Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was in for a big disappointment. His aunt Maharani Tarabai did not acknowledge him as the rightful heir to the throne as she felt that the kingdom which was once ruled by his late father Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj had been lost to her late husband Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj and his son, young Shivaji who had been crowned a few years back.
This was what Aurangzeb and the Mughals had hoped would happen – a civil war between the followers of young Shahu and Maharani Tarabai that would create a vertical split among the mighty Marathas, thus, weakening them considerably.
Shahu Raje halted at Ahmednagar for three long months preparing for the next course of action and a possible battle with his aunt. He was very particular to secure the goodwill of the local Muslim government officials to avert any clashes in the future. He learnt in October 1707 that Maharani Tarabai’s forces were marching against him.
He moved southwards and halted at Khed where he was confronted by a powerful army lined up on the opposite side of the Bhima River. Shahu Raje did not possess any chief or general who could lead his men in battle while the army on the opposite bank comprised of war veterans and seasoned soldiers capable of adopting different strategies as the situation demanded.
This army was led by Dhanaji Jadhav and Parshuram Pant Pratinidhi whose formidable reputation on the battlefield had left the Mughals in jitters and tears on countless occasions. Shahu Raje was quick to sum up the situation and felt diplomacy was the best recourse.
He relied on Chitnis Khando Ballal, Balaji Vishwanath Bhat and Naro Ram who were close to Dhanaji Jadhav to effect a peaceful transfer of power. Besides these three, there were several others who had confirmed the identity of Shahu Raje as the true heir of the Marathas.
Through his shrewd agents, he managed to meet Dhanaji secretly and succeeded in winning him over. Dhanaji pledged his support and agreed to a sham battle wherein he would desert to his side when the moment was right.
The battle took place the following day on the plain of Khed on the north bank of the Bhima, in which Shahu Raje led the troops with confidence. Parshuram Pant Pratinidhi fought valiantly but soon fled for cover after being deserted by Senapati Dhanaji Jadhav.
Thus, Shahu Raje won the day and encamping on the battlefield, greeted Dhanaji and conferred upon him the honours of Senapati and upon Khando Ballal the office of the Chitnis. This whole event revealed Maharani Tarabai’s true position.
The Maratha nation stood solidly behind Shahu Raje and rejoiced his victory against their former ruler who in her own right had been an extraordinary leader but could not claim ownership of the throne as her son was known to incompetent and incapable of managing the complex affairs of the state.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives