The Marathas Part 6 Shivaji Bhonsle Section IV Dealing with the Mughals 2. Towards a Maratha Kingdom

Canberra, 18 August 2021

From the time of his return to Bijapur, Shahji had been heavily involved in pacifying the restive nobles of the Doab on behalf of the Adil Shah. In appreciation of Shahji’s service, Ali Adil Shah had bestowed the fiefdoms of Bangalore and Tanjore on Vyankoji. Unfortunately, during the campaign Shahji died in a hunting accident in January 1664. Shivaji decided to punish the Doab nobles who he considered to have been indirectly responsible for the death of his father. He sent a force to the Doab and levied large tributes from the chieftains. Although technically the Doab was Bijapur territory, the Adil Shah did not oppose the action—the Doab had been a rebel region for many years.

Shahji Bhonsle – Paterfamilias

Shahji was the first of the Bhonsle clan to lay the foundations for further expansion and consolidation of Maratha power, paving the way for Shivaji’s offensive activities. He was the first to demonstrate that Hindu soldiers, led by Hindu generals and commanders—effectively a Hindu Army—could hold their own against the much-touted effectiveness and bravery of the Muslim forces of the Mughals and the Shahi kingdoms.

There is speculation among modern analysts that had Shahji not been forced to fight a two-front war against the Mughals and Bijapur, he may have succeeded in re-establishing the Ahmednagar kingdom and ruled it as the Regent. However, such a success would have been counter-productive to the rise of the Marathas. His failure to save the Nizam Shahi kingdom and subsequent loyal service with Bijapur provided Shivaji with the opportunity to institute a new government with a different set of values than the Shahi kingdoms, which were steeped in cruelty, treachery and murder.  

On Shahji’s death Shivaji assumed the title of ‘Raja’, which had been bestowed on his grandfather Maloji Bhonsle by the erstwhile Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar. To further reinforce his independence, he established a mint at Raigarh and struck gold and copper coins in his own name. In the previous few years Shivaji had built a rudimentary naval force that he used to plunder shipping, some of which also happened to be carrying Muslim pilgrims to Mecca. The interruption to the religious pilgrimage displeased both Delhi and Bijapur. In retaliation Bijapur send forces into the Konkan from their base at Panhala, but they were defeated and forced to return to Bijapur territory. However, Shivaji did not pursue them because he was wary of an attack by the Mughals from the north and did not want to leave Raigarh. He was anticipating a Mughal offensive, although the Maratha navy continued maritime plunder off the Bijapur coast unabated.

Mughal Attack

In March 1665, Aurangzeb recalled Jaswant Singh from the Deccan and appointed the veteran general, Raja Jai Singh as the Deccan forces commander assisted by Diler Khan, giving them two large armies. The commanders worked in harmony, Diler Khan investing Purandar and Jai Singh blockading Sinhgarh and laying waste the surrounding countryside. Purandar was well fortified and was commanded by an intrepid Kayastha Prabhu commander Murar Baji. The resistance to the Mughal forces was fierce and well-coordinated. The Purandar fort was built in two levels and Diler Khan managed to blow the walls of the lower fort and stormed it.

The Maratha response was immediate and furious, led by Murar Baji himself. The Marathas from the upper fort charged down to the lower level and routed the Mughal forces who fled to the bottom of the hill in complete confusion. Seeing the state of his forces, Diler Khan deliberately shot and killed Murar Baji, upon which the Marathas retreated to the upper fort. The Mughal forces regained control of the lower fort and continued attacking the upper fort which was now greatly demoralised at the death of their much-loved commander. The Mughals casualties were 500 soldiers dead and scores injured to 300 dead in the Marathas, but being a numerically inferior force, the effect on the Marathas was at least 30 per cent higher.

Divine Intervention

Shivaji had developed a habit of consulting with his patron Goddess Bhavani whenever he was in a troubled situation. These consultations were normally in the form of a one-on-one meditative experience between him and the goddess in exclusivity. Over time Shivaji had employed Balaji Abaji, a refugee Kayastha Prabhu from Janjira, to record his words when he spoke during the trance-like state that he used to be in, when he was inspired by the divinity.

After the setback in Purandar, he sought Goddess Bhavani’s advice. While in a trance he spoke, which was duly recorded by the scribe. The gist of the message was that Raja Jai Singh was a Hindu king and could not be dealt with in a similar manner as Afzal Khan and Shayista Khan. Shivaji would have to make peace with him. Shivaji himself may be in danger but the Goddess would protect him.        

In reality, the divine intervention episode was a face-saving measure. Shivaji was, at this time, under enormous diplomatic and military pressure to submit to the Mughals—Jai Singh was not only an experience general but also possessed great diplomatic skills. Shivaji now send an envoy to Jai Singh, suing for peace. This decision by Shivaji has been debated by chroniclers, historians and analysts ever since. Two experts on Maratha history have commented on this decision. James Grant Duff (1789–1858) a soldier and later civil servant of the East India Company, who wrote the three-volume A History of the Marathas, originally published in 1826, discount this story of divine intervention as pure superstition. Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842–1901), scholar, social reformer and historian, who published The Rise of Maratha Power in 1900, writes that Shivaji had some ulterior motive and a different plan for initiating the peace process; the plan has not yet been discovered. This idea seems far-fetched now since all records of the time have been unearthed and no deep-laid or secret plans have been found so far.    

The real reason for Shivaji adopting a conciliatory approach to the Mughals was pure and simple pragmatism. He had observed his father Shahji fighting the Mughals and the Adil Shahis separately with great success, but he had been comprehensively defeated when he was forced to fight them simultaneously. Therefore, Shivaji did not want to take on the Mughals while he was still at war with Bijapur. Peace with one of the two was a prerequisite for the Marathas to successfully fight against the other. Shrewdly, Shivaji decided to come to terms with the Mughals and perhaps even get their assistance to reduce Bijapur power. He wanted to ensure that Bijapur would not be able to interfere in his future plans. While this was a practical plan, it is not clear how he was planning to deal with the Mughals after the Adil Shahis had been defeated. 

Peace with the Mughals

Shivaji’s initial messages to Jai Singh emphasised the fact that they were two Hindu princes discussing terms and was also full of caveats to be fulfilled before the Maratha capitulation. Jai Singh, the consummate diplomat, was civil in his answers but never reduced the pressure on Purandar or the rate at which the Maratha countryside was being laid waste. Shivaji was forced to retreat step by step from the demands that he had initially made as precondition to submit till Jai Singh was satisfied of the Maratha chief’s inferior position for the start of the bargaining that obviously lay ahead.

On 6th June 1665, Shivaji sent his senior minister Raghunath Pant as the envoy to Jai Singh. Raghunath swore that Shivaji meant business and convinced Jai Singh of his chief’s good intent to negotiate a viable peace. Raja Jai Singh now invited Shivaji to visit his camp, promising that not one hair of his would be harmed in the Mughal camp. Shivaji set out from Raigarh with an escort of 1000 cavalry. On his reaching the outskirts of Jai Singh’s camp, Shivaji was again given a message by Jai Singh that he should only proceed further if he was serious about ‘surrendering’ and that he was free to go back otherwise. Shivaji once again assured him of his good intentions and entered the palace of tents that was Jai Singh’s camp. Jai Singh on his side received Shivaji with correct protocols and promised him his safety. He assured Shivaji that he would win the Mughal Emperor’s favour and pardon for the Maratha.

Shivaji assured Jai Singh that he wanted to be a Mughal ally and on Jai Singh’s suggestion agreed to visit Diler Khan who was still besieging Purandar. Shivaji went to Purandar and surrendered the fort to Diler Khan, taking the heroic garrison with him on his return. Jai Singh’s terms of peace included Shivaji surrendering all recent conquests from Mughal territories; and all Nizam Shahi territories in his possession. In the final agreement, Shivaji was permitted to retain 12 Ahemdnagar kingdom forts and to have a free hand in dealing with Bijapur. He was also permitted to keep all Bijapur territories under his control and collect Chauth from the region. In return he was to assist Jai Singh in the war against the Adil Shahi kingdom and Shivaji’s elder son Sambhaji was to be appointed to the position of commander of 5000 in imperial Mughal service. Aurangzeb readily agreed to these conditions for Shivaji’s submission.

Although there is no supporting evidence to prove it, it would seem that at this stage Aurangzeb still had not fully understood the threat that Shivaji and rising Maratha power posed to the well being of his empire. He still considered Shivaji a small-time chieftain who would not be effective beyond the Sahyadri Mountains. Aurangzeb’s abiding ambition was to annex the Bijapur and Golconda kingdoms, to the exclusion of all other threats emanating from the Deccan. It was the imperial Mughals’ calculated policy, from the time of Akbar, to wipe out all Muslim kingdoms in the sub-continent, almost all of them having roots in the erstwhile Afghan Delhi Sultanate, and most having sprouted after its collapse. There was a deeply inherent feeling in the Mughal hierarchy, especially in the royal family, that these Muslim Afghan off-shoot kingdoms openly questioned the veracity of the central control and power of the Empire. Aurangzeb wanted to extend his vassalage of the sub-continent to the southern sea with the annexation of Golconda and Bijapur.

Invasion of Bijapur

Before Raja Jai Singh had taken over the Mughal command in the Deccan, the Adil Shah had a working treaty with Shivaji. However, he had broken this treaty and aligned with the Mughals against the Maratha chief to please the Mughals and to ensure his own kingdom’s continued independence. In late 1665, Ali Adil Shah realised the folly of having broken faith with Shivaji. With the Marathas having come to terms with the Mughals, Aurangzeb ordered the immediate invasion of Bijapur, which commenced in November 1665. As per the Maratha–Mughal treaty, Shivaji joined the Mughal forces with 2000 cavalry and 9000 infantry soldiers. The Maratha forces attacked Phaltan, then ruled by the Nimbalkars who were related to Shivaji through marriage. Phaltan was reduced and the fort at Tathwade captured. Subsequently they carried out a successful night attack on the Bijapur forces in the Konkan.

Jai Singh and Diler Khan moved directly to Bijapur and laid siege to the Adil Shahi capital. For all his dithering behaviour earlier in his rule, Ali Adil Shah now emerged as a determined king and astute military commander. He withstood the siege, followed a scorched earth policy including poisoning the wells around the capital as a defensive measure and asked Golconda for reinforcements. While the siege continued, Shivaji’s senior commander Netaji Palkar defected to Bijapur with his forces, joining an already sizeable Maratha contingent serving with the Adil Shah under Vynkoji Bhonlse, Shivaji’s half-brother. Shivaji in the meantime attempted an unsuccessful siege of Panhala and had to withdraw with heavy Maratha losses. If the Mughal commanders were disappointed by Shivaji’s less than stellar performance in the conflict, they did not display it openly.

Shivaji Goes to Agra …

Around this time Shivaji received a letter from Aurangzeb praising his gallantry and inviting him to come to the royal court at Agra, with the promise that he could return to the Deccan whenever he wished. The letter was accompanied by a present of a bejewelled sword and a robe of honour.

Raja Jai Singh Urges Shivaji to Go to Agra

The Mughal campaign against Bijapur was not going according to plan. The strong defensive opposition from the Adil Shah had not been anticipated. However, surprisingly Jai Singh wanted Shivaji out of the Deccan, when in reality he could do with all the help that he could get. Paradoxically, the reason for Jai Singh preferring Shivaji to be out of the equation was that the campaign was not going well. The defection of Shivaji’s commander Netaji Palkar to Bijapur acted as a warning to Jai Singh. He was worried about Shivaji’s future actions, especially since the Maratha chief had lost a full two-third of his territorial holdings in the recently concluded treaty with the Mughals. It seemed logical that he would join with Bijapur to regain his lost holdings. It was in Jai Singh’s interest to get Shivaji out of the Deccan at the earliest. There is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that Aurangzeb and Jai Singh acted in concert to remove Shivaji from the Deccan, even if it was only a temporary measure.

After the customary ‘consultation’ with Goddess Bhavani, Shivaji decided to accept Aurangzeb’s invitation and go to Agra. However, it has been recorded that Shivaji was apprehensive of going to Agra. He handed over the ‘kingdom’ to his mother Jijabai, who would be assisted by the senior ministers in its administration. He left his younger son Rajaram in his mother’s care and decided to take his elder son Sambhaji with him. Shivaji set out with an escort of 3000 cavalry and 1000 infantry, with few senior commanders. He was accompanied by prince Ram Singh, the elder son of Raja Jai Singh who instructed his son to ensure Shivaji’s safety, which the Raja had personally guaranteed.

Shivaji reached the neighbourhood of Agra and send word through Ram Singh of his having arrived. Aurangzeb send only a lowly courtier to welcome him and asked him to present himself in court immediately. This pre-calculated insult hurt Shivaji, but he did not comment on it. He was given an audience on 21st May 1666.

… and is Placed Under House Arrest

When Shivaji was presented to Aurangzeb, he presented a ‘nazar’, gift, of Rupees 30,000 to the emperor, who perfunctorily asked Shivaji to join the ranks of the commanders of 5000. This was also a calculated insult: Sambhaji his son and also his senior commander, Netaji Palkar, were both already commanders of 5000 and Shivaji himself had only recently taken to the field with 10,000 cavalry against Bijapur. Shivaji immediately spoke up against this ill-treatment. Noticing the slight commotion in the ranks of the nobles, Aurangzeb immediately dismissed Shivaji and send him to a house near the Taj Mahal that had already been prepared with heavy guard.   

It is obvious that Aurangzeb had anticipated such a situation, which goes to prove that by this time he had started to consider Shivaji’s increasing power in the Deccan a threat to Mughal ambitions in the region. The ultimate plan seems to have been to first separate Shivaji from his power base and then to deal with him leisurely in the normal treacherous way that Aurangzeb had made into an art form. On being placed under house arrest, Shivaji immediately realised the precariousness of his situation. If he attempted to escape, it would be reason enough to be captured and summarily beheaded; if he did not try to escape, it could lead to life in prison and almost certain slow poisoning that the Mughals specialised in.

Shivaji now petitioned the emperor, through Raghunath Pant the senior minister who had accompanied him to Agra, appealing to Aurangzeb’s non-existent sense of honour reminding him of his own promise to let him return and the guarantee of personal safety given by Raja Jai Singh. Shivaji also promised that in return for freedom he would assist the Mughals in the annexation of either Bijapur or Golconda. Since the appeal was rejected off hand, he asked Ram Singh to represent his case to the emperor. Even this effort fell on deaf ears, and it became obvious that Aurangzeb had no intention of releasing Shivaji. It appears that Aurangzeb’s mind was poisoned against Shivaji by two sources. First were the Rajput nobles in the court who hated Shivaji because they had always resented the induction of the Marathas into imperial service, looking down on them as ‘upstart petty chieftains’ who were not even Kshatriyas, while also considering them a threat to their status and well-being in the Mughal court. The second was Aurangzeb’s maternal aunt, Shayista Khan’s sister, who always labelled Shivaji a treacherous and disloyal kafir. After much deliberation Aurangzeb relented and said Shivaji would be set free if he left Sambhaji in the Mughal court as hostage to ensure his ‘good behaviour’ in the Deccan. This was a Hobson’s choice—sacrifice his eldest son or betray his countrymen—and Shivaji had no compunctions in declining the offer.

The Escape

The night he refused Aurangzeb’s offer of freedom, Shivaji had a dream in which Goddess Bhavani appeared and promised his own and Sambhaji’s safety. Buoyed by this heavenly assurance he started to plan his escape, a multi-phase operation. In the first phase, Shivaji asked for permission to send his escorts back to the Deccan since he planned to stay permanently in Agra. Aurangzeb was more than happy to agree since it robbed Shivaji of the only protection that he had in Agra. Thereafter, Shivaji started to drop hints, which he knew would reach the emperor’s ears, by casually mentioning to the commander of the guards that he was planning to bring his wives and mother to Agra to settle down permanently there, since the Mughal emperor was meeting all his expenses and he was saving money. When informed of this, Aurangzeb considered it the avarice of a petty chief and did not take much notice. However, his suspicious mind had the feeling that Shivaji was planning some other move and therefore, the confinement was made steadily more rigorous.

In the second phase, Shivaji asked and was given permission to send his friends in Agra gifts, some Deccan sweetmeats and other food items. The friends reciprocated by sending gifts back to Shivaji. He gradually made this traffic in gifts, mostly carried by two servants in wicker baskets hung on a pole, a regular routine. Initially the guards were meticulous in inspecting each covered wicker basket. Gradually, as is common with routine guard duty chores, their vigilance slipped, and the baskets were going in and out without any checks being carried out. The third phase started when Shivaji feigned illness and the best doctors and physicians in Agra were called to prescribe medicines. Progressively it was announced that Shivaji was improving and finally declared fully recovered. Meanwhile the wicker baskets continued to be taken in and out of the house. Shivaji now purchased three horses, to be gifted to the Brahmins on the Mathura Road, as thanksgiving for his recovery. The fourth and final phase was the actual escape, when on 29 August 1666, Shivaji and Sambhaji hid in wicker baskets and were carried out of confinement in the evening.

Next morning it was reported that Shivaji was battling fever again and the guards who went to check saw him covered in a muslin cloth over his head and a boy pressing his legs, while a carelessly thrown arm showed the signet ring of the Maratha chief. The person under the muslin covering was Hiraji, a half-brother of Shivaji’s, who along with the boy escaped later in the day. On being carried out, Shivaji and Sambhaji rode the horses that were kept in readiness and reached Mathura, a township due north of Agra, in the opposite direction to their escape route. They hid in the house of Peshwa Moro Pingle’s brothers-in-law, dressed as religious mendicants. On the escape being discovered, Aurangzeb ordered a search of Mathura. Shivaji left Sambhaji in the care of some well-wishers and with the aid of his guide Krishnaji Viswanath went to Benares, Allahabad and then to Golconda, a circuitous route to throw off any pursuers. From Golconda they struck out for Maharashtra, reached Pune and rode in state to Raigarh in December 1666. Krishnaji Viswanath, the faithful guide went back to Mathura and brought Sambhaji, who was till then under Viswanath’s mother’s care, safely to Raigarh.

Doubt Regarding the Location of Incarceration

Both James Duff and M. G. Ranade mention Shivaji’s captivity having been in Delhi. This presumption is wrong for two reasons. First, the Mughal records show that Shivaji was placed under house arrest in Agra. More importantly, on Sambhaji being brought to Raigarh safely, Shivaji passed an order granting Rupees 25,000 each to Krishnaji and his mother. The order starts, ‘On leaving Agra, we left behind young Sambhaji under protection of Kirishnaji Viswanath. The said gentleman has brought him safe to Raigarh …’. This proves without doubt that Shivaji was imprisoned in Agra.  

After reaching Raigarh, Shivaji made no aggressive moves against the Mughals or the Adil Shah and remained passive for nearly two years. He spent the time improving the administration of his truncated territories. Aurangzeb also made no attempt at apprehending Shivaji since he was preoccupied with the on-going Afghan campaign. His viceroy in the Deccan, Prince Muazzim, was inherently lazy and would not take the initiative to act against Shivaji. The hostilities with the Mughals ebbed. From his side Shivaji was careful not to provoke Aurangzeb. This unusual passivity made most believe that Shivaji’s career was over and that he would fade into obscurity like countless other small-time chieftains before him. This was a completely wrong assessment.

Triumph of the Marathas

By the time Shivaji came back to the Deccan and settled down, the Mughal attack on Bijapur was floundering. Golconda had sent reinforcements to Bijapur, and the combined armies were harassing the Mughal forces. Unable to sustain the siege of Bijapur, Jai Singh fell back to Dharur. Seeing that the Mughals were on the backfoot, Shivaji entered the field and recaptured the territories in the Konkan that he had been earlier forced to cede. Then he gradually established control over more forts. Jai Singh realised that progressively Shivaji was cutting off his possible retreat routes and withdrew to Aurangabad, abandoning the forts that had been captured by the Mughals during Shayista Khan’s initial advance to Pune. Already frustrated by the lack of progress in annexing Bijapur, Aurangzeb now accused Jai Singh of disloyalty and recalled him to Delhi. The valiant Rajput died on 12th July 1667 before reaching Dehi, perhaps of a broken heart at the injustice of the accusation by the emperor.

While prince Muazzim continued as the viceroy, Jaswant Singh was appointed to assist him as the commander of the Mughal forces. Muazzim was reluctant to go to war with the Marathas and Shivaji was also willing to make peace provided two conditions were met. First, he wanted all his old possessions restored and second, he wanted a free hand to deal with Bijapur. In 1668, these conditions were accepted by the viceroy: all the old territories, other than the forts at Sinhgarh and Purandar that the Mughals retained, were returned; the title of Raja was bestowed on Shivaji; and Sambhaji was reinstated to his original position as commander of 5000. Shivaji send forces under his newly appointed commander of cavalry Prataprao Guzar to assist the Mughals in the next invasion of Bijapur. Unable to continue the fight, Bijapur sued for peace and ceded Sholapur to the Mughals along with paying a huge tribute. Shivaji was also given the commuted value of the Chauth that he would have otherwise levied. Shivaji remained at peace with all his neighbours for the next one year.

The Marathas had become the most powerful entity in the Deccan.

Capture of Sinhgarh

Aurangzeb was always suspicious of his sons and senior subordinates—after all he himself had been treacherous and disloyal to his father as a prince. He suspected Muazzim of plotting with Shivaji to overthrow him. (For a detailed account of how Aurangzeb treated Muazzim and his other sons, read Volume VIII: A Chronicle of the Imperial Mughals, in this series of books on Indian History). The emperor ordered the arrest of Shivaji and Prataprao Guzar, who were still in Aurangabad with their cavalry. Muazzim came to know of the order that had been issued in Delhi and immediately cautioned Shivaji to withdraw with his forces before the imperial order was physically delivered in Aurangabad. The Marathas rode out and had reached Raigarh before the emperor’s orders could be officially served to Muazzim, who could truthfully tell his father that the Marathas were not in Aurangabad.

Although he had made peace with the Mughals, Shivaji had always known of Aurangzeb’s treacherous nature and had understood that long-term peace with the Mughals was a pipedream. He had earlier planned to recapture Sinhgarh and Purandar. There is also a story that Jijabai demanded that Sinhgarh be captured, which cannot be corroborated. Shivaji ordered Tanaji Malsure, an old comrade and senior commander, to report to Raigarh with 12,000 troops. When Malsure arrived, it is said that he was welcomed by both Shivaji and his mother Jijabai. The story further goes that Jijabai insisted that Sinhgarh be captured, promising Tanaji that he would be considered her own son, a younger brother to Shivaji, if the fort was captured. There is no proof of Jijabai’s role in the episode. The fact remains that Shivaji instructed Tanaji Malsure to capture Sinhgarh.

Tanaji led his soldiers towards Sinhgarh. He personally went in disguise to the outposts of the fort where he gathered information from the Koli Hindu guards regarding the defences of the fort. He was informed that the fort was commanded by Ude Bhan, a Pathan commander with a high reputation as a great warrior, along with 1800 Pathan and Arab soldiers. It was also reported to him that the Dongri cliff side of the fort was considered to be unscalable and therefore very lightly defended. Tanaji used a ‘ghorpad’, a kind of monitor lizard native to the Indian sub-continent, with a rope tied round its waist to climb the unscalable Dongri cliff face with a few soldiers. This advance party was able to kill the guards at the main gates. However, Ude Bhan was alerted to the attack and rushed to save his fort. The ensuing battle was vicious and is described in detail in the local narratives of the time.

Tanaji was killed by Ude Bhan who himself was killed thereafter by the Maratha forces rushing through the unguarded gates. Soon after, on 17th February 1670, the fort fell to the Marathas. Tanaji Malsure’s death is said to have inspired Shivaji to say the now immortal words, ‘Gad ala, pan Sinh gaila’, meaning ‘I have the fort but lost the lion’. The name of the fort, Sinhgarh, could be translated as ‘Lion Fort’ and in many accounts is connected to this famous tribute by the Maratha king. A few months later Tanaji’s brother, Suryaji, captured the fort at Purandar. By June 1670, there was no Mughal presence in Maratha territories.

Two Setbacks …

Shivaji attempted to capture Shivner fort near Junnar as a prelude to taking Junnar itself. This would have secured his northern borders from any action by the Mughals. However, the attack was effectively repulsed by the commander of the fort and the Maratha forces withdrew. Shivaji next turned to Janjira the port island. He managed capture all the bridgeheads and isolate the island commanded by Fateh Khan. Fateh Khan negotiated a settlement with the Marathas. However, the Abyssinian Sidi officers of the port thwarted this deal—they imprisoned Fateh Khan and made overtures to the Mughals who send their fleet from Surat to assist. In return the Sidis promised to hold the island as a dependency of Delhi. The combined fleets of the Mughals and the Sidis were too powerful for the fledgling Maratha fleet to defeat. However, the capture of Janjira was acritical for the Marathas to establish sea control in the region. Not being able to capture the island meant loss of control of the seas, which had to be accepted.

Two consecutive setbacks, even though after a string of victories, placed Shivaji on the backfoot and he needed a sizeable victory to boost his reputation and bring the morale of his forces back on even keel. He now planned to punish Surat for its assistance to the Sidis of Janjira. Shivaji had sacked the town six years earlier and his intelligence reported that no improvements had been added to the town defences since then.

Sack of Surat

On 1st October 1670 Shivaji led a 15,000-strong Maratha army into Gujarat and proceeded unopposed to Surat. The common people fled the city and the like the previous time, the Mughal governor retreated to the castle. The English, Dutch and French merchants prepared to defend their ‘factories’, warehouses, against any attack. Initially, the Marathas’ attention was captured by a camp of the fugitive prince of Khashgar that also contained his harem. A day-long battle with the prince’s forces did not bring any decisive result but at night the prince decamped with his women and all portable treasure. The Marathas came into possession of vast quantities of gold, silver and costly furniture.

Dealing with the English. On 3rd October, Shivaji ordered the storming of the English factory but was repulsed by soldiers led by the factor Mr Streinsham Master. A second attempt on 4th October also failed. The Marathas then ransacked the town with no opposition being offered. On 5th October a warning was send to the English that unless a present and tribute was sent to the Maratha king, he would personally storm the factory. The English duly acknowledged the threat and met the demands.

Shivaji demanded and received a tribute of Rupees 12 lakhs (1200,000) from the rich merchants of the city, which was also set as the annual tribute to be paid henceforth. The Maratha force withdrew the next day laden with treasure. The return journey was more confident than the last one, Shivaji following the main road to Aurangabad. This affront was too much for the Mughals to condone and they reacted. A contingent of cavalry under Daud Khan continually harassed the rear-guard of the Maratha army and a large Mughal contingent moved to block the Nasik Pass through which the Maratha forces would have to go to return to Maratha territory.

Shivaji’s intelligence apparatus was highly developed, and he came to know of this Mughal move. He divided the booty from the Surat plunder into smaller potions, which were send to Maratha territory through minor passes. Shivaji himself turned back with some cavalry and defeated Daud Khan at Khadase. He then joined his main army and stormed the Nasik Pass, routing the Mughal army and returning to Raigarh in triumph.

A Mughal Defeat

With the treasure obtained from Surat, Shivaji made his navy more powerful and increased the size of the army by another 30,000 troops. The Maratha fleet now sailed along the Gujarat coast as far as Broach on a regular basis. Fearing an attack from the sea, the Mughals moved forces to strengthen the garrisons along the coast. This was exactly what Shivaji had anticipated. The forces moved to coastal garrisons had been taken from the interior of the Khandesh region, which was now left sparsely defended. Shivaji attacked the region and annexed the forts at Aundh, Patta, Trimbak and Salher. By end-January 1671, the entire Thane province was paying tribute to Shivaji, and all the village headmen were asked to pay Chauth. This was the first time that the Maratha Chauth was imposed on Mughal territory.

By imposing Chauth on Thane province, Shivaji set in motion the process of overlaying Maratha supremacy over Mughal authority and control, in the course of time progressively superseding it. This process would go on to obliterate Mughal power, replacing it in an informal manner with Maratha authority across the sub-continent.

Aurangzeb understandably was livid with rage. As was his wont, he replaced Jaswant Singh with Mahabat Khan in Aurangabad, giving the new commander an additional 40,000 troops. In a frenzy of activity, Mahabat Khan took the offensive and recaptured Aundh and Patta and in early 1672, laid siege to Salher. A Maratha reinforcement of 1000 cavalry send to relieve the fort was slaughtered. Shivaji was unwilling to accept a setback at this stage and ordered his two senior commanders—Moropant Pingle and Prataprao Guzar—to relieve the beleaguered fort. The relieving forces approached the fort from two different directions. Iklas Khan, the local commander of the Mughal forces, attempted to stop the relieving forces but was beaten back. After more than 12 hours of battle the Mughal forces, having suffered enormous casualties, were enveloped by the Maratha armies and 20,000 of them surrendered. 6000 horses, 125 elephants and a vast horde of jewels and treasure fell to the Marathas. Mahabat Khan lifted the siege and retired to Aurangabad.

This victory is significant. So far, the Marathas had only used guerrilla tactics against the heavier Mughal forces, avoiding conventional battles. This was the first decisive victory of the Marathas in a pitched battle against the Mughal forces. It once and for all demolished the myth of invincibility that had been built around the heavy Mughal forces and their unbeaten record in conventional battles. The much-touted disciplined soldiers of the Mughal army, vaunted as having been trained in the military traditions of Akbar and Shah Jahan, were seen to be as good or as bad as any other soldier—nothing more, nothing less.

With this victory, the whole of the Deccan became Shivaji’s hunting grounds. The Marathas had convincingly become the dominant power in the Deccan. However, Shivaji’s domain was relatively small, a 300-kilometre-long strip of land along the Western Ghats; essentially hill country shunned by both the Mughals and the Shahi powers. While unquestionably the most powerful entity in the region, he lacked conventional political authority, despite the military might of the Marathas and the title of ‘Raja’ that he sported, he was still considered a warlord at best and a rebel at worst.

Shivaji wanted to be recognised as a legitimate Hindu monarch.       

© [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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