The news of the desecration and demolition of the sacrosanct shrine of Shree Kashi Vishwanath at Benares on 4 September 1669 spread like wildfire and caused extreme consternation throughout the country. The construction of a mosque on its site only added fuel to the growing anger against Aurangzeb’s fanaticism to please the Mahomedan orthodoxy. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj decided to avenge the wrong and retaliate strongly for injuring the sentiments of Hindus and insulting the ancient heritage of Benares and India.
At the beginning of 1670, he formulated a plan to make precise raids into the Mughal territories taking full advantage of the growing chaos in their administration of the Deccan. He first decided to take back all the forts that he had surrendered in the Treaty of Purandar effected by Mirza Raja, Jai Singh. In early January 1670, the Marathas plundered Berar and collected a tidy sum of twenty-five lakhs. Similar raids were carried out in the region of Ausa.
Maharaj considered Kondana Fort as the most important and difficult to breach which is why Jai Singh had insisted on that to be the first to be handed over by Maharaj personally. The battle of Kondana and the sacrifice of Tanaji Malusare is as inspiring as it is heart wrenching. After Sinhgad was captured, Suryaji Malusare led the Mavalis to Purandar Fort which was also escaladed by a night attack. The garrison was cut to pieces swiftly and the Maratha flag was unfurled. The Rajput garrison offered little resistance after hearing about the fierce battle at Sinhgad.
Next, Moropant Peshwa was assigned the important task of capturing Mahuli Fort. He decided to surround the fort and launched a surprise assault. A bloody battle ensued in which thousand Marathas lost their lives. Moropant decided to fall back and continued the siege while the garrison within the fort redoubled their efforts to hold out.
Moropant waited for a few days and led another sudden attack. This time also, he was forced to fall back. The Peshwa continued the blockade without the least sign of irresolution, while the defenders were relying heavily on a relief force from Junnar and maintained the defensive with a dogged determination. This went on for two months with neither party giving an inch.
The defenders began to slowly lose faith in the ability of their commanders to effect their rescue and finally surrendered the fort to the Peshwa. The Karnala Fort which was of strategic importance as it looked over Bhor Ghat was captured in a well-thought-out plan. The whole district of Kalyan was recovered before the commencement of the monsoon.
Forts of Lohagad, Rohida and Shivneri were captured by June 1670 by Maharaj’s storming parties without much resistance. After a second successful raid of the rich port city of Surat from 3 October to 5 October 1670 and the decisive victory over Daud Khan and the Mughal army at Vani – Dindori, Maharaj set his eyes on Khandesh. In early December, Prataprao Gujar leading a strong force of ten thousand horse and Moropant Peshwa in command of twenty thousand foot soldiers made a surprise raid into Khandesh. Advancing rapidly, Prataprao plundered Bahadurpura village that is a mere two miles from Burhanpur, the capital of Khandesh.
He did not come any closer to the city because Jaswant Singh who had been posted there had warned the Marathas from entering into his territory. As he passed into Berar, he fell upon the rich and flourishing city of Karinja. Over the next three days, Prataprao and his men looted the city at leisure. The treasures buried by wealthy citizens in their houses were dug up.
Four thousand oxen and donkeys were loaded with the booty consisting of fine cloth, silver and gold valued at about a crore of rupees. All the rich men were carried off for a ransom with only one managing to escape in the guise of a woman.
The other towns of Nandurbar and Ausa also yielded enormous sums of money. This rich province had never been looted and so the affluent families were flush with money, gold, silver, precious stones, diamonds, rubies and other valuables. The Marathas took written promises from the affrighted people to pay them one-fourth of the revenue in the future. Maharaj on his side was to ensure their protection from incursions by any other power. This was the first imposition of the famous chauth on a province that was under Mughal rule.
Khan-i-Zaman, the Governor of Berar did not show any interest to intercept the Marathas and instead chose to make a long stop at Deogarh. Daud Khan, the Governor of Khandesh was also absent from the province.
On hearing that the Marathas had made steady inroads into Khandesh, Daud Khan hurried back towards Burhanpur. When he arrived near the pass of Fardapur, he heard from his spies that the Marathas were returning from Berar and had turned away from Burhanpur taking the road to Baglana. Daud Khan decided to give chase and swerved west from Fardapur to enter Baglana.
While Prataprao was sacking Karinja, Moropant Peshwa and his force has been busy looting West Khandesh and Baglana. Moropant’s victorious infantry moved swiftly from town to town and fort to fort. He captured the forts of Aundha, Patta, Trimbak and Ramnagar. The two forces on hearing the Mughal army approaching united in the Salher region. They plundered the village under the hill fort of Mulher and laid siege to Salher.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is taken from archives