On the history trail: Muhammad Akbar rebels against Aurangzeb and seeks refuge in Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj

The year of 1679 saw Aurangzeb begin a full-fledged war against the princes of Rajputana. Though, the Rajputs had always sworn allegiance to the Mughals since the time of Babur, Aurangzeb wished to stamp his authority on this rich region and annex it to the Mughal empire.


Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was quick to denounce this vicious attack on the Rajputs by Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s son Muhammad Akbar had been in charge of monitoring and carrying out operations against the Rajputs. Though Aurangzeb was closely watching the movements, Akbar struggled against the Rajput combination.


The wanton war proved to be disastrous for Aurangzeb and spread like a wild contagion uniting all the states of Rajputana against a common enemy. Akbar spent an entire year conducting operations in a harsh landscape. After realising the futility of this war, he entered into peace talks with the Rajputs and proposed to Aurangzeb to end the war.


He met Veer Durgadas Rathore and agreed on terms that would maintain the honour of both parties. Durgadas on his part, made pathetic appeals to Akbar’s generosity, “Why is the emperor so unkind to us? We are his loyal servants and shall continue so if we are left in peace and in subordinate alliance to the emperor, following the policy of the great Akbar. But if relentless war is inflicted upon us, we shall never yield so long as the last drop of Rajput blood remains in our veins.”


It was clear to Akbar that the Rajputs would fight till the very end and impressed upon his father to conclude the war. But Aurangzeb was uninterested and rebuked Akbar for undermining him and the Mughal army and sign a peace treaty with infidels that went against his radical Islamic beliefs.


Akbar was severely wounded by the remarks of Aurangzeb and impelled by Durgadas and his valiant men, openly revolted against his father and proclaimed himself emperor just about the time that Sambhaji had crowned himself as Chhatrapati in Raigad in early 1681.


Aurangzeb was now facing a dangerous threat not only from his own son but from the united Rajputs and possibly the mighty Marathas. Information through his spies on the movements of the Rajputs coming closer to Aurangzeb’s dominion reached him and the wily Muslim invader sought a way out of probable imprisonment by his own son. A strange turn of events considering that he had imprisoned his own father and taken control of the Mughals.


In his usual cunning way, Aurangzeb managed to extricate himself from a delicate situation inflicting a defeat upon his enemies. Akbar and Durgadas had to flee for their lives to the south and took shelter with Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj as they found their exit paths blocked.


They managed to elude the pursuing armies and crossed the Narmada on 9 May 1681. Akbar frantically wrote to Sambhaji Raje, “Since his coming to the throne, my father the emperor Aurangzeb has formed the deliberate resolution of putting down the Hindus. This is the sole cause of his war against the Rajputs. While in the eyes of God all men are His equal children and deserve impartial protection from their ruler, I became convinced that by such extreme measures, my father would lose his hold on the country and decided to oppose him in this disastrous move. I am, therefore, coming to you as a friend, as your kingdom is out of the emperor’s reach. The valiant Durgadas Rathore accompanies me. Please do not entertain any false suspicions about my intentions. If by the grace of God, I succeed in my endeavour to depose my father, I shall remain only the nominal master and shall let you exercise all the power. We shall fully cooperate in putting down the emperor. More when meet in person.”


Akbar wrote again on 20 May, “Most probably my letter has not reached you, otherwise you would have sent me a reply. It is proper you should not fail in sending letters to me. What more except the desire of meeting you?”


More letters followed by Akbar’s Diwan with Akbar himself journeying through Khandesh and Baglan via Nashik and Trimbak into North Konkan. Akbar arrived at Pali on 1 June 1681 and was met by Sambhaji Raje’s men.


As this whole event had created much furore within the Maratha ranks, there was not much time to make the necessary arrangements to accommodate Akbar. The western monsoon had just made its usual appearance and a small improvised hut thatched with hay with mud walls plastered in cow dung and covered in white cloth became the palatial quarters for the son of Aurangzeb.


Sambhaji Raje for his part tried his best to welcome him with rations, money, jewels and sent Netaji Palkar and Hiroji Farzand to take care of him. Hiroji returned to Raigad to report on the circumstances that had brought Akbar to the Marathas.


Though they both had a common endeavour, trust issues as well as the monsoons played havoc and an important alliance to finally overthrow Aurangzeb with the help of the Rajputs was indefinitely delayed giving Aurangzeb time to regroup and strategize.


The four rainy months proved to be costly and the first meeting between Sambhaji Raje and Akbar took place on 13 November 1681. It is unfortunate that though they both tried to help each other for six long years, their efforts did not reap any benefits.


A letter written to Raja Ram Singh of Amber by both Sambhaji Raje and Kavi Kalash reveals a grand project to dethrone Aurangzeb with the help of Akbar and Durgadas. It was proposed that Sambhaji would lead his army through Gujarat and meet Ram Singh and attack Delhi when Aurangzeb was housed in Aurangabad.


Sambhaji wrote thus, “We cannot endure any longer the persecution that this wicked emperor is inflicting upon the Hindu race and religion, and are prepared to sacrifice everything, our treasure, our land, our forts and even our lives, in an attempt to put him down. With this resolve we have for these two years entertained at our court our honoured guests Akbar and Durgadas, and have waged a ceaseless strife upon Aurangzeb. We have put to death many a brave captain of his, captured several, released some, either after exacting heavy ransoms or out of compassion. Many effected their escape by offering bribes. The moment has now arrived when the emperor himself can be captured and made prisoner, so that we can carry out our religious functions without molestation. If you muster courage and cooperate with us, what is there to prevent success crowning our endeavours? You well remember how your own son, the young Kishan Singh was treacherously put to death by the emperor. You are only to follow in the footsteps of your father, the revered Mirza Raja Jai Singh, who helped Aurangzeb in acquiring for him the throne of Delhi as against his elder brother Dara Shikoh.”


In another letter dated 22 May 1682, Sambhaji Raje writes to Raja Ram Singh, “Aurangzeb’s treatment of the Hindus had become manifest and is known to you. As for instance, in the affair of Kumar Kishan Singh, though it happened owing to his youthfulness, yet it too was a sign of bigotry on the part of Alamgir which he displays to that community in every way. Therefore, out of my regard for the hereditary servants of our house, who have generation after generation been treated with kindness by our august dynasty, I exalt and cherish you by conferring on you the title of Mirza Raja and the mansab and cash reward of your father and on your son Bishan Singh that mansab which you held when you were a Kumar.”


Though the plan proposed by Akbar who styled himself as the emperor and Sambhaji, a Chhatrapati on his own right was sound, it required the genius of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to see it to its logical end.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


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

* Information about Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj is taken from archives

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