On the history trail: The Battle of Umrani and the sacrifice of Senapati Prataprao Gujar

When the political intrigues in the Bijapur court had reduced the state to hopeless confusion and the Marathas continued to capture their lands, the regent Khawas Khan decided to send a large army to wrest back Panhala under the commander Abdul Karim Bahlol Khan. The news of this fresh advance reached Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who decided it would be prudent to send a force to counter him before he had proceeded far from Bijapur.

 

Bahlol Khan marched with a large force and provisions towards Panhala and besieged the fort. Prataprao Gujar and Anandrao Makaji were sent to oppose him. Prataprao decided to draw him away from Panhala without making his intention known and engaging with the Bijapur Adil Shahis.

 

He moved his men straight upon Bijapur and pillaged the lands right up to the gates of Bijapur. With Gujar at the city gates, Khawas Khan was thrown into great consternation. There was no army and able general to combat the Marathas who were inching closer. He sent word to Bahlol Khan to raise the siege of Panhala and make a hasty retreat.

 

Prataprao Gujar and Anandrao Makaji were waiting for him at Umbrani (Umrani or Umarani) about 36 miles from Bijapur. The Bijapur Adil Shahis were threatened from all sides and subjected to all the rigours of a blockade. All their provisions were cut off while the Marathas hovered around them.

 

Unable to stand the privation any longer, the Bijapur forces came out for an open action on 15 April 1673 when they were defeated hands down. Bahlol Khan acknowledging his defeat applied for an armistice. Prataprao Gujar granted him and his men a safe passage but Bahlol Khan immediately started planning a fresh offensive.

 

When Maharaj heard the full account of the Battle of Umbrani, he considered Prataprao Gujar’s generosity entirely misplaced in allowing Bahlol Khan to escape unscathed. Maharaj imparted a strong reprimand to his commander on his conduct and asked him to make appropriate reparations and bring Bahlol Khan to complete submission.

 

Prataprao Gujar was greatly anguished by the censure from his beloved king and immediately started out in pursuit of Bahlol Khan rightly guessing that Khan would come out again at him if he would set foot on the lands of Kolhapur. Meanwhile, Bahlol Khan set out towards Panhala to renew his attack.

 

Prataprao Gujar headed south plundering the rich town of Hubli and Bahlol Khan came at him with his full force resolved to grab South Konkan from Maharaj. When Prataprao Gujar heard that Bahlol Khan was joined by Sharza Khan and were marching towards Panhala, a messenger from Maharaj who was in Phonda reached him. The message ran thus – “The very person whom you have allowed to escape scot-free from the most hopeless of predicaments has turned upon us and is now devastating our lands. On what grounds could you put faith in such a man? Had he been crushed on the spot, there could have been no storm of his raising. Never come into my presence until you have extinguished the army of Bijapur.”

 

Prataprao was deeply stung by the strong words of Maharaj and was determined to make amends and win back the favour of his king. Prataprao waited for information from his spies on the exact location of Bahlol Khan and his men. He decided to discard his tried and tested methods to attack, to skirmish and tempt, advance and retire, draw the enemy into a chase and turn round and overthrow the pursuers.

 

Angry with himself over his own actions, Prataprao fell upon the Adil Shahis in the narrow pass of Nesari near Gadhinglaj, about a mile to the north of Ghataprabha River. Prataprao did not wait for the armies of Anandrao Makaji and Hansaji Mohite but instead set off with just six or seven of his bodyguards to face Bahlol Khan in a narrow passage between two hills. This reckless action of Prataprao saw all of them cut down by the thousand-odd force of Bahlol Khan.

 

On 24 February 1674, Prataprao Gujar fell fighting like a brave warrior proving how dearly he loved his king’s cause in preference to his own life. The death of their leader paralysed the army that had been left behind and their flight became a rout. Bahlol Khan pressed the pursuit with great fury until the remaining men found shelter in the fort of Panhala.

 

Hansaji Mohite, a commander with five thousand had been left far behind by Prataprao with his division. On learning the fate of those who had died along with Prataprao, he pushed forward and found his enemy dispersed carelessly unaware of his stealth approach. He fell upon them suddenly at Nesari and changed the whole aspect of the battle.

 

A heart-wrenching defeat was turned into a decisive victory and the former victors began to flee. Thousands of Bijapur Adil Shahis were overtaken and slain. The Battle of Nesari was won comprehensively by a brave commander Hansaji Mohite and Bahlol Khan headed back to Bijapur.

Maharaj extolled the marvellous bravery of Hansaji Mohite and conferred the title of Hambirrao upon him and made him Chief Military Commander. Two illustrious warriors who proved their mettle under Hansaji’s command were Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav whose sterling worth was first seen and admired by Maharaj.

 

No one mourned the death of Prataprao Gujar more than Maharaj himself, as he saw that his stinging words had so much to do with that mental anguish and excitement which had moved him to head a reckless charge and court a hero’s death in battle. Maharaj had lost one of his bravest and most devoted generals and was beside himself with grief.

 

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 Umbrani and The Battle of Nesari is taken from archives

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