The Marathas Part 6 Shivaji Bhonsle Section IV Dealing with the Mughals 1. Shayista Khan and After

Canberra, 1 August 2021

Busy with settling his newly captured throne, Aurangzeb deputed Shayista Khan as the viceroy of the Mughal Deccan. Shayista Khan was Aurangzeb’s maternal uncle, a highly regarded noble of the court, and a veteran soldier who had knowledge of the Deccan since he had been part of the force that had earlier invaded Golconda. He was now tasked with suppressing Shivaji.

At the same time, the Adil Shah was also starting to march against Shivaji. Siddi Jauhar, with the new title Salabat Jang, was given command of a large army and directed to take the fight to Shivaji. The Bijapur commander of Janjira, Fatih Khan, also joined this army. Unable to withstand the numerical superiority of the Bijapur forces, Shivaji was driven back and took shelter in the fort at Panhala. On 2nd March 1660, Siddi Jauhar laid siege to the fort with over 15,000 troops. Since the Bijapur forces seemed to be ascendant, the Savants of Savantvadi, once vassals of Shivaji, switched sides and joined in harassing the Maratha forces.

The Siege of Panhala

The siege of Panhala carried on for five months, with Siddi Jauhar assailing the fort from three sides. When the provisions in the fort started to run dangerously low, Shivaji unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate with Siddi Jauhar to come to terms and form an alliance against Bijapur. It is reported that he even tried flattery to swing the feelings of the Bijapur commander. On their part, the Bijapur forces were unable to break into the fort or inflict noteworthy casualties on the defenders. Gradually the siege had degenerated into a blockade of the fort. The Bijapur army also had Fazl Khan, Afzal Khan’s son, as one of the commanders. He was bent of exacting revenge for the killing of his father and during the blockade had also started to shell Pavangarh, a nearby fort of the Marathas.

Aware that the trap was closing in on him, Shivaji decided to escape from Panhala. Leaving a small contingent to continue the defence of the fort, Shivaji withdrew from the fort at night on 13th July with the majority of his forces with the intention of reaching Vishalgarh, 27 miles to the west. On the way he attacked the Bijapur forces camped below the walls of Pavangarh, which alerted Fazl Khan to the escape. Fazl Khan immediately started a pursuit of the Marathas and intercepted them when they were still six miles short of Vishalgarh. Baji Prabhu, the Deshmukh of the Hirdas Maval volunteered to stay with a small force to fight a rear-guard action, while Shivaji and the main group hurried on to Vishalgarh. On reaching Vishalgarh, the main force would fire five guns as a signal for Baji Prabhu to disengage and start a withdrawal of his own. Baji Prabhu made his stand against Fazl Khan at Pandhar Pani and beat back repeated attacks by the Bijapur forces. Unfortunately, by the time the signal of Shivaji’s safe arrival in the fort was sounded, Baji Prabhu had been killed in action. His soldiers carried his body back to Vishalgarh. Baji Prabhu, a Kayastha Prabhu, had succeeded in his mission at the cost of his life.

The Kayastha Prabhus

The Kayastha Prabhus trace their ancestry back to old Hindu ‘itihasa’ or history, which has over the ages been relegated to being called Hindu ‘mythology’. The story goes like this:

In antiquity, King Sahasrabahu Arjuna of the thousand arms ruled the Haihiyas. In the kingdom lived a sage, Jamadagni, who had cast away all human passions and emotions in his quest to attain perfect sanyasa, oneness with God. One of the many passions, anger, had warned him before leaving him that without anger a man could achieve nothing. Jamadagni had not taken heed. One day when the sage was out, King Sahasrabahu Arjuna came to the hermitage and was welcomed by the sage’s wife. The king liked the hermitage calf and stole the animal, which led to a dispute between him and Jamadagni.

The sage, devoid of anger, was unable to defend himself and the king killed him, inflicting 21 wounds on his head. Among the sons of Jamadagni was Rama, often called Parasurama because he had been gifted a parasu, a battle axe, as a weapon by Lord Shiva. When he heard of his father’s death, Parasurama who was the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu on Earth, embarked on terrible revenge. He cleansed the Earth of all Kshatriyas, the warrior caste to which the king belonged, once for each wound that his father had received on his head, annihilating the entire caste 21 times.

Sahasrabahu’s son Chandrasena’s wife, who was pregnant at the time of the first round of killings by Parasurama, fled to the hermitage of sage Dalabhya and sought refuge there. Parasurama followed her and asked Dalabhya to hand over the Kshatriya princess, to which the sage readily agreed. Pleased with Dalabhya’s decision Parasurama granted him a boon upon which, the sage asked for the life of the unborn child. The boon was granted with a caveat that the child, if a boy, should not become a warrior like his father, but a writer; and instead of being called a Kshatriya, he should be called ‘Kayastha’ since his life had been spared in his mother’s ‘kaya’, or body.

From this first Kayastha emanated a long line of Kayastha Prabhus, who unite the characteristic qualities of both warriors and writers. They are renowned as brave, loyal and intelligent warriors.     

Bijapur made no attempt to besiege Vishalgarh, the terrain being unsuitable for any such manoeuvre. Ali Adil Shah however, personally went to Panhala and took over the fort from Siddi Jauhar.

Shayista Khan Occupies Pune and Chakan

While the Bijapur army was attacking the Maratha holdings from the south and pushing them west, Shayista Khan had opened his campaign from the north. He marched out of Ahmednagar on 25th February 1660, following a path along the eastern borders of Pune district, capturing and garrisoning the Maratha forts that guarded the approaches to Pune, one by one. The Marathas continuously retreated without giving battle, since the terrain and strength of the Mughal army was against them. By 5th April, Shayista Khan had captured Sonawadi and Supa, reaching Baramati, where he turned west and followed the valley of the River Nira. His progress was rapid since there was only token resistance from the Marathas and by 18th April, he was at Shirwal, a mere 26 miles south of Pune. Being an experienced general, Shayista Khan garrisoned all captured forts with his own soldiers and commanders to ensure that his lines of communication remained secure. By 1st May, travelling through Shivpur and Garara the Mughal army had reached Saswad about 18 miles from Pune.

Till this time the Marathas had not offered any serious resistance to the Mughal advance other than sporadic raids to cut off supplies and engage foraging parties of the adversary, essentially informal interdiction attempts. Now they took their first stand at the pass between Shivpur and Garara. On 30th April they attacked the Mughal rear-guard commanded by Rao Bhao Singh, but were beaten back after ferocious fighting. One more concerted Maratha attempt near Purandhar fort to push back the Mughal army was unsuccessful. On 9th May the Mughal army entered Pune. The Marathas followed a scorched earth policy, destroying all grain and fodder in and around Pune. Shayista Khan who had planned to spend the monsoon season in Pune was now forced to move to Chakan, still under Maratha control, but which was closer to Ahmednagar and therefore would be easier on the supply chain of the Mughals.

Chakan was strategically important. To the east there were no difficult mountain passes to cross and it was only a short distance from Ahmednagar, the main Mughal base in the Deccan. If the Mughals were based at Chakan, they could not be threatened from the north or the east, making it easier to defend the base. Additionally, Chakan also commanded the shortest route from Ahmednagar to the Konkan through the Bhorghat Pass.

Shayista Khan reached Chakan on 21st June, shored up his own defences and then laid siege to the fort, although the effort was hampered by the rains that had already set in. The Mughal forces faced stiff opposition from the Maratha forces under the command of Phirangoji Narsala, who had been appointed to the post by Dadaji Kondadev. Finally on 15th August, after heavy fighting and losses on both sides (Mughal losses for the day was reported at 268 killed and 600 wounded), the fort was captured. The Chakan defence was so well organised that Shayista Khan offered Narsala a high position in Mughal service. The offer was refused and the valiant commander was permitted to return to Shivaji. Throughout the siege Shivaji could send no reinforcements since he was tied down in the south.

By end-August Shayista Khan returned to Pune and took up residence in Shivaji’s old palace for the rest of the year in enforced inactivity. The incessant monsoon rains and the reluctance to lay siege to any more Maratha forts for fear of heavy losses like at Chakan held him back. However, he managed to bribe and buy off the Adil Shahi commander of Parenda fort and annex it to the Mughal holdings.

Maratha Triumphs and Reverses

Throughout the second half of 1660, there was a lull in military activities. Shivaji was at Rajgarh, planning to compensate for the losses that he had suffered from Shayista Khan’s advance. He decided to transfer the war to the Konkan, which was nominally Bijapur territory held by petty vassal rajas and Adil Shahi governors. Shayista Khan also had similar ideas, wanting to finish even the last vestiges of Shivaji’s power in the Konkan. He also realised that small forces would not be able to achieve the desired objectives and assembled a large force. This force was placed under the command of Kar Talab Khan, an Uzbek with a high reputation as a warrior and commander, supported by subordinate Rajput commanders.

In early 1661, Talab Khan and his heavy forces entered the Konkan near Bhorghat Pass, where the terrain was dense jungle. The Mughal forces, weighed down with heavy equipment, struggled to move forward at an appreciable pace. Astutely appreciating the situation, Shivaji undertook forced marches and arrived at Bhorghat with an army and cut off both advance and retreat for the Mughal army. Talab Khan attempted to fight his way out, but finally had to buy safe passage for his army at a high cost, retreating on 3rd February 1661. Shivaji now divided his army into two and left one part under the command of Netaji to counter any further Mughal initiatives.

With the other half of his army, Shivaji invaded Bijapur territory in the Konkan, marching south. He captured many towns in this march, his rapid movement and the divided loyalties of local authorities combining to create easy pickings with almost no resistance being offered. Some of the local ‘rulers’ and governors fled at the approach of the Maratha army, but most of them realised the altered strategic situation in the Konkan and made peace with Shivaji, offering tribute and obedience. It is at this stage that the mention of the Marathas enforcing ‘chauth’ enters the narrative, although it is certain that the practice had already been established earlier.

Chauth

Chauth, Sanskrit word meaning one-fourth, was a regular tax or tribute imposed by the Marathas from the mid-17th century on conquered lands. It was normally an annual tax nominally levied at 25 per cent of the revenue or produce, from which it derives its name of Chauth. The Sardeshmukhi, a tribute to the king, was an additional 10 per cent levy on top of the Chauth.

There are two opinions regarding the real function of this levy: one is that it was charged to defray the cost of armed protection for a state provided by the Marathas, similar to a system of subsidiary alliances. The second is that it was a tax paid by states that did not want the Marathas to enter their realm, similar to protection money against Maratha invasion. In 1665, Shivaji demanded Chauth from both Bijapur and Golconda, which was paid, and subsequently increased to 800,000 rupees after his coronation in 1674.

The Chauth was divided into four parts and each allocated to various functionaries of the Maratha Empire. 25 per cent of the levy, called ‘babti’ went to the king who also had discretionary powers over the ‘nadgaunda’ proceeds, which amounted to 3 per cent of the total collection. Six per cent of the collection, called the ‘Sahotra grant’ was granted to the ‘Pant Sachive’, the officer-in-charge of the Royal Secretariat. A full two-thirds of the total collection, called the ‘mokasa’, remained with the Maratha commanders, the sardars, who collected the taxes and maintained the royal forces.

The right to assess and collect Chauth was asserted by Shivaji in mid-17th century and ensured a regular and large stream of income for the Maratha Empire, which helped in their further territorial expansion.

Annexing Shringarpur

In 1656, at the fall of Javli, the Raja of Shringarpur Surya Rao, had promised to pay homage and tribute to Shivaji but had reneged and broken faith for fear of the Adil Shah. He was a staunch supporter of Bijapur and in earlier battles had assisted Siddi Jauhar in his campaign against the Marathas. Instigated by the Adil Shah, Surya mounted a night attack on Shivaji’s camp at Sangameshwar but was beaten back by Tanaji Malsure. After building sufficient fortifications to safeguard recent conquests, Shivaji turned to deal with Surya Rao. After few forced marches, Shivaji invaded Shringarpur; taken by surprise Surya Rao fled from the kingdom, which was annexed to the growing Maratha territories on 29 April 1661.

The Konkan campaign established the Maratha forces for their ability to carry out forced marches and engage the enemy at the end of it and their valour in battle became renowned. Less savoury was the reputation they built for their uninhibited ferocity in fighting and their insatiable greed, fed through loot and pillage. The common people started to flee at the approach of the Maratha forces—such was the unenviable reputation that they had built up over the years. Shivaji realised that this reputation would be counter-productive for his larger goal of creating an empire and decided to make amends at Shringarpur. He won over the old Prime Minister of the kingdom, Shirke, gave him the power to rule, made large gifts to the Brahmins to bless the kingdom and induced the common people to return to their homes.

Two Years of Reverses

In May 1661, the Mughals captured Kalyan. Shivaji unsuccessfully attempted to recapture it with a very large force and the city remained in Mughal hands for the next nine years. Shivaji now retired to the Wardhangarh fort and spent the summer in quiet contemplation. In early 1662, Shivaji attacked the Mughal general Namdar Khan at Mira Dongar, about six miles from the rich city of Pen. However, the Mughal defences were almost impenetrable, and the Marathas had to withdraw after suffering heavy losses. Thereafter throughout 1662, Namdar Khan displayed great initiative and continued to fight off the Marathas with great effect—defending when the Marathas attacked and pursuing them when they were retreating. The region had a large standing Mughal army specially tailored to cater for such exigencies. The result was that the Mughals continued to be in control of the North Konkan region, including the city and district of Kalyan, while Shivaji had to be content with control of South Konkan.

In March 1663, a force under Netaji was pursued by the Mughals and were able to escape only after they had suffered great losses. Shivaji had been suffering reverses for nearly two years by now and so decided to strike back. He devised a clever plan to ensure that his hard-earned reputation for careful planning and meticulous execution of military campaigns, which had suffered in the past two years, would be re-established.

Attack on Shayista Khan

From end-August 1660, Shayista Khan had taken up residence in the mansion that had been Shivaji’s childhood home in Pune. The palace was well-guarded and the camp of his second-in-command, Maharaja Jaswant Singh, was also close to the residence. Shivaji planned to surprise Shayista Khan at his residence. The success of this raid would depend equally on agility, cunning, bravery and elan. Shivaji selected 1000 soldiers for their expertise, bravery and loyalty to accompany him in the raid, and also created two 1000-strong contingents under the command of Netaji Palkar and Moro Pant to be deployed on both flanks of the Mughal encampment about a mile away from Shayista Khan’s residence.

The force assembled at Sinhgarh and moved to Pune, arriving as night fell on Sunday, 5th April 1663. Shivaji led 400 men into the camp, replying to the challenges from the Mughal guards that they were Deccani soldiers come to take up their positions. He led the soldiers to an obscure place and rested till midnight when they started to move towards Shayista Khan’s private quarters. Shivaji knew the city and his residence intimately and the Marathas were able to make their way through the palace grounds and buildings without difficulty. Since it was the sixth day of Ramadan, some cooks had already woken up to prepare the morning meal. However, the Marathas quickly silenced them.

Shivaji and 200 men entered the harem and Shivaji reached Shayista Khan’s bed chamber. Before Khan could react, Shivaji cut him with his sword, slicing off his thumb. A quick-witted slave girl/guard of Shayista Khan put off the lights and carried him away to safety. In the darkness, the Marathas killed several Mughals, some of them women. While this skirmish was going on, the 200 Marathas who had been left outside the harem, rushed the main guard and slaughtered them. Abul Fath, Shayista Khan’s son, rushed to his father’s rescue but was immediately killed. With the Mughal forces now rallying, Shivaji collected his men and left the camp through the most direct route. He retreated with no interference or pursuit, going through the Katraj Ghat and swiftly reaching the safety of Sinhgarh.

While the raid was of no real strategic impact, it was great tactical and moral victory and raised the morale of the Marathas, which had started to get strained because of the reverses of the past two years. The Marathas suffered only six killed and 40 wounded. The daring raid and its success gave an immense fillip to Shivaji’s sagging reputation and prestige, with the raid being considered superhuman. It was also a great humiliation for the Mughals and their much-acclaimed status as an invincible power. Almost immediately, Shayista Khan evacuated Pune and retreated to Aurangabad, while ordering Jaswant Singh to hold Chakan and Junnar.

The Inactivity of Maharaja Jaswant Singh

Throughout the episode, Jaswant Singh did not take any action, even though his entire army lay astride the route that Shivaji took to retreat to Sinhgarh. This inaction led people to speculate and believe that Jaswant had actively connived with Shivaji in the raid, although there is absolutely no proof to substantiate this allegation.

Further, Shivaji always denied any contact having been made with Jaswant Singh. He insisted that the entire raid was planned and executed by him alone and that he was blessed and guided by his God.

Aurangzeb heard about the raid in May. He vented his anger at Shayista Khan by transferring him to the governorship of Bengal, considered at that time a penal posting. Shayista Khan left the Deccan in January 1664 for good.

Other Raids

In January 1664, Shivaji and his forces reached the outskirts of Surat. This surprised both the Mughal governor and the fort commander of Surat since Shivaji had been sighted at Bassein, near Bombay, just nine days back. Here he was at Surat with 4000 cavalry now. Shivaji had undertaken secret force marches to surprise the city and its defences. The governor, Inayat Khan send out an envoy to discuss the terms of a ransom with Shivaji. Shivaji however declined to negotiate and detained the envoy. On 6th January Shivaji pitched his tent outside the main gate of the city and demanded that the eminent merchants of the city come out to discuss terms of ransom with him.

For four days thereafter the Marathas ransacked, looted and burned the town. The English managed to defend and protect their factory while refusing to pay the ransom that was being demanded. Shivaji did not attempt to attack them since he already had sufficient booty and also did not want to confront the English directly. This decision must be analysed. Although the English presence was minor, it is noteworthy that Shivaji steered clear of confronting them. Although it was early days for the East India Company, this is indicative of the strength and tenacity that the English had started to display in protecting their trade interests and their wealth.

Shivaji’s Surat raid was purely to collect money. On his arrival at Surat he had declared that he had not come to hurt any merchant or the English, but to take revenge on Aurangzeb for having invaded his country. This was only a superficial excuse to collect booty and ransom. On 10th January Shivaji started to retreat, carrying with him only gold, silver, pearls and diamonds. Through a series of forced marches, the Marathas retreated to the safety of the Konkan. Shivaji’s intelligence network was obviously working perfectly, since the Mughal forces sent to relieve Surat reached on 17th January, when Shivaji was already safety ensconced in his own territory. The Mughal emperor excused custom duties for all merchants in Surat for one year to compensate for their loss to the Marathas.

1664

The Mughals made no attempt to contain or punish Shivaji. However, Jaswant Singh, now located in Pune, besieged Sinhgarh. The Rajputs traditionally were, and are, great warriors when on the offensive, however time and again they have proven to be poor at conducting siege warfare, which requires an inordinate amount of patience to be successful. They are masters of the dash and slash of offensive operations, ridiculously brave and completely uncaring of their own safety. In the siege of Sinhgarh they made many rash assaults, which only led to large Rajput casualties. There was also in-fighting among the leadership regarding the strategy and tactics to be adopted. On 28th May 1664, by the onset of the monsoon, Jaswant withdrew the siege, having achieved nothing of significance. By mid-1664, Shivaji was free to roam as he pleased in the Deccan. Despite the heavy rains, he plundered Ahmednagar on 8th August 1664, demonstrating to the world his freedom and capability.

On 26 November 1663, the English Factor in Surat wrote in his report, ‘Deccan [i.e. Bijapur] and all the South Coast [i.e. Kanara] are all embroiled in civil wars, … and Shivaji reigns victoriously and uncontrolled, that he is a terror to all kings and princes round about, daily increasing in strength … He is very nimble and active, imposing strange labour upon himself that he may endure hardship, and also exercises his chiefest men that he flies to and fro with incredible dexterity.’ (From Surat to Company)

© [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 Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. 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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