On the history trail: Sambhaji of Kolhapur and Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj

The brilliance of Peshwa Bajirao on the battlefield and in the Maratha Court will go down in history as the finest chapter in military stratagem and diplomacy respectively. Even his staunch critics were forced to acknowledge his astuteness and competency. This however did not deter them from intriguing with the Nizam to subdue him and depose Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj.


Things took an interesting turn after the Nizam was defeated decisively in Palkhed and the Mughals suffered embarrassing losses in Gujarat, Malwa and Bundelkhand. Bhagwantrao Amatya and Udaji Chavan started losing faith in Sambhaji of Kolhapur. Even Chandrasen Jadhav decided not to actively participate in any plot against Shahu Raje and the Peshwa.


When Sambhaji openly revolted and sought the assistance of Nizam-ul-Mulk in 1727, Shahu Raje wrote him a letter that runs thus, “This kingdom is a gift from God. How can you hope to win success by seeking the protection of a Muslim? If you wanted to have a separate kingdom of your own, you could have communicated your desire to us. We possess men of pre-eminent capacity, some of whom would have accompanied you and procured for you a kingdom of your own; or you, should have acquired one by your own prowess.


We are at present acquiring fresh territories to add to our kingdom out of those seized by the Mughals. You could have followed a similar course and made your own mark. But to ask a share out of what we have gained is not right. Your revered father, the late Rajaram Maharaj went as far as Jinji and eventually obtained a kingdom through great personal effort. He then returned to his home in Maharashtra, plundered rich and renowned cities and made a name for himself.


You must be well aware what a keen interest he took in our welfare, and what efforts he made to get us released from the imperial confinement. Knowing all this, your seeking the protection of a Muslim governor was not at all proper. You should at once quit the Mughals and come back to us.


We will ourselves grant you whatever you need most willingly. But to claim a share in a kingdom has no religious sanction. You must give up this evil course. Chandrasen Jadhav’s conduct in proving faithless to us and accepting service under a Mughal government is most reprehensible; coming as he does from the Jadhav family of Ramdev Rao of Devgiri, he openly acted; against the Maharashtra Dharma, i.e., the sacred policy enjoined by our religion. It was the height of folly on your part to have acted upon the advice of such a renegade and served the Muslim ends.”


Sadly, this remonstrance did not have the desired effect upon Sambhaji of Kolhapur. His Senapati Ranoji Ghorpade and Bhagwantrao Amatya and others openly deserted him out of sheer disgust and went over to serve Shahu Raje.


When Peshwa Bajirao and Chimaji Appa were busy in Malwa and Bundelkhand in 1729, Udaji Chavan, the only supporter of Sambhaji plundered Shahu Raje’s territories creating fresh trouble. Shahu Raje himself led his army against Udaji Chavan in early 1730.


One day, when Shahu Raje was out hunting, some men sent by Udaji Chavan tried to murder him. The plot was soon discovered and the culprits were punished. This changed Shahu Raje’s stance towards his cousin. He immediately ordered his men to march into Sambhaji’s territory.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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