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The Battle Where Shivaji Rewrote History And Mughal Rout

Author: Aneesh Gokhale
Publication: Creativeindiamag.com
Date: May 8, 2017
URL:  http://creativeindiamag.com/india/the-decisive-battle-where-shivaji-rewrote-history-and-the-mughal-rout/  

The Mughals had never been defeated on the open field, but in February 1672, the Battle of Salher changed that.

The years between 1670 and 1672 are perhaps the turning point in India’s history. Chhatrapati  Shivaji began a grand counter offensive against the Mughals that saw more than a dozen forts retaken through tact and bravery, followed by lightning raids into Baglan, Khandesh and Surat. He topped it with a total rout of the Mughal army of 40,000, and more, on the open fields near Salher. A naval attack on Jinjira was carried out, another threatened on Bharuch. All of this happened within two years.

The Theatre of War

Events of these two years, which culminated with the Battle at Salher, happened roughly in the area between Nashik and Satara, with the coast forming the third side. It is a hilly area, with many hill forts. The regions near Nashik are also known as Baglan and Khandesh. As per the Treaty of Purandar (1665), Chhatrapati Shivaji had to cede 23 forts to the Mughals, of which, the forts of Sinhagad, Purandar, Lohagad, Karnala and Mahuli were fortified with strong powerful garrisons. At the time of the treaty, the Nashik region was already firmly in Mughal hands, having taken it from the erstwhile Nizamshahi in 1636. This region boasted of lofty forts such as Salher and Mulher. Salher was the highest mountain with a fort on top.

As we can see in the map, the forts of Sinhagad and Purandar were a shouting distance from Rajgad and Torna, presenting a constant threat to Shivaji Maharaj at Rajgad. Important forts such as Mahuli and Lohagad, which overlooked crucial passes and trade routes, were also with Aurangzeb. With everything north of Kalyan in the hands of the Mughals, Shivaji Maharaj had been well and truly hemmed in by the Treaty of Purandar. He had signed this treaty to save whatever he could. He had taken a step backwards, to be able to pounce whenever the opportunity presented itself. The Treaty of Purandar was followed by his famous visit to Agra, where Chhatrapati Shivaji found himself surrounded by a thousand Mughal soldiers. Who would have thought that less than four years later, the Mughals would lose all they had in the Sahyadris.

Some of the Mughal forts in Western Maharashtra in the beginning of 1670. From top to bottom – Mulher, Salher , Ahiwantgad , Aundha , Patta , Mahuli , Lohagad , Sinhagad , Purandar , Rohida . The area marked in orange is Rajgad.

The Build Up to 1670

Chhatrapati Shivaji famously escaped from Agra in August 1667 and returned to the Deccan. He spent the next couple of years rebuilding his army. Meanwhile, in 1669, Aurangzeb passed a decree calling for the destruction of Hindu temples and demolished the Kashi Vishweswar temple in the same year. Furthermore, still smarting over the slip given by Shivaji in the monsoon of 1667, he sent orders to his son in Deccan to capture Shivaji. But the order was not carried out, because the said prince did not want to risk war. By then, it was clear to Chhatrapati Shivaji, that if he let things continue as they were, he would soon find a large Mughal army waiting to capture him and produce him before the Padishah sitting in Agra.

The Campaign for the Forts

Chhatrapati Shivaji was one of the few Indian kings who showed the foresight required to attack and reclaim what was rightfully his. The Marathas fought the Mughals, between February 1670 and February 1672, in different environments, from hill forts near Pune to ravines and passes, from the waters of the coast to the plains near Salher. Moropant Pingle captured numerous small forts but the Mughals still had a stronghold over Lohagad, Sinhagad, Purandar, Karnala and Mahuli. These forts overlooked crucial passes and were very close to Rajgad, the then Maratha capital.

Perhaps the bugle, for what would turn into a grand symphony of events, was sounded one cold winter night in February 1670, when Tanaji Malusare successfully scaled the fort of Sinhagad and slaughtered the Mughal garrison inside. A renowned Rajput general named Uday Bhan was killed, and Shivaji’s standard once again fluttered atop the ramparts of Sinhagad.

It is famously said that Jijamata, perturbed over the Mughal presence on Sinhagad, had asked Shivaji to grant him that fort after winning a game of dice. Tanaji Malusare had left his son’s wedding midway to carry out Chhatrapati’s orders, as soon as he was asked to do so. The price had been heavy, but the capture was a resounding success.

A month later, in the month of March 1670, the fort of Purandar was recaptured during a daring raid at night.  This was the fort which had stood for months under siege by Diler Khan and Mirza Raje Jai Singh and the Marathas had lost one of their bravest sardars, Murarbaji Deshpande, in the process. The saffron standard once again unfurled atop the fort.

A few months later, in the month of August 1670, the fort of Mahuli fell to Shivaji’s Peshwa – Moropant Pingle. In the span of only six months, important forts of Sinhagad , Purandar and Mahuli had been recaptured.

Around the same time, the forts of Lohagad and Rohida were also recaptured, thus freeing the important pass known as the Bhor Ghat pass from Mughal influence. Chhatrapati Shivaji could now easily move between forts around Pune and the Konkan. The Mughal garrison at Kalyan was attacked and driven out between 1670 and 1671.

Mughals Pay in Surat

Even as they were scoring one victory after another in the hills of the Sahyadris, Shivaji’s navy attacked the fort of Janjira, off the coast of Murud in Konkan. The spirited Maratha navy bombarded the fort till its Abyssinian ruler appealed to the Mughal emperor for help, and declared himself his vassal. Aurangzeb bestowed the title of Yakut Khan on the Siddi of Janjira and ordered the governor of Surat to attack Shivaji from the coast.

The Maratha Navy, thus faced with an attack from the rear, had to withdraw. This lifting of Janjira’s siege was perhaps the only setback received in the two years.

However, by the end of September 1670, Shivaji personally led an attack on Surat. The ransacking of Surat – the richest city under the Mughals, continued for three days from October 3 to 5. The revenge for various insults, and for helping the Siddi of Janjira, was complete.

As was obvious, the Mughals were not going to sit idle. Almost immediately, an army of eight to ten thousand, under Daud Khan and Mahabat Khan, set off, from today’s Aurangabad, to attack Shivaji Maharaj. They moved via Barhanpur and crossed Chandwad, hoping to intercept Shivaji from the west.

The Marathas were quickly descending south via the ghats and passes, and made their way past Salher, looted Mulher and crossed the Kanchan Manchan range. But Chhatrapati Shivaji got to know of the impending Mughal attack and quickly divided his army into four or five parts. His quick thinking made the job of fighting the Mughals much easier.

Prataprao Gujar was to guard the rear of the Maratha army, and a couple more divisions were to disperse into the ghats and jungles and defend the flanks. Chhatrapati Shivaji accompanied the part of the army which was holding much of the loot from Surat. Between the villages of Vani and Dindori, the Marathas and Mughals clashed. (See map)

Chhatrapati Shivaji turned around to face Daud Khan. He put on his armour and his metal helmet of the battlefield instead of the jire top of the durbar. Mounting his horse, he attacked the Mughals, sword in hand. Like the time of Pratapgad, Lal Mahal and Surat, Chhatrapati Shivaji once again displayed a quality which had made him such a great leader – that of leading from the front. Marathas and Mughals clashed in the narrow pass, where the Marathas ferociously attacked the armies of Daud Khan. At the end of the day – three thousand Mughal soldiers were dead. The Battle of Vani Dindori was immortalised in many portraits and paintings of Shivaji fighting, sword in hand, clad in metal armour. Another stunning victory had been scored against the Mughal Empire.

The Battle of Salher

It is important to understand the events leading up to the Battle of Salher in 1672 to realise its significance. From the time where Mughal’s control over fort of Sinhagad could be seen easily from the nearby Maratha fort of Rajgad, Shivaji had pushed the Mughals back hundreds of miles and sacked Surat. The yoke of the Mughal rule in swarajya had been thrown off and now was the time to invade and drive home the advantage.

In 1671, Chhatrapati Shivaji placed twenty thousand soldiers under the command of his Peshwa – Moropant Pingle and his Sarnobat – Prataprao Gujar. Prataprao proceeded all the way to Khandesh where he attacked and captured the town of Karanjia. Moropant Pingle, with about 15000 under his command – swiftly captured the Mughal forts of Aundha, Patta, Trimbak and attacked Salher and Mulher. Within months, these two forts also fell to Shivaji’s Peshwa, and the Mughals were completely ousted from the Baglan region. This was in January 1671.

The news was alarming for Aurangzeb, to put it mildly. While Sinhagad and Purandar had been his for a few years, Mughals had been ruling Baglan for over 30 years.  Almost immediately, he recalled the Rajput king of Jodhpur – Jaswant Singh – from Aurangabad and appointed Mahabhat Khan in his place. He also sent his most renowned warrior – Diler Khan to assist Mahabhat Khan.

Diler Khan was arguably the best general Aurangzeb had. He was present in the siege of Purandar in 1665 and was with Mir Jumla, on the latter’s invasion of Assam, few years earlier. He put down rebellions by the frontier tribes. And he was victorious every time. In December of 1671, Diler Khan rapidly descended toward Pune and savagely attacked it, slaughtering all residents above the age of nine.

The attack by Diler Khan and Mahabhat Khan was huge – bringing into play more than thirty thousand soldiers in total. Ahivantgad and Kanerigad were soon attacked, and the latter captured.

Meanwhile, from Gujarat, the subhedar of that province – Bahadur Khan swooped down on Salher and laid siege to the fort. The fort was situated at a most opportune place, and if it fell, most of Shivaji’s success in the Baglan region would be quickly undone. Diler Khan proceeded north, from Pune, to aid Bahadur Khan, and the siege of Salher was complete.

It was a grim situation. If Salher fell, the Mughal troops would be encouraged to hold a crucial route leading north. The Mughal siege of Salher could not be allowed to win.

Moropant Pingle started from the Konkan and swiftly galloped north to the besieged fort. Prataprao Gujar also quickly marched from another direction. Together they had over twenty thousand men who were facing an army twice their size.

Battle of Salher took place on a plain between Salher and Mulher.

Prataprao Gujar attacked the Mughals first, but feigned retreat when attacked in turn by Ikhlas Khan, sent by Bahadur Khan to check the advance of Prataprao Gujar. Moropant Pingle had reached the precints of Mulher, and joined Prataprao Gujar’s army. Ikhlas Khan was in for a rude shock as the retreating army of Prataprao Gujar turned and faced him. They were now on a flat plain near Salher, one army twice the size of the other.

Another version says that Ikhlas Khan knew that Salher was being attacked from the east and the west, and proceeded to place himself between the Sarnobat and Peshwa. This plan having failed, the Marathas united into one grand army of thousands.

The Sabhasad Bakhar, a contemporary source, describes this battle in detail. It was a battle that lasted over twelve hours, in which more than ten thousand soldiers died on either side. The number of soldiers involved was easily more than sixty – seventy thousand. A cloud of dust, a few square miles wide, covered the whole battlefield, whipped up by the pounding of the horses’ hooves. More than six thousand horses, elephants, camels and a lot of wealth were seized. Twenty two commanders of various ranks were captured, and a few including Amar Rao Chandawat, killed in the battle. On the side of the Marathas – it was a massive victory, though the death of Suryarao Kakde, one of Shivaji’s childhood friends dampened the mood in the Maratha camp.

Bahadur Khan, totally unnerved by the sound thrashing his armies received, merely a few miles from Salher, lifted the siege. Maratha armies then chased him all the way to Aurangabad.

In February of 1672, almost exactly two years after the capture of Sinhagad, the Mughal rout in the Deccan was complete. It had come at a great cost – the loss of Tanaji Malusare and Suryaji Kakde being the greatest for Shivaji — he had lost two of his dearest childhood friends.

But in return, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s stature grew in every durbar of the country, and he came to be recognised as the pre-eminent power in the Deccan. Those two years saw him face and defeat the Mughals in every conceivable scenario.

— Aneesh Gokhale is author, Sahyadris to Hindukush, a historical novel on rise of the Maratha empire, and Brahmaputra – Story of Lachit Barphukan.
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