Mahuli. By 1659, Shivaji controlled lands up to the southern limits of Satara district and in the Konkan, the territories from Mahuli to Mahad. In the same year, the new Adil Shah realised the threat being posed by the increasing strength of the Maratha chief and send an experienced general, Afzal Khan, to capture or kill Shivaji. This was the first time that Shivaji was confronted with the organised might of the Bijapur kingdom. Shivaji prudently retreated to the hills as Afzal Khan raced north into Maratha country, sweeping everything in front of him.

Employing the ruse of wanting to surrender personally, Shivaji lured Afzal Khan into a trap and slayed him. In the subsequent skirmish, the Bijapur army sustained heavy casualties and withdrew from the field. (The actual sequence of events that led to the slaying of Afzal Khan will be narrated in detail in the next volume of these series that deals exclusively with the Maratha Empire.) Afzal Khan’s slaying and the decisive victory over the Bijapur forces greatly enhanced Shivaji’s prestige and provided him an added impetus to push further into Bijapur territory. Shivaji went on to annex south Konkan and Kolhapur district.

The Mughals Enter the Fray

By the mid-1650s, the Mughal invasion of Bijapur was moving forward at a desultory pace. Shivaji took advantage of the preoccupation of the Mughal forces to the south and raided Mughal territories in Ahmadnagar and Junnar districts, plundering the city of Junnar. Aurangzeb, then in his second tenure as the viceroy of Deccan took action against the Marathas. Maratha villages were ravaged and burned. Shivaji suffered heavy losses and fled to the hills, hotly pursued by Mughal forces. Shivaji was able to avoid capture only because the Mughal officers were reluctant to follow him into the hills and the subsequent onset of the monsoons made the Mughal forces withdraw.

Shivaji learned a salutary lesson from this episode—that the wrath of the Mughal forces could swallow up armies much greater than the one he possessed. In the future he would always be circumspect in dealing with the Mughals. Therefore, when Bijapur concluded an uneasy peace with the Mughals, Shivaji also submitted. Aurangzeb accepted his submission, although he had reservations regarding the veracity of Shivaji’s stated intentions. At this time, Aurangzeb had become preoccupied with the beginning of the succession struggle and wanted his southern front to be stable. He was therefore forced to be reconciliatory towards the Maratha chief. Both Aurangzeb and Shivaji knew that the other was pretending—they never trusted each other.

Shivaji was now accepted by Bijapur as an ‘independent’ territorial power. It was expedient for them to do so since the Maratha territories could act as a barrier to the inexorable southward expansion of the Mughals. Immediately after he came to the throne, Aurangzeb dispatched Shayista Khan as the viceroy of Deccan with clear instructions to crush Shivaji. Arriving in the Deccan in 1660, Shayista Khan took over Pune, Kalyan and the north Konkan, pushing Shivaji on the backfoot. The Maratha chief bided his time to strike decisively, while continuing a guerrilla campaign. However, the relentless Mughal pressure on the Marathas was gradually becoming effective and morale was suffering. On 15th April 1663, Shivaji mounted a night attack on Shayista Khan’s residence in Pune, wounding him and slaying one of his sons. This attack did not obtain any material gain for the Marathas but enhanced Shivaji’s reputation as an intrepid warrior. It also had the added benefit of lifting the sagging morale and fighting spirit of the Maratha warriors.

Following the success of the daring raid in Pune, Shivaji attacked and sacked Surat in January 1664. Surat was the wealthiest of Mughal ports and he managed to capture more than one crore (10 million) rupees in this pillaging raid. On his return to Raigarh from Surat, Shivaji received news that his father Shahji had died in a hunting accident. Shivaji now assumed the leadership of the Bhonsle clan and added the title ‘Raja’ to his name. He also felt that he was no longer bound by the promise he had given his father earlier to desist from attacking Bijapur territory.

Aurangzeb was perturbed by the brazen attack on Shayista Khan and transferred him to Bengal, appointing Raja Jai Singh of Amber to control the situation in the Deccan. Jai Singh was one of the greatest generals in Aurangzeb’s army and was also an acknowledged diplomat. He was accompanied by Dilir Khan, also an able general, as assistant. The duo was given a double-folded objective—chastise the Adil Shah for not adhering to the treaty conditions and subsequently conquer Bijapur; and put down Shivaji with all the might of the Mughal Empire. Jai Singh, known for his tact, managed to secure the support of all the minor chieftains who had been antagonised by Shivaji and created a ring of adversarial opponents around the Maratha king. Shivaji’s position became extremely precarious.

The Treaty of Purandar and After

In order to facilitate his continuing guerrilla campaign, Shivaji has placed most of the Maratha families in the fort at Purandar for their safety. Jai Singh besieged the fort and plundered and torched the countryside outside. Shivaji realised that he could not defend the fort endlessly and asked for a negotiatory meeting with Jai Singh, which was granted. Shivaji and Jai Singh concluded the Treaty of Purandar on 12th June 1665. According to the treaty, Shivaji ceded all the forts and territories that he had seized from Mughal control, which amounted to 23 forts including Purandar and Sinhgarh, and accepted Mughal suzerainty. This left him with a mere 12 forts as his fiefdom. Shivaji was permitted to keep the coastal strip in the Konkan and was also told that he could conquer the Konkan highlands from Bijapur. In return, Shivaji was to pay a tribute to Aurangzeb and personally assist Jai Singh in the war against Bijapur, which the Raja was about to launch. Shivaji served the imperial army loyally during the Mughal invasion of Bijapur, immediately after signing the treaty.

After accepting Mughal suzerainty, Shivaji and Aurangzeb exchanged few letters, a correspondence initiated by Shivaji. He wrote to the Mughal emperor, abjectly appealing to be forgiven his trespasses, pleading to ‘your Majesty’s storehouse of grace’ to issue a firman pardoning all offences that he had so far committed. Aurangzeb, although continuing to be sceptical regarding the Maratha’s intent, was carried away by Shivaji’s cajolery and confirmed the firman, also sending a robe of honour for the Maratha king. Shivaji acknowledged the firman with another effusive letter thanking the Mughal and proclaiming himself, ‘Shiva, the meanest of life-devoting slaves …’ and so on. No doubt these missives were yet another part of Shivaji’s cunning plan to best the Mughals.

Bijapur Campaign

In November 1665, Shivaji accompanied Jai Singh on his campaign against Bijapur. The Mughals met with initial successes in the outlying areas but as the Bijapur resistance stiffened, the Mughals were stopped in their tracks. Shivaji himself was repulsed by Bijapur forces when he attacked Panhala in the Kolhapur district. At this stage Shivaji’s commander, Netaji Palkar, defected to join Shivaji’s stepbrother Ekoji, then in service with the Adil Shah in Bijapur. Although Jai Singh and the other Mughal commanders were not enamoured by Shivaji’s performance in the campaign and the defection of his commander, they did not show it openly. Aurangzeb, while commending his performance, invited Shivaji to come to the royal court. Jai Singh also urged him to obey the royal summons.  

The Mughal campaign in Bijapur was not going well. So why would Jai Singh, who could use all the help he could get, urge Shivaji to leave the Deccan at this critical phase of the campaign? It is clear now, with the help of hindsight and the knowledge of further events that transpired, that Aurangzeb and Jai Singh acted in concert to remove Shivaji from the Deccan. It was in the Deccan that he could do maximum damage to the Mughal enterprise; his senior commander had already defected; and Shivaji was obviously smarting because he had been deprived of a full two-third part of his kingdom. The probability of his separating from the imperial army at some critical juncture in the campaign was therefore very high. The Mughal emperor and his general in the Deccan both knew that Shivaji would be seeking an opportunity to regain lost status and inflict maximum damage to the Mughal army in the Deccan. The best course of action, therefore, would be to keep him out of the fight altogether and physically away from the Deccan rather than risk his presence in the Deccan and the possibility of his defection.

The paradox in this situation is that Shivaji, the canny Maratha, did not see through this somewhat ingenious ploy. The fact remained that he was not obliged to go the Mughal court, since he had been explicitly exempted from doing so by the Treaty of Purandar. Although successful as a small-time chief, Shivaji and the Maratha enterprise had so far only become a semi-regional power with hardly any capacity to face the Mughal, or for that matter the relatively smaller Bijapur, forces in direct conflict. After the treaty had been signed, Shivaji was exposed to the actual power that Jai Singh wielded and was able to observe the inner working of the great machinery that was the imperial Mughal army. The resources at the disposal of a senior general like Jai Singh must have made him realise the constraints under which he functioned. It is speculated that Shivaji may have wanted to see the splendour and might of the Mughal emperor, if a general of the realm was so powerful.

Shivaji was also apprehensive about going to Agra, since he was unsure of the reception he would receive. He settled his affairs in the Deccan, carefully handing over the administration of different territories to his commanders before setting course for Agra. It seemed that he felt the absence would be longer than anticipated. He left with a small escort of 300 trusted men and his son Shambhuji, reaching Agra on 12th May 1666.

An Insult and an Escape

Shivaji was received outside Agra by Jai Singh’s son, Kunwar Ram Singh, and escorted to the court for an audience with Aurangzeb. In the court, he was ranked as a mansabdar, commander, of 5000 horse and made to stand in the third line of courtiers. Shivaji felt that he should have been ranked at least as a commander of 7000, which was Jaswant Singh’s rank, and felt extremely humiliated. Against court protocol, Shivaji protested loudly and was removed from the court and forbidden from attending court again. Thereafter he was kept under guard. The Rajput nobles, who had long resented the induction of Maratha chiefs into the Mughal court, felt that the punishment was too lenient. They urged more severe action against the upstart Maratha. The Rajput resentment to the Marathas was the outcome of a fear of being sidelined in Mughal favour, since they had held prominent positions in court for generations. The Marathas had started entering imperial service during the reign of Jahangir and the trend had increased during Shah Jahan’s time. By the time of Aurangzeb’s rule, as many as 96 Maratha chiefs were serving in the imperial army in the rank of commander of 5000 horse.

Shivaji returned to his camp and promised Ram Singh that he would not attempt to escape, although almost immediately he had started to plan his escape. He started by petitioning Aurangzeb—initially asking to be permitted to return to the Deccan; then to be permitted to join the Bijapur campaign, ‘to fight and die and thereby render service to you’; and then to be permitted to go to Varanasi and become a religious mendicant. Aurangzeb refused all three requests. After nearly three months of unofficial captivity, on 19th August 1666, Shivaji and his son escaped from Agra, hiding in wicker baskets meant to transport sweetmeats into and out of Shivaji’s quarters. In order to confuse the pursuers, who were sure to give chase, he travelled north to Mathura, in the opposite direction to that he would take to return to his fledgling kingdom. He shaved his beard and dressed as a travelling mendicant, a common sight in those days, moved through a circuitous route and reached Raigarh on 12th September 1666.

Aurangzeb rued Shivaji’s escape till his last days. He wrongly suspected Ram Singh of collusion in the escape and meted out punishment to him. Shivaji lay low for almost three years after this direct encounter with Aurangzeb and a fortunate escape. He made no aggressive moves and concentrated on improving the administration of his domain, which he recognised as a prerequisite to the longevity of the kingdom he was attempting to create. It is somewhat surprising that Aurangzeb, who never missed a chance to chastise and degrade Hindu chieftains, uncharacteristically made no attempt at recapturing or punishing Shivaji. He was of course pre-occupied with other matters in Hindustan, but it seems certain that Aurangzeb was wary of tangling with the troublesome Maratha king.

Contemporary opinion about Shivaji’s ‘inaction’ for close to three years vary in the extreme. One group of chroniclers were quick to write him off as a spent force, destined to fade into obscurity as a petty hill chieftain like so many before him. Another group, while not discounting his achievements also felt that he would consolidate the small kingdom and live the rest of his life in comparative ease as a minor king. Both these opinions were incorrect assessments. Shivaji was consolidating and gathering fresh strength, while maturing future plans. The best was yet to come. In 1668, he enacted a formal treaty of peace with the Mughals through Prince Muazzam (who is also known by his given title, Shah Alam), even though Aurangzeb was still sceptical and unconvinced regarding Shivaji’s professed good will. Aurangzeb reluctantly conferred the title of ‘Raja’ on Shivaji.

Raja Jai Singh’s Humiliation

Having successfully removed Shivaji whose loyalty was suspect, from the equation, Jai Singh prosecuted the Bijapur campaign with great vigour. Despite extreme guerrilla warfare conducted by the Bijapur forces, the imperial army pressed forward and reached 12 miles from the Bijapur fort. However, for some inexplicable reason, Jai Singh could not deliver the coup de main and capture the fort. Facing fanatical opposition, Jai Singh was forced on the backfoot. The Bijapur forces commenced fierce harassment of the Mughals and Jai Singh was compelled to start a gradual retreat. He fought two severe battles and suffered heavy losses and was pushed back to Aurangabad, where he reached with a battered army, having achieved nothing. An irate Aurangzeb recalled him to court, once again accusing him and his son of secretly aiding Shivaji to escape and conducting a half-hearted campaign in the Deccan.

Humiliated and disappointed, Raja Jai Singh—a paragon of military virtue and loyalty—died, broken-hearted, on 28th August 1667. Aurangzeb’s focused bigotry had claimed one more victim, since the accusations heaped on Jai Singh were completely false and made only because he was a Rajput king.

Shivaji – Crowning Glory

In January 1670, Shivaji took to the field again, with renewed vigour. The political and military environment in the Deccan had gradually become conducive to his plans. In Bijapur, Ali Adil Shah II who had beaten back the imperial army under Jai Singh had sunk into personal debauchery and was effective. In any case, the kingdom itself was yet to recover from the strain of beating back the Mughals. Jai Singh, the grand Mughal commander was dead and Prince Muazzam, the new viceroy, was inclined to be inactive. Aurangzeb was personally involved in subduing rebellions in the north-west borders of his empire. The imperil Deccan forces had been depleted to cater for demands elsewhere in Hindustan. Looking back at his own deeds as the viceroy of Deccan, Aurangzeb was wary of placing a large force under the command of his son Muazzam in the Deccan, which could induce him to rebel. Therefore, he had also disbanded a large part of the army of the Deccan that remained after troops were redeployed to the north, to deny Muazzam sufficient forces, even if he was inclined to rebel.

There was a fundamental difference between the army of the Mughals and that of Shivaji the Maratha king. For Aurangzeb, the army was an item of expenditure, a drain on the treasury, even though critical to the stability and well-being of the empire. On the other hand, for Shivaji, even after he had formally become king, his army was a source of revenue, through plunder. Not only did they pay their own way through the plunder collected, but they also contributed heavily to the central treasury.

Shivaji’s immediate objective on setting out in 1670 was to recapture the forts that he had been forced to cede to the Mughals in enacting the Treaty of Purandar in 1665. He first captured Sinhgarh, then a month later Purandar, followed by a number of other forts in the region, and later Kalyan and north Konkan. The Mughal response was muted since the imperial army was handicapped by the in-fighting between Prince Muazzam the viceroy and his military commander, Dilir Khan. Shivaji sacked Surat for a second time in October 1670 and carried away rich booty in treasure and materiel. Unlike the previous time, he left a written message for the Mughal commander who was holed up inside the fort, to pay an annual tribute of 1.2 million rupees if he was to avoid further sacking of his port. The enhanced confidence of the Maratha king is clearly visible.

Shivaji then turned to Mughal territories. He carried out daring raids into Aurangabad, the provinces of Baglana, Khandesh and Berar; and captured Salher, an important fort on the border between Khandesh and Gujarat. In Khandesh he enforced the payment of ‘chauth’ to the Maratha king, one-fourth of the produce of the fields from the entire province. This was a turning point in the Mughal-Maratha relationship, since it was the first time that a Mughal province was required to pay ‘chauth’ to the Marathas. Thus began the process of superimposing Maratha authority on Mughal power, which had reigned supreme in all their provinces for nearly 150 years. This process would subsequently spread across the entire sub-continent—gradually extinguishing Mughal power, without formally replacing it.

Aurangzeb was concerned with the deteriorating situation in the Deccan and replaced Prince Muazzam with Bahadur Khan in 1672. Bahadur Khan did not achieve any notable objectives during his five-year viceroyalty. At the same time, Shivaji was going from strength to strength, conquering more forts, and annexing Jawhar and Ramnagar south of Surat. The Mughal forces continued to engage in ineffective, inconclusive and desultory skirmishes with the Marathas at random places and timings.

While he was engaged in this series of conquests, the family priests had done their nomework to formally connect Shivaji’s lineage to that of the Sisodias, the Rajput warrior kings of Mewar. On 6th June 1674, Shivaji crowned himself king at Raigarh. He was 47 years old. Aurangzeb did not react to the coronation or the splendid ceremonies and festivities that accompanied the event. It is likely that the Mughal considered the coronation an act by Shivaji to seal his own position amongst the Marathas. Shivaji now turned south and went on to conquer Gingee and Vellore, vast territories in the Karnataka region that greatly augmented his territorial holdings, power and prestige. This was the pinnacle of Shivaji’s career. Soon after, at the age of 53, Shivaji fell ill with fever and dysentery and died on 2 April 1680.

A Brief Assessment

From the time of Shivaji’s death, the Maratha people continued to become stronger—both politically and militarily. A year later, in 1681, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb personally moved into the Deccan to confront the Marathas and annex the Peninsula. However, even after spending a strenuous 26 years in combating them, he could not cope with the rising power of the Marathas.

Shivaji’s lasting achievement was the creation of a discernible identity for the Marathas, who had for centuries been farmers and soldiers but without a dedicated land or kingdom to call their own. They had functioned without political or military power vested directly on ‘their own’ leaders and chieftains. Shivaji accomplished three tangible dynamics without which no people can hope to prosper as independent entities and which set the Marathas on the journey to greatness—he gave them a distinct and proud identity as hardy, loyal and victorious warriors; at the time of his death, the Maratha kingdom was the most powerful single entity in the Deccan and the Deep South of the Peninsula, the only power that could stand up to the Mughal juggernaut operating in the region; and he created a royalty, that the Marathas had so far lacked, to lead this emerging power to success and glory.

‘Sivaji [sic] always strove to maintain the honour of the people of the territories,’ says a Muhammadan historian. ‘He persisted in rebellion, plundering caravans, and troubling mankind. But he was absolutely guiltless of base sins, and was scrupulous of the honour of women and children of the Muslims when they fell into his hands.’ Aurangzeb himself admitted that his foe was ‘a great captain’; and added, ‘My armies have been employed against him for nineteen years, and nevertheless his State has been always increasing.’

—Stanley Lane-Poole,

Rulers of India: Aurangzeb and the Decay of the Mughal Empire, p. 168.

From this point forward, the Marathas would remain major players in the unfolding Indian history.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2021]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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