The cat and mouse game continued between Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Aurangzeb with the former keeping the latter on his toes with raids on his territory at an alarming regularity. It started with a surprise entry into the Deccan controlled by the Mughals. Maharaj made quick work of Junnar, Ahmednagar and Parenda advancing quickly as far as Aurangabad in 1670.
The arrival of Maharaj and his troops in the Mughal dominion was looked upon with great fear by the residents of Surat who still had nightmares when he attacked the rich port city in 1664. The English thinking that Maharaj will attack Surat called for a small force from Bombay for their protection. But, Maharaj went ahead and plundered Chandwad only and defeated a small army of the Mughals at Tal Konkan.
The Mughals gathered themselves and waited near Junnar with an intention to attack Kalyan and Bhiwandi and other Konkan areas of Maharaj. Maharaj was not one to allow the grass to grow under his feet and instead took Lohagad and other forts often travelling in the heavy rains. He advanced upon Mahuli and took it by June 1670. By taking the forts that were on the way to Surat, Maharaj ensured himself and his army a safe passage home after his surprise attack on the city.
People in Surat had become terrified on hearing that Maharaj was moving about with a large army and money had become scarce in the city. But Maharaj was waiting to hear from his spies in Surat before making the decisive move. In the beginning of October 1670, his spies reported that the Governor of Surat had died a month ago and a new governor had been placed with about three hundred men to protect the city.
Maharaj commanded an army of about fifteen thousand horsemen and excellent commanders like Moropant Peshwa, Nilopant, Dattajipant, Dhanajipant and Bal Prabhu Chitnis and others. He suddenly appeared at the gates of Surat on 3 October 1670 through Kolwan. There was a mud wall around the city which Maharaj got around with ease. The town was subjected to plunder and fire for three full days with half the town reduced to ashes. The Europeans cleverly removed their valuable goods and treasure several miles to the harbour of Swally beyond Maharaj’s reach.
The first day was Diwali and the merchants had taken out their valuable property which was confiscated by the Marathas. The English and Dutch were left to their devices with the former consenting to give him a small tribute of cloth, sword blades and knives. The French were on good terms with Maharaj and paid him a token amount.
On receiving the news of Maharaj’s invasion of Surat, the Governor of Aurangabad despatched a force of eight to ten thousand men under two commanders namely Mohabat Khan and Daud Khan. On the third day, Maharaj learned that a large army was marching from Burhanpur to intercept him. He left a letter for the citizens on the third day to pay him a yearly tribute of twelve lakhs of rupees if they desired to be left alone and declared his intention to pillage them if they failed to pay.
The plunder consisted of gold, silver, jewels, rubies, diamonds, etc. valued at around 5 crores of rupees. The plunder was put into purses and placed on horses of half the cavalry men. Maharaj decided to return to Raigad through Salher and Mulher.
As Maharaj made his way swiftly along the great road of Salheri, he passed Kanchan-Manchan near Chandwad where he found his path barred by the redoubtable Daud Khan who had been informed correctly of Maharaj’s movements.
While contemplating on his next move, Maharaj and his army were suddenly attacked on the night of 16 October 1670 between Vani and Dindori with great fury and determination. Maharaj wished to save his men and the booty and decided to divide his force into four parties with each one led by one of his brilliant commanders. They decided to harass the Mughals in their typical guerrilla fashion avoiding open conflict as far as possible and sending a message that Maharaj was going to make a sudden attack on Aurangabad.
One of the divisions began to skirmish with Mughals posted in the front while two others tried to manoeuvre their way on their flanks. A smaller fifth party with the treasure with Maharaj leading the way managed to slip away through a secret pass while the other divisions engaged the Mughals.
There was a hot pursuit by the Mughals led by Daud Khan and a fierce battle ensued somewhere between Vani and Dindori that proved to be most tenacious and costly on account of the determined onslaught by the Mughals under Ikhlas Khan, Baqui Khan and Daud Khan himself.
Maharaj rallied his forces admirably and personally led the Marathas in an open battle with his able men successfully resisting the attack of the Mughals. The skilful manoeuvring of the Marathas coupled with simultaneous attacks delivered on different sides of their divisions led to a bloody battle.
Prataprao Sarnobat defended the rear of the Maratha formation while Shivaji descended upon the united Mughal armies fighting and exhorting his men in every part of the field, conspicuous with his burnished arms and spirited horse wielding a sword in either hand. The Marathas took their cue from their inspirational leader and charged on the Mughals breaking their formation and routing them decisively. This is the famous battle of Vani – Dindori which lasted for more than six hours.
Three thousand Mughals and a few Marathas were killed. Four thousand horses were captured by the Marathas along with a number of officers and soldiers. Maharaj chose not to chase the fleeing Mughals and instead turned his attention to their encampment which yielded an abundance of spoil, horses, elephants and ammunition.
As the Marathas left with their booty, they found themselves facing Rai Bagan who had now come forward to defend the Mughal cause. However, she was overpowered quickly and allowed to go.
As a result of this battle, the Mughal power in the Deccan was largely neutralized with the Mughal Governor of Dindori offering his services to Maharaj a month later. For several years after Maharaj plundered Surat, the town continued to live in a state of panic with false alarms of the Marathas making their way every now and then thereby effectively destroying the trade of the richest port of India and prized possession of Aurangzeb.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Second Sack of Surat is taken from archives