On the history trail: Tanaji Malusare and The Battle of Kondana

Young Sambhaji lived in Aurangabad after the peace agreement was drawn up between Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Aurangzeb by Muhammad Mu’azzam under the guardianship of Senapati Prataprao Gujar and Niraji Raoji. They formed a close friendship with Muhammad Mu’azzam and Jai Singh I, all sharing the pleasures of hunting and amusements of living in the wild. This phase of Mughal – Maratha fraternity was not well received by General Diler Khan who reported these alarming developments to Aurangzeb.


Diler Khan expressed his disgust and warned Aurangzeb that his son was planning to depose him with the help of the Marathas. Aurangzeb then issued urgent and explicit orders to Muhammad Mu’azzam to arrest Prataprao Gujar and Niraji Raoji and take possession of their horses and cavalry.


Muhammad Mu’azzam who was always on the lookout to conspire against his father and on friendly terms with Maharaj clandestinely intimated to Senapati Prataprao to leave Aurangabad before the imperial order was issued. Prataprao Gujar returned to Raigad on December 1668.


Aurangzeb was constantly plotting to inveigle Shivaji into his clutches but found that every opportunity to do so slipped away from him. Aurangzeb passed the controversial order on 9 April 1669 that gave his men the right to demolish all schools and temples of Hindus and to use any means necessary to put down their religious teachings and practices. The invaders organized a massive attack on Hindus whom they called as ‘infidels’ in all their dominions. Aurangzeb who was known for his religious intolerance and penchant for persecuting Hindus demanded periodical reports of the actual results. This order excluded Hindus from holding public offices and organizing fairs, festivals and religious ceremonies and imposed a fine on them for their religious affinity.


The horrific desecration of the sacred shrine of Shree Kashi Vishwanath at Benares on 4 September 1669 and the construction of a mosque on its site greatly angered Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and signalled that the peace between the Mughals and the Marathas was at an end. Maharaj did not fail to remonstrate strongly and publicly against the mistaken policy of the invader. The sacrosanct Keshav Rai Temple at Mathura suffered a similar fate.


Aurangzeb hated the very name of Lord Krishna and the prevailing worship of the Lord at Mathura so much so that he changed its name to Islamabad. Ahmedabad and Ujjain were also dealt with in the same manner. An order to enforce Islam across all regions of the Mughals was issued. The festivals of Diwali and Holi were ruthlessly suppressed. The provinces of Assam, Bengal, Orissa and Rajputana suffered the same fate. Aurangzeb had already callously destroyed the ancient temple of Amer in 1680 and had been guilty of slaughtering a cow at the Chintamani Parshvanath Temple at Ahmedabad and converting it into a mosque. He confiscated all the Hindu religious grants in Gujarat.


Aurangzeb’s condemnable religious policy did not soften with age or experience. His outburst of fanaticism designed to dazzle Mahomedan orthodoxy was looked upon as an abomination by devout Hindus who were affronted by the mindless destruction of the ancient temple at Benares.


Maharaj did not find any reason to maintain either diplomatic or peace relations with the invaders any more. The demolishment of several revered Hindu temples and the forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam meant that Maharaj would once again take up arms against the Mughals.


The Portuguese had already been at the receiving end of Shivaji’s wrath for engineering religious oppression through fanaticism. The Governor of Goa on 30 November 1667 had passed an order to expel inhabitants who did not belong to the Roman Catholic faith and had commanded four padres to massacre Hindus to achieve this goal. Shivaji in his invasion of Bardez had caught hold of these padres and executed them for their heartless acts. The Governor sensing that he might meet the same fate quickly cancelled his order.


Maharaj began his campaign to drive out the Mughals from the forts of Kondana and Purandar which controlled the district of Poona. Kondana was looked upon as the capital of the western region and a key in the hands of those who governed it. It was said that he who possessed Kondana was the master of Poona.


Shivaji himself thought that Kondana was impregnable and wondered how to recapture the fort which was held by a valiant Mughal commander Uday Bhan Rathod. His mother, Jijabai was deeply anguished at the destruction of Shree Kashi Vishwanath Temple and egged him on to teach the Mughals a befitting lesson. She asked him to retake Kondana by any means possible. She insisted on playing a game of dice with him with the recapture of the fort as the wager. Jijabai demanded that if Shivaji lost the game, then he must obey the rules of the game and send an army to capture Kondana and should he refuse, then Jijabai would curse him and his capital.


Shivaji feared his mother’s curse but also believed that an attack on the fort would plunge him into deadly war with Aurangzeb. Shivaji was well aware of the strengths of the fort. The fort was not vulnerable to artillery, there was no room where guns could be brought into position for bombardment and all the sides were steep. A narrow path on one of them led to the main gate for communication with the outside world. The only option was for the soldiers to scale the walls by means of rope ladders and stealthily walk in to the fort and open the main gates for the rest of the army to storm in.


As Shivaji was contemplating on the best way to achieve this, Jijabai called in Tanaji Malusare and his brother Suryaji and asked them to prepare for this attack. Jijabai told him to drive away the Mughals as the sight of them pained her. Tanaji assured her that he would soon capture it on a dark night.


On the night of 4 February 1670, Tanaji approached the fort with his brother and 300 Mavalis. The perpendicular basalt rock on which the fort is built was held together with a strong rampart. However, a small stretch of rock is not quite perpendicular owing to a water fissure. Tanaji used a ghorpad (iguana) which stuck itself firmly to the rock to mount the fort. A rope was fastened to its tail and two Mavalis escaladed the rock and the wall.


They reached the top of the wall and let down a rope ladder. Tanaji and 300 Mavalis got on to the wall. Meanwhile, Suryaji remained concealed near the main gate. Tanaji and his men opened the gates after killing a few sentries who came out to oppose him. The sentinels realised the incursion and raised an alarm. Uday Bhan rushed at the Marathas with his soldiers. A terrible hand-to-hand combat ensued in the light of torches and 500 Rajputs lay dead. Tanaji and Uday Bhan killed each other in a duel. The remaining Mavalis were planning their escape when Suryaji came up the rope ladder with more Mavalis.


Suryaji led the attack and emerged victorious. The fort was taken and the Rajputs and Mughals who had hidden themselves were taken prisoners while those who attempted to escape by jumping over the wall were killed.


A thatched horse shed was set fire to as signal and Shivaji and Jijabai who were watching Kondana from Raigad were intensely happy that the fort had been taken. Their joy changed quickly to grief on hearing that Tanaji had lost his life while securing the fort. Shivaji famously lamented over the death of his dear comrade, “garh aala pan singh gela (a fort is taken but a lion is lost forever”.


Kondana was renamed as Sinhgad (Singhagad) in honour of Tanaji Malusare. A bust of the courageous Maratha is placed at Sinhgad Fort.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


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

* Information about The Battle of Kondana is taken from archives

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