Clash with the Mughals

Shaista Khan

Toward the end of 1660, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb sent Shaista Khan, his maternal uncle with a large army to defeat Shivaji in the Deccan. Within three years in 1663, Shivaji had lost most of his conquests to a relentless attack by a well-trained, well supplied and vastly larger Mughal army.

Shaista Khan, seized Pune and the nearby fort of Chakan. His vast and professional army numbering over 100,000 was more than a match for Shivaji's troops and he was an experienced commander who had defeated Shahaji (Shivaji's father) in the same region in 1636. Although he held Pune for almost a year, he had little further success. He had set up his residence at Lal Mahal, Shivaji's palace, in the city of Pune.

Shaista Khan kept the security in Pune very tight. Shivaji planned a daring attack on Shaista Khan amidst tight security. In April 1663, a wedding party had obtained special permission for a procession; Shivaji planned an attack using the wedding party as cover. The Marathas disguised themselves as the bridegroom’s procession and entered Pune. Shivaji, having spent much of his youth in Pune, knew his way around the city and his own palace of Lal Mahal.

After overpowering and slaying the palace guards, the Marathas broke into the mansion by breaking through a wall. Shivaji confronted Shaista Khan and with a slash of his sword he severed three of Shaista Khan's fingers as he fled through an open window. The Khan narrowly escaped death and was taken to a safe place by his servant maids. Shaista Khan lost his son, many of his guards, and soldiers in the raid.

Within twenty-four hours of this daring attack, Amir-ul-Umra, Shaista Khan left Pune and headed North towards Agra. An angered Aurangzeb transferred him to distant Bengal as a punishment for bringing embarrassment to the Mughals with his very personal and ignoble defeat in Pune.

Surat and Mirza Raja Jai Singh

In 1664 Shivaji invaded Surat, an important Mughal trading city, and looted it to replenish his now depleted treasury and also as a revenge for the capture and looting of Maratha territory by Shaista Khan.

Shivaji acquired immense wealth from Surat, which was then one of the largest and an important trading centers in the Mughal Empire. The money was sorely needed for expanding and strengthening of his army, upgrading of equipment, and safeguarding of captured territories. Following the raid on Surat, Gujarat, Shivaji continued to capture forts belonging to both Mughals and Bijapur and to expand his dominions.

Aurangzeb was enraged and sent a renowned Rajput General, Mirza Raja Jai Singh I, a Hindu Raja, to defeat Shivaji with another imposing and huge army. The Mughal force proved to be unstoppable in the early battles and Shivaji decided to come to terms with Aurangzeb. In the treaty of Purander, signed between Shivaji and Jai Singh, Shivaji agreed to give up all of his 23 forts and 400,000 rupees to the Mughals. He also agreed to let his son Sambhaji become a Mughal Sardar and serve the Mughal court of Aurangzeb. Shivaji's clandestine intentions in doing this were to defeat his enemies, the Bijapur and Golconda Kingdoms using Aurangzeb's army and then to take on the mighty Mughals.

Trip To Agra and Escape

In 1666, Aurangzeb summoned Shivaji to Agra, along with his six year old son Sambhaji, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday. In the court, on 12 May 1666, Aurangzeb made Shivaji stand behind mansabdars (Commanders) of his court. Offended by this petty gesture, Shivaji stormed out of court and was promptly placed under house arrest, under the watch of Fulad Khan, Kotwal of Agra.

From his spies, Shivaji learned that Aurangzeb planned to shift him to Raja Vitthaldas's Haveli and then to kill him. As a result Shivaji planned his escape. He feigned almost fatal sickness and requested to send most of his contingent back to Deccan. Thereafter, on his request, he was allowed to send daily shipments of sweets and gifts to saints, fakirs, and temples in Agra as offerings for getting well.

After several days and weeks of sending out boxes containing sweets, Shivaji disguised himself as a palanquin bearer and managed to escape without being recognized. Sambhaji, his six year old son had been smuggled out a couple of days earlier. Shivaji and his son fled to the Deccan (Southern region) to the safety of their homeland, disguised as sadhus (holy men/Sanyasins). Some accounts claim that after the escape, rumours of Sambhaji's death were intentionally spread by Shivaji himself in order to deceive the Mughals and to protect Sambhaji.

Some accounts claim that Shivaji and Sambhaji both hid in large crates that were filled with sweets (confectionery) being donated to various charities in the Agra city to escape the imprisonment. However, this method of escape has been questioned by many historians.

Dr. Ajit Joshi in a well researched book published in Marathi language (Agryahun Sutka, 1997) has conducted a careful examination of all the available evidence about Shivaji's visit to Agra and various reports pertaining to his subsequent escape, in official Mughal and Rajput documents. His conclusion is that Shivaji likely disguised himself as a Brahmin Pundit after performance of religious rites at the haveli grounds and escaped by mingling in within the departing priestly entourage.

Preparing for War

In the years 1667-69, Shivaji adopted a low profile and began to aggressively build up his army. The Mughals had the impression that he was now a spent force and would not cause them any more trouble. However, Shivaji was on a war-footing, directing efforts for an all out war by increasing the size of his army, acquiring arms, horses, armour and other war materials. Then in January 1670 Shivaji launched a major, concerted and multi-pronged assault on Mughal garrisons in Maharashtra.

The force of Shivaji's attacks was overwhelming and within six months he had regained most of his old territory and more. His army was much larger now: about 40,000 cavalry, backed by 60,000 infantry, a strong navy and a potent artillery. From 1670 to 1674 Shivaji continued to actively and aggressively expand his territory at the expense of the Mughals who were now facing major pressures on their treasuries as their war related expenses outstripped the incoming tax revenues.

Shivaji rapidly expanded his kingdom to include major portions of Maharashtra and far in to the south including Karnataka and Tamilnadu.

Battle of Sinhagad

Bust of Tanaji on top of Sinhagad Fort, PuneOne fort on the outskirts of Pune, Kondana, was still under Mughal control. Uday Bhan Rathod, a brave Rajput was the fort keeper. He led an army of about 1500 Rajputs and Mughals for the protection of the fort. Uday Bhan had maintained strict vigil around the fort. On February 4, 1670 Shivaji deputed one of his most senior and trusted generals, Tanaji Malusare, to head a mission to capture Kondana.

Tanaji Malusare surveyed the fort and its defenses very meticulously for some days. The fort was extremely well guarded. One very sheer cliff caught Tanaji's eye. This side was least guarded as one could not possibly imagine climbing the fort from this steep side. Tanaji decided to scale this cliff to enter the fort. He used a monitor lizard named "Yeshwanti" with a rope tied around its body for climbing this cliff on a moonless night. Perhaps this was the first time in the history of wars where a lizard was used to climb a fort.

The Common Indian Monitor (Varanus bengalensis) found locally in present day Maharashtra is the species of Monitor Lizard is also known as ghorpad in Marathi. These Monitor lizards are famous for their ability to cling to smooth surfaces, and were traditionally trained for this purpose by herders in the area.

As the advance party reached the top, they threw ropes for others to climb. Meanwhile Tanaji's brother Suryaji had moved close to the gates of the fort, namely Kalyan Darwaja, with another 300 Mavalas (Maratha Soldiers). The gates were soon opened and once inside, all his soldiers joined Tanaji in the surprise attack.

Tanaji and Uday Bhan came face to face and a fierce fight ensued. A solid blow from Uday Bhan broke Tanaji's shield. He continued the fight until another fatal blow from Uday Bhan staggered Tanaji and a counter blow then killed Uday Bhan. Seeing their leader mortally wounded, the Maratha soldiers became tentative and started to back-up and retreat. Suryaji, then stepped in front and center to rally them and to get them to be back on the offensive. His exhortations and his leadership lifted the Maratha spirit. The Marathas now determinedly commenced their attack on the Mughal defenders with great courage and tenacity, and captured the fort.

This battle is quite popular in Marathi folklore and is retold as a reminder of the glory and sacrifice that was the Maratha war of Independence.

When Shivaji learned that he had lost his brave, loyal and trusted friend, he said "Gad ala, pun sinha geyla", meaning We have won the fort, but lost the Lion. Thenceforth Kondana fort was formally named Sinhagad (the Lion fort) in honour of the great Tanaji Malusare.

Sankalp Unit