- May 25, 2013
PALKHED 1728 - BAJIRAO UNLEASHED
The Region -
The vindhya and satpura mountain ranges have formed the topographical barrier that seperated the great North Indian plains from the Deccan Plateau which serves as the entrypoint into south India from the western side.To the North is central India(Malwa) and Gujarat with Surat - the largest and most propserous port in Mughal India and the entrepot of India's trade with West Asia.Southwards is the extension of the Deccan plateau in the Karnataka region.
The area roughly corresponding to the modern day indian state of maharashtra is divided geographically into the western coastal strip between Surat and Vengurla called the Konkan -about 700 kms in length and 20 km in width.The Konkan is dotted with ports and from early times foreign traders settled in small enclaves here - by the mid 17th century the arab traders had been displaced by the europeans.With the Portugese in Goa,Vasai and Chaul and the newcomer British in Bombay.The abyssinian Siddis based at Janjira were a naval
The occupation of the people along these coasts was usually trade,fishing and piracy.The Konkan is seperated from the rest of the Deccan by the Sahayadri range,and the area around the sahayadri foothills.These areas are inhabited by hardy hillmen mainly subsisting on animal husbandry,hunting and limited agriculture.West of the Shahayadri is the Plateau area called 'desh'.This area supports agriculture and is the most revenue rich area of the deccan plateau as the Godavari river flows through it.
The people of the region were hardy and self reliant due to the terrain and scant resources, they spoke the Marathi dialect.For most of the medieval period due to topography,most of the regional powers of the south were content to rule the area indirectly through the local Deshmukh chieftains.There had been no centralized power based in maharashtra region to unite these elements who were not aware of their own strength and served the different powers in the area as feudatories.This would change with coming of Shivaji and the rise of the marathas.
(Mughal India late 16th century)
RISE OF THE MARATHAS :
While most of North India fell to the invading Turks and afghans who established the Delhi sultanate, muslim penetration into Southern India came later and broke away from the control of Delhi.By the 16th century as the mughals replaced the sultanate at Delhi - the Deccan was dominated by the 3 sultanates of Bijapur,Ahmadnagar and Golconda and further South was the Vijaynagar Kingdom which ruled south india.Following the breakup of the Vijaynagar kingdom in the late 16th century there was a vaccuum of power and the area disintegrated into small regional chieftains fighting for power.The Deccan region was dominated by the power struggle between Bijapur and Ahmednagar with both vying for the support of the local chieftains.Meanwhile the mughals after consolidating their hold on North India entered the Deccan under Shahjahan and after a lengthy struggle liquidated the Ahmednagar Sultanate(1633). The Mughals annexed the North western areas ,but the hilly areas on the sahayadri foothills around Pune remained with Shahaji,the most prominent regional maratha sardar as his jagir even as he himself became a prominent noble in the bijapur court ,but was transferred to the region around Bangalore away from the troublesome maratha heartland.He left behind in his Jagir around Pune his young son Shivaji Bhonsle.
(Key map of region's forts)
SHIVAJI CHALLENGES BIJAPUR :
The young shivaji,a charismatic leader gathered around him a following and began to assert his independent authority in the region.In 1648,just 18 years of age he seized the fort of Sinhagar(see location of forts on map).In the following years he seized Chakan,then Torna and built a new fort nearby at Rajgad which became his base of operations.He consolidated his hold on the Pune region and also made limited northward raids.He then seized by deception the fort of Purandar.After this Bijapur sent a force to suppress him,but this was repulsed.In 1656 Shivaji broke into the Konkan and captured Raigad -the strongest fort in the region from the local deshmukhs by strategum .He founded a new fort-Pratapgarh to the south as an advance defensive strongpoint against Bijapur.He now dominated the whole countryside with his string of mountain forts and controlled the passes from the desh hinterland to the konkan coast.Bijapur was unable to respond being paralyzed by sickness of the king and the mughal attack under prince aurangzeb. Shivaji both kept correspondence with aurangzeb and also raided nearby territory with impunity.By 1659 he had expanded into the northern Konkan and had curved out his 'Swarajya'(self-rule) comprising of the area around Pune and Satara and a large part of the Konkan.His army had expanded to 20,000(half cavalry,half infantry)
(Killing of Afzal Khan)
Bijapur now free of the mughal threat(Aurangzeb returned Northto fight for mughal throne ) sent a powerful army under the imposing Afzal Khan to crush shivaji.Shivaji refused to meet Afzal's heavy cavalry and artillery on the field,and retreated to Pratapgrah fort which was impregnable to the Bijapuri forces.To break the mutual deadlock,Shivaji feigning submission , agreed to meet Afzal for a personal meeting at a place strategically favorable to Shivaji, beneath the walls of Pratapgad, in a clearing in the dense forest whose trails were known only to the Maratha defenders.Both men came to the meeting armed (afzal had already killed an opponent this way before).Afzal struck with his kitar while the 2 men embraced,but shivaji was protected by chainmail under his robes and disemboweled Afzal in turn with iron claws hidden underneath his fingers.The Maratha troops then ambushed the leaderless bijapuri army which was unable to deploy in the forested terrain and slaughtered them.
Shivaji now carried the war into Bijapuri territory further south from Satara into the Kolapur region seizing Panhala fort,but was met with a counterattack by a new large Bijapuri army which besieged him there.In a celebrated episode in maratha history hailed as the 'Maratha Thermopylae',Shivaji escaped with a small band of followers to nearby Vishalgad fort while 300 marathas under Bajiprabhu held the pursuing Bijapuri forces at bay all night in a final last stand at Pavan Khind pass which allowed shivaji to get to safety.Things settled into stalemate with Bijapur.
(Attack on Shaista Khan)
CLASH WITH THE MUGHALS :
Meanwhile Aurangzeb after gaining the mughal throne sent his uncle Shaista Khan with 100,000 troops to finally settle affairs in the Deccan in 1760.Acc to Mughal-Bijapur treaty Bijapur ceded all the former ahmadnagar sultanate territories in their possesion(from treaty in 1630s) to the mughals -bulk of this territory comprised Shivaji's fledgling state.Shaista Khan swept aside the vastly outnumbered marathas and occupied the plains areas around Pune district while Shivaji was forced to retreat into his mountain forts on the sahayadri .This is when the Mughals derided the marathas as 'Mountain rats'.
''My home is not situated on a spacious plain,which may enable trenches to be run (against the walls) or assault to be made. It has lofty hill-ranges . . . everywhere there are nalas hard to cross; sixty forts of extreme strength have been built, and some are on the sea coast'' -Shivaji challenges the mughals
Things rested here until one night in April 1663 Shivaji with 400 picked soldiers entered Pune ,where Shaista Khan had taken up residence at Shivaji's former palace.The soldiers were disguised as Deccani soldiers of the Mughal army and struck at midnight.In a daring commando raid,the Marathas infiltrated the compound and attacked the mughal elite resting inside causing carnage.Shaista Khan fled by jumping out of the window,losing his forefingers to shivaji's sword.His son and several of the top ranking mughal commanders were killed. Shivaji's men escaped amidst the confusion,and pursuing mughal troops were ambushed in the forests by hidden marathas. Shaken by the incident and fearing for his personal safety,Shaista khan retreated back to mughal territory.This incident immensely increased shivaji's reputation and the humiliated Aurangzeb recalled shaista khan.Shivaji recaptured all lost territory and followed up his success by the shocking sack of Surat -the greatest mughal port, carrying away crores of rupees.
Aurangzeb now sent the best mughal general Raja Jai singh to tackle Shivaji in 1665.Leading a powerful army with the best siege guns,Jai singh methodically reduced the maratha forts one by one,forcing Shivaji into the disadvantageous treaty of Purandar by which he had to surrender several forts and enter mughal service.He had to go to Agra to meet Aurangzeb in the imperial court.However Aurangzeb snubbed shivaji who walked out of the court in an unprecedented event and was put under house arrest.In another often retold episode,shivaji decieved the mughal sentries and escaped with his son hidden in large fruit baskets after having established a routine of the movement of actual fruit baskets to and from his residence.After reaching the Deccan in the disguise of a Bairagi Sadhu(religious mendicant) he remained relatively quiet for the next 3 years and bided his time.The mughal underestimation and ignorance of the popular element in Shivaji's rise and basis of power is highlighted in the imperial correspondence of the period ,which views him as a petty zamindar whose basis of power was the tacit support of Bijapur.This lack of understanding of the popular dimension of the maratha movement was to cost the mughals dear later in Aurangzeb's final Deccan Campaign.
''Shiva is a zamindar and the pillars of his support (the Bijapur state) will not endure beyond a few years''