With the tragic death of Shree Dharamveer Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, Aurangzeb’s lifelong dream of capturing the Deccan was fulfilled. The whole territory from the Narmada to the Tungabhadra lay at his feet. However, the savagery of the desert barbarian Aurangzeb hardened the hearts of the Marathas and impelled them to protect their own and their Motherland and avenge the death of their great king.
Rajaram, the younger son of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who had been crowned as king on the demise of his father had been confined in the fort, whose commander, under the advice of the war veteran Yesaji Kank released him and proclaimed him king on 9 February 1689, a week after Sambhaji Raje had been captured.
Aurangzeb was unimpressed with this show of strength and decided to destroy the remaining Marathas. Prahlad Niraji, Manaji More and others, loyalists of the late Shivaji Raje who had been imprisoned by Sambhaji Raje were set free and given the honour due to them.
Aurangzeb immediately despatched his trusted commander Zulfiqar Khan, son of Aurangzeb’s long-standing minister Asad Khan to besiege Raigad and capture both the famed fort and the new king. Zulfiqar Khan arrived before the fort on 25 March 1689 and executed the orders of his king.
Though Raigad was deemed to be impregnable, it was considered foolhardy to think that they would be able to resist the assault of the Mughals for long. The residents of the fort were dismayed by the fresh onslaught of the Mughals and consulted with the intelligent and graceful Maharani Yesubai, the widow of Sambhaji Raje.
She rallied the troops with her words of wisdom, patriotism and courage, “Raigad is doubtless a strong fort and can hold out long; but it is hazardous that we should all remain confined in this one small spot. In order to distract the emperor’s attention, I should advise you that Rajaram with his wives and followers should clear out before the siege becomes too stringent. I can stay here with my little son Shahu and defend the capital, fearlessly awaiting the result. Our principal commanders should carry on their usual harassing operations in all directions against the Mughal forces, and convince them that the death of their King has made no difference in our resistance.”
This selfless act of Maharani touched the hearts of the Marathas and they all took oaths to remain faithful to Shahu as their Chhatrapati and carry on the fight in his name till their Motherland was liberated from the mlechchhas.
As per the advice of Maharani, Rajaram Raje quietly slipped out of Raigad on 5 April 1689 and made his way to Pratapgad. His wives and trusted men went to Vishalgad and Rangana. Ramchandra Pant Amatya, Prahlad Niraji, Shankarji Malhar Sachiv and others decided to attack the Mughal territory from different places.
Using an elaborate network of spies, they managed to gather the Mughal movements. Meanwhile, Aurangzeb wasn’t one to allow the grass to grow under his feet and used this time to capture the strategic forts of Salher, Trimbak, Rajgad, Rohida, Torna and Mahuli.
When news arrived that Matabar Khan, the shrewd Mughal general in charge of North Konkan for over 15 years had been supplying valuable resources to the various Mughal camps from his base at Kalyan, Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav made terrifying campaigns against the Mughals and routed several Mughal detachments.
Zulfiqar Khan was denied important and timely reinforcements for his operations against Raigad. Rajaram Raje had stationed himself at Pratapgad and the extraordinary valour of Santaji Ghorpade and Vithoji Chavan struck fear in the heart of Aurangzeb.
He had not expected the Marathas to retaliate and terrorize the Mughals in such a clinical manner. In fact, the two made their way with a few select men on a dark night through torrents of rain to Aurangzeb’s camp at Koregaon. They fell upon his own royal tent and cut down the supporting ropes and the huge cloth edifice came down in a crash, killing the inmates, including, as was as first supposed, Aurangzeb himself.
They carried away the sets of large gold pinnacles at the top of the tent and other valuables and presented them to Rajaram Raje at Pratapgad. However, it was discovered that Aurangzeb had spent the night at his daughter’s tent and thus, escaped death.
A Mughal force came to Pratapgad and Rajaram Raje had to leave in a hurry and take up residence at Panhala. Shaikh Nizam, the captor of Sambhaji Raje rushed to Panhala but was completely decimated and ran for his life. Thus, Rajaram Raje escaped the fate of his late brother, Sambhaji Raje.
Santaji Ghorpade fell upon Zulfiqar Khan’s besieging army and brought away five elephants and a sizeable amount of valuable plunder. The three Ghorpade brothers namely Santaji, Bahirji and Maloji were rewarded by Rajaram Raje with their respective titles of Mamulkar Madar, Hindurao and Amirulumrao by which their descendants are still distinguished in the Deccan.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj is taken from archives