On the history trail: Fort of Panhala retaken by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj

Though there were constant skirmishes between Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the Mughals, the former’s relationship with Bijapur was relatively peaceful. His power was acknowledged by all the southern states. The chief minister of Bijapur, Abdul Muhammad paid chauth to Maharaj to prevent him from plundering Bijapur. Even Qutub Shah of Golkonda was in awe of him and paid tribute as did the Portuguese and Siddi of Janjira.


Aurangzeb was at his wit’s end and called for a combined attack on Maharaj. This was put into effect when Ali Adil Shah died on 24 November 1672. There was a mad scramble for power among the officials and ministers of the Bijapur state. Maharaj watched in silence as Sikandar about 5 years old was made the king though the actual power wrested in the hands of Khawas Khan. Khawas Khan was indifferent to the obligations of the treaty and gradually tried to suppress his peers with his arrogance and high-handedness. All those in the Bijapur court who were favourable towards Maharaj were ousted and the peace that reigned was to be disturbed.


This led to groupism within the durbar and subsequent factions with each of them wanting to be on the good side of Maharaj. Maharaj saw that the increasing dissensions and distractions that had overtaken the Bijapur court as an excellent opportunity to begin a fresh campaign. The inimical attitude of Khawas Khan towards Maharaj and resumed hostilities led the latter to recall his vakil Babaji Naik Punde from Bijapur.


The Adil Shahi commander, Abdul Karim Bahlol Khan had enlisted the support of the Mughals and was preparing for a united attack on Maharaj. Maharaj was engaged in consolidating his possessions from north to south along the Sahyadri and was very careful in holding on to forts and posts that were of strategic and political importance.


The fort of Panhala like the Sinhagad Fort was coveted by him to secure the southern region. The fort had remained with the Adil Shahis since 22 September 1660 with a strong garrison in place to defend it. Maharaj sensing a chance to win Panhala amidst the confusion in the Bijapur court concerted measures for its recovery.


A great army of valiant Marathas was assembled at Rajapur with Maharaj handing over charge of this mission to Annaji Datto. Annaji obtained the services of a resourceful worker Kondaji Ravlekar and decided on a sudden attack upon Panhala on a dark night, nearly adopting the same plan of Tanaji Malusare at Sinhagad.


Kondaji scouted the fort and managed to obtain a secret entrance into the fort in disguise and seduced the garrison (bribery). After three days, Annaji advanced from Rajapur taking with him rope ladders, iguanas and iron nails. They observed the fort that was atop a perpendicular rock in the dark.


On the night of 6 March 1673, the Maratha General secretly scaled the walls with sixty select men by means of human and rope ladders. They stealthily reached the top of the wall and suddenly sounded the war drums.


This created the necessary confusion, for the guardsmen who were roused from their sleep were unable to understand what was happening. Kondaji’s men opened the gates and Annaji’s gallant army stormed in sabring all in their path.


They went straight to the residence of the keeper of the fort, Babu Khan and killed him before he could oppose them. Nagoji Pandit, Babu Khan’s second in command and in charge of the defence guards placed at night fled to safety.


The fort fell quickly into the hands of the Marathas with none to lead the garrison. A vast amount of wealth that was buried was recovered after threatening the remaining soldiers with dire consequences. Maharaj received the news of his victorious army at Raigad and immediately headed to Panhala for making permanent arrangements for its defence.


Maharaj arrived after three days on 9 March 1673 with his ministers. He was most pleased to find the fort well provisioned and well-armed with cannons and ammunition. He stayed here for a month overseeing the defence of the fort.


Satara and Parali forts belonging to the Bijapur state fell in quick succession. Parali Fort was handed over by Maharaj to Samarth Ramdas (Sant Ramdas) for his shrine and renamed Sajjangad – Fort of the Pious.


In conclusion, the greatest legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to his nation is not the territory and treasures he acquired but the example of service and sacrifice which he infused into the Marathas for them to achieve Hindavi Swarajya.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


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

* Information about Panhala Retaken is taken from archives

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