On the history trail: Siege of Panhala

The resounding victory of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in The Battle of Pratapgad and death of Afzal Khan left the Bijapur kingdom weak and open to attack. Maharaj understood that this was only the beginning of a long-drawn battle as Badi Saheba and Adil Shah would retaliate soon.


He took advantage of the chaos that had enveloped the court of Bijapur by descending to Wai where he joined Netaji Palkar who had been called back from the pursuit of the armies sent by Afzal Khan against Shirval, Saswad, Pune and Konkan. He was unable to intercept Fazal Khan, son of Afzal Khan who had managed to escape with his remaining army placed at Wai with the help of Khandoji Khopade and his three hundred Mavalis.


Maharaj captured all the forts belonging to the Bijapur State in Talkonkan. Fifty to sixty forts were taken and both Talkonkan and Varghat came under his control. An impressive force of seven thousand Pāgā, eight thousand Siledars and twelve thousand militia was despatched under the command of Netaji Palkar who plundered Baleghat, Parande, Haveli of Kalyan, Kalburga, Newasa, Udgir and territories stretching up to the valley of the Godavari. Contribution was levied and lands were confiscated. The towns of Khatav, Mayani, Ashte, Masur, Karhad and Karavir were also annexed to his kingdom.


The suburbs of Aurangabad were looted and the Mughal general of Aurangabad engaged in a fierce battle with Netaji only to be killed and his horses and elephants captured. The entire Mughal territory was in a state of disarray.


Maharaj then went about meticulously implementing the traditional ideas of kingship as mentioned in ManusmritiShukra Niti and the works of Chanakya. The Council of Eight Ministers, their ancient titles of PeshwaMuzumdarSarnobatHavaldarSabnisJumledarHazariaMaratha Karbhari, FadnisChitnis and other officials along with their duties, payments and responsibilities was assiduously carved out. The rules and regulations for the property, articles, maintenance of the army when they were away on expeditions and the allocation of land to each officer was worked out in detail.


The astute planning of administrative affairs by Maharaj and the disturbance in the Mughal territories reached the ears of Aurangzeb who became very uneasy. Aurangzeb summoned his council to decide what should be done about Maharaj and how to check his progress after he had captured all the forts and strongholds of Bijapur. It was decided that Nawab Shaista Khan will lead an army of one hundred thousand to imprison Shivaji and capture his dominion.


In the meantime, Maharaj received an unexpected invitation from the officer in charge of Panhala who offered to place the fort at his disposal. Maharaj was wary of the offer made by the commander of the impregnable Panhala fort wondering if it was done so on the dictum of Bijapur.


However, the capture of this fort would be of incalculable advantage though it was imperative to ascertain the strategy and motive behind this offer. A Mavali battalion was mobilised under the leadership of Annaji Datto. Maharaj himself started with a larger force of infantry and cavalry stationing himself close to the centre of Annaji’s operations to support him in case of treachery. But there was no occasion for fighting as the commander of the fort kept his word and delivered the charge of the fort unconditionally to Annaji on 28 November, 1659.


The fort of Pavangad fell under similar circumstances while the fort of Vasantgad was captured by a sudden assault. The acquisition of these forts established Maharaj’s power on the upper courses of the Krishna. Many small hillforts lying in all directions on the Sahyadri came into his hands without striking a blow.


The forts of Rangna and Khelna required tremendous force and great sacrifice. To commemorate the extraordinary sacrifice at Khelna, Shivaji changed its name to Vishalgad. Rustam-i-Zaman, a general for Bijapur was in charge of the fertile land of Kolhapur extending up to Ratnagiri and some parts of the Canara. He offered no resistance to Shivaji and remained largely indifferent to the accession of land until he received orders from the Bijapur court to defend the district of Kolhapur. He commanded a small force of three thousand and infantry and marched towards Panhala.


There, the joint forces of Rustam and Fazal Khan were decisively routed and Rustam was driven beyond the Krishna and chased for many miles almost up to the gates of Bijapur. The death of one general and the flight of the other filled the people of Bijapur with terror.


Fazal Khan was burning with desire to avenge his father’s death and clamoured for a campaign. It was decided that he would be joined by Siddi Johar who sought the sultan’s pardon after he had declared himself independent in the province of Kurnool. The sultan promised him a pardon as well as great honours and gifts should he be successful in overthrowing Shivaji. Siddi Johar joyfully accepted these conditions and left with Fazal Khan.


Siddi Johar was given the title of Salabat Khan and led an army that was considerably larger than any that Maharaj had faced. They decided to attack Shivaji from one side while Janjira with the help of the chief of Sawant of Wadi would descend on the forts of Shivaji in the Konkan.


Siddi Johar and Fazal Khan resolved to strike the first blow at Panhala with Siddi Johar completing the siege at Panhala and Fazal Khan attacking the territory of Shivaji on the coast. In the meantime, Shaista Khan reached Pune after three months.


Shivaji put Kadtoji Gujar in charge of the defence of Panhala giving him valuable inputs regularly while Netaji Palkar was assigned to remain outside to harass the enemy and stop all supplies and reinforcements reaching the besiegers.


The siege began in May, 1660 under the command of Salabat Khan who pressed the siege with vigour and contrived to make Shivaji’s position perilous. Jija Bai at Raigad fort learned about the siege and felt extremely anxious about his safety and asked Netaji Palkar to vigorously engage Salabat Khan’s army in small skirmishes and draw them away from the fort.


Salabat Khan in the meantime had approached the English for ammunition and gunners which were given immediately. The gunnery proved to be very effective and Shivaji’s position became increasingly untenable. His cannonading never slackened for a moment and no one was permitted to emerge from or enter the fort. Watch parties were constituted to maintain vigil both day and night. Another danger in the form of Shaista Khan was marching steadily towards Shirval.


Shivaji sent his capable minister Sonopant Dabir to Shaista Khan for terms of settlement. Shaista was tempted to agree knowing the difficulty to conduct war in the inaccessible tract of the Western Ghats but Aurangzeb rejected the offer and instead sent Jashwant Sinh from Gujarat to reinforce Shaista Khan.


The siege dragged on for four months till Shivaji wrote a letter to Johar to negotiate terms. Shivaji had made ample preparations that would have sufficed had the siege gone on even for two years but being cut off from all sources of information, the inability to issue commands to his fellowmen and the powerful army at the door of the fort made Shivaji review his strategy and plan his escape.


A provisional truce was arranged and Shivaji stated that he was prepared to handover the fort under certain terms and would come to the lower slope if Siddi could ensure his safety. Siddi was overjoyed with the sudden turn of events and willingly gave his guarantee. A personal meeting with Siddi was arranged and the heavy firing was halted temporarily.


Shivaji with his bodyguard met Siddi in his camp and consented to surrender the fort. After a lengthy discussion on the articles of the treaty, Siddi adjourned the meeting and decided to resume the following morning. Siddi was jubilant at Shivaji’s submission and was ready to agree to any terms. He concluded that the war was at an end and stopped cannonading. The sentinels were asked to relax their watch and enjoy themselves.


This was exactly the opportunity that Shivaji Maharaj was waiting for. Shivaji prayed to Bhavani Devi and begged for her assistance. Bhavani Devi came in his dream and instructed him to leave for Vishalgad. At the dead of night, he slipped out with his family and about five to six thousand men and what ensued, is The Battle of Pavan Khind.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)

* Information about the Siege of Panhala is taken from archives

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