Kudal, located to the south of Rajapur was governed by Lakham Sawant of the Sawants of Wadi who in the past had proved to be false to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on more than one occasion. He was a jagirdar under Bijapur and though had publicly claimed to accept Shivaji’s leadership and ambitious goal of Hindavi Swarajya, had often sided with the Adil Shahis whenever Maharaj found himself in a tight spot. As the Desai of Kudal, Lakham had recently been guilty of assisting the Surves, the chief of Shringapur against Shivaji and had also obtained gun powder and ammunition from the Dutch.
Maharaj had just conquered the territories of Ratnagiri and Thana and decided to spring an attack on the Dutch at Vengurla and the Portuguese at Kudal. In 1663, three European states namely the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English had firmly established themselves at Goa, Bassein and Chaul, Vengurla, Quilon and Cannanore and Rajapur and Bombay respectively. The French had yet to establish themselves on the west coast though they had settlements on the east. The three European states were either constantly fighting with one another or assisted one side against another in the internal disputes of the country by supplying cannon and ammunition.
Maharaj quietly captured the Portuguese districts of Mardangad and Bardez and threatened to block all land communication to Goa. The Portuguese reacted swiftly and made overtures of peace through Anant Shenvi, a sabnis of the forces under the Desai of Kudal. Though Anant Shenvi professed a friendly attitude towards Maharaj and gave all the appropriate assurances to de-escalate hostilities in public, he advised the Portuguese to send a strong force to make a surprise attack on Shivaji.
The plan suggested by him was to entrap Shivaji and his men in a midnight raid upon his camp. However, Kanhoji Tandel, the skipper of a local barque divulged the sinister plot to Maharaj. Maharaj waited patiently for the treacherous plan to unfold. Anant Shenvi led a Portuguese force of ten thousand to launch an attack on Shivaji but to his dismay, Shivaji had fallen back about a mile and had placed his men in battle formation in expectation of his midnight assailants.
The Portuguese had no other option but to open fire, which they did as they came up to the encampment. Maharaj held his forces till dawn, when his cavalry descended upon their enemies and slaughtered them. The Portuguese were decisively routed. About a thousand men barely escaped with their lives. Some had died on the battle field while some drowned in the creeks and a large number were grievously wounded.
The Portuguese were now in a state of panic and fear. Maharaj, armed with fire and sword led his troops into Bardez destroying all that was in sight. Portuguese merchants were arrested and subjected to heavy war fines. The Maratha cavalry stationed in various parts of Kudal, Banda, Sankhali, Maneri and other places extended to Bardez. The landward portions of Goa were brought under Maharaj’s dominion and it appeared that Goa would slip away from the hands of the Portuguese forever.
The Portuguese lamented over their folly and sent ambassadors for peace. They came laden with gifts, magnificent suits of apparel, twenty thousand crowns and most importantly expressed regret over their actions and apologised profusely. A treaty was drawn up which stated that the Portuguese would annually furnish new cannons, jewellery and obtain warrants for the passage of their mercantile vessels.
This sudden raid on Kudal is said to have been made on 23 May, 1663 and a Dutch letter from Vengurla dated 4 November, 1663 states that Maharaj attacked the Portuguese with four thousand horsemen and ten thousand infantry. This was followed by an attack on the Dutch at Vengurla which saw the Dutch fleeing to safety. They destroyed their houses and removed their property on steamers.
The Dutch made adequate reparations after the raid which Maharaj accepted. The Portuguese were thrilled on hearing the news of Maharaj attacking Vengurla. Lakham Sawant was forced to leave Wadi with six hundred men and stayed at the foot of Balaghat range.
Shivaji appointed Raoji Pandit as the Subedar of Kudal before heading back to Raigad. The Adil Shahis saw their power rapidly decreasing with the downfall of the Sawants and realised that it was indeed difficult to regain lost territory.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about the Conquest of Kudal is taken from archives