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The primary aim of the Marathas during this perilous period of war with Aurangzeb was to convince their Hindu brothers who had joined the Mughal service to return to their king to defend the Maharashtra dharma. Hindavi Swarajya, the ambitious goal of the late Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was designed to throw out the Muslim invaders from our Motherland and limit the activities of the foreign invaders like the Portuguese, British, French and Dutch to only trade without allowing them to grab land and set up permanent quarters.
The clarion call to establish a Maratha nation was given to one and all. The officers and generals made enticing monetary offers to their comrades (offer to pay for personal expenses and those of their troops and an annuity – half of which would be paid first) in return for their help to take over the districts of Raigad, Bijapur, Aurangabad and Bhagyanagar (Bhagnagar). The other half of the annuity would be paid after Delhi was captured.
Many offers and favours like this were made by the Marathas who were now determined to look upon this crusade as a religious war. They were angry with the religious intolerance and fanaticism of Aurangzeb and his men and saw their occupation on our Motherland as a severe and direct attack upon the Hindu dharma. The barbaric manner in which Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj met his end and the downright refusal to allow the customary funeral rites to be conducted had outraged the Marathas.
Interestingly, Aurangzeb’s armies comprised mostly of Hindus, that is, Rajputs of the Northern territories and some rebel Marathas of the South. It is unclear if these Hindus in the Mughal army opposed the destruction of temples and idols that Aurangzeb resorted to on a regular basis.
Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj began to wean away many Marathas who had accepted Mughal service. When Aurangzeb came to know of this, he offered them lands, titles and rewards as inducements to renounce the Marathas and stay in his service. The Marathas were however relentless in their pursuit and continued to press the religious motive to bring several of them back into the fold.
Rare documents of the Marathas underline the religious fervour while detailing the political transactions of the Maratha government. On 22 March 1690, Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj writes from Jinji assuring Baji Sarzarav Jedhe Deshmukh of Kari of his support, “We have enlisted on arrival in the Karnatak, forty thousand cavalry and a lac and a quarter of infantry. The local Palegars and fighting elements are fast rallying to the Maratha standard. Our raj now has a peculiar message for the people, and you, as one of them already suffer the agonies of the wrongs inflicted upon it by the Mughals. You must now put forth the sacrifice required on behalf of our religion. We have despatched Keso Trimal Pingle to Maharashtra with a treasure of a lac of Hons, guarded by an escort of forty thousand armed men with Santaji and Dhanaji at their head.
As soon as this party arrives in your part of the country, you must join it with your following with the utmost expedition, in order to overcome the common enemy. In fact, the enemy is nothing of himself: it is people like you who have raised him into that importance. If our Marathas had not joined him, he would have been nowhere. You alone possess the nerve to overcome this Aurangzeb. He has wronged you by threatening to convert you to his religion. He has already converted Netaji and Sabaji Ghatge and Janoji Raje, in addition to several Brahmans also. He also entertains further deep-rooted motives of a sinister nature against our nation, of which you must beware. The Nimbalkars and the Manes have already deserted him and his ranks are being rapidly thinned. God is helping us. We are sure to succeed.”
This inspiring letter is one of several written by Rajaram Maharaj asking his men to exert themselves for the Maratha cause. This opposition is considered to be a supreme effort to save the Maratha Motherland. The Hindu sovereignty became the sacred and cherished concern of the Marathas.
Bands of Marathas spread across vast territories from Khandesh to the south coast, Gujarat, Baglan, Gondwana and Karnatak began devastating Mughal stations, destroying their armies and plundering their supplies, animals and stock and exacting tribute.
Aurangzeb found himself helpless to deal with attacks from multiple quarters. He had only faced losses against the guerrilla warfare of the Marathas and was unable to cope with their stealth movements and assaults at unsuspecting hours.
The Marathas were used to living a hard life and had been trained to be ready to move lightly and quickly. They ate simple food, could withstand harsh weather conditions and undulating landscape. Whereas Aurangzeb’s armies had immense resources at their disposal but were lazy, slow, with a weakness for dancing women, rich food, drink and merriment and unable to fight in narrow stretches of land.
The religious sentiment infused by Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj, Maharani Yesubai, Ramchandra Pant Amatya, Santaji Ghorpade, Dhanaji Jadhav, the Maratha officers and generals turned the tide in the favour of the Marathas in the years to come and signalled the beginning of a glorious period in our history.
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
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