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


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

Salher 2

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.

Salher 3

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.

Salher 4

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

What happened to Jaichand of Kannauj ?

Jaichand is today a name synonymous with treachery. But what exactly did he gain by siding with Ghori ? A comfortable life one would reckon ?

Find out in this article by me , published in DNA –>  What happened to Jaichand of Kannauj

The Forgotten King – Hemu

Hemchandra conquered Delhi and Agra . He won twenty two consecutive battles against the Mughals. He was crowned as a monarch and took the title “Vikramaditya”

Read the full article published in DNA : The Forgotten King

Do check out my books at Amazon India

Marathas : Administration and finances in the 18th century

 So you actually clicked on that title !! Wow ! That’s  quite amazing . I hope you can brave it out till the end of this blog .Well , would just like to discuss the basics of administration , finances etc in the 18th century . The boring jobs that the Peshwa and others did when they weren’t invading kingdoms left , right and centre . Ofcourse , the boring jobs were then introduced to these conquered people .

I will concentrate on specifically the Peshwas for the purpose of this blog . The land  , just like today’s talukas , districts , states had been divided into gaon , tarf  , prant etc . Essentially

Gaon  / Mauja  <  Tarf / Kuryat < Subah / Prant / Pargana .

The lowest administrative unit was the Gaon or village . The Patil was in charge of the well fare of the village and villagers . He was to collect revenue from each farmer , protect his crops , keep note of new settlers and new land being farmed etc .Land was measured by him in ‘ shiv shahi kathi ‘ . 1 shivkathi being equal to 114 inches approx .  In this , he would be helped by the Kulkarni .The Kulkarni , alongwith the Patil , would settle revenue issues of a village , maintain documents to the effect etc . Sometimes a Chougule would also be present , but such cases are rare . The Patil deputed Maharis to protect the crops as also carry messages elsewhere . Both Patil and Kulkarni were hereditary positions .

A collection of villages made up a Tarf  ( I wonder whether turf war comes from this , especially given it’s Maharashtra😀 ) Anyways , dumb jokes apart , this was an administrative unit just above the village . The Deshmukh was in charge of a tarf . He was an analogy of the Patil on a higher level . His official work would be handled by the Deshpande , much like the Kulkarni . The Deshmukh and Deshpande were hereditary .Kings came and went , but Deshmukhs stayed ! Infact , some Deshmukhs ended up serving two masters at the same time . ( Things like patriotism  , nationalism as we know it  , fenced borders etc was still way in the future , so hold your horses . Such kind of hilarious behaviour was completely normal )

The Peshwa appointed Kamavisdars or Tarafdar  at every Tarf .He also appointed Mamledar( Mamlatdars )
if total revenue was going to top 1,00,000 . The Patil , Kulkarni would report to the Deshmukh , Deshpande and Kamavisdar . They would do all the donkey work year round . Twice a year , at harvest time , the Mamledar sauntered in for his own audit at  every tarf and settled the revenue , dues , documents etc .He would receive 1 % of revenue as his fees .  He would then directly report to the Peshwa . Precursor to corporate life I think .

Thus we have  :  Patil <  Deshmukh  < Kamavisdar < Mamledar < Sarsubhedar* < Peshwa

Yeah , so where did Sarsubhedar come from ? This was another post created to manage lands and mahals which were not close to Pune , but were under jurisdiction of the Peshwa . Gujarat , North Karnatak , some Mahals in Bengal etc . So , the Peshwa deputed sarsubhedars to act on ‘his behalf ‘ . He had the power to apply the Peshwa’s seal on documents . He could also appoint Mamledars and Kamavisdars . Phadnis , Mujumdar , Diwan , Potdar , Potnis , Chitnis etc were still appointed by the Peshwa to work under these Mamledars and sarsubhedars . ( Yawn … I am falling asleep writing this ) .

This was the case with land based administration and revenue .

Apart from this , 25 % tax ( chauthai ) was collected from vassals and defeated kingdoms . If someone was awarded Sardeshmukhi , 10 % of the prant’s or subah’s revenues went straight to him . eg Holkar getting sardeshmukhi of Chandore in 1748 .

Finally , at the Shaniwarwada , the Phadnis would help the Peshwa with official work . Offices of 18 different types were set up at the wada including :

1) Tofkhana
2) Hatti khana
3) Armoury
4) Faraskhana
5) Wood workshops
6) Buildings
7) Gardens
8) Kurne
9) Chariots
10) Jamadarkhana
11) Vaidyashala
12) Pustak shala
13) Ratna shala

Sources : Konkan – Earliest to 1818  :  Dr VG Khobrekar
: Marathayancha Itihas – Kulkarni & Khare  ( essay in book on administration by V.T.Gune )

© Aneesh Gokhale

You can read more about my book on Maratha history – Sahyadris to Hindukush – here

Maratha Empire – The Panipat Fixation.

The mention of the word Panipat immediately conjures up three distinct images – after the three major battles at this place in Haryana. First of course is Babur and Lodi, the second of Akbar and Hemchandra and third of the Marathas and Abdali . This is common and correct knowledge. Of the three, the first two are then extolled as the starter and preserver of the Mughal dynasty. There is actually very little thought given to ‘what if’ scenarios viz Hemchandra or Hemu.

Anyways, I want to speak here about the third battle of Panipat and the disproportionate importance it has in our knowledge and understanding of India’s history. There are more pages written about 14th January 1761 than there are on the eighty years preceding it or the forty years following it. Eighty years is the time between Chhatrapati Shivaji’s death (about him, thankfully, cupious amount has been written) and forty years is the time span to 1802. That was the year when the Marathas lost the Second Anglo Maratha War and with it their all India influence. They did not lose it in 1761, which is one of the points of this blog.I, apart from writing, also do public talks on Maratha and Assamese history. I have on several occasions given talks on the Maratha conquest of Punjab or Bundelkhand and traced the politics and military manoeuvres which enabled the Maratha victories. In the talk on Punjab I have not mentioned Panipat and in the talks on Bundelkhand I have taken the entire sweep of time from Shivaji to Rani Laxmibai. After this, the presentation has always been thrown open for questions. Now, it has been my observation that a majority of the questions revolved around Panipat ! I find it perplexing that nobody asks questions pertaining to specifics about either campaign. Talk , post presentation, invariably veers around to discussion about the great defeat at the hallowed battlefield.

Which, basically means that “general knowledge” is by and large limited to 1761. For you can initiate discussions about only those topics which you know about. It was a debilitating defeat, no doubt agreed. But it’s internalisation by us has perhaps caused bigger damage. It has essentially meant that entire generations are totally oblivious of the contributions of Madhavrao Peshwa , Nana Phadnis , Mahadji Scindia and Ahilyabai Holkar – all of whom had an entirely post Panipat career , and who would, if they had not been preceded by the likes of Bajirao and Shivaji, been raised to the highest pedestal. It is only when we agree that Panipat was a large bump in the road, and not a fatal crash that discussion can automatically lead to the four mentioned above. As of today, the totality of Panipat is a given, and hence most articles on the topic quickly jump to a description of the British conquest of India !
Oft seen line — > The disaster at Panipat entirely destroyed the Maratha empire and they no longer exerted the influence they had in earlier years. The British then came to dominate the country and eventually replaced the Mughal empire !
Of the four names mentioned above, missing out on Ahilyabai Holkar because of this “ Panipat = Judgement Day” mentality is a criminal lapse. For it is this queen of central India who gave the much needed cultural and civilizational veneer to the political conquests of a hundred years. In the next few paragraphs, we will take a quick tour of post Panipat Maratha politics and their influence on the Indian subcontinent and finally I will conclude with the real reasons for the Maratha collapse.
After the debacle at Panipat, the Peshwa Nanasaheb breathed his last near the temple built by him on Parvati hill in Pune. Nervous breakdown because of the events of 14th Jan 1761 was most probable cause. He was succeeded by his second son – Madhavrao, the eldest having died at Panipat. So Madhavrao Peshwa began his career as a sixteen year old in 1762 and over a course of ten years, racked up an impressive record on the battle field , which included –
1.Humbling Hyder Ali , the ruler of Mysore at Srirangapatnam and various other places. 2.Giving the Nizam of Hyderabad a sound thrashing at Rakshasbhuvan, where all Maratha soldiers united under the Peshwa
3.Managed to get the better of Maratha chieftains like Raghunathrao and Janoji Bhosale who were causing impediments to him.

In the word’s of Grant Duff, “The fields of Panipat were not more fatal to the Marathas than the early demise of this excellent prince.”

Madhavrao Peshwa died at the age of 27 in 1772 , but not before he had re stamped Maratha authority to the north and the south and proven that even after Panipat the descendants of Shivaji called the shots in Indian politics. Madhavrao died in 1772 and our memory of him died soon after. There is a statue of him at Peshwe Park in Pune, photos of which have been liberally circulated on social media as “Bajirao’s statue” – just goes to show the rot. Liberally shared by well meaning Maharashtrians, rest of the country has not even heard the name !

Post Madhavrao there was tumult at Pune . Raghunathrao had his nephew , and only other contender – Narayanrao killed. But Nana Phadnis ensured that Raghunathrao did not get power and instead ruled as a regent to the infant Sawai Madhavrao (Narayanrao’s son) . In the north , two more Maratha personalities were making a mark – Ahilyabai Holkar and Mahadji Scindia. Check my essay on Ahilyabai Holkar under “Hindavi Swarajya” category on this site for a small intro. Mahadji Shinde ruled Gwalior between 1768 and 1794, the year of his death. He fully resurrected Maratha power in north India. The Jats , Rajputs and Rohillas were roundly defeated in battles by Mahadji Shinde.
Few people know, that Mahadji Shinde brought the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II from Allahabad and re installed him at Delhi. The Mughal continued to rule as a complete puppet of the Marathas. Again, let us bear in mind that this was in 1772, a full eleven years after disappearing at Panipat. While Mahadji Shinde was scoring victories in north India, Nana Phadnis was handling affairs to the south.
The following statement , from a letter sent by Mahadji Shinde to Nana Phadnis perfectly sums up the all – India influence which the two exerted. Bear in mind again, that this letter is dated 1789.
(I have referenced from Marathyancha Itihas – Vol 2 by Khare & Kulkarni )
गेलेली मसलत श्रीमंतांच्या प्रतापी सुधारली आहे . सातार्या प्रमाणे दिल्ली चे हि संस्थान झले आहे .बंदोबस्ताची पैरवी करणे आपल्या कडे आहे . “( महादजी शिंदेंनी नाना फडणवीस लिहिलेले पत्र – ६/१/१७८९ )
Translation : “ Lost influence and power has been recovered to a great extent thanks to Shrimant. Just like Satara, Delhi is also now a sansthan (of Marathas) . To put all this in order is upto us.” [ Letter by Mahadji Shinde to Nana Phadnis] – 6 Jan 1789
Perhaps the crowning glory of the two was the First Anglo Maratha War and the famous battle of Wadgaon. The two post Panipat Maratha stalwarts showed amazing strategic skill and unity to score an unlikely victory. Read about the Wadgaon battle here

The activities of Ahilyabai Holkar ran parallel to the military activities of Mahadji Shinde and Nana Phadnis. She built a great many ghats and temples until the year 1795, the year of her death. The last battle in which all the Maratha soldiers combined was not Panipat in 1761 but Kharda in 1795. Thirty four years after Panipat, that is a generation later, Shindes , Holkars , Gaikwads, Bhosales, the Peshwa and a host of others joined together and attacked the Nizam at Kharda.

You can read about the Battle of Kharda  here.

The battle makes for fascinating reading ! The two battles – Wadgaon in 1779 when the Marathas worsted the British and Kharda and Rakshasbhuvan in 1795 and 1763 when the Marathas got the better of the Nizam should be more widely known, but they aren’t because of the Panipat fixation. Because we take it as a given that Maratha history ends in 1761, there is little attempt to look beyond. Perhaps the recovery wasn’t complete, but certainly it is worth mentioning.

Moreover, the career of Ram Shastri, who provided alongwith Nana Phadnavis a judicial system devolved from the executive is entirely a post Panipat phenomenon. Like the salaried armies of Chhatrapati Shivaji , Ram Shastri was also centuries ahead of his time. This again is missing from most history books.
Actual causes for the fall of the Marathas
Thus we have seen, that Panipat was a bump in the road. And ignorance of post Panipat events is perhaps a bigger defeat than the battle itself. It fits the “secular” narrative that the Hindu empire at the zenith of its power collapsed entirely when faced with a strong adversary. But there is a marked difference between the previous two and this battle. Lodi and Hemchandra simply disappear from history after Panipat I & II . The Marathas do not. They were still the major power to reckon with in India for at least another generation. Which is why, it is correctly said that India passed from hands of Marathas to the British and not from the Mughals to the British.

So what caused the eventual demise ?  1795 marked the high water mark of Maratha politics. But by 1802 the Treaty of Bassein had been signed. Ergo , the years between 1795 and 1802 and the events within them were what brought them down.So the reasons for the final demise were : 

1.Death of all prominent players. A haranguing coincidence, but Mahadji Shinde (1794) , Ahilyabai Holkar (1795) , Sawai Madhavrao (1795) and Nana Phadnis (1800) all died within few years of each other.
2.A devastating drought .
3.Absence of a strong leader in any of the Maratha provinces, and especially at Pune.
4.Inability to go back to the ideals of Shivaji which had enabled the Marathas to fight 27 years against the Mughal empire.
The result of the above four was that in the Second Anglo Maratha War, the British scored an easy victory. And, from 1802 onwards, the power centre shifted from Pune to Calcutta.

© Aneesh Gokhale

Purchase the author’s books at –> Amazon India . Free shipping available India wide.

Maratha Cavalry

A short write up by me on the military structure of the Maratha army in the 18th century , with a special focus on the cavalry .

As the empire spread from its confines amongst the hills and valleys of the Sahyadris , the reliance on forts and attendent guerilla warfare declined and gave rise to large contingents of cavalry . These allowed the armies mobility across the vast plains of Hindustan , enabling them to conduct lightning raids on far away places . It also enabled them to ‘live off the land ‘, since a cavalryman travelled light . Through efficient use of his cavalry , Bajirao I  was able to travel from Pune to Delhi in few days flat – a feat unheard of in those days !! .  The cavalry could said to have been roughly divided into  –  huzurat , shiledar , bargir and pindari contingents . The last being a purely mercenary force .

 Huzurat –   The huzurat cavalry was a picked regiment of the Peshwa . They were his personal soldiers . Obviously , only the best of the best made up contingents of the Huzurat cavalry . They were paid from the government treasury. Their special stables were called huzurat paga .

Shiledar  –    Shiledars owned both – their horses as well as their weapons . A contingent was known as ‘pathak’and their leader was called  ‘Patki ‘ .  Many times these Patkis would have status of a ‘sardar’ .

The ‘pathak’ itself would be called ítlakhi ‘ incase its upkeep was through the government treasury . It was called ‘saranjami pathak ‘   incase the upkeep was through land given for the same .

A shiledar was given a salary of Rs 25 – 30  per month .  About 1/3 –  1/2   was paid before Patkis would commit their contingents towards a campaign . This was called  ‘naalbandi ‘

Bargi –    They owned neither their horse nor their weapons . Both was provided for by the ruler . The bargirs were given regular salary of Rs 5 –  10  .  Their stables would range from 10 horse to well over 500 . Heads of stables were known as ‘amaldars ‘ . Incase of large stables , these amaldars were given the status of sardars .  Bargirs are most well known for carrying out raids deep into Bengal under the leadership of Bhaskarram Kolhatkar and Raghuji Bhosale .

Pindaris ––  They were mainly  Muslim mercenaries from central  parts of India . A contingent of 1000 to 4000 was called a labhur . They were armed with spears , swords and few muskets . The pindaris lived entirely off loot and plunder .After getting some area marked out for them , they would proceed to lay it waste .The pindaris would keep whatever they looted , apart from flags , nishaan and other such symbols of someone else’s rule .  The pindaris operated mainly under Holkar and Scindia .

_____________________________________________Ref :  Marathyancha Itihas – Kulkarni n Khare –  vol 2 . Univ of Pune         State at war in south asia – Pradeep Barua


Zahir ud din  Babur arrived from faraway Samarkand in 1526 and annihilated Ibrahim Lodi’s army at Panipat . Lodi was no pushover . What made the difference ? Babur’s guns , the likes of which the Indian sub continent had never seen . Thanks to superior artillery , a person known more for his skills as a poet had managed to conquer Delhi and start the Mughal dynasty ! . The event should have been breaking news all over the land , with kings and princes falling over themselves trying to match or better the Mughal artillery and in the process create a name for Indian artillery as a whole . Sadly , nothing of that sort happened . Indian rulers always ended up being several steps behind top of the line artillery . Even today , we are dependent on the Swedish Bofors guns and there is talk of American Howitzers and Tomahawks being inducted . The year 2026 will mark 500 glorious years of India not being up to speed in this crucial arm of any army . Which is sad , considering the pivotal role artillery has played in many a battle.

Anyways , that is the larger picture . My topic is a short talk on Maratha artillery .

Development of Maratha artillery could be said to have been started with Shivaji . Although involved mainly in guerilla warfare , Chhatrapati Shivaji understood the potency and importance of a strong artillery division . Real life experiences like the siege of Panhala , where the long – range English guns made a huge difference , shaped his opinion . Constrained as he was by a hundred things , he still went out of his way to ensure that his soldiers had access to the best weapons . Be they cannons or cannon balls . Much of this was procured from the Portuguese who had set up factories in Goa , Vasai , Daman and Diu .

Post Shivaji , with the Maratha embroiled in the war of independence with the Mughals , which was a 27 year long guerilla war , artillery and large guns were once more on the back burner . The Marathas neither had the time , nor the money and neither the desire to set up an effective artillery arm during those trying times.
Under Bajirao I , the Marathas finally began foraying into the north . Bajirao’s methods though , put more emphasis on rapid movement of his cavalry , rendering the enemy’s artillery rather ineffective . The Battle of Palkhed is a prime example of this . All this was fine as long as the Marathas were in someone  else’s territory and harassing and evading their way to victory . Bajirao managed to reach Delhi in a few days from Pune , a measure of his cavalry’s capability . In comparison , the Mughal armies in their prime under Akbar and Aurangzeb could manage only around 5 – 8 kos ( 1 kos = 2.25 km ) a day , encumbered as they were with heavy , slow moving guns .
But , as the Marathas went from being invaders to rulers , requiring to hold territory in the vast expanses of the north , artillery became all the more important . The old notions about soldiers considering life in the artillery as something inferior could not continue . Bajirao established a factory for producing cannons in the 1730s .

Even so , the Marathas lacked the expertise to build and operate the latest guns , primarily because they were a product of the industrial revolution in Europe , which the Marathas had no clue about . Still , considering that they had come into contact with British guns as early as 1660s , it is surprising that they hadn’t cracked the code to good artillery even 150 years later ! . Says a lot about both , the Europeans and Marathas . As a result , Maratha artillery divisions continued to be manned by Europeans and if not Europeans , then Arabs , Habshis etc . A Panse or Patwardhan were rare , and no match for a DeBussy or DeBoigne .
Apart from a few sporadic incidents , Marathas continued to be a cavalry – centric army right upto the late 1750s . One change happened though . The superiority of the French artillery , which they saw in action at various places , made them induct Frecnh trained artillery men like Muzzafar Khan . And after him , the famous Ibrahim Khan Gardi . Both DeBussy trained men . Udgir in 1760 marked the first time that the Marathas put up a co ordinated cavalry – artillery attack on the Nizam . The genius of Balwantrao Mehendale ensured a crushing defeat for the Nizam . Sadly , the Marathas never found the time to perfect this new method, and Mehendale died before 14th Jan 1761 . Which is why the Panipat disaster is often blamed on the lack of artillery – cavalry co ordination .

Post Panipat , Madhavrao I went about trying to rebuild the Maratha confederacy . He paid special attention to guns and cannons . A factory for making cannon balls was established at Ambegaon near Otur ( Junnar ) as  also a workshop for producing cannons was set up at Pune in 1769 . The cannon balls were 7 to 20 sher ( 1 sher = 1.25 kg ) . The cannons had colourful names like  Jaywanti , Jwalabhavani etc . They played a part in Madhavrao’s victory over Haider Ali at Seringapatnam .
But , even then , Maratha artillery still lacked both in quality and quantity . Most of the cannon balls were wrought , not cast . The sizes of neither the cannon balls nor the bore of the cannon was standardised . One can one imagine the time and effort spent in creating such custom made artillery . Cannon balls had to be hammered into shape before being put into a cannon . This was damaging to the cannon too , as smooth bore cannons lasted longer . Many cannons burst while being created  , killing the workers around them . As a result , even Madhavrao was forced to buy cannon balls from the British . The Brits , shrewd as they were , never supplied the requisite quantity ! Infact they only supplied only 10 % of what was asked for . By this time , their star was on the ascent in India , and they did not want to give their  ‘ enemy ‘ the sinews of war .
Another issue was the carriages used . They were large , cumbersome and many times overloaded with other things . As a result , a Maratha gun took more than half an hour to get ready for battle ! . Many carriages broke en route . And they never got around to using horses . Maratha guns were always drawn by a huge number of bullocks .
The death of  Peshwa Madhavrao in 1772 was a huge blow to the Marathas . Among other things , it greatly affected the artillery division too .
To the north however , Mahadji Scindia had started making rapid strides in this direction . A certain Count Benoit  DeBoigne was put in charge of the artillery . A division of 10,000 musketeers was also raised . From the late 1780s , Maratha artillery started having a telling effect on the neighbouring Rajput states . Jaipur  , Alwar , Chittor , Ajmer  etc quickly toppled . The nominal hold which Nanasaheb had over the Rajputs was further cemented by Mahadji . The Battle of Patan is a telling example of this . Sadly , Mahadji died in 1794 , leaving his job unfinished . Five years later , Nana Phadnavis passed away at Pune , bringing to an end the Nana – Mahadji combine . Sawai Madhavrao too died in the meantime . Their successors , Daulatrao Scindia and Bajirao – II were not a patch on these stalwarts . The British , with their far superior artillery , annexed whatever was left of the Marathas in 1818 .

Ref : Marathyancha itihas – vol 1,2 ,3 : BG Khare

        Military Systems of the Marathas   – SN Sen
© Aneesh Gokhale

Maratha – Rajput relations in 18th century- A complete mess

The fractured and disjointed nature of the events in this part of the country showed me the limits of a historical novel . I did not have the luxury of putting a title on top – Marathas and Rajputs – and then blazing away with all facts and figures .  Through this blog post , I will try and paint a picture of the scene that was Rajasthan in the 18th century . When the Marathas were on the ascent and the Rajputs had become truly free after serving some or the other sultanate for upwards of 800 years .

The Rajputs , after serving some or the other Mughal for ages , began life as sovereigns in about 1700 . To the north , the Mughals had fallen apart  and to the south , the Marathas were still fighting whatever Aurangzeb could throw at them . This situation prevailed till around 1712 , when the Marathas began plundering Gujarat and Malwa . The Rajputs too were free by then , and one would think they would take the opportunity with both hands . They even had Bappa Rawal , Veer Hammir and others to look up to . A Rajput invasion of Multan and Sindh was highly possible , even desirable . Sadly , that didn’t happen .
Upto the late 1730s there was no real contact between the two powers . After invading Gujarat and Malwa ,    Bajirao did not sweep into the Rajput states . Infact , he seems to have followed a policy of targeting the erstwhile Mughal provinces of Gujarat , Malwa and Hyderabad , which were still being ruled by Nawabs and Nizams . There is one fleeting case of Bajirao being called to settle a Rajput dispute . Bajirao himself , alarmed at the pasting that Nadir Shah gave Delhi , wanted to create a Rajput confederacy in 1739 . As it turned out , Nadir Shah did not venture south , and this grand plan fizzled out .
But by the late 1730s , the Marathas had come to dominate much of western , southern and central India . They were the power brokers . Everyone , including the Rajputs , wanted to ride piggy back on this new kid in town . They were expected to wade into two warring parties and solve their problems . The Marathas also took upon themselves the task of putting the whole country in order . By the mid 1740s , the Marathas and Rajputs were well and truly entangled in their politics .
They had so far maintained a hands off approach , but when they did finally take matters in their own hands , the Marathas found it to be anything but a smooth ride . I will cite two examples here , from the 1740s .. to give a rough idea of the mess that was Rajasthan back then .

Case 1 :  Jaipur

Jaipur was being ruled by Sawai Jai Singh . He promised one of his queens that her son would be the heir . But as it turned out , Madho Singh was born to her AFTER Ishwar Singh was born to another wife of Jai Singh . Incredibly , Jai Singh tried to get Madho Singh killed to settle the issue !  The king died and it came down to war between the two brothers .Madho Singh combined with his uncle Maharana Jagat Singh and  declared war on Ishwar Singh. The latter  called upon Holkar .After a couple of skirmishes ,  Holkar was of the belief that Ishwar Singh should hand over Niwai , Tonk , Toda and Malpura to Madho Singh . But the Rajput did not budge . One thing led to another and finally in 1748 the Peshwa himself arrived at Niwai to settle the issue . This time , Nanasaheb asked him to hand over Rampura , Bhanpura , Toda and Niwai to Madho Singh . It again came down to war at Bagru  , in which Holkar sided with Ishwar Singh and defeated madho singh . Shinde stayed aloof from this . ( Some sources say Surajmal was involved and that this episode is actually the beginning of the Shinde – Holkar rivalry ) . Ishwar Singh refused to hand over the four parganas as promised and the Marathas were once again left wringing their hands . His untimely death in 1750 meant that the whole of Jaipur went to Madho Singh . Holkar and Shinde supported this . Everything seemed settled at last , but Madho Singh was more interested in playing politics of vendetta . He once tried to poison Maratha sardars to death at a luncheon . In another incident , he ordered a summary massacre at a bazaar , where marathas from the nearby camp had gathered . Luckily , none of the important leaders died in either incident . After this , Madho Singh spent his time warring with the neighbouring kingdoms .

Case 2 : Jodhpur

This case in worse than Jaipur . Here the dispute was between one Ramsingh and his cousin Vijay singh  in 1752 . Both were fighting a feud that was two generations old , originating in the time of Farukh Siyar .According to their treaty with the Mughals , the Marathas were called upon to settle this problem too . Jayappa Shinde was deputed to resolve the crisis . He decided to put down Vijay Singh . Accordingly , the Marathas laid siege to Nagore , where Vijay Singh was staying . It was a straight forward battle , until one day when Jayappa Shinde got murdered while taking a bath .Now the Marathas were totally pissed off . They tightened the siege and forced Vijay Singh to give up Ajmer and Jalore forts  This case was also marred by Marathas not receiving khandani as wished .

There were other similar cases like Bundi etc during this time . All follow the same track of infighting , deceit , inability to reach a solution etc .

Further on at Panipat , the Rajputs of this era forgot all their chivalry and dharma of ages past and refused to join the Marathas . As to how was Abdali a better bet, in light of his destruction of temples etc is quite mind boggling .

In the 1780s , Mahadji Shinde tried to bring some order to this province . His artillery under DeBoigne had a telling effect . The nominal control that the Peshwa had in 1740s was tightened further by him . Alwar , Ajmer , Jaipur etc passed into Maratha hands . Mahadji’s death in 1794 put a spoke into these plans .

So there it is .. political wrangling between Marathas and rajputs – a sad chapter in indian history .

Conclusions :

1) The Marathas followed a ‘hands off ‘ policy for much of the time . They were invited in by the Rajputs . After this , there was complete lack of planning and coherence . Suffice to say , Marathas burnt their fingers in this province .

2) Does this absolve the Rajputs ? Ofcourse not . They were truly free for the first time . A Bappa Rawal at this juncture could have changed the course of history . Sadly , the Rajputs spent all the time fighting amongst themselves . and when others like the Marathas tried to resolve issues , they too were dragged into the muck . Further on , no amount of looting by Marathas could match the actions of Abdali . They forgot their chivalry and history on the eve of Panipat .

Chhatrapati Shivaji -An inspiration for many generations


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