The Battle of Salher – 1672

This is sample chapter from my latest book ” Battles of the Maratha Empire” . The full book covers many more such pivotal battles – Pratapgad, Palkhed, Panipat, Rakshasbhuvan , Laswari and more.

To know more / purchase visit Amazon India

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Mughals were thought to be invincible in an open field battle. But February 1672 changed that decisively !

The years between 1670 and 1672 are perhaps a 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 daring , followed it by lightning raids into Baglan , Khandesh, Surat and topped it with a total rout of the Mughal army totalling upwards of 40,000 on the open fields near Salher ! A naval attack on Jinjee was also carried out and another threatened on Bharuch. All within twenty four months !

The theatre of war : 

salher 1

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. As the map will show, it is a hilly area, with many a hill fort. The regions near Nashik are also known as Baglan and Khandesh. As per the Treaty of Purandar (1665) , Chhatrapati Shivaji had to cede twenty three  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 got it from the erstwhile Nizamshahi in 1636 itself. In this region were the high lofty forts such as Salher , Mulher etc . Salher was the highest mountain with a fort on top of it. As we can see in the map, the forts of Sinhagad and Purandar were 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 with the Mughals, Shivaji Maharaj had been well and truly hemmed in by the Treaty of Purandar. It was a treaty he had signed to save whatever he could. Taken a step backwards to be able to pounce ahead when the opportunity came. The Treaty of Purandar was followed by his famous visit to Agra, where Chhatrapati Shivaji where he found himself confined by a thousand Mughal soldiers ! Who would think that less than than four years later, the Mughals would lose all they had in the Sahyadris !

Some of the Mughal forts in Western Maharashtra at beginning of 1670

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From top to bottom – Mulher , Salher , Ahiwantgad , Aundha , Patta , Mahuli , Lohagad , Sinhagad , Purandar , Rohida . 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 the army. In the meanwhile, in 1669, Aurangzeb passed a firman 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 the Deccan to capture Shivaji. But the order was not carried out, because the said prince did not want to risk war as also due to some astute diplomacy by Shivaji Maharaj ! In short, it was clear as daylight 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 and daring to attack and reclaim what was rightfully his, having been taken away by force. The two years from February 1670 to February 1672, saw the Marathas fighting the Mughals in a host of 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, with in sufficient garrisons but still the Mughals held Lohagad , Sinhagad , Purandar , Karnala , Mahuli with powerful killedars and strong armies. Further more, these forts overlooked crucial passes and were very close to Rajgad, the then Maratha capital.

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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 mid way to carry out his Chhatrapati 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. A daring night time raid  This was the fort which had stood months of siege against Diler Khan and Mirza Raje Jai Singh and the Marathas had lost one of their bravest sardars – Murarbaji Deshpande in the process. As the saffron standard unfurled once again on the fort, it was an emotive moment for the Marathas and justice had been done to Murarbaji Deshpande.

A few months later, in the month of August 1670, the fort of Mahuli fell to Shivaji’s Peshwa – Moropant Pingle. Thus in the span of only six months the strong forts of Sinhagad , Purandar and Mahuli had been retaken. Compare this to the six year long Mughal siege of just one fort – Ramsej (1680s) . Merely having a fort in one’s hands did not make it impregnable.

During the same time, the forts of Lohagad and Rohida were also re captured thus freeing the important pass known as the Bhor ghat 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 in 1670 / 1671

Opening the sea front and Mughals pay with the sack of 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 the Konkan. The spirited Maratha navy bombarded the fort till finally 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 – but as Aurangzeb and the governor of Surat would realise in a very short while – they had merely put their hands into a hive of honeybees. This lifting of Janjira’s siege was perhaps the only setback received in the two years.

As soon as the monsoons ended , at the end of September 1670, Shivaji personally led an attack on Surat itself.. The ransacking of Surat – the richest city under the Mughals continued for a full three days from third to the fifth of October ! The revenge for various insults, and for helping the Siddi of Janjira – was complete. This trait of Shivaji – of invading enemy territory to settle scores is extremely rare to find.

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Route taken by Shivaji to raid Surat

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 quickly made its way past Salher , looted Mulher and crossed the Kanchan Manchan range . But Chhatrapati Shivaji got information of the impending Mughal attack and quickly divided his army into four or five parts. As with many other situations, his extremely efficient intelligence department had made the job of fighting the Mughals much easier !

Prataprao Gujar was to guard the rear of the Maratha army , couple more divisions were to disperse into the ghats and jungles and defend the flanks. Chhatrapati Shivaji himself accompanied that 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 above)

Chhatrapati Shivaji turned around to face Daud Khan. He put on his armour  and adorned his head with a metal helmet of the battlefield instead of the jire top of the durbar. Mounting his horse, he attacked the Mughals sword in hand. Like at 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. Maratha and Mughal 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 lay 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

My readers must be wondering, when am I going to start talking about the topic mentioned in the title ? But I believe that it is necessary to explain the situation at the start of 1670 to better appreciate the achievement in 1672. From a situation wherein the Mughal controlled fort of Sinhagad could be seen with bare eyes from nearby Maratha fort of Rajgad , Shivaji had pushed them back hundreds of miles and sacked Surat. The yoke of Mughal rule in swarajya had been thrown off. Now was the time to invade and drive home the advantage, for attack after all is the best defense.

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 fifteen thousand 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 rout of the Mughals was complete in the Baglan region. This was in January 1671.

The news was alarming for Aurangzeb to put it mildly. For while Sinhagad and Purandar had been his for barely a few years, Mughals had been in charge of Baglan for over thirty !  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 of 1665 , he was present with Mir Jumla on the latter’s invasion of Assam few years earlier. He was at hand to put down rebellions by the Frontier tribes. And in each, victories had been scored. In December 1671 Diler Khan rapidly descended towards 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 boost in the sagging morale of the Mughal troops would be immense. They would automatically hold a crucial route leading north. Perhaps the Mughal armies would then descend on Shivaji and obliterate his gains of the past two years. 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 totalled over twenty thousand, facing an army twice their size.

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

Salher 5

Prataprao Gujar attacked the Mughals first , but feigned retreat when attacked in turn by Ikhlas Khan, sent by Bahadur Khan to check Prataprao Gujar. Moropant Pingle had reached the precints of Mulher, and readily 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 in between the Sarnobat and Peshwa. This plan having failed, the Marathas united into one grand army numbering into the many thousands.

But about the total rout of the Mughal army there are no doubts.

The Sabhasad Bakhar a contemporary source, describes this battle in detail. In a battle that lasted over twelve hours in which more than ten thousand soldiers died on either side. The number of soldiers involved easily topped sixty – seventy thousand. A cloud of dust a few square miles wide covered the whole battlefield, whipped up by the pounding of horses hooves. More than six thousand horses , elephants, camels and a lot of wealth was captured. Twenty two commanders of various ranks were captured , and a few such as Amar Rao Chandawat killed in the battle. Blood flowed like rivers on the battlefield. 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 had received merely a few miles from Salher, lifted the siege. Maratha armies then chased him all the way to Aurangabad.

Thus in February 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, for 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.

Read about more such battles – Pratapgad, Palkhed,  Rakshasbhuvan,  Laswari etc in my upcoming book – “Battles of Maratha Empire”

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  • Salher photo courtesy Bhushan Kotakar / Wikimedia commons

Shivaji an analysis – by Prof Narhar Kurundkar

 

Disclaimer : This post has not been written by me. It is reproduction of an essay authored by historian Narhar Kurundkar. It is one of the best analysis of Chhatrapati Shivaji , and originally intended as the Preface to Shrimaan Yogi.

The greatness of Shivaji and his limitations must be understood clearly. It is a fact that he doesn’t have the background of the 17th Century Renaissance enjoyed by any European Ruler. He alone has the broad religious background of the Varakari Movement (which traces its roots to Dnyaneshwar), a Hindu movement. This makes him different from the likes of Cromwell and Napoleon. He was not democratic. Indeed, he entertained no thoughts of mass education or liberation of women or removal of casteism or, for that matter, setting up printing presses (though a section of historians actually believes it strongly that Shivaji had a keen interest in printing presses). He had no thoughts of approving widow marriages or terminating the system of childhood marriages. Indeed, had somebody come up with so heretic an opinion, he would have certainly chopped off his arms and legs. He always went to the Dutch or the British for firearms. A thought of producing it himself didn’t occur to him. Who were these Europeans? And for what purpose had they arrived in India? He could not have had much clue to it. By that time Galileo had invented telescope, Columbus had discovered America and Magellan had completed the first cruise round the globe. And the illustrious Chhatrapati was unaware of these events. Like every great person, Shivaji was a product of his time. To what extent he understood the prevalent current of Time and how far he managed to go ahead of his time will ultimately gauge his greatness.

 

Five years back, a South Indian author of little fame had written an article in an issue of Hindu. I haven’t studied a better article explaining the greatness of Shivaji. It was titled “How Small Shivaji Was?” Says the author, “Shivaji is the Deity of Maharashtrians. They would not have an iota of reservation in putting him above God. To say that in the entire five thousand years of the history of human civilisation, no other King can hold candle to Shivaji would seem an understatement to them.I do not intend to join this approbatory gang. Rather than evaluating his greatness as a human being, I wish to examine how small he really was.

 

The first fact to strike is that he created a kingdom. There must have been over 500 Dynasties in India. Each had a founder. One among them was Shivaji. The rest had an opportunity to do so because of the reigning confusion. Vassals of a weak king would declare independence with the central power helpless to prevent it. A powerful general used to dethrone a weak king and raise his own kingdom. This had been the fashion in which a new Power was established. The new king inherited the existing Army and the bureaucratic structure automatically. In Shivaji, we have the one who had to raise everything from nothing, who didn’t have the benefit of a ready strong army; who, on trying to establish himself, had to face the might of Great Powers; who had the neighbouring Bijapur and Golkonda powers still on the rise and the Moghul Empire at its zenith. Shivaji was eating away that Bijapur Empire which had usurped more than half of Nijamshahi and was on its way to consume almost all of Karnataka. Here is somebody who, from the start, never had the might to defeat his rivals in a face-to-face battle, who saw the efforts of 20 years go down the drain in a matter of 4 months; but still fought on to create an empire with 29 years of constant struggle and enterprise. It would be easy to see how small he was once we find which founder to compare to in the annals of Indian history, on this issue.

 

A Hindu Power has certain distinguishing traits. It is not as if they do not emerge victorious in a war. Victories – there have been many. But their victory does not destroy their opponent. The latter’s territory doesn’t diminish, his might is not erased. The victor’s territory doesn’t expand. Even though victorious, he becomes weaker and stays so. In short, it is plain that they faced total destruction in defeat and weakening in victory. A new chapter in Hindu history is begun with Shivaji wherein battles are won to expand the empire while strength and will power is preserved in a defeat. Secondly, the Hindu Rulers used to be astonishingly ignorant of the border situation. Their enemy would catch them unawares, often marching in over 200 miles in their territory and only then would they wake up to the situation. Whatever may be the outcome of the battle, only theirs would be the land to be defiled. The arrival of Shivaji radically changes this and heralds the beginning of an era of staying alert before a war and unexpected raids on the enemy. Thirdly, the Hindu kings habitually placed blind faith in their adversaries. This saga terminates with Shivaji performing the treacherous tricks. It was the turn of the opponents to get stunned. In the ranks of Hindu kings, the search still going on for somebody to compare with Shivaji on this point.

 

Shivaji was religious; but he was not a fanatic. Although iron hearted, he was not cruel. He was daring, yet not impulsive. He was practical; but not unambitious. He was a dreamer who dreamt lofty aims and had the firm capacity to convert them into reality. His lifestyle was not simple. Having adopted a choice, rich lifestyle, he was not lavish. He was gracious to other religions. On that account he may be compared to Ashoka, Harsha, Vikramaditya, Akbar. But all of these had great harems. Akbar had the Meenabazar, Ashoka had the Tishyarakshita. Shivaji had not given free reign to his lust. Kings, both Hindu and Muslim, had an overflowing, ever youthful choice taste for collection of women in their prime and diamonds. That was lacking in Shivaji. He had neither the money to spend on sculptures, paintings, music, poetry or monuments nor the inclination. He did not have the classical appreciation needed to spend over 20 crores rupees and hold deprived subjects with strokes of hunter to build a Taj Mahal even as famine was claiming over hundreds of thousands of lives; nor was he pious enough to erect temple after

temple while India was being systematically consumed by the British. He was a sinner; a practical man like the rest of us. Khafi Khan sends him to Hell. I, myself, think that Shivaji must have gone to Hell. He would not have enjoyed the company of the brave warriors who preferred gallant death to preservation of their land. It would have ill suited him to live with the noble kings who would rather indulge in rituals such as Yadnya than expand the army. For the Heaven is full of such personalities. Akbar adopted a generous attitude towards Hindus and has been praised to the skies for that. But, it is an elementary rule that a stable government is impossible if the majority of the subjects is unhappy. Akbar was courteous to them who, as a community, were raising his kingdom and stabilizing it for him. The Hindus he treated well were a majority in his empire and were enriching his treasury through their taxes. The Hindus had no history of invasions. They had not destroyed Masjids. They had not committed genocides of Muslims. They had not defiled Muslim women or imposed forced conversions. These were the people Akbar was generous to. On the contrary, Muslims were a minority community in Shivaji’ s empire. They were not the mainstay of his taxes. They were not chalking out a kingdom for him. Besides, there was a danger of an invasion and Alamgir was imposing Jiziya tax on Hindus. Yet, he treated Muslims well. That was not out of fear but because of his inborn generosity Given this background, I am ready to see Shivaji as small he really is. But who to turn to, to make him smaller? Is there any such standard?”

 

To round off this discussion, I should like to expand on a couple of issues left unanswered by the above article. Firstly, Shivaji’s expertise as a General is, of course, undisputed. But, besides that, he was also an excellent Governor. He believed that the welfare of the subjects was a responsibility of the ruler. Even though he fought so many battles, he never laid extra taxes on his subjects. Even the expenditure for his coronation was covered by the taxes on the collectors. In a letter he challenges, “It is true that I’ve deceived the enemy. Can you show an instance where I tricked an ally?” This challenge is unanswered. He funded establishment of new villages, set up tax systems on the farms, used the forts to store the farm produce, gave loans to farmers for the purchase of seeds, oxen etc, built new forts, had the language standardized to facilitate the intra-government communication, had the horoscope revised, encouraged purification from Islam to Hinduism. He was not a mere warrior.Secondly, and most important of all, to protect his kingdom, his subjects fought for over 27 years. After Shivaji’s death they fought under Sambhaji. After Aurangzeb killed Sambhaji, they still fought for over 19 years. In this continued struggle, a minimum of 5 lakh Moguls died (Jadunath Sarkar’s estimate). Over 2 lakh Marathas died. Still in 1707, over 1 lakh Marathas were fighting with spears. They didn’t have a distinguished leader to look up to. There was no guarantee of a regular payment. Still, they kept on fighting. In these 27 years, Aurangzeb didn’t suffer a defeat. That was because Marathas simply lacked the force necessary to defeat so vast an army. Jadunath says, “Alamgir won battle after battle. But in the end, after spending crores of rupees, he accomplished nothing apart from weakening his All India Empire and his own death. He could not defeat Marathas”. When the Peshawai ended (A.D.1818), there was an air of satisfaction that a government of law would replace a disorderly government. Sweets were distributed when the British won Bengal in Plassey (A.D.1757). In this light, the above facts demonstrate the extent to which his subjects identified themselves with Shivaji’s Nation and the excellence of Shivaji as its founder.

 

Marathas & Bengal : Chhatrapati Shivaji as a national hero (IndiaFacts)

An article that has been shared over 19,000 times so far  !

In this article we shall explore how Chhatrapati Shivaji was an inspiration for Bengali patriots from 1857 onwards and how everyone from Tagore and Bipin Chandra Pal to Aurobindo Ghosh eulogized him.

 

Read the article in full at Indiafacts.org –> Chhatrapati Shivaji & Bengal

Chhatrapati Shivaji -An inspiration for many generations

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Chhatrapati Shivaji was one of the greatest men to be born in this country. His exemplary vision and courage gave us “swarajya” from the clutches of the Mughals and Turkic sultanates. A lot has been written about his prowess on the battlefield the incidents involving Afzal Khan, Shaiste Khan, the battle at Kolhapur, the siege of Salher (a fort near Nashik), are all legendary and excellent examples of how Shivaji put the terrain and the meagre resources at his disposal to good use to win against far more formidable enemies. Bravery and cunning were gifts found in ample measure even amongst Shivaji’s adversaries – the Rajputs and Pathans. The greatness in Shivaji is the thinking and inspiration behind his actions. When we think of Shivaji as an idol, this facet of his personality must be borne in mind. The Rajputs and Pathans against whom Shivaji fought were also sacrificing their lives on the battlefield, but for a different purpose. While their sacrifices were for a foreign power – that of the Mughals, Shivaji’s soldiers fought for the lofty ideal of a ‘swarajya’. This is a major difference, we must bear in mind.

Shivaji’s life was an inspiration for his own and future generations to come. Maharaja Chhatrasal Bundela in particular and Lachit Barphukan to a much lesser extent, were influenced by the heroics of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Furthermore, Chhatrapati Sambhaji, Chhatrapati Rajaram, Bajirao Peshwa, Ahilyabai Holkar etc were the ones who strove to follow in the great king’s footsteps. Whenever the later Marathas tried to follow the policies laid down by Shivaji, greatness had awaited them! So what indeed were the policies of Shivaji that have rendered him a goliath of his age?

First and foremost – the ideal of ‘swarajya’…….

Read the complete essay on the Expert Oped website –> 

Chhatrapati Shivaji – Inspiration for future generations