With the Mughals hot on their trail and mounting pressure every day, the Marathas focussed on their primary goal to create a safe passage for Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj from Gingee and save him from a fate similar to his brother’s and liberate the Maratha lands from the Mughal control.
Aurangzeb was not one to let the grass grow under his feet and his wide network of spies brought him information from different quarters that helped him form his next strategy. Aurangzeb known for his obstinacy pushed forward his aggressive measures of war in preference to some kind of understanding and peace treaty.
He was determined to decimate the Marathas right down to the last woman who supported the late Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s ambitious goal of Hindavi Swarajya. His unrelenting approach and lack of understanding or accommodation for putting an end to the hostilities proved extremely costly to him in the long run.
If he had chosen the middle path and had conceded certain provisions to the Marathas and fought the war on honourable terms, perhaps, his own men would not have got tired of him and the endless battles with the Marathas.
The Marathas had learnt very difficult and painful lessons over the years and did not have any faith in Aurangzeb. They instead decided to look for the weak links in his army, men whom they could persuade and who would be willing to help them tide over this perilous time. The Marathas in the meantime under the leadership of Ramchandra Pant Amatya began to raise large armies who had perfected the art of guerrilla warfare.
They were trained to adopt a particular system of harassment, conquest and expansion to not only keep the Mughals at bay but also levy taxes over the lands of Maharashtra and Karnatak.
Zulfiqar Khan who was despatched to Gingee exerted himself to the maximum under hostile conditions. Gingee was one of the most impregnable forts that he had ever laid siege to and it did not take long for Zulfiqar Khan to understand the futility of the exercise.
The Marathas stood firm and Zulfiqar Khan tried to placate them to no avail. Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav constantly harassed his men and pressed him so hard that he had to run for cover lifting the siege. Many a time, he found himself wandering in the harsh barren lands without food or water.
During the summer of 1691, Zulfiqar Khan found himself completely surrounded and raised the siege and sought replenishment of forces and supplies in the outlying districts. At the end of 1692, Ali Mardan Khan, an accomplished Mughal officer decided to attack Santaji Ghorpade to safeguard Zulfiqar Khan.
A fierce battle was fought on 13 December 1692 in which Ali Mardan Khan was defeated and taken prisoner to Gingee. A huge ransom was paid for his release. Another Mughal officer, Ismail Khan Maka met the same fate in the hands of Dhanaji Jadhav.
Zulfiqar Khan was at his wits’ end and found himself all alone with his two valiant men Daud Khan Panni and Sarfaraz Khan also turning against him. With his back against the wall, Zulfiqar Khan appealed to Aurangzeb to send fresh troops and supplies.
Aurangzeb sent him contingents under Kam Bakhsh and Asad Khan, father of Zulfiqar Khan. However, their arrival towards the end of 1691 only complicated an already complex situation and did not remove any of Zulfiqar’s problems.
Kam Bakhsh, like his brother Muhammad Akbar was in favour of the Marathas and did not take an active interest to put them down. Zulfiqar Khan accused the young prince of collusion with the Marathas and openly placed him under arrest in December 1692.
The confusion became worse, when a false report of the death of Aurangzeb spread like wildfire. Both Asad Khan and Zulfiqar Khan abandoned their operations and retired to Wandiwash in most distressing conditions. They were in utter despair and incapable of opposing the Marathas and even protecting Kam Bakhsh.
Under such pitiful circumstances, they paid a huge sum of money to Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj and were allowed to withdraw to Wandiwash. This negotiation did not go down well with the Maratha generals who wanted to eliminate the Mughal threat once and for all. The Maratha generals who had come down to Gingee to protect their king were upset with the minister for agreeing to this deal when they could have easily held the Mughals at their discretion and demanded larger sums of money from Aurangzeb.
Kam Bakhsh, Asad Khan, Zulfiqar Khan and several high-ranking officers were given safe passage. It became evident later that there was a secret understanding between Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj and Zulfiqar Khan.
Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj knew that it was only a matter of time before Zulfiqar Khan took over Gingee and the impending death of Aurangzeb would see an inevitable war of succession among his sons. Asad Khan and Zulfiqar Khan planned to establish themselves as independent sovereigns in the Deccan with the kingdom of Golkonda and offered the kingdom of Bijapur to the Marathas.
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