The shift of the Maratha power to Gingee created serious problems for Aurangzeb. It would be difficult for his men to receive information on what was happening within the four walls of Gingee. He decided to act quickly to put down the rising Maratha power.
He left his camp of Koregaon on 18 December 1689 and set up base in Bijapur. After a few months stay, he moved further south and camped on the Krishna River at Galagali. He spent three years here keeping an eagle eye on the affairs of Bijapur.
As Aurangzeb was no longer in the undivided state of Maharashtra, the Marathas slowly began to make advances. Aurangzeb quickly moved in 1695 to Brahmapuri on the south bank of the Bhima not far from Pandharpur. This place was renamed Islampuri. Aurangzeb stayed here for over four years from May 1695 to October 1699.
By the end of these four years, Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj was given safe passage to Maharashtra and the fort of Gingee fell in the hands of the Mughals. The Marathas by then had been successful in strengthening the defences of their western forts making them practically impregnable.
Aurangzeb took the fatal decision of personally marching against them and reducing these forts to rubble. His officers and soldiers had become weary and their dreary life had made them dispirited and lazy. They urged Aurangzeb to return to Delhi so that they could visit their family after 17 years. They pleaded with him to come to an understanding with the Marathas.
However, Aurangzeb had become quite mad by that time with his unhealthy obsession with the Marathas and particularly the miraculous escape of the late Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Aurangzeb was bitterly disappointed with his men and grew more distrustful of his officers. He undertook arduous campaigns to besiege the hill forts of Satara and others.
He managed to capture Satara in 1700 and encamped at Khavaspur on the river Manganga in the rainy season. This proved to be disastrous as his whole camp was washed away by unexpected night floods. The cries of help woke him from his sleep and while running out in the dark, slipped and became lame for the rest of his life.
During the next three years, he set up his monsoon camp at Pune and surrounding places. He captured Sinhagad in 1703 and then encamped at Pune which he renamed Muhiyabad. However, none of the forts captured by him stayed in his hand for long and the Marathas recaptured all the forts by 1705.
The misery and anger of the soldiers went on increasing as did their hardships. Many a time, Aurangzeb and his troops had to trudge through knee-deep mud and turbulent waters, dragging heavy guns, baggage and ammunition to hills and ramparts that were thousands of feet high. Conducting such intensive warfare in foreign land for a quarter of a century had demoralized the troops.
The obstinacy of Aurangzeb proved to be extremely costly as this essentially made the Mughals paupers and several rich provinces like Bengal which were funding this great ambition of Aurangzeb began to rebel against this stupidity.
As expected, the continuous war took its toll on the mighty Mughal army and their entire administration broke down. Rebellions became a common thing and his attention was required in every part of Akhanda Bharat that he had invaded.
He moved south again into the Raichur Doab to take on the Berads of Wakinkheda and Surapur in a massive struggle that graphically describes the rudderless leadership, utter decline and weakness of the Mughal state.
Finally, Aurangzeb returned north in despair and shed his mortal coil on 3 March 1707. By the end of his tyrannical reign, Aurangzeb who had waged war with the Marathas for twenty-five years and had only pyrrhic victories to his credit undid all that his ancestors particularly Akbar and Shah Jahan had achieved.
A life wasted because of remarkable idiocy, arrogance, fanaticism, radicalism, incompetence and overwhelming greed.
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