Maratha Empire is one of the most famous empires of India and when we think of this Empire, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is the first person, who comes to our mind. As we ponder deeper, our mindspace fills with the unparalleled achievement of Peshwa Bajirao, Prime Minister of the said empire. Further, the story of Maratha empire can never be complete without mentioning the empire’s resurrection under the generalship of Mahadji Shinde (Scindia) – famously known as The Great Maratha. Dear Readers, It is beyond doubt that the foresightedness of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the war strategies of Peshwa Bajirao and the rejuvenescent leadership of Mahadji Shinde were instrumental in shaping Maratha empire at different periods of time. However, the history of this Marshal Race of India will be incomplete without the mention of a twenty seven year old long-drawn battle fought by Marathas with Mughals.
After the untimely death of Shivaji in 1680, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb embarked on his mission to capture the Deccan Plateau, which was ruled by Marathas and Bahamani Sultanates. The magnitude of this campaign of Mughals can be judged by the fact that they shifted their capital from Delhi (Dilli) to Aurangabad in Deccan. Emperor Aurangzeb was one of the best strategists of his time and was well aware that he was entering an alien land. Also, the Deccan’s topography was not suited to the Mughal way of warfare. Mughals forces had fought most of their wars on the plains of North India and Afghanistan whereas the land of Deccan was made up of mountains and deep jungles. Further, Mughal forces were about to encounter a warrior clan that was an expert in mountain warfare. It was the topography of land, along with superior war strategies of Marathas that became a decisive factor in the twenty seven year old Mughal-Maratha War.
Soon after establishing his empire, Maratha Emperor – Shivaji had predicted that,”One day Khasa (medieval greeting) Aurangzeb will come to Deccan to fight with us but I’m confident that each fort of ours will stand the Mughal tyranny for at least one year. This means, it will take more 350 years for Aurangzeb to win Deccan.”
The time to justify Shivaji’s beliefs on his men had come. Aurangzeb was all set to conquer Deccan Plateau but Marathas were ready to defend their land, sea and forts with innovative war strategies. Their strategy to defend their Forts was simple yet effective – Marathas resisted the onslaught of Mughal forces on every fort for a prolonged period. Once, the fort ran out of food, without awaiting any reinforcement from any quarters, Marathas used to surrender their fort. The Maratha surrender was in lieu of huge Mughal money. Mughals would then occupy the fort, refill the food and ammunition stores and would make the fort battle-ready. The Marathas would then use the money, received from Mughals to raise a small army. Suddenly, this army of 300-400 Marathas would climb the fort at night, launch a surprise attack and eventually recapture the fort. Aurangzeb and Mughals forces had no answer to this Maratha strategy.
The most salient feature of this lesser know war was: Maratha empire was without a real king for most part of this war. In 1689, Maratha emperor – Chhatrapati Sambhaji (Shivaji’s elder son) was ambushed by Mughals at a place called Sangameshwar in Konkan and was later killed in captivity. Shivaji’s younger son – Rajaram then assumed the throne but he was forced to shift his capital from Raigad (in Maharashtra) to Ginjee (in Tamil Nadu). Although, Rajaram was away from the action on the Maratha land, he was successful in unifying the war efforts of his soldiers. The destiny was not kind to the Marathas though. In 1700, Chhatrapati Rajaram died and Marathas were once again leaderless. It was the brave widow of Rajaram, Queen Tarabai , who provided a strong leadership and held the kingdom together at this crucial juncture. She ensured that Marathas did not surrender any of their assets to Mughals without a prolonged fight.
Mughals also had their share of victory in their Deccan campaign. They were successful in uprooting Adil Shahi and Qutub Shahi – Deccan Sultanates that ruled Deccan since 15th and 16th Century AD respectively.
Also, after torturing and killing Maratha Emperor Sambhaji, Aurangzeb believed that he had eliminate Marathas permanently. However, contrary to Aurangzeb’s belief, Marathas had become a stronger force post Sambhaji’s brutal death at the hands of Mughals. Knights of Maratha empire, who were divided on political lines during Sambhaji’s rule, forgot their internal feuds and stood firmly behind their new emperor – Chhatrapati Rajaram.
Finally, the ambition of Aurangzeb to rule Deccan was buried in 1707 along with the mortal remains of the Mughal Emperor on the land of Shivaji Maharaj.
Mughal-Maratha Wars not only drained the Mughal treasury but also inserted a sense of self belief within the Maratha warriors. It was during this long-drawn war, Marathas had started believing that they can challenge the mighty Mughal empire on the face of the earth. This belief became a reality in 18th Century, when the eagle of Maratha empire, under the leadership of Peshwa Bajirao spread its wings from Attock (in present day Pakistan) to Cuttack (in South India). The dominance of Mughal Empire in India thus ended with Aurangzeb’s death.