Ambush And Guerilla Tactics


Regular Member
Aug 19, 2009
In modern warfare, an ambush is most often employed by ground troops up to platoon size against enemy targets, which may be other ground troops, or possibly vehicles. However, in some situations, especially when deep behind enemy lines, the actual attack will be carried out by a platoon, a company-sized unit will be deployed to support the attack group, setting up and maintaining a forward patrol harbour from which the attacking force will deploy, and to which they will retire after the attack.

Ambushes are complex, multi-phase operations, and are, therefore, usually planned in some detail. First, a suitable “killing zone” is identified. This is the place where the ambush will be laid. It's generally a place where enemy units are expected to pass, and which gives reasonable cover for the deployment, execution, and extraction phases of the ambush patrol. A path along a wooded valley floor would be a typical example.

Ambush can be described geometrically as:

Linear, when a number of firing units are equally distant from the linear kill zone.
L-shaped, when a short leg of firing units are placed to enfilade the sides of the linear kill zone.
V-shaped, when the firing units are distant from the kill zone at the end where the enemy enters, so the firing units lay down bands of intersecting and interlocking fire. This ambush is normally triggered only when the enemy is well into the kill zone. The intersecting bands of fire prevent any attempt of moving out of the kill zone.[1]
To be successful, an ambush patrol must deploy into the area covertly, ideally under the cover of darkness. The patrol will establish secure and covert positions overlooking the killing zone. Usually, two or more “cut-off” groups will be sent out a short distance from the main ambushing group, into similarly covert positions. Their job is twofold; first, to give the ambush commander early warning of the approaching enemy, and second, when the ambush is initiated, to prevent any enemies from escaping. Another group will cover the front and rear of the ambush position (blocking force), and thus provide all round defence.

Care must be taken by the ambush commander to ensure that fire from any weapon cannot inadvertently hit any other friendly unit (this is known as crossfire).

Having set up the ambush, the next phase is to wait. This could be for a few hours, or a few days, depending on the tactical and supply situation. It is obviously much harder for an ambush patrol to remain covert and alert if sentry rosters, shelter, sleeping, sanitary arrangements, food and water, have to be considered; so this should be done in a patrol harbour, away from the site chosen for the ambush. Ambush patrols will almost always have to be self-sufficient, as re-supply would not be possible without compromising their position.


Support elements needed for a successful large scale attack.
Diagram of a Viet Cong ambush.The arrival of an enemy in the area should be signalled by one of the cut-off units. This may be done by radio or by some other signal, but the enemy must not detect the signal. If radio silence is necessary, the pre-electronic expedient of a cord linking the groups, tugged once or twice as a signal, may be employed. The ambush commander will have given a clear instruction for initiating the ambush. An ambush is ideally initiated by the most effective casualty-producing device available to the attacking elements. This might be a burst from an automatic weapon, or the use of an antipersonnel explosive device (such as a Claymore mine or other directional weapon). Some military doctrines call for an ambush to be initiated by a signal from a whistle, though in US practice, whistles are not favored, since they do nothing to inflict damage on the enemy. The ambush commander may judge when the ambush will be most effective, and give the signal manually, or the ambush patrol may rely on tripwire or pressure-detonated mines in the kill zone to initiate firing.

Against vehicles, the lead and rear vehicles are the primary targets; this traps the remaining vehicles in the kill zone for as long as possible. Targets are prioritised to rapidly destroy the target's unit cohesion. It is vital to obtain fire superiority as rapidly as possible, to prevent enemy counter-ambush tactics from being executed. The order of priorities against an enemy infantry unit is the enemy radio operator (in the past identified by the whip aerial of the backpack radio unit such as the British Army's Clansman system), the enemy's unit commander (a more difficult task today when officers and NCOs are dressed and armed in an identical manner to the rest of the infantry squad), and the platoon or section machine-gunner.[citation needed]

After the firefight has been won, the now compromised ambush patrol must leave the area as soon as it is practical to do so. In hit-and-run operations, especially against superior numbers and forces, the ambush force will begin disengaging even before the firefight has been won.[citation needed] In the past, accepted protocol was to check bodies for intelligence, take prisoners, and treat any wounded enemy. Once this was accomplished, the ambush patrol would then exfiltrate the area by a pre-determined route.

If time has allowed for it, the ambush force will have prepared their exit; for example, placing land mines to cover their retreat, with the members of the force making, and following, a safe route through the mines. If possible, a subsidiary ambush may be planned along the exit route to catch pursuing troops, and, if available, the egress may be covered by mortar or artillery fire.

Surviving an ambush
By definition, the ambush contains the element of total surprise; which means the victims of the ambush have no knowledge of how it has been constructed, or of what measures may have been employed to prevent escape. Therefore - and this has been proven by the experience of war - the only likely method of survival is withdrawal from the killing zone "the way you came in". All other routes out of the killing zone may be blocked, and in a very well-planned and well-executed ambush, even the "back door" will have been closed by the time the ambush is sprung. The published military doctrine is "immediate, positive, and offensive action"(ref: FM 55-30 USARMY, also PFN-T8M20024), but this is very likely to have been anticipated by the ones who set the ambush, and often plays into their hands. The value of withdrawal is the preservation of the force to "live to fight another day", when not taken by surprise.

There is an old saying amongst line troops whose source is lost in history which is often passed from generation to generation: "When they have the drop on you, don't draw!" This is an expression that probably originated in US cavalry days, or perhaps with the Texas Rangers.

Avoiding the ambush
The best way to survive an ambush is not to encounter them. In order for this to happen, patrol movement mustn't be predictable in timing or route, and should avoid the most obvious routes. Rather than moving at a constant speed and direction, the patrol should vary these, with occasional stops to observe both the route ahead, and changes behind. Units should move in such a way that they are close enough together for mutual support, but far enough apart so that one burst of automatic fire wouldn't take out the entire unit. When on foot, if possible, the patrol should move in such a way as to maximise their firepower; for example, with the arrowhead and spearhead formation, they should not allow themselves to be skylined. Units on foot should have a point man some way ahead of the main body, and, if possible, a rearguard as well. Those travelling in vehicles follow the same procedures, with lead and trailing vehicles well ahead of, and well behind, the main body of vehicles.

[edit] Countering an ambush
In the modern day warfare, this is much easier than before, since a route can be sanitized beforehand by aerial assets, and any obvious ambush sites noted, and counter measures taken. In Afghanistan, Mi-24 Hind gunships were used to locate concentrations of mujahideen guerrilla, and these would then be attacked by the Hinds themselves, or by artillery, using the aircraft as spotters.


Senior Member
Mar 21, 2009
Country flag
may be its even called as Guerilla Warfare,
In Indian History it was first employed by Chatrapathi Sivaji in 17 century against Moguls.


Phat Cat
Super Mod
Feb 23, 2009
Country flag
may be its even called as Guerilla Warfare,
In Indian History it was first employed by Chatrapathi Sivaji in 17 century against Moguls.
The Sikh misls also used guerilla warfare against the mughals, afghans, and persians.


House keeper
Senior Member
Feb 16, 2009
Friday, December 01, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-I (course of the war)

.fullpost{display:inline;} Ahmad Shah Abdali had acquired a firm grip on Multan, Peshawar, and western portions of Lahore province---but the Sarhind and Jalandar divisions had remained outside his control due to the semi-independent position of Adina Beg and the Maratha invasion. By the sequence of events described above the Sikhs had become part of the Mughal-Maratha administration in the Punjab---after the death or expulsion of the former the Sikhs now became the sole defenders of the province. Their war bands were well-prepared from their light equipment, their lack of administrative responsibility, and their long experience in fighting the Mughals in Punjab for the expected guerrilla campaign against Ahmad Shah Abdali.
What the Sikhs were not prepared for then was a straight fight. The Abdali army, mounted on fresh horses, fully armed and supplied with munitions, and with no organized enemy force against them easily occupied the Punjab towns. As before they absorbed the old Mughal administration under their own nominees but pushed on to face the Marathas at Delhi. The main Sikh forces took shelter in the Jammu and Kangra hills while the smaller bands hid in the forests and waited for an opportunity to strike back.
The main Maratha forces were concentrated against the Nizam of Hyderabad at that time while in the north Maratha soldiers under Holkar and Sindhia had the multiple tasks of taming the Ruhelas and moving on through friendly Awadh to take Bihar. They were thus surprised and taken unawares when the refugees from the Punjab trooped into their camp with the Afghan cavalry following closely behind. Ahmad Shah united his forces with the Ruhelas and uncovered the Maratha right flank along the Yamuna River---Holkar and Sindhia sent their artillery and baggage away and attempted to fight with their light cavalry but their mounted spearmen were overcome by the fire of Afghan jizails. Guerrilla warfare, of the type their ancestors had fought against Aurangzeb, required a friendly local population to inform the warrior bands of the movements and plans of the enemy.
While the Afghans dug their heels in and found a new ally in the Nawab of Awadh, the Peshwa sent up a fresh Maratha army from the south. This army could not find any dependable ally in the north and, suffering from a lack of provisions, moved up from Delhi to attack and occupy the Afghan supply depot at Kunjpura.
By this time the Sikhs had seized the Abdali's Faujdar of Sialkot, Rustam Khan, and had secured a large ransom from him. Now on hearing of the Maratha capture of Kunjpura, and the consequent rupture of the Abdali's line of communication with Punjab, they were filled with the wildest confidence. The misls of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Jai Singh Kanhaiya, Gujar Singh Bhangi, Lehna Singh Ramgharia, and others gathered in unlimited numbers at Amritsar on the day of the Diwali festival. Most of the Afghan chiefs were with Abdali and Punjab was denuded of their troops---the Sikhs for the first time attacked Lahore and looted the inhabitants of the suburbs. The governor Buland Khan paid a ransom of Rs. 30,000 to protect the city from the horrors of a sack---to save the Abdali's face this ransom was delivered as Karha Prashad (food offering) to the Khalsaji.
After triumphing over the starving Maratha army in January 1761, Ahmad Shah Abdali turned his face towards Punjab. His decision to fight the Marathas instead of securing a ransom and making peace with them had been forced by the senseless bigotry of his soldiers---thus he was returning home as a bankrupt. But though Ahmad Shah Abdali stayed for some time to make new appointments to hold the Punjab towns the Sikh misls disappeared into the hills and forests and dared not thwart his march home.
In 1762 the new Lahore governor, Khwaja Abid Khan (an Uzbek officer of the former Mughal governors), attacked the Sukarchakia misl at Gujranwala. Some Sikhs in the Afghan army were corrupted by Charat Singh Sukarchakia and Khwaja Abid was defeated and driven back to Lahore. Flushed with confidence the misl attacked and defeated the Afghan Faujdars[27] of Jalandhar---the other Sikh misls began plundering the highway from Sarhind to Sialkot. Combining their forces the Sikhs invested the Niranjani[28] sect, old allies of the Afghans, in Jandiala---Akaldas the Niranjani Guru sent a messenger to the Abdali who had already set off from Kandahar to rescue his officers in the Punjab.
[27] Sadiq Khan Afridi and Sadat Khan.

[28] The Sikh faith was over 200 years old by this time and had already broken into many dissenting sects. A list of these sects can be read at Untitled Document. According to the Amritsar Gazetteer, "In the conflict between the Sikhs and Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Niranjanis aided the latter with information. In revenge of this the Sikhs invested Jandiala." The Hussain Shahi states that the Niranjanis "were friendly to Islam and Nanakshahi faqirs, listening to the bang and salwat..."

On the mere report of his approach the Sikhs broke their siege and fled---but this time, instead of seeking shelter in the eastern hills, they crossed over into Sarhind and began looting the villages in concert with the Phulkia Sikhs. The faujdar Zain Khan Mohmand came out of Sarhind fort to subdue them and joined forces with the Nawab of Malerkotla---by this time the Abdali had crossed the Beas and Sutlej along the foothills and now sent couriers[29] to Zain Khan, instructing him to attack the Sikhs from the front. In the fighting the Afghan vanguard was defeated and driven back to Malerkotla with the exception of Murtaza Khan Bharech who held his ground on a hillock. A detachment under the Afghan Wazir, Shah Wali Khan, joined him there and rallied Zain Khan's forces while the Abdali's main force attacked the Sikhs in the flank.
From noon till the evening of the 5th of February the running fight continued for over forty kilometers; the Sikhs were defeated and driven beyond Barnala with the loss of 10,000 men---the day is marked in Sikh history as the ghallu-ghara (great scrimmage). Ahmad Shah next attacked Ala Singh for aiding the Sikhs from across the Sutlej and forced him to submit. Taking the Patiala chief with him the Abdali marched back to Lahore---on the way he demolished the Sikh Temple, Harmandir Sahib, at Amritsar and desecrated the waters of the reservoir by killing cows and throwing their grisly remains in it. At Lahore Ahmad Shah halted for the rest of the year and received envoys from the Ruhelas, Jats, and other Indian powers where he tried to negotiate a political settlement with the Marathas---something that should have been done at Panipat a year ago. The failure to make that settlement would come back to haunt the Afghan chief again and again as he fought relentlessly against the Sikhs over the next few years.
But while the talks continued Ahmad Shah dispatched a force to take back Kashmir in alliance with the Raja of Jammu, as described above. Due to his stay at Lahore the roads in Punjab became open once again and the fear of highway robbers disappeared, but with no increase in prosperity because his own unpaid and starving soldiers robbed the cultivators and drove them to join the Sikh faith. Worse, the Sikhs reappeared in strength that summer in Sarhind---this time Zain Khan bought them off with 50,000 Rupees but a fight was forced by his undisciplined troops.
Ahmad Shah spent the whole of 1763 in subduing a rebellion in the distant Khurasan province. On hearing of his troubles the Dal Khalsa assembled at Amritsar once again on Diwali (4th November) and restored their shrine.
[29] It was a practice with Ahmad Shah to never make plans in the camp, where many spies and other civilians were present, but to issue orders while out on a hunt so that his men were already prepared for marching.

They attacked first the Nawab of Kasur, the local ally of the Abdali, and then on the Chenab River defeated Sardar Jahan Khan who was coming down from Kabul with a compact force. The Sikhs next turned to Lahore in February 1764 and killed Khwaja Abid in a battle outside the city. His deputy Kabuli Mal made peace by paying money and cutting off the noses and ears of the butchers who had killed the cows at Amritsar in 1762. Ahmad Shah reached Lahore in March but a civil war had broken out in Afghanistan, his own troops were mutinying for their pay, and there was a sheer lack of foodgrain in the region. The Abdali left Punjab within a fortnight escorted for some distance by Kabuli Mal---at this Lehna Singh, Gujjar Singh, and Sobha Singh occupied the masterless city of Lahore with their forces[30].
Another Sikh band in all this time had swerved into Sarhind to take out the Nawab of Malerkotla---an Afghan family that had supported every invasion of the Abdali. The faujdar of Sarhind who should have protected Malerkotla was busy in amassing a personal fortune. Zain Khan had stopped paying his soldiers cash and instead forced them to subsist by raiding villages---on hearing of the rebellions against Ahmad Shah he had formed the plan of carving out his own independent principality in alliance with the neighboring hill-Rajas. When a force of 40,000 Sikhs bore down on Sarhind, Zain Khan, abandoned by his chief lieutenants, came out with a starving army and was easily defeated and killed. The Sikhs entered Sarhind and looted that luckless city for the fourth time.


House keeper
Senior Member
Feb 16, 2009

Figure 5 The ruins of Sarhind from
Flushed with confidence they, for the first time, crossed the Yamuna and began plundering the villages in the estate of Najib Khan Ruhela, the ally of Ahmad Shah. Najib at that time was holding Delhi (see RMA-II) and had exhausted his treasures in the fight against the Jats of Bharatpur---his army did not have the strength to fight the vigorous new enemy and he paid the Sikhs a ransom of 11 Lakh Rupees. Failure to make a settlement with the Marathas at Panipat had proved to be a fatal mistake for the Ruhela chief as much as it had been for the Abdali.
[30] At Amritsar the Sikhs struck coins as a sign of independence with the Persian phrase Degh wa tegh wa fath wa nusrat-i-bedirang yaft az Nanak Guru Govind Singh (Guru Govind Singh received from Nanak, brotherly union, the sword, and victory through mutual assistance). In this period some mosques were demolished and captive Afghans were made to wash their foundations with the blood of pigs in retaliation for the Abdali's sacrilege at Amritsar.

The Dal Khalsa had formed into two distinct bodies by this time, the Budha Dal (comprising the established misls) and the Taruna Dal (comprising the new Sikh bands). In 1765 the Budha Dal crossed over once again into Sarhind and Saharanpur and then down towards Delhi where the new Jat ruler, Jawahir Singh had besieged Najib Khan Ruhela. Jawahir sought an alliance with the Sikhs but conscious of their growing power they made him approach their council on foot and announced him as a supplicant for aid, "Jawahir Singh, the son of Suraj Mal, who has sought shelter with the Khalsaji and become a Sikh of Nanak."[31]
While these allies were attacking Delhi, Ahmad Shah Abdali had tided over his financial and administrative troubles and had set off for Punjab in November 1764. This time he had taken the aid of the Nasir Khan of Kalat[32] and his Baloch tribal levy. The Baloch army approached from the south via Multan and Ahmad Shah from Kabul, fighting and dispersing the lesser Sikh bands along the way. Ahmad Shah left his baggage and equipment at Lahore and once again attacked Amritsar and demolished the newly-built Sikh temple. Crossing into Sarhind the Afghan army avoided the main road and instead marched along the foot of the hills massacring Sikhs and non-Sikhs for two months. At Kunjpura Ahmad Shah learnt that Najib had concluded a peace treaty with Jawahir Singh Jat and that the latter's Sikh allies had disappeared when they heard of his capture of Lahore.
Unlike his campaign against the Marathas in 1759-61 none of the former Indian allies of Ahmad Shah came to his aid against the Sikhs. There was no one to quarter his army in secure camps through the dreaded Indian summer (as Najib Khan Ruhela had done in the Panipat campaign) and no one to finance his expenses for the long and sustained campaign, which was needed to convincingly defeat the Sikhs. Ahmad Shah hurriedly returned to his lands losing more soldiers in crossing the flooded Chenab than in any fight with the Sikhs. The Afghans were practically beaten.
Sarhind was now a secure Sikh base and from this town in November 1765 the Sikh bands invaded Najib Khan's estates---one group entered Saharanpur and another led by Jassa Singh, Tara Singh, Sham Singh and others came towards Delhi. They sent a force of 7000 men to Jawahir Singh Jat to aid him in his fight against the Marathas. In 1766 these Sikhs fought several running battles with Najib Khan where the Ruhela veteran held his men together in columns and kept the Sikhs back with artillery and musket fire allowing them no rest till they had crossed back across the Yamuna. Foiled in this raid these bands sought compensation by attacking the territory of Amar Singh of Patiala, who had been made a tributary ally by Ahmad Shah. Through the intervention of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia peace was made with Amar Singh paying a subsidy to the Dal Khalsa.
[31] They also shooed away Jawahir's huqqa-bearer because smoking is an abomination among the Sikhs.

[32] Kalat led a coalition of Baloch states and tribal belts until its recognition as a princely state under the victorious British. In 1948 the state was forcibly annexed along with the rest of Baluchistan by the Pakistan Army.

But there was little unity even within the trans-Sutlej Dal Khalsa. The misls had carved up the lands between the Jhelum and the Sutlej among themselves---predatory guerrillas had been weighed down with the burden of administrative duties. The misls fought over delineation of their boundaries and over the natural instinct of the strong to loot the villages of the weak. In the midst of these quarrels Ahmad Shah Abdali crossed the Jhelum in January 1767.
Charat Singh Sukarchakia fled to the Jammu hills while Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was defeated and wounded in battle. Ahmad Shah brushed aside all other opposition and the numerous misls abandoned their newly-acquired territories and subjects to the invader's wrath. Amar Singh of Patiala submitted to the Shah and was received in his camp---south of Ambala Ahmad Shah called up Najib Khan and other Indian chiefs to his side. Except Najib all other powers merely sent their envoys knowing well that the Abdali's power was on the wane.
Taking Najib's Ruhelas along, Ahmad Shah campaigned in Jalandhar and the nearby hills rooting out the Sikhs who had taken shelter there. Large numbers were killed and made captive but the main Sikh bands slipped past the Afghans, crossed the Yamuna and began plundering Najib's estates. Ahmad Shah deputed Sardar Jahan Khan with 8000 cavalry to join Najib's son and his 5000 horse---the two chiefs set off at midnight and surprised the Sikh camp near the river, wounding and slaying many men.
This was destined to be the last campaign of Ahmad Shah Abdali and ostensibly it had been his most successful against the Sikhs. The misls had been defeated and their territories recovered by his men, the Sikhs hiding in the hills had been attacked killed and taken prisoner, while their raid across the Yamuna had also been thwarted in time. And yet even as Ahmad Shah waited on the Sutlej thousands of Sikhs, appearing out of nowhere, gathered at Amritsar fully equipped for war. All the massacres, the ceaseless campaigns, the destruction of the Sikhs' shrine (the source of their spiritual and temporal power), and the alliances with some of the Sikh chiefs had failed to subdue a newly-risen people. Their numbers and military abilities kept growing in direct proportion to the Shah's massacres.
Conscious of his own financial weakness and the faithless attitude of his former Indian allies Ahmad Shah turned to diplomacy to secure this portion of his empire. Amar Singh of Patiala was left in charge of Sarhind and given the superlative title of Raja-e-Rajgan, Ghammand Chand Katoch of Kangra and Ranjit Dev Jamwal of Jammu were left supreme in their spheres of influence, the plains from the Chenab to the Sutlej were abandoned to the Dal Khalsa, while only Peshawar Multan and Kashmir were retained by Ahmad Shah. The remainder of the Punjab plains remained a hunting ground for his descendants and only fell to a new force that rose from among the Sikhs.



House keeper
Senior Member
Feb 16, 2009
Sunday, December 03, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-I (vignettes)

Vignettes of Northern History

Sikh cavalry armed with swords and flintlocks from Ranjit Singh's time. The cavalry that fought the guerrilla war against Ahmad Shah wore only blue drawers (kacchha) and turbans and carried thin blankets

Military developments: The individual Sikh soldier carried arms and rode horses that were similar to those of the Abdali army. As described above horses were bred in many places in the Punjab and were thus cheap and available in plenty---local chieftains began their careers by raiding on horseback and the same was true for the Sikhs. The use of matchlocks by foot soldiers in the Mughal army, by the Rajputs of the Jammu and Kangra hills, and by the Pashtun tribes of the western hills meant that the Sikhs too would take to these weapons with ease.

A European military observer wrote, "Their military force may be said to consist of cavalry...their infantry, held in low esteem, usually garrison the forts...A Sikh horseman is armed with a matchlock (of large bore) and saber of excellent metal (and also a spear), and his horse is strong and well-formed."

The Sikh manner of attack was called dhai-phat in their language---i.e. two-and-a-half strikes. A body of cavalry rides up to the enemy force, fires its matchlocks, and quickly rides away before re-loading and returning to repeat these tactics. After the enemies have been thus softened, the entire mass of Sikh cavalry envelops them with a sudden rush and cuts them down with their swords. These were exactly the same tactics used by Persians and Afghans of that period as illustrated in the Battle of Manupur. In the war between the Sikh misls and Ahmad Shah's army the two sides thus had similar equipment and their cavalry fought each other using the same tactics. Only in one respect were the Sikhs deficient---artillery.

The Rajputs of the eastern hills lacked artillery because their territories did not produce enough revenue for purchasing or manufacturing large guns (and further for training and continually supplying a body of soldiers with the required munitions). The poverty of the Punjab plains was made worse by the Persian and Afghan invasions, the Sikh risings, and the harsh exactions of the Afghan governors (the brutality of the Afghan administration in Kashmir, Multan, and the western hills was proverbial). Hence the Sikh misls relied on plundering for their revenue, which was not enough to buy or maintain a store of adequate artillery.

Fortunately for the Sikhs, Ahmad Shah Abdali was hampered by financial difficulties of his own and the failure of his Indian allies to come to his aid---all except for Najib Khan Ruhela. No wonder the Durrani King remarked, "This (Najib) is the only man among the Indian Afghans. I have shown many favors to that race but none of them has come to my side (for the campaign against the Sikhs)." The Abdali cavalry chased and fought bodies of Sikh cavalry through the winter months without any decisive result as described above. Later even Najib Khan had to face these mobile bands of Sikh cavalry when they began invading his lands from Sarhind. While against Abdali the Sikh sardars would send away their families to the Jammu and Kangra hills for protection, in this later period and as a sign of their growing confidence, they began taking their women and children along in camps to feed and clothe them from the plunder of the fertile Ganga-Yamuna region.

Such was their growing confidence that in 1768 Jassa Singh Ahluwalia invited the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam (then living under British protection at Allahabad) to Delhi assuring him that the whole empire would be again unified and restored to him (In other words the Sikhs wanted to rule the Delhi Empire through the proxy of the Mughal Emperor as the Marathas had always done). Shah Alam had replied that he could not take that action unless the whole body of Sikh sardars formed a binding confederacy to restore him and sent him a written pledge to that effect (from the Calendar of Persian Correspondence).

Under Ranjit Singh the Sikhs quickly transformed themselves into infantrymen and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Purbias, Gurkhas, Dogras, and Punjabi Muslims in that King's army. In this respect the Sikhs were far more adaptable than the Marathas who relied entirely on Purbias and Telugus for their infantry.

The question of plundering: the Sikh misls gained wealth by robbing Mughal trade caravans and extorting money from farmers——their Afghan enemies also thoroughly looted Punjab and the Delhi Empire. These plunderers did not spare their own brethren from such outrages. The Dal Khalsa plundered villagers in the territories of the Phulkia Sikhs and the villages in the Jammu and Kangra hills [33], who had been sheltering them during the war with Ahmad Shah. Sahib Singh of Patiala is said to have raided the holy town of Haridwar where his followers robbed and killed the innocent pilgrims. Through the course of their raids on Najib Khan Ruhela's lands the Sikhs would have looted mostly Hindu villagers.

Similarly the Afghans treated the inhabitants of Peshawar, Kashmir, and Multan with extreme brutality---a large majority of these were Muslims. The soldiers of Ahmad Shah Abdali robbed and killed the local inhabitants of the Punjab in every march they made towards Delhi---at that latter place they targeted the Mughal nobility and did not spare even the Mughal royal family from their greed and lechery. Apart from taking women from the common population, Ahmad Shah abducted women from the families of the Mughal umara and forcibly married the pubescent Hazrat Begum, the daughter of former Emperor Muhammad Shah. This was no matrimonial alliance between royal families---the girl was simply taken away without any ceremony[34]. The Ruhela Afghans, while plundering towns or villages, were equally uncaring for the feelings of other Muslim communities even if they shared their Sunni beliefs [35].

All medieval armies engaged in plunder---unless their commander had been provided with a large treasure chest to pay for the supplies of a vast number of men and animals over the course of a military campaign---which usually ran into months. Ahmad Shah Abdali's financial troubles have been described above. The Sikhs had risen from the ranks and had no territory under their rule to provide revenue; hence they had to sustain themselves on plunder. So what then was the difference between these two sets of plunderers?

Difference of degrees: as described above armed groups engaged in plunder to enrich themselves and thus increase their power. However once these groups gained administrative control over well-defined territories they developed a regular revenue collection system for the local inhabitants. In their plundering raids the Sikh misls extorted protection money (rakhi) at very modest rates of 4 or 5% of the farmer's annual production. Such restraint or moderation was unknown among the Afghans---they cared nothing for the welfare of farmers and townspeople or even their survival.

[33]For that matter even the Rajputs of the eastern hills are shown plundering the Punjab plains in this period, something which their ancestors had always done whenever the plains were in a state of political confusion.

[34]The 16-years old Hazrat Begum had an unfortunate life. She had first aroused the passion of the 60-year old Mughal Emperor Alamgir II but spurned his offer of marriage by reminding him that she was the same age as his daughters and looked upon him as a father. The angry Mughal had her confined in her apartments and starved her for days but the girl resolutely rejected this unnatural alliance. Ahmad Shah Abdali's demand for her in 1757 was at first spurned with a similar spirit, the elder Mughal ladies crying out, We will slay her and then kill ourselves but we will not give her to an Afghan! Their resolution crumbled before the Abdali's threats and two of these senior ladies accompanied the weeping bride to her new home in Kandahar.

[35]In their sack of Safdar Jang's city of Allahabad the Ruhelas are said to have robbed and abducted women of respectable families like Sayyids, Shaikhs, and Kambohs.​

Enslavement and conversion: slavery was unknown in India and there had never been slave markets of the sort found throughout West Asia. Many of the new Islamic peoples, like the Turks, were converted through enslavement---similarly the Muslim armies that operated in India enslaved many of the common people and converted them to Islam. This tradition was continued by the Persians and Afghans in the period under review. Nadir and Ahmad Shah are said to have taken thousands of people to the slave markets of West Asia[36]. Continuing the ancient Indian tradition neither the Marathas nor the Sikhs enslaved people nor did they force them to abandon their ancestral faith. Wherever the Sikhs captured prisoners they were usually set free after the payment of a ransom.

Senseless massacres: the Islamic state does not allow the population growth or material progress of non-Muslims within its borders. Under a true Islamic king Muslim armies are supposed to terrorize enemy civilians so that the enemy state can never be a threat to Islam. Due to this religious motivation Muslim armies have engaged in senseless slaughter, which is rare among non-Muslim armies who would gladly accept a peaceful settlement, or the payment of a ransom, in preference to killing large numbers of human beings[37]. The classic illustration is the Third Battle of Panipat where the Maratha commander had practically surrendered and had offered to arrange a large ransom if peace could be made between the two sides. But Ahmad Shah rejected these overtures because of the blind fanaticism of his soldiers who, prompted by the Qazis, wished to gain a place in heaven by slaughtering infidels on a gigantic scale. The Afghans got their holy war but lost forever a golden opportunity to solve their financial troubles---the senseless bigotry displayed at Panipat came back to haunt them throughout the long conflict with the Sikhs.

Rise of Punjab: As described in the closing of the main text the Punjab plains were finally freed of Abdali rule by a new force among the Sikhs. This man of destiny was Ranjit Singh of the Sukarchakia misl. As seen earlier the Sukarchakias had several times taken shelter in the Jammu hills during the war with the Abdali and their chiefs had deposited their families and property to the care of Ranjit Dev. But after the Afghan threat receded the Sikh misls began fighting each other and their plundering raids now covered the former places of their refuge in the eastern hills.

[36]In the Sikh tradition it is said that some of these slaves were rescued or made their escape when the Sikhs targeted the treasure convoys of the retreating armies. However the Mughal historians state that it were the entreaties of Zakariya Khan (Lahore governor) to Nadir and those of Emperor Alamgir to Ahmad Shah that resulted in the release of many such enslaved commoners.

[37]In 1757 before the campaign in the region south of Delhi Ahmad Shah instructed his men, "Move into the boundaries of the accursed Jat, and in every town and district held by him. Slay and plunder. The city of Mathura is a holy place of the Hindus...let it be put entirely to the sword. Up to Agra leave not a single place standing." His soldiers followed his order and killed so many thousands of innocent civilians that the waters of the Yamuna became polluted with blood. A Muslim eyewitness at Mathura records, At one place that we reached we saw about two hundred dead children lying in a heap. Not one of the dead bodies had a head. The Marathas also robbed these same lands but restrained their sword to some degree and did not engage in senseless slaughter. The Sukarchakias targeted Jammu in 1783 and ruined the once prosperous city, looting not only the treasury but also fleecing the bankers and common citizens.
[38] The money obtained from Jammu placed the Sukarchakias in a superior position to the other misls---young Ranjit Singh naturally took the lead of the Dal Khalsa when Zaman Shah, grandson of Ahmad Shah Abdali, attempted to recover his father's possessions in the Punjab.

The ruins of Jammu's old fort-palace

Failing in his campaigns Zaman Shah recognized Ranjit Singh as his governor of Lahore and ennobled him with the title of Raja in 1798---just as his grandfather had recognized the Raja of Patiala as the governor of Sarhind. Ranjit neutralized the other misls through outright battles and matrimonial alliances; some of the misl sardars were palmed off with estates while their territories, followers and treasury were absorbed into his growing kingdom. This Kingdom of Lahore represented the rising power of Punjab, which under Muin and Abdali had absorbed Multan and Sarhind, and now under Ranjit Singh covered the Jammu and Kangra hills, Kashmir, and the states in the western hills---gains tempered only by the loss of Sarhind to the British[39].

The Kingdom of Lahore fell to British arms within ten years of Ranjit Singh's death. This sudden fall is attributed by some to Ranjit Singh's alleged timidity against the British Empire while others point to the treachery of the Sikh generals who led the Khalsa in the two Anglo-Sikh wars. Many others claim that the machinations of Gulab Singh of Jammu and other "Dogra chiefs" led to the fall of the Punjab. All these were however mere incidents leading up to this fall---the real reason was financial bankruptcy of the Kingdom of Lahore.

As per the Mughal records the revenue of the Lahore province, before the Persian invasion, was given as 1.15 crore. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had imposed political unity and internal peace on the Punjab and had appended the neighboring regions to it---the revenue of this enlarged Kingdom of Lahore was estimated at 3.24 crore in 1844. Out of this over 58 lakh was the share of Raja Gulab Singh who ruled over his own kingdom in practical independence. So after the doubling of territory (and counting for inflation) the revenue of Punjab had increased only in a similar proportion.

[38]Ranjit Singh repeated his father's feat by attacking Jammu again in 1808 and finally annexing it in 1812 but Gulab Singh of Jammu is also said to have taken away a portion of the Lahore treasury in the declining days of that Sikh Kingdom.

[39]The Phulkia Sikhs had always been on the right side of the Mughal government in Delhi Patiala, Jind, and Nabha received royal titles from the declining Mughal power. They came under the loose domination of the new military machine of Mahadji Sindhia and later under the British who took Delhi in 1803.​
Lack of sufficient revenue for his ever increasing army (officered by Europeans and comprising modern infantry) led Ranjit Singh to annex tributary kingdoms within his territories one after the other. After his death the various factions in the Lahore court sought the support of the Khalsa by offering increases in their pay beyond the capacity of the treasury, which was soon bankrupted. The sole aim of these factions was to keep the restless and unpaid Khalsa employed in foreign wars. In 1840 the unoffending hill state of Mandi was attacked and annexed, in 1845 the Khalsa were encouraged to invade Jammu and tame the power of Gulab Singh, and the very next year they were hurled against the British, where after displaying great military prowess they finally met their doom in 1849.

Under the British the Punjab was given an efficient and honest administration, which earned the loyalty of the inhabitants, while a network of dams, barrages, and canals increased the prosperity of the land. More and more land was brought under cultivation and was distributed to those most loyal and accommodating to the British administration---these were the Punjabi Muslims. While the Sikhs became increasingly political over the decades this British understanding with the Punjabi Muslims culminated in the creation of a separate country led by the wealthy new Punjab---a country called Pakistan.


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Sardar and Singh: The term Sardar is of Persian origin and denotes a chieftain owing allegiance to a King of his own tribe/clan. In other words after the formation of the Mughal Empire the leading members of the landowning barony in Indian Kingdoms were termed Sardars---apart from the local appellations like Thakur or Rawat. Thus there were Afghan and Baloch Sardars just as there were Rajput[40] and Maratha Sardars---a sardar brought a respectable military force to serve his overlord and took part in the business of the state.

The Sikhs had emerged as a loose congregation of armies that sometimes cooperated with each other in making plans and conducting campaigns but at other times fought each other over land. Throughout the period under review the Sikhs did not possess well-defined territories under their rule——even the first states in the Sarhind division remained in a state of flux by the repeated invasions of the Dal Khalsa across their lands and into western UP and Delhi. The head of each Sikh misl was titled sardar because that was how he had begun his career as a leader of a band of soldiers from a particular village or district. When such a leader became successful, bands led by other sardars joined him and thus a misl was formed. Among the Sikhs the term Sardar thus became prolific since every leader of a band of even ten or twenty soldiers called himself a sardar.

[40]In Rajasthani the word is pronounced Sirdar.​
The system is thus illustrated by Major Polier, an observant European officer writing in 1776, "Every yeoman-farmer from the Indus to the gates of Delhi who, lets his beard grow, cries wah guru, eats pork, wears an iron bracelet, drinks bhang, abominates the smoking of tobacco, and can command ten or more horsemen---sets up immediately for a Sikh sardar. Thus in a misl of 10,000 men there was every probability of there being almost 1000 sardars! It is primarily for this reason that the word sardar became synonymous with the Sikhs[41].

The surname Singh: Guru Govind had made the surname Singh universal among the Khalsa and, as described above, this surname had been common among the Rajputs until then. The word translates to lion and the original Sanskrit pronunciation is Simha---over a period of time evolving into Sih, Sinh, Sinha, and Singh in different parts of India. Warrior clans commonly had a clan name, which would pass for a surname, but Indian rulers rarely used that name as an adjunct to their birth name. Instead common surnames among these ruling families were Chand (moon), Varman (armor), Dev (Godlike), Sena (army), Pal (protector), etc.---all related to the desired kingly qualities. Naturally Simha (lion) was also prominent in this list.

However the most important family to make Simha a hereditary surname was the Sesodia of Mewar. A long list of names from Hammir Singh through Sangram Singh and down to Pratap Singh in the 16th Century echoed across North India---where this Rajput family and its kingdom were the leading power for almost a century before the Mughal Empire. Other Rajput families in this same period began using the surname Singh by imitation until it became a fashion across Rajputana and most of North India.

When some of these Rajputs became allies of Akbar's secular empire and fought campaigns for him in the east and south they impressed the local rulers with their power and influence and, by way of imitation, the surname Singh became popular in these parts of India. To this day the Singh surname is found up to Manipur in the east and Karnataka in the south.

In the Jammu and Kangra hills we find the same process but here while the common clan members became Singh some of the rulers continued with the old family names. In Jammu the rulers like Ranjit Dev and Brijraj Dev were replaced by their common clan brethren, Gulab Singh and his brothers Dhian Singh and Suchet Singh[42]. The rulers of Nurpur, Jaswan, Guler, and Chamba switched over to Singh in the 17th Century while the rulers of Sirmaur continued with the surname Prakash even as their clan members switched over to Singh. However the Katoch rulers of Kangra and their clan brethren never appended Singh to their birth name and have stubbornly continued with the ancient surname Chand to this day.

[41]Another reason is that most other communities have stopped wearing turbans or keeping beards and moustaches, while the Sikhs have continued those traditions, since they are a part of their religious beliefs.

[42]Although the last recognized ruler of Jammu from the old family was Ajit Singh, the younger brother of Brijraj Dev.​
Dogras: Just as the Sukarchakia and Bhangi misls fought the rulers of Jammu, towards the east the ruler of Kangra had to contend with the Kanahiya and Ramgarhia misls. The increasing cavalry forces of these two misls had taken to plundering the hill states and had imposed tributary claims on them even as they fought each other with equal ferocity. Sansar Chand Katoch took part in one such fight as the ally of the Ramgarhias and recovered his ancestral fort of Kangra from the Kanahiyas. With the eviction of Sikh forces from the Kangra valley the Katoch chief imposed his own supremacy on all hill states (the antiquity of the Katoch clan goes back to the ancient Janapad of Trigarta.
Sansar Chand, grandson of Ghammand Chand, became the paramount ruler of the hills for twenty years

Some of the original artillery-commanding mercenaries of his grandfather's time, Purbias, Mughalias and Afghans, had died out by this time leaving only the local infantry. Under Sansar Chand, this Kangra infantry, was drilled and equipped in the European style by an Irishman named O'Brien[43]. In 1805 the deposed Ruhela chieftain, Ghulam Muhammad of Rampur, persuaded the Katoch chief to hire his own disbanded Ruhelas at a lower scale of pay. While this change was being carried out the subordinate hill chiefs formed an alliance with the Gurkhas and invested Sansar Chand at Kangra. The Katoch chief took the assistance of Ranjit Singh and defeated the Gurkhas---in the process losing his own independence to Ranjit Singh.

Thus the entire range of hill states had been either annexed or made tributary but recovery of their political power came from an unexpected quarter. After the annexation of Jammu state a brave and ambitious young man named Gulab Singh joined the army of Ranjit Singh at the head of a small contingent of Rajput soldiers. He was a Rajput of the Jamwal clan but among the Sikhs he and his men were simply called Dogras.
A Jammu miniature depicts Gulab Singh receiving a sword and shield from Bhagwan Rama

Dogra or Durgar was the old geographical name of the Jammu region and all people who lived there, whether Brahmans, Rajputs, Vaishyas, or Shudras were called Dogras by outsiders without regard to their caste or clan. Gulab Singh and his brothers rose through the ranks to become the most important leaders in the Kingdom of Lahore. Gulab Singh himself created a large kingdom stretching across the Himalayan Range into Ladakh and Baltistan (genealogy of the Jamwal rulers). Several Rajputs from the Kangra hills, including the celebrated Zorawar Singh Kahluria, joined his army.
[43]O'Brien was an ordinary soldier in the Royal Irish Regiment of the East India Company. Reprimanded on parade by an officer with a cane the Irishman knocked him down with his carbine and deserted. He found service with Sansar Chand Katoch and was titled Colonel O'Brien after he had formed a small infantry corps of 1400 men and a manufacturing armory for small arms. His grave is still visible at Sujanpur-Tira.​
In both the trans-Himalayan campaigns and the wars with the Pashtuns and other tribes of the western hills these Rajputs displayed their traditional skill in hill-fighting and accurate marksmanship[44]. Gulab Singh's success in preserving his kingdom through the two Anglo-Sikh wars left the Rajputs of the Dogra region as the supreme indigenous power in this part of North India and in the eyes of the British naturally made the name Dogra universal for the entire hill country (the Dogri language also preserved its identity to a greater extent than the other hill dialects[45]). While today Himachal Pradesh has formed its own identity, for the purpose of Indian Army recruitment the term Dogra is still applied to the people of Jammu, HP, and the neighboring Punjab districts (Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur).

[44]The latter was most effective in the Battle of Samman Fort at Lahore where 3000 Dogra musketeers kept at bay a vast army of 150,000 Khalsa troops under Maharaja Sher Singh. This battle left a deep impression on the minds of the Khalsa soldiery and created an aura of invincibility around Gulab Singh, which saved his kingdom later in the Khalsa invasion of Jammu in 1845. It also led to many Sikhs accepting the leadership of Gulab Singh, who was considered superior to the other chiefs because of his vast wealth and loyal army.

[45]Himachal Pradesh has collectively termed all its native dialects as the Pahari language; but the Dogri language, with its Takkari script, has a stronger identity and a larger literary output. Dogri has also received recognition as one of the official languages of modern India and now claims the neighboring Kangri, Chambiali, and Bilaspuri as its dialects.​


Fall of the Mughal Empire (Volumes II and III) - Jadunath Sarkar

The Maratha Supremacy - Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan

History and Culture of Himalayan States (Volumes I and II) - Sukhdev Singh Charak

Gulabnama - Dewan Kirpa Ram

Punjab Revenue

Sikh History



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Feb 16, 2009
Sunday, December 03, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-II (the Marathas)

.fullpost{display:inline;} Shivaji's wars against Ali Adil Shah II and Aurangzeb are usually regarded to be the pinnacle of guerrilla warfare, which triumphed over those enemies and was the first step in the expansion of Maratha domination over India. As discussed in GW-I, guerrilla warfare is the people's war against the occupiers of their country---such a war was fought by the Maratha people after the death of Shivaji and his son Shambhuji when their country was occupied by the Mughal Empire. Shivaji instead should be credited with infusing the spirit of nationalism and a sense of direction in these people. This blog will thus avoid a focus on individuals and instead study the Maratha people and their opponents and allies.
The Marathas

The word Maratha has evolved from Maha-rashtra[1], the ancient name of the land between the River Narmada and the River Krishna, which name was again adopted by the province after the formation of independent India. The term Maratha was properly applied to the land-owning Kshatriya families whose principal occupation was soldiering[2] but at other times was extended to the common farmers called Kunbis[3]. At either extremes of this mass of people were the priestly Brahmans, the clerical Prabhus, and the dalit Mahars.
[1] Maha-rasthra---Maharattra---Maratha in the same way as the name of the Gujarat province to the north evolved from Gurjar-rashtra---Gujjarattra---Gujarat.

[2] Joining the armies of the numerous dynasties that had risen in the region: Satvahanas, Chaulukyas, Rasthrakutas etc.

[3] Kshatriyas who lose their power take to farming while Kunbis on securing wealth raise themselves to the status of Kshatriyas...the line dividing the two is thin; similar to Rajputs and Jats in the north.

The most striking geographic feature of Maharashtra is the Sahyadri mountain range, better known as the Western Ghats, which runs parallel to the Arabian Sea and is thus drenched by the full flow of the heavy monsoon clouds. A strip of fertile plain called Konkan lies between the Ghats and the sea. On the other side of these hills the rainfall decreases and numerous rocky spurs extend eastwards and eventually tumble down into the plain---this plateau region is also called the Deccan[4].
At the beginning of the 14th Century the Maratha homeland was confined to the hills and eastern valleys of the Ghats---the rest of the region had passed into the hands of the Turkish invader from the north. These Turks eventually formed what became known as the Bahmani Sultanate (in 1345) when they built a new capital and colonized numerous provincial towns. The Sultanate controlled the roads leading through the passes in the Western Ghats and onto the ports of the Konkan plain. From these ports came soldiers and traders of Arabia, Persia, and East Africa who joined the Sultanate and were given estates in the broad plain of the Deccan. Tensions between these foreigners and the original conquerors, exacerbated by their varying racial features and religious beliefs[5], led to the break-up of the Bahmani Sultanate.
Neither that Sultanate nor any of its successors (Sultanates of Bidar, Berar, Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, and Golconda) attempted to strike roots into the local culture---their administration and way of life remained foreign. The local civilian inhabitants were crushed, their religion and culture was despised and suppressed, and they were forced to pay hefty taxes to their rulers. The indigenous rulers and warriors were at war with the invaders and remained on the defensive as long as cavalry was the principal formation of medieval armies[6]---some of them joined the armies and administration of the Sultanates but could not influence their policies.
[4] The ancient road to southern India passing through the plateau was called Dakshinapath, which was shortened over time to Dakhin, and was finally anglicized to Deccan.

[5] The foreigners from Arabia and Persia were mostly Shia and fair-skinned. The local Deccanis and the immigrants from Abyssinia were mostly dark-skinned and of the Sunni persuasion.

[6] Things changed with the introduction of firearms, as described in RMA-I, as they did in nearly all of India.

In this category were the Maratha mercenaries. Loss of independence and confinement to a small region had ensured that identities of clan and caste had watered down and the descendants of ancient Mauryas (More) and Yadus (Jadav) or the children of Rajput migrants like Solankis (Sulke), Chauhans (Chavan), and Parmars (Panwar) all mingled together without distinction. In the rocky and forested hills agriculture could not sustain the population and trade was not a viable option for making a living, hence the Marathas took up arms and hired out their services to the various powers of the Indian peninsula[7].
The Sultanates left the Marathas alone for the most part since no state based in the poor hilly regions could ever be a threat to their power. In this category were states like Jawhar[8] founded by a Sesodia family in the 14th Century, Khelna[9] ruled by the Shirke family, and the state of Javli[10] ruled by the More family. The Mores had received a grant for Javli from the Sultan of Bijapur as a reward for their military service to the Sultanate. Similar to these families and soon to surpass the others were the Bhonsle family of Elur, near the famous caves of Ellora. Originally mere landowners, they happened to discover a hoard of treasure buried by some ancient and long-forgotten dynasty in their fields, which they used to buy horses and weapons, and emerged as capable mercenary leaders in a few generations. Shahji Bhonsle, the son of Maloji, rendered valuable services to the Sultanates of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur and built vast estates in the Ghats and further south in the ruins of the Vijaynagar Empire. The reason for his spectacular success was due in part to a revolutionary change in the geo-politics of the peninsula.
[7] Apart from the Sultanates the Marathas also joined the armies of the Vijaynagar Empire.

[8] In the Thane district.

[9] In the southern Konkan; this state, in alliance with the Raja of Sangameshwar, defeated the army of the Bahmani Sultanate in 1446.

[10] In the Satara district.


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Feb 16, 2009
Thursday, December 07, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-II (light cavalry)

.fullpost{display:inline;} As mentioned above cavalry was the most important formation in medieval warfare and had been so ever since the Turk invasion of North India at the close of the 12th Century. From that time on independence was maintained by only those regions, which developed their own breeds of indigenous horses, like Rajputana---or those that could afford to import foreign horses, like the Vijaynagar Empire. In another class were the densely forested regions like the tribal belts of Chhattisgarh and Orissa or the marshy plains of Assam, where cavalry operations were difficult, which also preserved their independence.

In the middle of the 16th Century the Mughal[11] Empire was truly established in North India under Emperor Akbar. The unwritten ideology of this empire, personified by Akbar, was that men of character and ability are found in all communities---the wise man overcomes bigotry and clannish instincts to attract them to his side. Thus rulers and officers of former independent kingdoms became generals and administrators under the Mughals---their services were paid for by the grant of estates, which could not pass on to their descendants by inheritance[12] and were instead appropriated by the state.

The primary military force of this empire was still cavalry although a new element provided quicker victories and allowed the Mughal army to penetrate into previously inaccessible regions---this new element comprised of artillery and firearms. These also gave the Mughals a distinct superiority over the Deccan Sultanates and by the middle of the 17th Century Berar and Ahmadnagar had been annexed while Golconda had been made tributary and a treaty had curbed the power of the Bijapur Sultanate.

The Mughals thus gained several points of access from the Deccan into the land of the Gonds[13] and soon triumphed over them. It seemed apparent that the remaining southern kingdoms would be annexed to the Empire and their rulers and officers would be enrolled into the Mughal army and administration just as those in the north had been. This could have happened but for the rise of Shivaji.

[11]The Mughals were actually Turks but their homeland had been dominated by the Mongols for so long that to the outside world they were all Mughals---the Persian pronunciation of Mongol.
[12]The only exceptions to this rule were the Rajputs whose estates and kingdoms passed down from father to son usually without any interference by the Mughals.
[13]On the northern side Gondwana was protected by the Rajput dominated regions of Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand.​

The principal military force of the Maratha mercenaries was light cavalry for two reasons. Firstly the best foreign horses, used as heavy cavalry, embarked into the ports of Western India and were appropriated by the Sultanates and the Vijaynagar Empire. Secondly a breed of indigenous horses was found in the Maratha homeland---from lack of a credible study it is not known whether this breed was descended from a pure ancient stock or had been infused with the blood of imported horses. This question may never be answered since the once famous Dakhini breed is now practically extinct (see Equines in India).

Whatever their origins these horses were said to have a short stature and light build, which made it impossible to cover them in armor unlike the foreign horses. It also meant that their riders had to be lightly armed and could carry little baggage. The advantages of these horses were their stamina and speed and the Maratha military tactics evolved from their reliance on these dwarfish horses. Thus while their Deccani masters faced the enemy with the regular army, the Maratha cavaliers would hover around the invaders and cut down stragglers or make a wide detour to attack their camp and baggage. They were also experts in making quick raids into enemy lands and plundering their villages and towns.

As long as this cavalry was in the pay of the Sultanates these tactics could only serve to harass the enemy---not defeat him. However a new state had emerged in the Maratha homeland whose founder had neither served the Deccani Sultanates nor paid tribute to the Mughal invader. A former officer of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate, Shahji Bhonsle's meteoric career had been curbed by the Mughals and the Bijapuris in 1636---seven of his forts in the Ghats were annexed and Shahji himself was sent south to campaign for Bijapur in the Carnatic (the remains of the Vijaynagar Empire[14]). Shahji took his younger wife south with him and left his northern estates to his senior wife and her nine-year-old son, Shivaji[15].On coming of age Shivaji, with his Mavle infantry, began recovering his father's estates and forts from the hands of the Bijapuri officers and also annexed the lands of his fellow Maratha chieftains[16]. Next when the Mughals went to war with Bijapur, Shivaji recovered his father's villages and forts from that North Indian enemy. In addition to these annexations Shivaji constructed several strongholds within a few kilometers distance from each other, effectively turning the Western Ghats into one massive fort. With his increasing wealth the Maratha chieftain also bought foreign horses and hired Muslim mercenaries to form a body of heavy cavalry[17]. Shivaji's success and wealth attracted other Maratha adventurers with their light cavalry---this element would soon outshine and outnumber the Mavle infantry of his childhood.
[14]Which was called the Carnatic since the city of Vijaynagar had been, and still is, located in the Karnataka uplands.
[15] Unlike other youth who get spoilt by unsupervised access to wealth and power, Shivaji expended his energies in more healthy pursuits like hunting and trekking in the tough terrain of the Ghats, in the company of the local Mavle peasant-soldiers.
[16] The state of Javli was annexed by dubious means. The Bhonsle chief sent his envoy to discuss a marriage proposal with the daughter of Chadra Rao More; the envoy without warning murdered him. Shivaji then stormed the stronghold of Javli with his Mavles. The leaderless garrison, all Mavles, surrendered to Shivaji and joined his army.
[17] These were probably Afghans and are called "steel-clad troopers" in the contemporary records.​
Maratha hill country littered with forts

From his secure base the Bhonsle chief launched raids into the dominions of Bijapur and the Mughals prompting both to respond. But neither the treachery of Afzal Khan[18] nor the brute military power of Shaista Khan[19] could penetrate the well-knit defences of Shivaji's Kingdom. Only Raja Jai Singh[20] in 1665 was successful in taming the Maratha chieftain and turning him into an ally[21] for some time. However the alliance was short-lived and Shivaji continued his attacks on Mughal forts and his cavalry raids on Mughal towns[22] after 1670---finally crowning himself as Chhatrapati[23] in 1674. In 1677 Shivaji secured a subsidiary alliance with the impotent Sultanate of Golconda and invaded the Carnatic, capturing several forts and unmatched wealth from that region.

In 1680 Shivaji was succeeded by his son Shambhuji but within a year the new ruler was faced by the entire army of the Mughal Empire under Emperor Aurangzeb.
[18]This Bijapuri officer instead got a taste of his own medicine and was killed by Shivaji at an interview in 1659. His army was ambushed by the Mavle infantry from four sides and almost 3000 men were slaughtered.
[19]This Mughal was Aurangzeb's maternal uncle and he frittered his energies in attacking the outlying forts of Shivaji. The Maratha chieftain made a night raid on his camp and attacked Shaista in his bed! This raid took place in 1663.
[20]The Rajput general based himself in Saswad and concentrated his attack on the important and centrally located fort of Purandar. From Saswad flying columns of cavalry kept the Mavles and Maratha cavalry on the defensive. Jai Singh also gave money and military positions to all the local enemies of Shivaji (including the Mores of Javli) thus creating a ring of opponents around him.
[21]Jai Singh made Shivaji an ally in his invasion of Bijapur and persuaded the Maratha chief to travel to the Mughal court and become an important general of the empire. Traditionally Rajputs were reluctant to take things to an extreme against Hindu enemies as is proved by the conduct of Jai Singh's ancestors. However both Jai Singh's invasion of Bijapur and Shivaji's time at the Mughal court turned out to be colossal disasters.
[22]Surat an important Mughal port in Gujarat was sacked in 1664 and again in 1670. On both occasions the European, Muslim, and Hindu merchants were looted without distinction and the wealth of the Mughal governor and his officers amounting to crores was carried away.However it is usually forgotten that in the Mughal war of succession Prince Murad Baksh, then governor of Gujarat, had also stormed and plundered the city of Surat in 1657 to finance the campaign against Maharaja Jaswant Singh.
[23]Literally "Lord of the Umbrella" meaning an independent monarch not tributary to any other power.​


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Feb 16, 2009
Friday, December 08, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-II (turning point)

.fullpost{display:inline;} Akbar's alliance with the Rajputs had created the Mughal Empire and the end of that alliance by Aurangzeb prepared the ground for the destruction of that empire. This alliance was in large measure the product of Akbar's personality---the ability to rise above religious predilection and tribal instincts to attract capable men from different communities to one's side. His successors Jehangir and Shah Jahan were however bigoted and their intolerance showed up in several instances, but considering the undeniable importance of the large Hindu population and the collective military power of the Rajput clans, they curbed their hatred in the interests of the empire. In this spirit, Shah Jahan warned the youthful Aurangzeb against being unfriendly towards the Rajputs---however the warning seems to have been shrugged off[24].

In 1679 Maharaja Jaswant Singh Rathor was dead and Aurangzeb had occupied his Kingdom of Jodhpur[25] and its many forts and towns. The Rathor clan allied with the Sesodias of neighboring Udaipur and thus began what is called "the Rajput war". The full force of the Mughal Empire, commanded by Aurangzeb in person, descended on Rajputana but the two Rajput clans, instead of defending every little district or fort, withdrew into the craggy hills and forested valleys of the Aravalli Range. From this base they fought off the invaders and launched counter-attacks of their own---so successful was this strategy that Aurangzeb's sons and generals refused to take offensive actions and despaired of victory.

Things came to such a pass that the Emperor's favorite son Akbar joined a conspiracy with the Rajput clans to overthrow his father and restore the old policies of the empire.
[24]Illustrated in the Adab-i-Alamgiri---Aurangzeb's letters to his father where he tried to pacify Shah Jahan by promoting a Rajput chieftain, Rao Karan of Bikaner, to a higher post. On becoming Emperor he was forced to tolerate the established Rajput generals of his father's time and continued to use them in campaigns.
[25]Sir Jadunath Sarkar calls Jodhpur the largest Hindu state in North India whose leader could organize opposition to Aurangzeb's policy of Islamization.

The attempt failed but the Rajputs had effectively turned the tables on Aurangzeb by hailing his son as Emperor Akbar II. Since the new Emperor could not be safe within his father's reach the Rajputs escorted him through the intervening Mughal provinces to the safety of the Maratha Kingdom. Shambhuji welcomed the royal guest[26] and promised to aid him in marching north, uniting with the Rathors and Sesodias (the two greatest Rajput clans), and taking possession of the Mughal throne. This event and the projected plans of these two personalities changed the history of India.

Aurangzeb had to leave the task of Islamizing North India unfinished and was forced to rush all his forces south into the Deccan. He blockaded the Maratha Kingdom from the land and assisted the sea-based powers[27] in their war against Shambhuji. For five years (1681-86) this strategic disposition continued and it was only in 1686 that Akbar II struck northwards. But his attempt, of joining the Rajputs and then marching on to Delhi, was foiled---at the end of that year the disappointed youth left for Persia[28]. His last attempt had been prompted by Aurangzeb's increasing troubles with new enemies.

While prosecuting his war against the Maratha Kingdom Aurangzeb had sent diplomatic appeals to both Bijapur and Golconda to assist him in that war, or at least to stand aside. The Sultanates made no response to the appeals and instead gave secret help to the Marathas---a look at the map makes the reason amply clear. As long as the Maratha Kingdom existed on the flank of the Mughal territory, the Mughal governor of the Deccan could not march against Bijapur or Golconda in strength (see experience of Dilir Khan against the Berads of Sagar). Shivaji and Shambhuji were the only guarantees for the continued survival of these worthless states[29]. At last in 1685 Aurangzeb decided to increase the pressure on Shambhuji by annexing Bijapur---after a long siege he became the master of the devastated city. Towards the end of 1687 Aurangzeb marched into the similarly ruined and heavily bombarded capital of Golkonda:

[26]Akbar continued to style himself Emperor in all official communications until his departure from India.
[27]These were the Portuguese and the Siddis; their contest with the Marathas had begun early in the time of Shivaji and related to the safety of Maratha shipping and Maratha subjects living along the coast.
[28]Akbar II had many supporters even as late as in 1685; in the words of the English factors at Surat, "We have frequent alarms here of all the Rajputs being in arms to assist Sultan Akbar backed by many of the Muslim nobles dissatisfied to the Emperor." Sardar Tarin an Afghan in the Emperor's camp used to recruit soldiers and send them to serve Akbar; Abdus Shakur and his 180 Uzbek soldiers joined the rebel Prince; in 1685 4000 rebels at Broach proclaimed Akbar as their true Emperor. Half-hearted attempts were also made to unite father and son but Akbar's harsh sentence of deposition of his father, publicly announced, had created immense hatred between the two.
[29]The Sultanates were at the last stage of their existence; their territories were divided between rival generals and tributary indigenous rulers were practically independent.​
In these two years Shambhuji was faced with numerous rebellions and conspiracies within his Kingdom even as he sent forces to assist the Sultanates or made diversionary attacks on Mughal territory. But the rebellions took the wind out of these brave attempts and Shambhuji sought relief by turning to drink and revelry[30]. In such a state he was finally captured by the Mughals in January 1689 and executed. A great pall of terror had lifted from the heads of the Mughal soldiers and nobles who now energetically besieged Maratha forts and by the end of 1689 captured most members of the Maratha royal family---all except Shambhuji's step-brother, and hastily crowned King, Rajaram.

By 1690 Aurangzeb was the unrivalled master of the Deccan---Rajaram had fled far in the south to Shivaji's possessions in the Carnatic. Before leaving, he appointed Ramchandra Bavdekar the supreme commander of the war in the Maratha homeland with lieutenants like Parashuram Trimbak and Shankarji Narayan. Safe in the southern fort of Jinjee Rajaram appointed Prahlad Niraji his supreme regent to be assisted by generals like Dhana Singh Jadav and Santa Ghorpade. Thus the Marathas calculated that Aurangzeb would be forced to divide his forces into two, separated by several hundred kilometers, and this would save the Maratha homeland from complete conquest.

However the results turned out to be better than even they could have imagined! Within fifteen years Aurangzeb was on the retreat and the Deccan, economically ruined and depopulated by war and pestilence, lay prostrate under the Marathas. How did this sudden change from near dominance to total defeat happen? A contemporary writer, traveling with Aurangzeb's army, tried to answer this question in the following words: "Rajaram, who succeeded Shambhuji, lost his capital and had to flee to Jinjee. So the Maratha state servants supported themselves by plundering on all sides, and paying a small part of their booty to the King...In despair of getting their monthly salaries regularly, they regarded the plunder of Mughal territory as a gain and a means of maintaining themselves."[31]
[30]Shambhuji while brave and dashing had a poor personal character, which is why he was disliked by many nobles and generals of his father's time. When Shivaji was alive Shambhu had committed many crimes including rebelling against his father and joining the Mughal enemy in 1678!
[31]This is from Nuskha-i-Dilkash, a Persian history written by Pandit Bhimsen, the secretary of Rao Dalpat Bundela who was the chief lieutenant of the Mughal general Nusrat Jang.​
While this analysis accounts for the dissolution of the Maratha state and the failure of the Mughal administration to provide a replacement, it does not explain how the Mughal army was defeated by these "Maratha state servants...plundering on all sides"? From our access to more numerous sources and our broader perspective of the historical forces of those times we can cite several reasons for the military defeat of the Mughals:
Mughal weakness: the conquest of Bijapur and Golconda brought no gain to Aurangzeb. These Shia Sultanates were at the last stage of their existence; their individual ministers and tributary chiefs were more powerful than the governments at each capital. The Mughal annexation of Muslim Kingdoms in North India had been a smooth process, by which the nobles of those states were enrolled into the Mughal military system and the wealth of the annexed state paid for the expenses of its conquest. Neither of these things happened in the south---the Mughals had to take out military expeditions into the estates of the Bijapuri and Golkonda nobles before they submitted. Even then these nobles and indigenous chiefs sighed for their former independence and found ready support from the numerous Maratha armies in the field, further complicating the military situation for the Mughals.
Mughal Finances: For the reasons cited above, and also due to the Maratha plunder, the Mughal army could not live off the conquered land and had to be sustained on the revenues from the Northern provinces. Thanks to Aurangzeb's bigotry even the north was restless and burning with strife and eventually the treasure of three generations, stored at Delhi and Agra, had to be opened and sent to Aurangzeb[32]. This movement of money and material to the south was an easy target for the Maratha armies, who found a wonderful source of wealth to sustain them for a long time. It was remarked by a contemporary writer, "I have heard that every week the Marathas give away sweets and money in charity, praying for the long life of the Emperor who had proved to be the feeder of the universe for them!"[33]
Mughal administration: In the Mughal army the nobles were assigned estates where they could retire after campaigning. But the estates in the Deccan and the Carnatic suffered from Maratha plundering; the local villagers joined the raiders rather than engaging in the thankless task of farming while paying rent and revenue to two sets of masters! This quote from a contemporary historian illustrates this system, "The powerful headmen of certain villages, in concert with the Marathas, built small forts and refused to pay revenue."[34] The foreign breeds of horses, so important for the Mughals, did not last long in the heat and humidity anyway but their non-stop use in campaigning without any rest or repose wore them out even further.
[32]Aurangzeb's letter to his general Nusrat Jang, from the Ruka'at-e-Alamgiri, reads, "My sincere Nusrat Jang, our whole energy was devoted to the conquest of the Deccan. Thank God that we have accomplished that work. But the expenses incurred are defrayed from the treasury of Northern India. We are still in debt."
[34]Khafi Khan.​

This Maratha system of war, where light cavalry hovered around each Mughal army, plundered and reduced the country around to dust and then swooped down in lightning charges when the enemy's guard was lowered, was termed ghanimi qawait in the Persian histories. Ghanimi translated to "light forays" qawait to "tactics". The Central Asian soldiers in the Mughal army instantly recognized this method of warfare as similar to what their kinsmen practiced in that steppe land---particularly the Kazzaks. Hence another word for this system of war was Kazzaki.

And this light cavalry had no base, no stronghold, whose blockade or destruction would destroy its power. The women and children of the Marathas were of course lodged in the forts of their homeland; but whenever the Mughals besieged these strongholds the Marathas would pull out their families and take them away to the forts of the Berads or of the Portuguese or even far south to the relative safety of the southern region. Having done that these Marathas would then hover around the besieging army, cut-off its supply lines and swoop down on isolated groups of soldiers and camp followers. Such was their impact that the Mughals had to build mud walls around their camps and siege lines to protect their men from the Maratha light cavalry---the besiegers effectively became the besieged[35]!

Even with these factors it should not be assumed that the Marathas had it easy against their enemies---their superiority became apparent only towards the close of the 17th Century. Up to that time there were continuous diplomatic negotiations between the leaders of the two sides and several Maratha chiefs[36] sought legitimacy and rank from the Mughal Emperor and served him loyally against their own brethren. This wasn't unusual---in the same manner Sikh chieftains accepted Ahmad Shah Abdali's rule and alliance with his generals even after the Afghans had committed great outrages on the Sikhs and their religion. Similarly Rajput chieftains sought service under Aurangzeb even after their faith had been attacked and their people subjected to jaziya[37]. In the end wars are about politics and money as much as they are about religion or ideology.

[35]Such was the origin of the "Maratha wall" around European factories and its variant, the "Maratha ditch", dug out to break the advance of light cavalry.
[36]Some of these had been dispossessed by Shivaji, some had rebelled against Shambhuji, and some sought financial gain by allying with the Mughals. Those that remained loyal to the Mughal cause were the Jadavs of Sindhkhed (Shivaji's mother's family), Kanhoji Shirke and his sons (Rajaram's mother's family), Nagoji Mane, the Dafles of Jath, and several thousand Mavle infantry under individual Mughal or Maratha commanders.
[37]Shias too had mourned the loss of the Shia Sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda and there were several instances of Mughal oppression against the Shias but chiefs of that sect continued to serve the Mughal Empire for money and position.​


House keeper
Senior Member
Feb 16, 2009
Friday, December 08, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-II (phases of the war)

.fullpost{display:inline;} Important Phases in the War

1690: Carnatic - Rajaram at Jinjee seeks the support of the southern chieftains for his war against Aurangzeb, however only his first cousin the Raja of Tanjore[38] provides that aid. In January former Golconda officers, Muhammad Sadiq, Yachapa Nayak[39], and Ismail Maka, who had submitted to the Mughals, now join Rajaram. Zulfiqar Khan (Nusrat Jang) sent against them lays siege to Jinjee in September. In November Nimaji Sindhia, Mankoji Pandhre, and Nagoji Mane desert the Mughals in the Deccan and come to Rajaram with 2000 cavalry. Asad Khan (Nusrat Jang's father and the then Mughal Wazir) is sent to capture the Kurnool and Kadapa districts from the Bijapuri and Golconda officers.

Figure3 the ruins of Jinjee in the midst of three fortified hills​

Deccan - All of Northern Konkan captured by a Sayyid officer,Matabar Khan. Rustam Khan, a former Bijapuri officer, at the command of a large army plans to capture the important fort of Satara. The Marathas led by Ramchandra Bavdekar, Shankarji Narayan, Santa Ghorpade, and Dhana Singh Jadav hire several hundred Berad musketeers and fall on Rustam. The Berad firing wounds the Mughal elephants and sets Rustam's clothes on fire; Santa and Dhana seize Rustam while the Marathas in the Satara fort sally out and capture his family. Mughal right wing enveloped and destroyed by Maratha cavalry and the rest of the army and camp followers flee leaving behind 1500 dead, 4000 horses, eight elephants, and unlimited baggage. Several Maratha forts recovered by Ramchandra and Shankarji. Two months later Dhana, Santa, Dafle, and More with their cavalry and the Berad musketeers fight inconclusive battles with Lutfullah Khan leaving hundreds dead on both sides.

[38] Shahji II was the son of Vyankoji, stepbrother of Shivaji by Shahji Bhonsle's second wife.

[39] Yachapa Nayak's ancestors were Rajputs from Kannauj who obtained the fort of Satgarh from Raja Pratap Rudra of Warangal in the 14th Century.

1692-94: Carnatic - Nusrat Jang continues the siege of Jinjee joined by his father Asad Khan and Prince Kam Baksh in December 1691. Santa and Dhana bring fresh recruits from the homeland to the Carnatic---Santa captures Kanchipuram and imprisons the Mughal governor Ali Mardan Khan, whose foot-musketeers desert to the Marathas. Santa joins Dhana in attacking the besieging army at Jinjee, cutting-off its communications and food supply. Prince Kam Baksh intrigues with Rajaram, asking for his help in marching to North India and capturing the Mughal throne. Mughal force retires from the siege after many losses and Prince Kam Baksh is arrested by Nusrat Jang. Marathas dominate southern India and many local chiefs attack and plunder the Mughal supply lines. Santa and Rajaram subdue the Nayak of Trichinopoly but Santaji quarrels with his King and departs for the Ghats; Dhanaji is appointed senapati in his place. Nusrat Jang attacks the Raja of Tanjore in 1694 and forces him to submit, Yachapa Nayak joins that Mughal general but is treacherously arrested and beheaded. Nusrat Jang renews the siege of Jinjee.

Deccan - Parshuram Trimbak recovers Panhala fort in 1692. Mughal force under Prince Muiz-ud-din lays siege to Panhala but fresh from defeating the Mughal army at Jinjee, Dhana joins the western generals Ramchandra and Shankarji and encircles the besiegers in October 1693. The Marathas attack the Mughal trenches and loot their artillery; sending many men and much material into Panhala. Relieving force under Firuz Jang chases Dhana and defeats him but fails to capture any of his men. Amrit Rao deserts the Mughals and raids their territory; Santa returns from Jinjee in October 1693, hires Berad musketeers, and fights an inconclusive battle with Himmat Khan; Santa sends Amrit Rao to plunder Berar and himself ravages Malkhed.

Konkan - Reports of these Maratha actions embolden Khandoji Kadam and Damaji Narayan to besiege Lomanji Mavle in Sidhgarh. Matabar Khan sends reinforcements but the Marathas make an alliance with the Portuguese, sending their families to live safely in the Portuguese forts. War between the Mughals and the Portuguese breaks out for a short time.

1695: Deccan - Santa celebrates the marriages of his two nephews at Parli. He next attacks Fathullah at Chandan-Wandan but is repulsed by a relieving force under Hamid-ud-din Khan. Amrit Rao deserts to the Mughals but again returns to Rajaram's side the next year!

Carnatic - Aurangzeb sends Qasim Khan and other high officers to intercept Santa who is taking war-booty to his estate northwest of Mysore. Santa makes an alliance with Barmappa Nayak of Chitaldurg and divides his own cavalry into three divisions. The first division attacks Qasim Khan and draws him away from the main Mughal camp, the other nobles (Khanazad, Saf Shikan Khan, Muhammad Murad) rush forces to his support but are attacked by Santa's second division while the third division loots the defenseless Mughal camp. The Mughals take refuge under the walls of Dodderi fort; Barmappa's Berad footmen reach the spot and begin a merciless firing destroying a third of the enemy force; Qasim and other nobles surrender to the Marathas for a ransom. One month later Santa kills Himmat Khan at Basavapatan and destroys most of his army; he is driven away by a relieving force under Hamid-ud-din Khan.

1696-1700: Carnatic - Dhana attacks Nusrat Jang at Vellore and forces him away from the siege of that fort and to the refuge of Arcot. Santa reaches Jinjee and the long-running quarrels between the Maratha ministers (over policy and appointments to high office) and between the Maratha generals (over division of territory) come to a head[40]. Rajaram supports Dhana and Amrit Rao Nimbalkar against Santa but after two battles Santa is victorious; Amrit Rao is killed and Dhana escapes to the Ghats. Santa turns towards Mysore; Nusrat Jang follows him from the south while Aurangzeb sends his grandson Bidar Bakht from the north but Santa's army eludes the slow-moving Mughals. Nusrat Jang besieges Jinjee again in November 1697 but forms a friendly understanding with Rajaram in the expectation of Aurangzeb's imminent death and Nusrat's desire to build a kingdom of his own. But Aurangzeb's suspicions are roused and in January 1698 Nusrat takes Jinjee but gives advance warning to his friend---Rajaram escapes to the Maratha homeland with his chief officers.

Deccan - Santa and Dhana fight again in March 1697 near Satara; Hanumant Rao Nimbalkar captures Santa's baggage, several officers desert to Dhana. Santa escapes with a small escort but is killed by Amrit Rao's relations---his death is celebrated in the Mughal camps[41] but the overall military situation still leans towards the Marathas. In July a heavy flood washes away Aurangzeb's base camps at Pedgaon and Islampuri. In May 1699 Dhana raids Bidar and turns towards Haidrabad; is followed by Chin Qalich Khan and Zabardast Khan; an inconclusive battle is fought. Aurangzeb determines to conquer the Maratha hill forts and sets out from Islampuri in October 1699.

[40] "Among the Marathas not much union was seen. Everyone called himself a Sardar (chief) and went out to plunder on his own account." Nuskha-i-Dilkash.

[41] As Khafi Khan asserts, Santaji inspired fear and dread among the Mughals, "When the news arrived that Santa had come within 16 or 18 miles of him,
Firuz Jang lost color in terror, and making a false announcement that he would ride out to oppose him, sent his advance tents onward, but then fled towards Bijapur by a roundabout route!"

Rajaram receives word of this movement and leaves Satara, sending his family to Khelna, and makes a bold counter-attack in the Mughal rear in alliance with the Gond chieftains. Dhana is defeated by Bidar Bakht and Chin Qalich Khan while Krishna Savant crosses the Narmada and plunders Malwa. The Gond Raja Bakht Buland plunders Berar and is defeated by Firuz Jang---Bakht sends Rs. 30,000 to Chatrasal Bundela and requests a force of Bundela infantry as reinforcements. Dhana, Ranu, and Hanumant Rao defeat Hamid-ud-din Khan but are chased away by Nusrat Jang in January 1700---three months later Rajaram dies of a high fever.

1700-04: Marathas - Rajaram's senior wife, Tara Bai, crowns her son Shivaji III[42] and becomes regent. Rajaram's younger wife, Rajas Bai, forms a faction in support of her own son Shambhuji II. At the same time Shambhuji I's son Shahu is being carried as a royal captive in Aurangzeb's camp! While these factions attempt to place their own nominee as the head of the Maratha Kingdom, the Maratha generals continue to fight the Mughals, and each other. In December 1700 Santa's son Ranuji and brother Baharji fight Dhana and Krishnaji Malhar but are defeated and driven away. In September 1701 Dhana and Dado Malhar defeat and capture Hanumant Nimbalkar---in that same month Baharji and Ranuji offer to join the Mughal side. In July 1703 even Dhana wants to become a Mughal general! But none of these negotiations mature---most Marathas in Mughal service join and desert as they please with the exception of a few notable chiefs.

Mughals: Aurangzeb besieges Satara with a large army, which is immediately encircled by the Marathas under Dhana, Shankarji, and Hanumant. Ghori Khan is captured by Dhana while Hanumant's cavalry envelops and destroys the force of Ikhlas Khan (who had helped capture Shambhuji in 1689), killing him and his sons. The Marathas follow Rajaram in his counter-attack on Mughal territory---on his death Subhanji vacates Satara with his garrison. After taking Parli in June 1700 Aurangzeb retires to Khawaspur for the rainy season; much of his army and camp-followers perish; the nobles are sent to their estates but the Marathas, Berads, and Gonds continue to plunder and dominate the entire Deccan. Panhala is attacked in 1701 but is only gained by bribery after several months of a wasteful siege---all the time Dhana, Krishnaji, and Dado Malhar harass the Mughal army with impunity. Khelna besieged on 16th January 1702; Marathas and local landowners encircle the besiegers and plunder the highways leading to Khelna; Nusrat Jang chases and fights them repeatedly but loses most of his horses in the campaign.

Khelna finally gained by bribery in April 1702 after the garrison evacuates the fort. Kondana is also gained by bribery next year after three months of wasteful siege and the army retires to Pune for the rainy season---but in this period Nima Sindhia enters Malwa and plunders many villages and towns. Firuz Jang deposits his equipment and baggage in Burhanpur fort and chases Nima with a light force through Malwa, east into Bundelkhand, and southwest into the Deccan defeating him at two places. But the next year Nima again enters Malwa now joined by local Rajputs, Afghans, and adventurers of all description. In July 1703 a desperate Aurangzeb proposes to set Shahu[43] free and invites the Maratha generals and ministers to meet their King; however as an eyewitness remarks, "But as the Marathas had not been vanquished, and the entire Deccan had come into their possession like a deliciously cooked pudding, why should they make peace?"[44]

In December 1703 Aurangzeb besieges Rajgarh and takes it by bribery two months later---in that period the Marathas raid Berar and are repulsed with difficulty by Firuz Jang. Torna is captured by assault in March 1704. In 1705 the Berad fort of Wagingera is captured but only after its ruler and garrison make their escape.

[42] Rajaram's eldest son was Karna, who reigned for three weeks as Shivaji II, but then died of smallpox.

[43] Shahu had been given the title of Raja from the very start but no territory; he had the mansab (rank) of 7000 and lived in a comfortable enclosure with his mother and grandmother. In May 1703 Aurangzeb sent Hamid-ud-din Khan to Shahu, promising to set him free if he converted to Islam!

[44] Nuskha-i-Dilkash.

1705-07: Aurangzeb withdraws with his entire army to Devapur where he falls ill from the strain of campaigning. Firuz Jang persuades the Emperor to make peace with Chatrasal Bundela who has been ravaging Bundelkhand and Malwa for decades---the Bundela Rajput is created a Mughal peer with a mansab of 4000 and comes to live in the Mughal camp with his followers. Meanwhile the Marathas recover Kondana fort from the Mughals. Hearing of Aurangzeb's illness Prince Muhammad Azam leaves his province of Gujarat to come to his father's side and prepares to seize the throne and treasury. The Marathas under Dhana Jadav enter Gujarat and defeat the Mughal armies with great slaughter capturing Safdar Khan Babi and Nazar Ali Khan. Marathas plunder the surrounding country including the important town of Baroda.

Aurangzeb shifts camp to Ahmadnagar on 14th January 1706 and again makes a desperate attempt to solve the Maratha problem---Raja Shahu is shifted to Nusrat Jang's camp where his second cousin Raibhan (of Tanjore) joins him. Nusrat and Raibhan write letters to the Maratha generals proposing peace and ask them to visit their King and take him away. Instead in April 1706 a vast Maratha army under Dhana, Nima, Dado Malhar, and Rambha Nimbalkar appears within four miles of the Mughal camp. After a long and severe battle the Marathas are repulsed but without losing any prisoners or property to the Mughals. The Marathas turn to plunder Berar and are chased by Nusrat Jang.

In the south the Marathas and Berads capture Penukonda, Sera, Allur, and Basantgarh. A caravan coming to the imperial camp is plundered by the Marathas. Dhana fights Santa's son Baharji in early 1707 and drives him into Kurkal fort; Baharji seeks assistance from the Mughals and offers to join their side. Nusrat Jang toils across a long distance to this place but Dhana evades him; Baharji too departs with his followers without fulfilling his promise to Nusrat. In the Mughal camp Azam plans to murder his stepbrother Kam Baksh but Aurangzeb sends him to Malwa and Kam Baksh to Bijapur.

Aurangzeb dies on 20th February 1707. Azam rushes back to the camp, takes command of the army and later connives at Raja Shahu's escape---civil wars break out among both the Mughals and the Marathas. Of the Mughal generals who survive the Deccan wars, Nusrat Jang goes on to become the Wazir of the Mughal Empire (1712) while Firuz Jang's descendants become known as the Nizams of Hyderabad.


House keeper
Senior Member
Feb 16, 2009
Sunday, December 10, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-II (the aftermath)

.fullpost{display:inline;} The war between the Mughal Empire and the southern kingdoms thus became a war between the Mughal army and the Maratha resistance, who were allied with the indigenous people of southern and central India. The Polygars and Nayaks of the south, the Berads of the Krishna valley, and the Gonds in the northern Deccan, all played a part in the Mughal defeat. The Mughal military system failed to absorb the Maratha warriors, not through any lack of effort on the part of the Mughals (or of desire on the part of the Marathas), but simply because the alternative of plundering on all sides without obeying any master was far more beneficial to the Marathas.

By the early decades of the 18th Century the Marathas had become dominant even in North India---for this turn of events Aurangzeb alone bears the responsibility. Aurangzeb had begun demolishing temples in Mughal territory early in his reign; he issued a general order on the provincial governors to demolish temples and put down the Hindu religion in 1669. Accordingly one Gada Beg was sent with 400 cavalry to destroy all temples around Ujjain in 1670---the local Rajputs of that city however killed Gada Beg and 121 of his men. Ujjain was located in the important province of Malwa, which connected the Deccan to the Mughal capitals of Agra and Delhi. In that same year Fidai Khan, the governor of Gwalior attempted to demolish the temple of Orchha but was defeated by the Bundela Rajputs under Dharmangad. Orchha lies in Bundelkhand, which is to the east of Malwa.

In 1679 Aurangzeb had invaded Rajputana and had simultaneously imposed jaziya on his non-Muslim subjects. As described above the invasion had failed and thus a large area of disturbance stretching from Rajputana to Malwa and on to Bundelkhand had been created---Aurangzeb could not subdue it due to the alliance of his son Akbar II with Sambhaji. While he fought against the rising tide of the Marathas for the next quarter century the north continued to burn---apart from the natural fight for religious freedom several adventurers took advantage of the disturbed conditions to plunder and campaign for personal gain.

Maratha Polity: As seen above the raids of the Marathas spilled over into Gujarat, Malwa, and Bundelkhand. The alliance with Berads, Nayaks and Gonds in the south became an alliance with Rajput and Afghan landlords, and with Bhil and Koli tribesmen, in the north. The provinces of Malwa and Bundelkhand became the gateways to Delhi for the Marathas. To an extent the same story was repeated in Bengal, Bihar, and Orrisa but here the temporary alliances with local powers (indigenous Rajas and Afghan rebels) were more opportunistic than political in nature. In Delhi and Rajputana the Marathas came as conquerors and not as allies of the indigenous powers, while in Ruhelkhand, Agra, and Punjab they were actually allies of the Mughals!

The Maratha domination of the Mughal Empire was inefficient and wavering. The reason for that ironically was the successful guerrilla war they had fought against the Mughal invaders in the Deccan! The numerous Maratha armies operated under their own chiefs, who sometimes cooperated with their King and his ministers, but more often went out to raid on their own and only sent a portion of their earnings to the King. This system of government could not be reformed by Raja Shahu, since he had lived as a royal prisoner for 18 years and had no contact with the Maratha nobles and no standing among the common soldiers.

In fact Raja Shahu and his successors were Kings only in name and the real power had passed into the hands of hereditary Brahman Prime Ministers, the Peshwas. Balaji Vishwanath, the first Peshwa, was engrossed in securing Raja Shahu's position against his Maratha enemies and in gaining recognition for his rights[45] at the Mughal court---he had no time to bring the numerous Maratha armies to heel. His son Baji Rao I, despite his famous victories over the Mughals and Rajputs in North India, and over the Nizam[46] and the Portuguese in the south, could not curb the raiding activities of individual Maratha chiefs. Baji Rao even fought battles against chiefs like Trimbak Rao Dhabade and Raghuj Bhonsle and ultimately had to agree to divide the Mughal provinces with his rivals---each dominating and raiding his assigned region[47].

[45] These included the right to collect rent and taxes from the Mughal provinces in the Deccan.

[46] Firuz Jang's son was entitled Nizam-ul-mulk, regulator of the state, and was made governor of the Deccan but with his base in the former Golconda city of Haidarabad. The Mughal part of the Deccan was annexed back to Maharashtra.

[47] The administration of these regions was continued undisturbed with only minor changes made by the new rulers. For example in 1755 the Mughal Emperor abolished taxes on Hindu pilgrims at ***a and Kurukshetra, which places had been transferred to the Peshwa. Balaji Rao, the third Peshwa, posted Damodar Hingane at these places to collect those taxes and send them now to the Pune treasury!

But even such division of territory, sanctioned by Raja Shahu himself, could not prevent clashes between Maratha chiefs, whether for financial or political reasons. Thus Raghuji Bhonsle was beaten out of Bengal by the third Peshwa, Balaji Rao, who made a settlement with the Mughals about the tribute of that province in 1743. But Raghuji complained to Raja Shahu and the latter made a fresh partition of the eastern provinces between the two chiefs---without telling the administrators of those regions about it! Thus the Nawab of Bengal when threatened again by the Bhonsle army complained, "When terms have been settled with Raja Shahu, why is Raghuji coming here? He is the Raja's servant and a friendly agreement has been made about this province; now call him back and restrain him!"

In another example, a dispute arose over the succession to the throne of the Kingdom of Jaipur in 1743 between the stepbrothers Ishwari Singh and Madho Singh. The Peshwa and Raja Shahu supported Ishwari Singh, but Malhar Holkar the Peshwa's general supported Madho Singh and sent a contingent of cavalry under his own son to support him against the forces of Ishwari Singh. In 1747 the Peshwa proposed to divide the Jaipur Kingdom between the two brothers saying, "Thus both princes would be preserved and our interests would be served." This proposal was angrily rejected by Ishwari Singh for ancestral kingdoms could not be divided between brothers; such divisions repeated in other kingdoms would only create anarchy all around. The Peshwa's other officer Sindhia also disagreed with this somersault of policy; his Diwan Ramchandra Baba said, "We shall get no money out of it. Our King (Raja Shahu) took up Ishwari Singh's cause and by his order I went and helped him. If you now turn against Ishwari Singh, we shall lose all credit among the public."

But in 1755 the Sindhia family itself was guilty of what we would today call insubordination. That year the Peshwa sent a large army under his brother Raghunath Rao to collect tribute and subsidies from Rajputana, from the Jats of Bharatpur, and from the Delhi Empire (a thin sliver of land along the Yamuna River covering the cities of Delhi, Aligarh and Agra)[48]. Jayapa Sindhia decided to place Ram Singh on the throne of Jodhpur by ousting his cousin Raja Bijay Singh and thus hoped to gain a large sum from that place. But after several months of campaigning he failed to realize this objective and was repeatedly ordered by Raghunath Rao to join him in Jaipur and from there move on to complete their mission in Delhi. Even the Peshwa wrote to him to make friends with Raja Bijay Singh and pacify Ram Singh with a small estate but Jayapa would not obey his master!

[48] After performing these duties this force was also supposed to swerve east into Awadh and obtain the Hindu holy cities and a large succession fee from Nawab Shuja-ud-daulah.

The result was that while the grand army under Raghunath lay scattered across Rajputana Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded the Delhi Empire in 1757, sacked the cities of Delhi, Mathura, Vrindavan, and Agra, and as quickly returned home. Thus when Raghunath eventually recovered the Maratha position in Delhi there was no money left to sustain his forces and he had to invade Punjab in 1758 to extract whatever wealth could be found there---this brought the Marathas into direct conflict with the Afghans and led eventually to the Third Battle of Panipat between the two sides in 1761.

In 1769 the fourth Peshwa, Madhav Rao, sent a large army to North India to restore the Maratha position after the disaster of Panipat and to recover money and land from the Jats and Ruhelas who had dominated the Delhi Empire all this time. The supreme commander was Ramchandra Ganesh, his deputy was Visaji Krishna, and they were to be assisted by the Peshwa's generals Tukoji Holkar and Mahadji Sindhia. But all chances of success were hampered by the quarrels of these leaders; Holkar and Ganesh advocated friendship with the Ruhelas and a hard policy on the weaker Jat state, while Sindhia and Krishna, wishing to avoid the mistake of Panipat, proposed to take a small indemnity from the Jats (and thus obtaining a friendly base for their forces) and then concentrate their attack on the Ruhelas (responsible for the Maratha debacle at Panipat). Ramchandra Ganesh, the Supreme Commander, couldn't assert his authority over his subordinates---this was not a reflection on his ability but was characteristic of Maratha polity.

After nearly two years were wasted Sindhia's policy finally received the backing of the Peshwa; this astute general opened contact with the refugee Mughal Emperor Shah Alam, then living under British protection, and took him to Delhi. The Maratha position in North India was indeed restored now but the Peshwa's death forced the return of these chiefs to the Deccan where they fought on opposing sides in the domestic war over the Peshwa-ship that began in 1774.

The tradition of each Maratha general following his own policy, plundering for personal gain, and fighting battles with his rivals had been established by Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadav---who fought each other even as the Mughal Empire occupied their homeland. Their King Rajaram, far from being the final authority in settling disputes, acted more like a partisan referee in this fight! This tradition was continued through the decades and culminated in the near-total war between the armies of Holkar and Sindhia at the close of the 18th Century. And in the same tradition the court of Pune acted like an arbitrator between its two subordinates until the matter was settled by the decisive victories of Sindhia's more modern army.

Maratha Warfare: Shivaji's infantry was composed of the Mavle peasant-soldiers of the Ghats. These infantrymen were armed only with long spears but excelled in climbing hills and taking forts by assault; they were also adept at laying ambushes in the narrow defiles of the Ghats (as against Afzal Khan) and in making night attacks (as against Shaista Khan and on the fort of Kondana). The Mavles also garrisoned the Maratha forts but were quite helpless in the open plain against charging cavalry and artillery fire. When Aurangzeb first conquered some Maratha forts from Shambhuji several of these Mavles joined the Mughal army to earn a living.

The Maratha armies that spread out into the Deccan to fight their guerrilla war received support from the indigenous powers---the most important of these were the Berads. Their murderously accurate and concentrated firepower turned several contests into decisive Maratha victories over the Mughal generals (like Rustam Khan and Qasim Khan). These Berads would be hired for a season's campaign by different Maratha chieftains and would then retire to their densely forested homes---they would not make sustained marches far away from their base[49].

The infantry on the Mughal side comprised largely of Purbias (see RMA-III), while low-caste Hindus and Muslims (golandaz) handled the artillery. These two elements had to be paid in cash regularly to prevent their desertion, unlike the Mughal cavalry, which could raid the countryside for food and fodder. So when the Marathas practiced their kazzaki and hemmed these Mughal armies around and starved them of food and munitions supplies, the infantry and artillery would suffer the most. This is what broke the first siege of Jinjee---the artillerymen took their equipment and marched away from the fort telling Nusrat Jang that they could not fight hunger and the enemy at the same time. Similarly at Kanchipuram the bahelia musketeers of Ali Mardan Khan deserted to Santaji Ghorpade on not receiving their pay on time.

[49] The Berads eventually joined the French-led battalions of the Kingdom of Mysore, but only because that kingdom also covered their own domains. Under the British they were eventually classed as a lawless criminal tribe.

Whenever the Marathas defeated any Mughal army, or captured any Mughal fort, such scenes were repeated---invariably the artillery and infantry would offer their services to the victors. Thus as the Maratha power expanded across Gujarat, Malwa, Orrisa, and Carnatic their equipment and armies grew in similar proportion. However the principal military tactic of the Marathas, kazzaki or ghanimi qawait, which had defeated the armies of Aurangzeb, remained their pet favorite for a long time and continued to produce similar results.

In 1728 Baji Rao drew out the Nizam from Ahmadnagar north into Gujarat and there hemmed his army around with his own light cavalry, cutting him off from his base and starving his soldiers of food and munitions. In that same year the Peshwa's younger brother Chimnaji defeated and killed the Mughal governor of Malwa, enveloping the Mughals with his light cavalry. In 1734 a large army was sent from Delhi under Khan-e-dauran, joined by Rajput armies from Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Kota all in an attempt to expel the Marathas from North India. This huge army was encircled by the cavalry of Malhar Holkar and Ranoji Sindhia at Rampura and stopped in its tracks for eight days---the Marathas then broke away and raided large parts of Rajputana until the enemy sued for peace.

In 1737 Peshwa Baji Rao repeated his generals' success. Practicing kazzaki through Malwa, Bundelkhand, and into the Gangetic plains, Baji Rao's cavalry reached Delhi where they enveloped the Mughal army and defeated it but suddenly disappeared south. The Nizam was toiling his way north to rescue the Delhi Emperor but he was stopped at Bhopal by the sudden appearance of the Peshwa's cavalry, which surrounded his army and forced him to make a near-total surrender. In the victory of the Bhonsles of Nagpur over the Nawab of Bengal (1742-52), it should be noted that several officers and men of the Nawab, particularly a Persian named Mir Habib, joined the Marathas and supplied them with artillery dragged out from the Nawab's forts.


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The rise of the Maratha power across India and its absorption of the Mughal artillery and infantry were paralleled by the growing power of European trading settlements and the increasing presence of European military adventurers in Indian armies. These Europeans transformed the role of infantry and the use of artillery in wars on the Indian continent but many of these individuals were unscrupulous thieves who ended their lives as worthless drunkards, their health and spirit sapped by venereal diseases. The fact that the French-led army of Mahadji Sindhia was the most successful in India was due greatly to the outstanding personal character of General De Boigne.

An astute British observer[50] wrote, " proportion as the Marathas adopted the armament and tactics of European warfare, they lost the advantage that comes out of unanimity of national, religious, or tribal sentiment." Modern partisans of the Marathas, and a section of Indian nationalists, also insist that had the Marathas continued to practice kazzaki or ghanimi qawait they would have tasted the same success as their ancestors did against Aurangzeb. They make this claim in particular for the Panipat campaign, fought in 1759-61, and believe that the army of Ahmad Shah Abdali could have been surrounded and starved by the Maratha light cavalry.

This claim ignores the basic fact that guns and cannon were being constantly improved in their range, mobility, and rate of fire---the Abdali's firepower was far superior to what Aurangzeb's had been half a century ago. Secondly guerrilla warfare requires a friendly population to feed the guerrillas and provide them with information of the enemy's location and movements. But in North India the Marathas had no real allies and in the numerous civil wars, rebellions, and foreign invasions, the local population around Delhi had been bled too copiously by all sides to be sympathetic to anyone's cause. When the Abdali army advanced on Delhi in 1760 Malhar Rao Holkar attempted kazzaki with his few thousand horsemen, moving from place to place and fighting Afghan detachments that were sent in chase, but receiving no support from any local force. He was overwhelmed while attempting to cross the Yamuna River and retired with his broken force to the safety of Rajputana. And yet some Maratha leaders, far from abandoning their traditional mode of warfare, still remained obsessed with the idea of defeating better-equipped armies by surrounding them with their light cavalry.

In the midst of the first Anglo-Maratha war (1778-81) the Peshwa sought to bring in the Delhi Empire on the Maratha side, which would create a useful diversion and allow the Maratha cavalry, led by Holkar and Sindhia from Central India and by Bhonsle from Nagpur, to envelop and starve the British armies trudging up through the Gangetic plains. Mahadji Sindhia enthusiastically backed this idea saying, "The Emperor's artillery fires slowly, the English guns fire more quickly but this advantage of the latter would be neutralized by kazzaki and even their guns would be captured!"[51]

[50] Sir Alfred Lyall, Rise of the British Dominion in India.

[51] Dilli-yethil Marathyanchin Raj-Karanen

This illusion of Sindhia was soon removed as the British armies won striking victories and forced the Marathas to make peace. The initial Maratha triumph over Colonel Cockburn (January 1779) and the retreat of Colonel Goddard (April 1781) came about because these officers pushed too far into enemy lands without securing their supply lines and were thus forced to come to terms when their munitions were exhausted. These setbacks were soon forgotten when Captain Popham stormed the Gwalior fort (August 1780) and General Camac defeated Mahadji Sindhia at Sipri (February 1781). Several months after Goddard was pushed back from Pune, Mahadji Sindhia sought British friendship and became a peacemaker between them and the Marathas.

Having secured his right flank (against the British) and his rear (against the Pune court) Sindhia built up his personal estates in Malwa and expanded his power into the Delhi Empire. In this period several European officers came to command infantry battalions in his army---when things turned against Sindhia only one, De Boigne, remained loyal to him. This Frenchman eventually raised an entire infantry brigade, with supporting artillery, and won many victories for his master across North India[52]. In imitation of Sindhia both Holkar and the Peshwa[53] attempted to raise similar forces but from shortage of adequate funds could get nothing matching De Boigne's corps.

[52] The House of Holkar remained obsessed with fighting in the old ways and it was only Jaswant Rao Holkar at the close of the 18th Century who saw fit to mix the old with the new---however his triumphs only deepened the crisis in the Maratha civil war and finally drove the Peshwa to seek refuge with the British.

[53] The Peshwas had understood the value of trained infantry and had contracted deserters from Hyderabad as early as in 1752, after Peshwa Balaji Rao had been defeated by the force under Monsieur Bussy. Bussy's officer, Ibrahim Khan Gardi, joined the Peshwa's service with the local Telegu infantry but these were annihilated at Panipat (see RMA-II). In 1787 the Peshwa's infantry comprised of poorly equipped and badly trained Goanese Christians and Telegus, commanded by Europeans of dubious backgrounds. This force was easily overwhelmed by the hordes of Jaswant Rao Holkar.

This new formation acquired the name campoo[54] (French for camp) and in native histories was also termed paltan (the battalions) while the Maratha cavalry was described alternatively as ghanimi fauj (light foray army) or jhari fauj (light cavalry) or simply fauj[55]. But the success of the campoo was the doom of the fauj---in all of Sindhia's victories the Maratha light cavalry waited for the battalions to defeat the enemy and then went out to plunder the enemy camp. As Jadunath Sarkar puts it, this bred an inferiority complex in the cavalry, and made coordination between the Maratha fauj and the European campoo impossible---this feeling was worsened by the prompt pay in cash made to the infantrymen but denied to the cavalry. On top of all this was the fact of the paltans being manned by North Indian Purbias and Ruhelas. The result was the defeat of both formations at the hands of the British.

[54] In a letter to the Rao of Kotah, Colonel Perron boasts of his Purbia infantry, "These are campoo troops and not Maratha fauj. If my men extort one rupee from your kingdom, I shall pay two rupees in compensation."

[55] Fauj was originally a Persian term used for a division. The military commander of a Mughal division was called a faujdar and commanded a specific number of cavalry troops. When the Mughals fought the Marathas in the Deccan, each cavalry unit under the numerous Maratha generals was termed fauj. When this cavalry came to dominate India, fauj, instead of designating a division or military unit, became the term for the entire Indian army.

Ironically while the Marathas lost their independence to the British this word fauj, which had become current all across India during the Maratha supremacy, now came to be used as the Indian term for the new British Indian Army---and it is still prevalent among the armies of the Indian continent!


House of Shivaji - Sir Jadunath Sarkar

The Maratha Supremacy - Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan

History of Aurangzeb (5 Volumes) - Sir Jadunath Sarkar

Later Mughals - William Irvine

Fall of the Mughal Empire (4 Volumes) - Sir Jadunath Sarkar

Marathas and the English Company 1707-1818 by Sanderson Beck

Untitled Document

The Marginalization of a Dalit Martial Race in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Western India - Philip Constable

Caste as Maratha: Social Categories, Colonial Policy and Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Maharashtra - Prachi Deshpande, Department of History, Colorado State University


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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (Turks and Rajputs)

.fullpost{display:inline;} The success of Sikh guerrilla warfare in the 18th Century and of Maratha guerrilla warfare in the 17th Century led to the establishment of defined states that entered into a feverish activity of political expansion. In the 14th Century the guerrilla warfare by Rajput clans southwest of Delhi also had a similar result---unlike the former two stories conventional history bypasses the success and expansion of the Rajput clan-kingdoms. This is because other events, like the break-up of the Delhi Sultanate (1350-1400), the formation of the Vijaynagar Empire (1336), and the invasion of Timur (1398) disturb the historian's vision.

This article will view these other events through the perspective of the newly established Rajput states. It will describe the two combating groups and will follow the growth of the Turk power, particularly under the tribes pushed out of their homes by the Mongol invasion. The resistance of the Rajput clans will be studied in detail. The success of that resistance, the formation of strong states, and the impact of both on later history will be described at length. Some myths and misconceptions of that period, which have arisen in the modern writing of Indian History, will then be demolished.

The ancestors of the Turks and the ancestors of the Rajputs first came into contact at the beginning of the Common Era. Five hundred years later the Turks had embraced Islam and were competing for power in the ruins of the Sassanian Empire of Iran along with other groups like the invading Arabs, native Persians, the Kurds, and the Baloch. In these wars Turkish men, women, and children were taken as slaves to be traded in the markets under the control of Muslim Arabs---this is how many Turks may have been converted to Islam. Even so the Turks eventually emerged as the dominant group in the region due to certain military factors. Their skill in archery and their strong horses that could bear the weight of armored soldiers marked out the Turks from the other groups. These factors would prove to be an even bigger advantage when these Turkish chiefs began expanding their power into India.

The ancient Indians had preferred local breeds of horses for the task of pulling chariots and carts but their medieval counterparts noted the better performance of foreign horses in cavalry operations---Indian empires had thus begun importing these horses from central and western Asian lands[1]. The establishment of strong Turk states increased the demand for horses within the armies of those lands and simultaneously the smaller kingdoms that succeeded the Indian empires could not afford the now high-priced foreign breeds. A vast gulf thus appeared between Indian and Turk armies at least on the question of mobility. The Turks could avoid pitched battles with Indian armies and simply raid the rich cities and return to their mountainous homes without fear of being caught. Their attempts to conquer Indian kingdoms however were slow and bloody and were marked by dogged resistance in a succession of battles.

The destruction of the old Hindu kingdoms in North India also cleared the way for a new phenomenon that would dominate Indian history for the next six hundred years---the Rajputs. The word Rajput (raajpoot) is the Apabhramsa form of the ancient Sanskrit Rajaputra (Sanskrit putra>>>Prakrit paotra-putta>>>Apabhramsa pot-poot).....a term found in ancient Sanskrit texts and given to princes since the days of the Gupta Empire.

The history of the Rajputs really begins with the rise of the Pratihars and allied clans (8th Century CE) in the Rajasthan-Gujarat-Malwa region. These clans formed a defined hierarchy (miscalled feudalism) with hereditary claims to lands and titles——a great change from the past centuries of organized empires and centrally distributed ranks and estates. This feudal system, which eroded the unity of the nation but actually strengthened the local defenses, spread out to modern UP by the time of the Islamic invasion and was a major reason why these particular regions maintained their local independence and religious identity in the face of continuous war and forced conversions. Centrally organized areas like Punjab (Hindu Shahis), Bengal (Senas), and Kashmir, on the other hand were completely crushed and lost their ancient culture and identity to Islam.

New clans were continually being formed by migrations and the grant of separate hereditary estates to the younger sons (Rajaputras) in a large kingdom. With titles of Rana, Rai, or Rawal these Rajaputra [2] families also controlled the outlying forts in the old kingdoms---in Ajmer the Rajaputras were all Chauhans while in Kannauj they belonged to various clans that had formerly ruled that kingdom or had migrated there from other parts of India. The name Rajaputra, which is found in inscriptions and the literature of an earlier period, now evolved into Rajput and replaced the word Kshatriya as a designation for the independent Hindu warriors. With the simultaneous demise of those two kingdoms and their ruling families these Rajputs now became the first line of defense against further Muslim expansion after 1192.
[1]In an interesting parallel the Chinese Empires also imported horses from Central Asia (ferghana)---the native Chinese horses were of a short stature and were used in the ancient times for pulling chariots.
[2]Literally King's son i.e. Prince, this title was known since ancient times; the Buddha was called a Rajaputra; Harshvardhan of Thanesar called himself a Rajaputra before succeeding his brother on the throne of Kannauj. The other words for princes in North India were Rajanya, Rajkumar and Yuvraj but by the time of the Pratihars (Circa 8th Century) Rajaputra had also come to designate an administrative office in several Northern and Central Indian dynasties. For more see evolution of Rajaputra.​

This Muslim expansion---namely completing the conquest of Ajmer (above) and Kannauj by occupying the forts and towns of those kingdoms---was a failure and the Rajput resistance was successful. Ruling small fiefs and collecting limited revenue the Rajput chiefs could not afford to raise large armies comprising a mass of infantry, supporting cavalry, and dozens of elephants as in the old Hindu kingdoms. Moreover their small armies were now organized purely on a clan basis---thus these Rajputs found it convenient to maintain compact units of cavalry. From their experience of fighting the Turk invaders the Rajputs made other numerous changes in their military organization and equipment.

The successful Rajput resistance turned the initially spectacular Muslim invasion of India into a gritty and long-drawn affair. The Turks were now bogged down in certain towns and districts of North India surrounded by innumerable Rajaputra chieftains. The two sides fought each other repeatedly over the next century with sometimes the Turkish Sultans and sometimes the Rajputs emerging victorious---however the end result was that there was absolutely no change in the territories dominated by the two sides. This balance of power was altered by certain events that took place outside India in that same period.

Turkestan and Turan were the medieval terms for Central Asia and as the names suggest that vast region was the homeland of the Turks. Soldiers, slaves and horses from this region streamed out south and west into the kingdoms set up by their brethren who were by then the dominant peoples among the converts to Islam. At the beginning of the 13th Century that dominance of the Turks suddenly ceased to exist---the Turkish Shah and his soldiers had been crushed into defeat and were on the run, their cities and forts had been ransacked, and even the Amirzadas[3] had been ejected from their strongholds. This massive and sudden upheaval was caused by the Mongol army of the mighty Chingiz Khan. To escape this fierce invasion and the subsequent conquest Turkish tribes like the Khaljis[4] and the Tughlaks moved en masse to the safety of India. There had been Khalji soldiers in the armies of early Islamic invaders of India but now a flood of refugees poured into the outlying towns and strongholds of the Delhi Sultanate. Initially the Khalji leaders occupied subordinate positions in the army of the Sultanate but the numerical superiority of these new arrivals made the rise of their chiefs inevitable. In 1290 the main Khalji chief, with the typically Turkish name of Malik[5] led a coup to ascend the throne at Delhi---after becoming the Sultan he adopted the Arabic, and hence more Islamic, title of Jalal-ud-din.

The new ruler continued the aggressive policy of the former Sultans but with their vastly increased army the Khaljis were able to thwart the Mongol raids and launch simultaneous attacks on the Rajput forts. While Jalal-ud-din was exerting himself in the western portion of the Sultanate his ambitious nephew Ala-ud-din was busy scheming in the eastern regions. Rather than exhaust his army in the difficult task of collecting revenue from rebellious peasants or in launching bloody campaigns against the sturdy Rajputs, Ala set his eyes on the rich Hindu kingdoms of the south, which had remained mostly untouched by Turk armies.

After carefully obtaining his uncle's permission Ala-ud-din raided the Kingdom of Malwa (1292) and returned with much wealth looted from the town of Bhilsa. With that wealth he raised a larger army and in 1296 attacked the Kingdom of Devagiri south of Malwa and returned not only with gold but also with the allegiance of the Devagiri ruler. This time he had misinformed the Sultan about his plans but with his larger army and all the looted wealth Ala had no scruple in murdering his uncle and buying the loyalty of the other nobles. Ala-ud-din Khalji thus became Sultan of Delhi in 1296.
[3]Literally King's son, this title was the precursor of Mirza. Just like the Rajaputras in India these Amirzadas held outlying forts and villages in the Turkish Empire but in this instance they failed to hold the line against the foreign Mongol invaders.
[4]These were Turks who had been living in the Khalj district of Afghanistan for some time and had thus acquired the surname of Khalji. Due to their early migration from Turkestan orthodox opinion in Delhi suspected them to be of non-Turk descent.
[5]Malik was the Turk title for chief.​


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Monday, December 11, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (Rajput resistance)

.fullpost{display:inline;} Routes to the South

Ala-ud-din promoted his four chief followers to lead the vast Turk army and gave them the titles of Ulugh Khan, Zafar Khan, Nusrat Khan and Alp Khan[6]. Prior to the Mongol invasion of Turan and Iran few Muslims bore the title or surname of Khan and it seems that this Mongol title was adopted by the Muslims since Chingiz Khan's Mongols had come to symbolize unmatched power and strength. Ulugh Khan and Zafar Khan made good their elevation to power by defeating a Mongol raid into Punjab that very year. Next Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan were sent south towards Gujarat.

It was the wealth of the southern kingdoms that gave Ala the throne of Delhi and more of that wealth was needed to sustain his position on that throne. In his raid on Devagiri the Khalji chief had used the route through the plateau of Malwa---while the raid was successful the army's passage was made slow and difficult because of the ravines and thick forests. The more open and traditional roads to the south passed through the regions of Marwar and Mewar but these paths were flanked by numerous Rajput forts. Thus on the way to Gujarat Ulugh Khan conquered Jaisalmer (1298) and along with Nusrat Khan attacked Chittor where they were either defeated or bought off. That same year Zafar Khan had defeated the Mongol raiders at Siwastan and had returned to Delhi with many prisoners who were converted to Islam.

Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan conquered the cities and ports of Gujarat, slew thousands of civilians, broke and polluted temples, and took innumerable prisoners. On their way back some of the newly converted Mongol soldiers revolted and escaped to the shelter of Rajput forts like Chittor and Ranthambhor. The two generals returned to Delhi in time to join the fight against a massive retaliatory invasion by the Mongols that had reached the outskirts of the city---Zafar Khan was killed in this battle (1299). In 1300 Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan attacked Ranthambhor but here Nusrat Khan's luck ran out---a stone launched from a Rajput catapult smashed the Turk chief to a bloody death. At that critical moment the Rajputs opened the gates of the fort and attacked the disheartened Turks who broke formation and fled back to Delhi.

Ala-ud-din now attacked Ranthambhor in person and conquered the fort in 1301---encouraged by the Sultan's difficulties at that fort numerous revolts broke out against his authority. On his return to Delhi Ala centralized his government to an unprecedented level and attempted to find new routes to the south. This time a Tughlak chief, Jauna Khan[7], led an attack on the fort of Warangal through the incredibly roundabout route via Bengal and Orrisa---the attempt (1302) was a colossal failure. Ala-ud-din now concentrated his resources on the fort of Chittor, south of Ranthambhor, and thus sought to open a short route to Malwa and Gujarat. After a long siege the fort was finally won in 1303 but the Mongols took advantage of this conflict to launch another attack on Delhi that year. The invaders plundered the city unopposed for two months and then returned to Central Asia with all their plunder, unchecked by the frontier Turk garrisons.

To replace the deceased Nusrat Khan and Zafar Khan Ala-ud-din elevated some new generals to lead the army. Ain-ul-mulk was sent to conquer the Kingdom of Malwa (1305) via Ranthambhor and Chittor. In that year a Mongol horde attacked the Gangetic plains, bypassing the now strong defences of Delhi, but were defeated and forced to retreat. The next year they again attacked the Delhi Turks in a massive double invasion from the north and the west. They were eventually overcome by Ghazi Malik Tughlak[8] and a new general named Malik Naib Kafur[9]. This was the last Mongol invasion of North India for some time. The Mongol Khan of Turkestan, Duwa Khan, died in 1306 and his successors quarreled among themselves for several years leaving the Khanate weak and impoverished.

Thus relieved on the northern frontier the Khalji Sultan organized a massive invasion of rebellious Devagiri in 1307---Malik Naib Kafur from Delhi was joined on the way by Ain-ul-mulk of Malwa and Alp Khan of Gujarat. In 1309 Malik Kafur invaded Warangal and in 1310-11 the same general plundered the Hoysala and Pandya Kingdoms of South India. In 1313 Kafur finally conquered and annexed the Kingdom of Devagiri to the Sultanate. In 1315-16 the illness and death of Ala-ud-din Khalji brought all his main nobles to conflict at Delhi but long before that the Turkish rule had been challenged and overthrown in several places of Marwar and Mewar.
[6]Ulugh Khan was Ala-ud-din's younger brother while Alp Khan was Ala's brother-in-law.
[7] The future Muhammad Tughlak; son of Malik Ghazi Tughlak.
[8] The future Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlak. The Tughlaks came as refugees from Central Asia and are either of the Qaraunah tribe or the Taghlik tribe. Some writers believe that Tughlak was the Malik's personal name and that is why his son was described as Muhammad-bin-Tughlak.
[9] Translates to the chief (ennobled by his master on conversion to Islam) deputy (of the Sultan) infidel (describes his origins). He was a Gujarati lad who was captured by the Turk invaders, converted to Islam, and taken to serve Ala-ud-din.​
Rajput Resistance

The region of Mewar was known in an earlier period as Medpat. An important road connecting the city of Mathura with the southern Kingdom of Gujarat passed through Mewar and went on to join the highway (dakshinapath) to Southern India---this road was guarded by the mighty fort of Chittor (Chitrakut) that stood like a colossus in an otherwise plain countryside. To the west of that fort rise the Aravalli hills and in the east are the ravines and jungles of Malwa. The Marwar region extends to the west of the Aravallis. On its western and northern fringes are stretches of desert while the bulk of the region is a flat plain marked with scattered hillocks. The Marwar region had extensive grasslands, shrubs and deciduous forests---ideal country for breeding horses.

To the north lay the Muslim colonies of Ajmer and Nagaur, which were surrounded by petty Rajput holdings. The early Sultans of Delhi failed to expand from these bases and their attempts at entering Marwar and Mewar were also marked by repeated setbacks. Thus Sultan Iltutmish passed through Marwar on his way to invade Gujarat relying on the support of the Chauhans of Jalor with whom he had an alliance---however the Rajputs brought out their army in support of their compatriots of Gujarat instead. Trapped between two Hindu armies the Sultan was defeated (1226) and forced to retreat to Delhi. Similarly the army of Sultan Balban was routed (1285) when caught between the Guhilas of Chittor and the Chaulukyas of Gujarat who had made a hurried alliance against the common enemy.
The Chauhans of Ranthambhor defied the Delhi Sultans for nearly one century

Concentrated attacked on individual Rajput forts did not bring any result either. In these cases the Rajputs would stock their forts with provisions and military stores, move the civilian population into these strongholds, and burn all crops and grasses around to starve the besieging army. In the Marwar and Mewar regions these Rajput chieftains had units of cavalry that would make counter-attacks on the invaders, destroy their supply columns, and loot caravans carrying their wares to Delhi.

With the advent of the Khaljis these forts eventually succumbed to the long and severe periods of blockade by their much larger armies. However the loss of these forts was only the beginning of the dogged Rajput resistance, which eventually overcame the invaders and threw them out of their motherland.

Up to this point the saga of Khalji expansion has been provided by the information drawn from books and chronicles written by contemporary Muslim writers---these individuals never traveled with the army or saw the situation with their own eyes. They got all their information second-hand and thus their accounts are full of exaggerations and poetic flourishes. However they are important in describing the personal details of Turk rulers and generals and in giving an outline of their movements and campaigns.

The Rajput version is provided by a few books written by Hindu writers of a later period but the most important sources of information are the songs and tales of the bards of each Rajput clan. These songs were passed down orally from generation to generation in the same tradition as the Vedas of ancient India---they were finally put down in writing by European historians in the 19th Century[10]. The bards sang praises of their patrons but saw events with their own eyes on the battlefield---they provide interesting stories and details that are absent in official chronicles. These songs also relate the chronology of Rajput kings and the time periods of their rule. Where the bard's version falters is in the pronunciation of Muslim names and titles[11].

The most accurate sources of information are the inscriptions found within temples, mosques, and forts. These provide the correct dates and names of the different rulers who constructed these buildings and dominated the surrounding area. The inscriptions also lack the exaggerations of Muslim chroniclers and the colorful stories of the Rajput bards. It is these inscriptions that give us the correct dates when the Turk invaders were defeated and driven away from the Rajput forts---how they were defeated is an interesting tale gleaned from all the sources put together.
[10] Lieutenant Colonel James Tod and Dr. LP Tessitori are prominent among them.
[11] Amir becomes Hammira, Sultan is Surtrana, Firuz becomes Piroja etc.​

In the same year that Ala-ud-din was planning his raids into the southern kingdoms his uncle the Sultan lead an army to Marwar against the fort of Mandor ruled by Parihar Rajputs. Jalal-ud-din Khalji finally won the fort after a long siege (1292) but could not prevent the ruling family from escaping to the shelter of the fort of Jaisalmer. The latter fort belonged to the Bhaati Rajputs and stood in the middle of a desert tract but it was besieged by the Turks for several years and as related above it was finally won by Ulugh Khan in 1298. However this time there was no means of escape for the inhabitants. It is said that the Bhaati Rawal consulted his chieftains on what was to be done next---they advised him the following, "Immolate the women and children, destroy all wealth by fire and water, open wide the gates of the fort and sword in hand rush open the enemy and thus attain Swarga."

The Turks entered the fort (above) to find only ashes---there was nothing to loot and no one to convert. The Islamic wave that had risen from the sands of Arabia more than six hundred years ago and had swept across west and central Asia, sweeping up everything in its path, finally came crashing down in front of forts like Jaisalmer. But more than finding converts to Islam the Turks were faced with the immediate problem of starving in their new home---the scorched earth tactics of the Rajputs had left nothing for the invaders in that desert kingdom. For a year provisions from Delhi and Ajmer attempted to feed the occupying army but these long supply lines were disrupted by attacks from the remainder of the Rajput clan who lived in smaller forts around Jaisalmer. In 1299 the Turks were forced to abandon the fort[12].

This mass sacrifice of lives and wealth acquired the name jauhar[13] and was repeated at Ranthambhor in 1301 and at Chittor in 1303. Unlike Jaisalmer these forts were surrounded by a fertile countryside that was home to a large civilian population. In the case of Ranthambhor the Chauhan Rajputs had been a fighting a ceaseless war of attrition against the earlier Sultans for nearly a century. Jalal-ud-din Khalji had conquered the outlying portion of the kingdom by sacking Jhain so when his nephew took the capital there was no one left to continue the resistance. However in the final sacrifice of jauhar the Chauhans destroyed all their hoarded wealth and ensured that Ranthambhor never became a prominent stronghold of Islam---it fell later to neighboring Rajputs from Mewar[14].

The fort of Chittor[15] too did not become a base for the Turks---even though Ala-ud-din put his own son Khizr Khan in charge of the fort with a large garrison and renamed it Khizrabad. The Turks were unable to conquer the surrounding Mewar region where the mantle of resistance now came to the brows of the Sesodia clan (in the clan hierarchy they were a branch of the Guhilots). The Sesodias had shed their best blood in defending Chittor and the remnants of the clan had fled to the shelter of the Aravalli hills. From this secure base they began fighting a guerrilla campaign against the invaders---raiding the villages that paid tribute to the Turks, plundering supply columns and trade caravans, and disrupting the communications of the Chittor garrison[16].
The massive fort-city of Chittor dominates the landscape of eastern Mewar

In Marwar also the resistance was growing stronger especially from the Chauhan strongholds of Siwana and Jalor. These chieftains had allowed the Muslim armies safe passage on their way to attack Gujarat but once the pressure was removed they returned to their old ways---accordingly the Turks besieged Siwana but were unable to take the fort. This failure prompted the return of Ala-ud-din Khalji to Marwar---it should be noted that at this time the southern campaigns had been practically left in the hands of Malik Kafur. The Turks now took Siwana (1308) and Jalor (1310) but trouble broke out in other places even as the Sultan was returning to his capital. The Bhaatis of Jaisalmer and the Rathors of Kher took advantage of the Turk preoccupation at the Chauhan forts to increase their own plundering raids. In Mewar the Sesodias under Rana Hammir made a strong attack on the villages around Chittor.

Ala-ud-din is said to have been bewildered by these harassing raids and first tried force to settle the issue. Accordingly Jaisalmer was attacked once again while another force was sent to assist Khizr Khan at Chittor---but there were just too many enemies on all sides and these attempts did not decrease the troubles of the Sultan. At last Ala bowed to the inevitable and tried diplomacy where force had failed---Jaisalmer seems to have been delivered to the descendants of the ruling family, two young brothers secretly smuggled out at the time of the jauhar of 1298, who had now reached manhood[17]. The Sultan then took Rao Maldev, the brother of the dead ruler of Jalor, and put him in charge of Chittor---Maldev was expected to keep better control over that fort since his mother had been a Guhila princess of Chittor. Ala took his own son Khizr Khan out of Chittor and with his Turk soldiers returned to Delhi---this was his last military campaign. It was also the last time that a Delhi Sultan led his army into the region of Mewar.
[12] After the Turk withdrawal the fort was occupied by the Rathors from the south. However the remnants of the Bhaati clan collected together and ejected the usurping Rathors. They elected one Dudu to be their Rawal.
[13] Jauhar or Johar is said to mean salute in Sanskrit, the word could be derived from the jatugriha (house of lac) in the Mahabharat. However Jauhar is also the Persian word for ink and is used to indicate valor in that language!
[14] The Muslim governor of Ranthambhor could not declare independence unlike the governors of Malwa or Mandor. The fort was targeted by Rajputs of Mewar and Turks of Malwa and Delhi and the local governors survived by playing these overlords against each other. Eventually Ranthambhor fell to the Ranas of Mewar and was garrisoned by their subordinates, the Hada Rajputs.
[15] Chittor was the capital of the Guhila clan whose chiefs bore the title of Rawal. When attacked by Ala-ud-din all branches of this clan in the Mewar region came to the aid of the Guhilas. Prominent among these were the Sesodias whose chiefs bore the title of Rana.
[16] Time and again these Aravalli hills of Western Mewar proved to be an unassailable base from where later Ranas maintained their independence and fought strategic campaigns---Rana Kumbha against the allied Sultans of Gujarat and Malwa, Rana Pratap against Akbar, Rana Amar Singh against Jehangir, and Rana Raj Singh against Aurangzeb.
[17] They were Gharsi and Kanar, smuggled out by Nawab Mahbub Khan who had also arranged for the funeral of his Rajput friends. They were brought up in Delhi by his Brahman servants and are said to have impressed the Sultan with their fighting skills at the time of a Mongol invasion (1306?). On returning from Siwana Jaislamer was invested again by Ala's men and the jauhar performed by Dudu Rawal following which Gharsi occupied Jaisalmer.​


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Feb 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (formation of Rajputana)

.fullpost{display:inline;} Fall of the Turks

There were no Turk possessions in Mewar now but the situation was different in Marwar---Nagaur, Mandor, Siwana, and Jalor were under Muslim governors. To their west were the Bhaatis of Jaisalmer and the Rathors of Kher---the latter were now acquiring a prominent place in the resistance against the foreign invaders. Three generations of their Raos were said to have fought and died against the Muslims in a short period. To the south of Siwana and Jalor were the Chauhan strongholds of Sanchor and Devada, which seem to have been attacked unsuccessfully by the army under Ala-ud-din in 1310. During the Khalji Sultan's illness and death at Delhi the Turk governors were at that city busy in the conspiracies and counter-conspiracies that followed---in these Alp Khan, governor of Gujarat, was murdered and his followers in that region revolted. Then Kamal-ud-din Gurg, governor of Jalor and Siwana, who was sent to crush this rebellion died at the hands of the rebels in 1316. Subsequently Ain-ul-Mulk from Devagiri and Ghazi Tughlak from Delhi converged on Gujarat from two directions and destroyed the rebel army. In this period (1318-20) Luntiga Chauhan stormed the fort of Siwana and slaughtered its Muslim garrison---no Sultan of Delhi tried to recover this fort.

Perhaps this was due to the fact that Ghazi Tughlak and his son Jauna were then preparing to overthrow the Khalji administration---in this attempt they sought the support, among others, of the governor of Jalor who declined to join the rebellion. But in 1320 the Tughlaks seized Delhi and Malik Ghazi Tughlak became Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlak. It was probably in this period (1320-26) that the Sesodias wrested the fort of Chittor from the Chauhans who were paying tribute to Delhi---here again no attempt was made to recover the fort by any of the Sultans[18]. Rana Hammir followed up this success by tightening his hold on the rebellious Bhil and Mina tribes dwelling in the hills and forests of Mewar and the neighboring Malwa plateau. In this latter place he deputed the Hada Rajput clan who founded the important fort of Bundi in 1342.
Figure 4 the fort of Bundi on the eastern frontier of the Sesodia Kingdom
By this time Muhammad Tughlak (1325-51) had come and gone. His most momentous decision was to change the Turk capital from Delhi to Devagiri in the south (1327-37). Most of the army and much of the civilian population were dragged south via the Muslim base of Malwa---bypassing the regions of Marwar and Mewar. Ironically these two regions, which had been attacked for their open roads to the south, were now avoided by the Turks. Guerrilla warfare by the Rajput clans had made Mewar and Marwar impassable for Muslim armies and caravans[19]. If the Sultan had made this move to better control the southern regions his hopes were crushed---in 1336 Harihar and Bukka had founded the city of Vijaynagar, Bengal broke away in 1338, and rebellions erupted in Gujarat and Daulatabad[20] after 1345. It was probably in this period that the fort of Jalor was conquered by the Chauhans from the Turks. The later Tughlak rulers were engrossed in rebellions and civil wars that came to involve the Rajputs[21] in the hills north of Delhi---Kangra, Sirmaur, and Kumaon---while rebellions of Rajput and Jat chieftains broke out in east Punjab and throughout the Gangetic plains.
In 1382 Aibak Khan the Muslim governor of Mandor, who had been practically independent of Delhi, increased the taxes on grain and fodder. The local Parihars, some of them enrolled in the Turk army, broke out in revolt and invited the powerful Rathors to their aid. The Rathors slaughtered the Turk governor and his garrison but occupied Mandor for themselves, making it their new capital. In Mewar Rana Kshetra Simha defeated the Turks of Malwa in 1389 and pushed the boundaries of his kingdom further south and east---all these possessions of the Sesodia clan were called the Kingdom of Mewar. Similarly the Rathors had triumphed over the Bhaatis, Turks, Parihars, and Chauhans[22] to form the large Kingdom of Marwar.
[18] However Rajput bards claim that Maldev's son Jeso sought the assistance of the Delhi Sultan against Hammir. Hammir defeated the Sultan and forced him to part with some money and important forts like Ranthambhor and Ajmer---this story is not corroborated by Muslim records. A Jain temple inscription however mentions Hammir's victory over "a Muslim army."

[19] Marwar and Mewar remained closed even to armies of the Mughal Empire. The royal road passed from Malwa to Agra and then to Delhi, bypassing Rajputana. It was only with the British Raj and the subsequent independence that these routes were once again opened to connect Northern and Western India.

[20] Devagiri was renamed Daulatabad, which translates to abode of wealth, as this former kingdom had certainly proved to be for the Turks.

[21] As described in GW-I ambitious princes and rebellious nobles of the plains always sought shelter and military aid from the hills. What was true for Sikhs and Mughals ranged against the Afghan invaders was equally true for the Delhi Sultans and their dependants in an earlier age.

[22] These descendants of former ruling families were reduced to the status of Thakurs under the Rathors. Some of them suffered an even worse fall to the ranks of common cultivators.

Formation of Rajputana

These two large and powerful kingdoms embarked on a vigorous military expansion and subdued lesser Rajput clans, Turks, Jats, Minas, and Bhils; thus covering a huge swathe of land between Delhi and Gujarat, which came to be called Rajputana. Branches of Rathors and Sesodias formed states in Gujarat, Malwa, and further south into the Indian peninsula. All around Rajputana indigenous powers overthrew the Turk rule and created their own petty kingdoms. In the east small Rajput states proliferated throughout Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and bogged down the Sultanate of Jaunpur in never-ending local conflicts---these later supplied the best infantry, called Purbias, to the Mughal, Maratha, and British armies. In the west the Sumras overthrew the Turks in Sindh while the Lankhas expelled the Turks from Multan. In the north the Gakhars sacked Lahore while the Rajas of Kangra plundered the neighboring plains of the Punjab.

The broken remnants of the Turk power in the south fared better. The ports of Gujarat and of the Bahmani Sultanate had opened up new routes for the movement of men and horses to India while creating an economy based on trade for these Sultanates. But here again the formation of Rajputana blocked the expansion of at least two of these Sultanates.
Parts of the Malwa plateau had been occupied by the Kingdom of Mewar even when strong rulers sat on the throne of Delhi. When the local Muslim governors declared independence their energies were drained in fighting the vigorous Sesodias. Similarly a power based in Gujarat normally expands north into the Marwar region---the two areas were together called Gurjar-rashtra in the past. But Marwar was now under the powerful Rathor clan while the Sultanate of Gujarat had to constantly fight against the local Rajput principalities like Champaner, Idar, and Girnar. Even in Malwa Rajput principalities like Chanderi and Raisen revolted against the local Sultan. The survival of these Rajput principalities was due in part to the Rajput Kingdom of Mewar that exhausted the military capacities of the two Sultanates in constant battles and raids.
Rajputana left its mark even on future events. While Malwa and Gujarat were forcibly incorporated into the Mughal Empire, and their ruling families were extinguished, the powerful states in Rajputana were handled with greater diplomacy by Akbar. Aurangzeb's bigotry however ended the diplomatic approach and truly created the conditions for the destruction of the Mughal Empire (see GW-II). The numerous states in Rajputana continued to exist down to the 20th Century and were finally merged into independent India in 1947.


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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (modern myths)


Lack of unity: Modern writers maintain that disunity or infighting among the Rajput clans led to their defeat and enslavement by foreigners. This lack of unity was also considered to be the bane of the larger Hindu society. The most glaring example these writers use to illustrate this hypothesis is the conflict between the Chauhan Kingdom of Ajmer and the Gahadvala Kingdom of Kannauj that led to both being defeated by Shihabuddin Muhammad of Ghor in 1192-94---it is further claimed that had these two Hindu kingdoms united their armies against Shihabuddin there would have been no Muslim invasion of India. Leaving aside the fact that contemporary records do not indicate any such conflict (Kannauj and Ajmer did not have a common border) only people ignorant of medieval warfare would make the last claim[23].

In line with this hypothesis it is also held that impolitic chivalry and a spirit of tolerance made the Rajput clans subservient to the less cultured foreign marauders[24].
[23] Two large armies would have exhausted the water, food, and fodder supply wherever they marched; the Turks would have easily immobilized and slaughtered such masses of men and animals. Indian armies were weak in cavalry and this deficiency was only repaired under the Rajputs as explained above. Also see the next post: horses and swords.

[24] However Ala-ud-din's mosque at Jalor was converted into a topkhana (artillery store) and late in the 18th Century Aurangzeb's mosque at Merta was used to store opium. Those mosques were not demolished since their builders and owners had been defeated and driven away---there was no political merit in destroying these buildings. However inscriptions reveal that the mosque of the Sultans of Nagaur was repeatedly demolished as a political act by the Ranas of Mewar and by the Raos of Marwar. In the same way mosques were demolished during the invasions of the Gujarat and Malwa Sultanates by Rajputs of Mewar---these Sultans were not driven away hence the destruction of their mosques was a way of signifying Rajput dominance over their Sultanates. This was an act of retaliation on the Sultans who had made a practice of destroying the main temple of a Hindu Kingdom to signify their dominance/victory. But unlike the bigoted Muslim rulers the Rajputs did not destroy mosques for religious aims and there was never any attack on the religious practices of Muslim civilians in a Rajput state.

The disunity and infighting hypothesis does not explain the formation of Rajputana. The Rajput clans continued to fight one another during the expansion of Turk power and yet the end result was that the Turks were defeated and their short-lived empire was broken up. How did this happen? How was the expansion of the Turks stopped and replaced by the expansion of the powerful new Rajput clans?
All the members of a Rajput clan are descended from a common ancestor[25]---the chieftain and his immediate family reside in the main fort while other distant relations are granted estates in the surrounding districts where they build their own small strongholds. In times of danger the clan collects together to fight the enemy. As the population of a clan increases more and more land is required to sustain the newer members and this creates conflict with the neighbors of that clan[26]. Thus while the Turks sought to kill or convert their Rajput enemies the latter fought in defense of their own lands or made aggressive attacks on the lands of their neighbors---be they Turks, Rajputs or forest-dwelling tribes.
Figure 6 Kumbalgarh marked the frontier between the Rathor and Sesodia clans

For the sake of the lack of unity hypothesis let's assume that instead of such warfare the Rajput clans had come together and decided, "We will not attack one another but will only fight against the foreign invader. All the land and wealth we gain shall be distributed equally among each clan." With this understanding the Rajput clans would have driven away the Turks from Mewar and Marwar much earlier and more effectively but that would've been the limit of their success. Since the two regions would now be pockmarked with tiny estates distributed equally among each clan there would have been no Rajputana---the Delhi Sultans would've invaded these politically fractured regions with ease and the entire saga of jauhar and resistance would have been repeated endlessly!
But as it was this "lack of unity" and "infighting" ensured the emergence of two powerful states that altered the course of history not only for the surrounding regions but also for the Indian continent as a whole.
[25] Ek baap ke bete or sons of one father, and Bhayyad meaning the brotherhood are phrases used to describe a Rajput clan.

[26] Sometimes junior branches of a clan will travel to distant parts of India and will either set up their own kingdoms or take up military service in kingdoms already existing there.


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Feb 16, 2009

Myths about Jauhar: Modern interpreters of Indian History describe Jauhar as a rite, a custom or a practice, which is performed to preserve the women of a Rajput clan from pollution and captivity. Since the jauhar was performed only against a Muslim enemy it cannot be called a custom or a rite---Rajputs fought one another with ferocity but there is no record of jauhar taking place on those occasions. In later history the Marathasfile:///D:/Documents%20and%20Settings/a/My%20Documents/My%20Webs/guerrilla_warfare3.htm#_ftn27 invaded Rajputana and besieged several forts but here too there is no record of any jauhar being performed.

According to the songs of the bard even children perished in the flames of jauhar and this is confirmed by at least one eyewitness---Timur the lame of Central Asia. The Turk marauder carried fire and sword through the North Indian plains in 1398 fighting mostly against the Rajputs and Jats along the way. At a place called Loni Timur remarks, "Many of the Rajputs placed their wives and children in their houses and burned them; then they rushed to battle and were killed." For this reason the jauhar was also called sakha, or general massacre, in Rajput tradition.file:///D:/Documents%20and%20Settings/a/My%20Documents/My%20Webs/guerrilla_warfare3.htm#_ftnref27

The history of Islam's growth among the Arab tribes and expansion among Kurds, Persians, and Turks indicates that the conversion of infidel rulers and warriors was a pre-requisite for the triumph of Islam in their infidel lands[28]. Thus the captivity of Rajput families would have meant their conversion to Islam---Rajput warriors were haunted by visions of their children growing up wearing strange clothes, speaking a foreign language, and performing alien rituals. The customs and traditions of their own ancestors, which had been performed for millennia by each succeeding generation, would come to a calamitous halt. Such a fate was considered worse than death.
In the period under review there was an instance of jauhar in Southern India where the word Rajput was unknown till at least the 15th Century. In 1327 the forces of Muhammad Tughlak besieged the Raja of Kampili and his chief followers in the fort of Hosadurg. When the provisions in the fort ran out the royal ladies and the families of the warriors performed jauhar and the men rushed out to die fighting against the Turks[29]. This indicates that jauhar was not exclusive to Rajputs but was common to all ruling classes of India when faced by the prospect of losing their cherished faith and forgetting the traditions of their ancestors.
This also explains why other communities like the Jats are not known to have performed jauhar. For the most part they were quiet farmers who picked up arms against the Turks only under grave provocation. However wherever the Jats became rulers they approximated their customs to those of the Rajputs[30].
One of the other features of jauhar mentioned by the bards is the desire to destroy all wealth. Diamonds were crushed to dust, gold and silver ornaments were burnt, and in the words of the bard, "whatever could not be burnt or destroyed in water was buried[31]." The rationale for this was to deprive the conqueror of any wealth with which he could establish himself in the fort. With all this anecdotal evidence it would be more appropriate to call jauhar a military tactic rather than a mere custom---it would be an extension of the scorched-earth warfare of the Rajputs when facing a Turk invasion.
Jauhar also explains why the Turks made no significant attempt to recover Rajput forts like Chittor or Siwana even when they could carry out military campaigns in faraway southern India. A conquest where they gained no wealth or converts was as good as a defeat for the Muslim Turks.
[28] The conversion of the rest of the population was considered to be a matter of time. As per the laws of the Hanafi school the civilian population was to pay jaziya and not build new temples or even repair old temples. Seeing their temples whither away and forced to pay money annually just to practice their faith the civilian population would in time, it was calculated, accept Islam. Such laws were enforced under bigoted rulers like Firoz Tughlak, Sikandar Lodi, and Aurangzeb.

[29] Some of the men, including the famous Harihar and Bukka, were however captured wounded and were later converted to Islam.

[30] See the histories of the Jat rulers of Bharatpur and Ranjit Singh of Lahore.

[31] At Jaislamer an ancient collection of Jain scriptures survived the two jauhars and the one-year Turk occupation at that fort. These valuable books may have been among the items buried in secret places.

The myth of Muslim empire: The Mongol conquest of Turan and Iran forced Turk tribes like the Khaljis and Tughlaks to escape south into India where these tribes seized power and created short-lived empires in the Indian continent. The same Mongol cataclysm ejected the Kayi tribe of Turks west into Anatolia (Sultanate of Rum) where a dynasty of Seljuk Turks had been ruling for some time. The Kayis were led by Ertugrul and, just like the Khaljis and Tughlaks did in the Sultanate of Delhi, these new arrivals first took up service in the frontier towns and forts of the Sultanate of Rum.
By 1300 Ertugrul's son Osman had overthrown the Seljuks and had begun a rapid expansion of his power across the Mediterranean region. Osman assumed the Islamic title of Fakhr-ud-din while the Mongol title of Khan also became current with his followers and descendants (in interesting parallels with the Khaljis described above). But here the similarities end for the Kayis and the Seljuks mingled together and assumed the corrupted name of their leader---Osman to Othman and finally to Ottoman---while the larger population of Anatolia converted to Islam and called themselves Turks.
This Ottoman Sultanate survived many challenges to its existence and formed an Empire straddling three continents. This fact gives rise to an important question...why couldn't the Turks form such a powerful and long-lasting empire in India? Apart from the striking similarities in their origins and early history the Turks in Anatolia and the Turks in Delhi both had a distinct military superiority over their infidel neighbors. And yet after the initial expansion the Khalji and Tughlak possessions went into the hands of the indigenous powers or broke away under rebellious governors.
It has become a fashion, since the time the first Britons wrote India's history, to attribute the fall of the Delhi Sultanate to a number of causes. Instead of studying them in isolation, as is usually the practice, it would be better to juxtapose these causes on the contemporary Ottoman Sultanate to see if they hold any weight.
· Size of the Sultanate: It is said that the under the Khaljis and Tughlaks the Delhi Sultanate had become too big to be administered by the central authority. This is especially significant for the medieval era where communication links were poor and many days journey intervened between important provincial towns. However the Ottoman Sultanate was much bigger and additionally their communications were hampered by long stretches of desert and the sea---and yet these Turks did not appear to have any difficulty in holding their vast domain together.
· Mongol invasions: The invasions organized from the Mongol Khanate of Transoxiana are said to have bled the military strength of the Delhi Turks and to have ruined the economic basis of their Sultanate. In fact the economic basis of the Delhi Sultanate was in the Gangetic plains from Delhi to Bengal and not in the Punjab, which in the medieval era was an unproductive land covered with tracts of jungle and scrub (see GW-I). But even in Punjab the Turks placed frontier garrisons at Dipalpur, Multan, Uch, and Samana to thwart the invaders and make counter-attacks on their armies. The Ottomans too had to deal with the Mongol Khans---in 1243 the Sultanate of Rum was forced to pay tribute and was eventually destroyed by the Mongol invaders. At the same time the Ottomans had to face wars of aggression carried out by the powers of Western Europe eager to liberate Asia Minor and the Holy Land from the grasp of the Turks. Even with two external enemies breathing down their neck the Ottomans did not lose hold over their empire.
· Constant rebellions and infighting: There was constant infighting within the royal families of the Khaljis and Tughlaks---son killing father and brother killing brother. Such infighting also involved their numerous followers and allies and thus generated an internal conflict, which encouraged distant provinces to rebel and declare their independence. However the Royal House of Osman was also afflicted by this phenomenon and closer to home even the Rajput clans had instances of family wrangles and rebellions---yet in both cases the structure of the state remained unaffected in the long term. Hence this cannot be a major cause for the fall of the Turk power.
· Decisions and policies of individual Sultans: It is held that the change of capital by Muhammad Tughlak and his over-ambition, and the revival of the jagir system by Firuz Tughlak each in their own way contributed to the disintegration of the Delhi Sultanate. Without going into the details of these policies and numerous acts of other Sultans it should be noted that the Turk power was challenged as early as in the reign of a strong ruler like Ala-ud-din. Besides the Ottomans too had their share of colorful characters, some weak and others vigorous, they too changed their capital, but the Sultanate did not disintegrate.
· Timur's invasion: The Turk Amir Timur invaded North India in 1398. His brutal campaign, up to the city of Delhi, is said to have ended the Tughlak dynasty and weakened the position of the Muslims in India. This contention does not hold any water as the lands of the Delhi Sultanate by that time were dominated by Rajput and Jat chieftains---this is confirmed by Timur's own words. He actually fought against fellow Muslims only outside the gates of Delhi. On the way through Multan and Bhatner, he mostly fought Rajput and Jat chieftains, and on his return by the northern route battled against the Rajputs of the Jammu and Kangra hills. Far from weakening the Muslim position Timur actually saved them from being overwhelmed by the indigenous powers---it was due to his massacres that the Punjab saw the subsequent rise of Muslim dynasties like the Sayyids and the Lodis and not the indigenous powers. Moreover the Ottoman Turks also faced the hordes of Timur! In 1402 Amir Timur ravaged the territory of Anatolia and captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid after a bloody battle---after his release Sultan Bayezid committed suicide[32] in his capital city and Ottoman power was only revived under his successors.
When the same problems afflicted both Sultanates and when their origin and background were so similar what was the factor that caused the cataclysmic downfall of one? It is natural to attribute the fall of the Turks in India to the indigenous resistance. This fight covers the political and military resistance of the independent Rajput clans and the southern kingdoms; the rebellions of the peasantry of the Gangetic plains; and the cultural resistance of the subject population within the Delhi Sultanate, which unlike the population of Anatolia, held fast to its traditions and refused to be assimilated into the culture and ideology of its rulers.
[32] One account suggests that he committed suicide due to his humiliating treatment by Timur. Apparently Bayezid was kept in a cage while his wife was stripped naked and was made to serve drinks to Timur in that shameful state.


House keeper
Senior Member
Feb 16, 2009
Thursday, December 14, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (horses and swords)

There are three things you must never ask of a Rajput; his horse, his mistress, and his sword
The Government of India today recognizes five breeds of horses indigenous to India---three of these are Himalayan ponies while only two are full-sized horses (see Equines in India and INDIAN HORSE SOCIETY OF INDIA). Only the Marwari and the Kathiawari horses are present in sufficient numbers to be classed as breeds. This is a remarkable change from the days when the landscape of India was covered with centers of horse breeding and trade in horses was critical to the militaries of all Indian powers.

This change did not come overnight---at least from the 18th Century onwards the futility of charging cavalry against disciplined flintlock-wielding infantry had become apparent and was brilliantly illustrated in the classic Battle of Merta. Since they had little use in war the demand for horses fell sharply and several local breeds veered towards extinction. As Lt. Colonel James Tod noted in 1832, "The Rathor cavalry was the best in India. There were several horse-fairs...but the events of the last twenty years appear to have dried up every source of supply. The breeding studs...are almost extinct."
Another problem was that few records were maintained (or have survived) about horse breeding and only passing remarks in other texts are guides to the state of horses in India. Thus the ancient Vedic texts state that the best horses are bred in the lands around the Saraswati River (northern Rajasthan). Early medieval texts mention Vanayu (Arabia and Persia), Kamboja (Afghanistan), and Turushka (Central Asia) horses as the best and local breeds of Trigartta (Punjab-Himachal), Gurjara (Gujarat-Rajasthan), Avanti (Madhya Pradesh), and Saurashtra (Gujarat) as being inferior. This indicates the change from the use of horses in chariots (ancient period) where the small local breeds were used and as pure cavalry (medieval period) where tall and strong horses were preferred.
As has been explained above, when the Rajput clans began resisting the Turk invaders, they found cavalry to be the most effective and practical means of making war. Horses were useful for making sharp raids into enemy territory and for speedily carrying away all the looted wealth. With their cavalry the Rajputs could intercept trade caravans and small convoys of Muslim soldiers carrying the tribute of distant provinces to Delhi---examples of these are fairly numerous in the period under review. If the Turks retaliated in strength or managed to occupy or destroy the fort of the Rajput clan the latter would escape to remote regions with their cavalry and continue a harassing guerrilla war until the enemy was forced to withdraw.
Thus the Rajputs developed a touching devotion to their horses; from giving them personal names and including them in ritual worship, to mourning their death as one would for a member of the family and building fine cenotaphs and statues in their memory[33]. So important were these horses to the Rajputs that they prohibited other communities from owning these fine animals (the Marwar breed in particular). This was not due to caste hatred---since horses were so important for medieval warfare their purchase for other purposes would have increased the demand and driven up the prices of these vehicles of war. This would have in turn bankrupted the finances of the Rajput statesfile:///D:/Documents%20and%20Settings/a/My%20Documents/My%20Webs/guerrilla_warfare3.htm#_ftn34.
[33] Rana Pratap's horse Chetak, of the Kathiawari breed, whose cenotaph is called 'Chetak ka chabutra' and is located at Jharol, north of Udaipur. The Marwari horse of Durgadas Rathor was named Arbud who helped the Rathor patriot in the war against Aurangzeb. The favorite horse of Rao Ummed Singh Hada of Bundi was an Iraqi stallion named Hanja; his cenotaph is in the central square of Bundi town. Lt. Colonel James Tod was gifted a Marwari horse named Bajraj; on this stallion he roamed through Rajputana translating bardic tales and deciphering inscriptions and manuscripts. The cenotaph of Bajraj is located in Kotah. In a more ancient period the horse of the legendary Gugga Chauhan was named Javadia---this name continues to be popular for Rajasthani horses to this day.


After the Turk invasion there was a sudden spurt in this love and desire for horses among the local Rajputs---since few historical records have survived from that period we are indebted to the bards for the numerous anecdotes that describe this phenomenon. For example Rana Hammir cited lack of horses and money to his inability to take Chittor and seeking divine assistance made a pilgrimage south to Dwarka (in Gujarat)---at that place a Charan lady, Barbari Devi, told him that her son Baru would give him five hundred horses and the same number of gold coins. Horses were being delivered to the ports of Gujarat by this time for the Turk invaders and this story may indicate that the Sesodia Rana forcibly acquired such valuable horses with the assistance of the Charans.
In a more mythological account another Rana pleaded to Asapuri Devi that he had no horses whereupon the Goddess told him that on a particular day horses from a caravan would come to him on their own. On the promised day no less than thirteen thousand horses let loose to graze from a (Muslim?) caravan wandered their way to the Rana's side! Another story about the Bhaatis of Jaisalmer states that Rawal Jeth Simha waylaid a caravan carrying the tribute of Tattah (Sindh) and Multan to Delhi. He slaughtered the Turk and Afghan escort and carried away fifteen hundred horses and a large treasure to Jaisalmer. One of his successors, Rawal Dudu, carried away the valuable Arab studs of "Piroja" from the Annasagar Lake near Ajmer.

Figure 7 typical horse of the Marwar breed in the grasslands of western Rajasthan from Equines in India
The Marwar breed of horses is practically inseparable from the Rathor clan and is said to have originated in the Mallani district, from which place the breed spread out to other parts of Marwar. Other centers of horse-breeding were found in the relatively dry Northern and Western regions of India. Thus Multan and the Lakhi Jungle in Punjab, Mewar and Malwa covering Eastern Rajasthan, Kutch and Kathiawar in modern Gujarat, and the Pune district of Maharasthra were regarded to be famous for their breeds of horses.
Such is the paucity of our knowledge about the period that almost nothing is known about the origins of these horses---whether they were derived from the same horses described in the ancient Vedic texts or whether they had infusions of blood from Arab or Turk horses. No genealogical records were maintained by the horse breeders, instead all these horses were taken to annual animal fairs in different parts of India to be sold or traded, as they still are. But as a Rajput justifiably retorted to Lt. Colonel Tod on the question of written records of history, "when our princes were at war, driven from hold to hold, and forced to dwell in the clefts of mountains...was that a time to think of historical records?"
What was true for records of human history is doubly true for the history of the horse in India!
The Talwar: A similar paucity of records has left us with inadequate knowledge on the most important weapon of the period---the slender curved swordcalled the Talwar. Such has been the impact and popularity of this type of sword that in most of the Indian continent talwar has become the only word for the sword! Ironically, for such an extraordinary blade, almost nothing is known of its origins and history---even the meaning of the word is not entirely clear[35].
All surviving specimens of the talwar are from the 17th Century onwards and they have been obtained mostly from the Rajput states of Rajasthan[36]. In the Mughal texts the talwar is practically a Rajput sword and in describing a victory gained by a Rajput general over Afghan rebels it is stated that, "the Afghan army's sword broke under the Rajput talwar."[37] However from Rajput tradition it becomes clear that an older and more typical Rajput sword is the Khanda[38]---the double-edged straight blade that seems to be similar to ancient specimens depicted in sculptures and wall paintings.
[35] Tal-war; war or vaar means "strike" as in "strike a blow".
[36] One of the best versions of the talwar is the Sirohi, manufactured at the town of that name in south-western Rajasthan. The Sirohi is lighter and more slender than other versions. The state of Sirohi was founded in 1405.

[37] From "A History of Jaipur" by Jadunath Sarkar.

[38] The blade of the khanda tapers outwards and is broader near the tip than at the hilt.

The hilt of the talwar is similar to the hilt of the khanda while the slender curved blade appears to be similar to that of the Persian shamshir---it is thus concluded that the talwar is the result of the Rajputs mixing the best of the new sword with their traditional khanda. However such a conclusion is hasty and ill informed because the curved sword was known in India much before the birth of Islam.

Figure 8 Rajput princess with a talwar fights a foot soldier armed with a khanda. Scene in a miniature painting from Bundi.

At the start of the Common Era the Sakas (Scythians) and Kushans (Yeuh-chi) from Central Asia had established their kingdoms in northwestern India. These Saka-Kushans were the ancestors of the Turks and they used the composite bow, the spear, and the broad sword. The Indian warrior clans, ancestors of the Rajputs, adopted these new weapons and eventually overthrew the invaders from different parts of North India[39]. Inscriptions and statues from that period depict warriors astride horses carrying these weapons while paying homage to their clan-goddess.
The slender curved sword was eventually born in Persia and Arabia. This specimen was then reproduced in India when the first Islamic invasions began. Another reason to ascribe an older origin to the talwar is that steel was exported from India to Arabia and Persia from the earliest times[40] and the technologies of sword-manufacturing in all three places could not have been isolated from each other.
[39] According to European historians of the 19th Century the Rajputs were descended from these same Sakas and Kushans! However they did not cite actual evidence to back these claims.

[40] The famous wootz steel used to make the damscus sword. The word wootz is said to be derived from 'ukku' the Kannada word for steel.

Whatever its origins the talwar became the archetypal Rajput sword for the same reason that cavalry became the primary military formation of these people. With the curved sword a soldier could strike repeated blows without the danger of the blade getting stuck in bone or armor. This was especially important while attacking at a furious pace on horseback---the Rajputs could slash madly on all sides and quickly cut through enemy formations. Additionally the talwar had a spike below the hilt so that while grappling at close quarters and with no room to maneuver that spike could be used to stab the opponent---at other times the spike could also be used for gripping the talwar with both hands[41].
Just as the horse became so closely enmeshed into Rajput traditions and customs the sword too became an inseparable part of their culture. Thus it was used to invest subordinate chiefs with titles of nobility and was bestowed on others as a mark of honor. In case a groom could not attend his wedding due to war or illness his personal sword was sent to the bride's house and represented him in the wedding rituals. The talwar was worshipped by the Rajput warriors along with their other weapons[42] and was used to swear an oath of allegiance to the head of their clan---dhal talwar ki aan (by the honor of my sword and shield)!

Figure 9 a Rajput shield from the National Museum New Delhi
[41] It is said that in this period the khanda became the sword of last resort. When a Rajput warrior lost his horse and was surrounded by the enemy he would pull out the double-edged khanda and fight to the last while swinging it over his head and taking down as many of the enemy as he could.

[42] Weapons were worshipped to ensure that they would never be misused.

The Age of Imperial Kanauj - Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
The Struggle for Empire - Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
The Delhi Sultanate - Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan - Lt. Colonel James Tod
A History of Jaipur - Sir Jadunath Sarkar
Muslim Saints and Hindu Rulers: The Development of Sufi and Ismaili Mysticism in the Non-Muslim States of India - Dominique-Sila Khan

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