On the history trail: Aurangzeb fails to capture key Maratha forts (Siege of Ramsej)

Though it is indeed difficult to comprehend how and why the largely Hindu Rajput kings swore allegiance to the Muslim invaders from the time of Babur, power and wealth since time immemorial have been dangerous temptations that have successfully enticed many to swerve from their rightful duty to their Motherland. Such was the case with the Datia – Orchha State.


During Akbar’s tyrannical reign over Akhanda Bharat, Raja Bir Singh Deo (also pronounced as Vir Singh Deo) was the ruler of Orchha State. Akbar had captured Orchha from the then sitting king Madhukar Shah and made it a tributary state. The growing rift with his son Jahangir who blamed the Vizier (Wazir) Abul Fazl of poisoning Akbar’s mind against him made Raja Bir Singh and Jahangir allies.


Jahangir felt that Abul Fazl stood between him and the throne and decided to seek help from Raja Bir Singh Deo who was favourable towards him. Abul Fazl was supposed to pass through Datia and took up the hospitality offered by Raja Bir Singh Deo. However, things turned unpleasant quickly and Raja Bir Singh beheaded Abul Fazl and sent his head to Jahangir. Tormented and anguished over the death of his confidante, Akbar sent an army to capture Raja Bir Singh who joined hands with Jahangir officially and quelled the challenge.


Jahangir and Raja Bir Singh had their share of anxious moments after their outrageous act when Jahangir was imprisoned by his own general and was rescued by one of Raja Bir Singh’s sons. Jahangir finally ascended the throne and made Raja Bir Singh Deo, the ruler of Orchha State. The Datia – Orchha State remained loyal to the Mughals and their kings became their most trusted generals.


For more than a year after his arrival in the Deccan, Aurangzeb did not accomplish anything notable in spite of his immense resources. The unexpected rebellion of his most beloved son Muhammad Akbar had totally shaken his faith in his family. He did not know whom to trust and where he would be safe. This domestic and mental crisis did not bode well for his policy in the Deccan.


Aurangzeb was deeply suspicious of everyone including his own generals and trusted aides. His approach wavered from contradictory to hesitating to capricious to watchful. Through his spies he gathered that Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj and Akbar would work their way to the north through North Konkan and Gujarat.


After pondering over the matter for quite some time, he despatched Shihab-ud-din Khan with Datia – Orchha State king Rao Dalpat Bundela to take possession of some of the Maratha forts near Nashik. The strategy was to capture these key forts and block the path of his rebel son and Sambhaji Raje.


In April 1682, Shihab-ud-din Khan laid siege to the fort of Ramsej, seven miles north of Nashik. The Maratha killedar fought gallantly using his own cunning, the ample ammunition stocked up in the fort and the sheer will of the Maratha soldiers. They received supplies from nearby forts and were able to keep up the resistance for many months.


They lit haystacks, threw huge stones and even managed to make wooden cannons to strike the advancing Mughal army. This only frustrated Aurangzeb who then came up with the idea of using heavy artillery to break the fort walls in the evening.


However, much to their astonishment, the Marathas worked furiously all night and rebuilt the entire broken section of the wall. Aurangzeb then constructed a wooden platform to storm the fort. But the killedar was quick to respond and instructed the Marathas to use the ammunition in the newly built wooden cannons to attack the Mughals.


The Marathas were relentless in their attack and finally, Aurangzeb turned to Bahadur Khan Kokaltash to capture the fort. Bahadur Khan was a wily general and decided to use 200 of his best men to enter the fort from the rear side by climbing the steep cliff while retaining the rest of the army in the front.


The Marathas were aware of the plan and allowed the 200 soldiers to climb the rope. Once they had grabbed hold of the rope and were making their way up to the fort, the killedar cut the rope and the Mughal soldiers fell to their death.


Bahadur Shah was distraught over the loss of his best men and became outraged on knowing that the Marathas were getting supplies from the nearby forts. He began to slowly block these paths creating a dire shortage in the fort.


Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj was keeping a close eye on the happenings and sent his capable generals Rupaji Bhosale and Manaji More with supplies and reinforcements. A great battle ensued in Ganeshgaon.


Though the Marathas were initially unsuccessful in breaking the Mughal line and suffered some losses, they did not lose hope and instead waited for the opportune moment to strike again. The Mughals thought that the Marathas had retreated in fright and did not take the necessary precautions to secure the fort and surrounding areas.


This gave the Marathas the opportunity to pass on the supplies to the fort. With renewed vigour and ample supplies on hand, the Marathas held on bravely to the fort. Bahadur Khan became more and more dejected and finally, fell into a nicely laid trap of the Marathas. His entire army was wiped out and those who remained scrambled to safety.


Bahadur Khan was forced to lift the siege and run for his life. Shihab-ud-din Khan retired from Ramsej while Dalpat Bundela was wounded with a stone. Aurangzeb threw his pagri on the floor and swore never to put it on again till he had driven the Marathas out of “his country”.


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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