Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj managed to elude the Mughal parties stationed around Jinji and proceeded to Vishalgad. He had sent offers of peace directly to Aurangzeb which were declined. As war raged on relentlessly, Rajaram Raje reached the Maratha land and decided that a new seat of power needs to be established.
As both Raigad and Jinji were lost and Vishalgad deemed to be too inaccessible, the Fort of Satara was chosen as the new capital as it had natural defenses that made it impregnable. During the auspicious festivities of Dussehra of 1698, Rajaram Raje established his seat in Satara.
Rajaram Raje travelled across the Maratha land in the year of 1698 and 1699, instilling courage in the guardians of the forts and weary soldiers and renewed relations with local officers. It was evident that the Mughal power was on the decline. Aurangzeb was too old to control the vast lands that stretched from north to south and east to west.
The high-ranking officers had become accustomed to a luxurious life with rich food, drink and dancing girls. A sizeable chunk of the revenue was squandered in futile battles with the Marathas. Every soldier in the Mughal army was tired of war, being away from their family and home and lived in constant fear of the guerrilla warfare of the Marathas.
Aurangzeb obstinately pursued his lifelong ambition of destroying the Maratha dominion and establishing Ghazwa–e–Hind. Aurangzeb’s sons and officers were eagerly waiting for his death and looked out for their personal prospects, indulging in political intrigue.
The eventual changes that would follow on his death also brought many smaller kings and chieftains closer to the Marathas. Raja Bulund Bakht, king of Devgad had put up stiff resistance against the Mughal aggression and sent his emissaries to Rajaram Raje proposing a combined attack upon the northern lands of Aurangzeb.
Rajaram Raje deputed Nemaji Sinde along with some other chiefs to devastate Khandesh and Berar and extract chauth from these districts. In 1699, Nemaji Sinde faced off against the Mughal Governor of Thalner, Husain Ali Khan and managed to capture him after a bloody battle. He was released after a ransom of 2 lacs was paid.
This news reached Aurangzeb and angered and distressed him immensely. The reins of power were slowly slipping out of his hands and his men and family were not inclined to follow his example.
On Dussehra of 1699, Rajaram Raje set out from Satara accompanied by gallant warriors who would write their names in the history books. Khanderao Dabhade, Persoji Bhosle and Haibatrao Nimbalkar were led by Dhanaji Jadhav to march upon Surat and plunder the rich town.
Aurangzeb despatched a strong army to ward them off. Several skirmishes occurred between the two parties. During November 1699, Rajaram Raje was stopped from proceeding to the north by Zulfiqar Khan and forced to turn back. He went to Brahmapuri to raid the Mughal camp and try to take possession of young Shahu Maharaj.
A letter written by Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj to Vithoji Babar on 22 December 1699 reveals the high spirits of the Marathas, “We have arrived at Sinhagad and have launched the full force of our armies against the emperor. The Senapati Dhanaji, Nemaji Sinde, Persoji Bhosle and other leaders have led a furious attack upon the imperial camp of Brahmapuri and
captured the emperor’s own daughter along with several prominent families.
Thereafter, they fell upon a convoy of ten thousand pack animals carrying supplies to the imperial forces which were marching upon Satara. The enemy has lost all courage, and can make no effect against fort Satara. We now take no account of this powerful emperor whom, God willing, we shall soon put to rout. You must do your best in this joint effort. We are rewarding your services in an ample measure.”
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Information about Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj is taken from archives