Aurangzeb’s march to the Deccan, Sambhāji (1680-89) and Maratha Defeat by the Mughals

When Prince Akbar took shelter at the court of Sambhaji, a serious situation arose: That was the presence of Prince Akbar in the Deccan supported by three powerful states, viz., Golcunda, Bijapur and the Marathas, created a situation as a result of which at least the safety and the territorial integrity of Mughal Deccan was in danger.

To send an army, sufficiently large to fight on three fronts, meant the committing of the bulk of military resources to the Deccan. Aurangzeb had resisted this so far. Now if the bulk of the Mughal military resources were to be committed to the Deccan, who should lead the expedition? No person was to be trusted and only a prince could be sent. And what was the guarantee that that prince too would not revolt as Akbar?

So the emperor decided to head the army himself. And once the emperor decided to leave for the Deccan with the declared objective of punishing Sambhaji, Golcunda and Bijapur, it was an outright Imperialistic and Forward policy towards the Deccan. Once that policy was adopted, it had far reaching consequences not only for the Deccan, but also for the Mughal Empire.

Death of Shivaji & Rise of Sambhaji

Another important event which took place in 1680 was the death of Shivaji. After his death, when Sambhaji became the raja, on mere suspicions he started executing the Maratha Sardars and it was often with great difficulty that he succeeded in consolidating his hold over the kingdom. Sambhaji was very arrogant and vulgar. Just to annoy Aurangzeb, he also humiliated Muslim women and as such incurred the displeasure of the emperor.

Attitude of Bijapur & Golkonda

Thus now the final decision was taken and the emperor left for the Deccan. After reaching Burhanpur, Aurangzeb put a proposal before the rulers of Golcunda and Bijapur to cooperate with him in the process of punishing Sambhaji. Apparently these two powers agreed but then there was a basic contradiction in the situation:

It was that both these rulers of Golcunda and Bijapur knew that Sambhaji and the Maratha state was a buffer-state between them and the Mughals and it was due to the existence of the Maratha state that to some extent they were protected from the Mughal invasion. And they knew well that if the Maratha state ceased to exist, Golcunda and Bijapur would be exposed to the Mughal danger.

Both the rulers were convinced that the ultimate aim of the Mughals was the final annexation of the entire Deccan.

So because of the political and administrative considerations, all three tended to support each other against the Mughals. They were faced with the question of survival.

Secondly, there was also the feeling of regionalism which compelled all the three states to unite against the Mughals.

So not withstanding the declared policy of Golcunda and Bijapur, it was essential for them to see that Marathas existed as a buffer state and a whole-hearted support to the Mughals was an impossible proposition.

War with the Deccanis

After reaching Burhanpur and after assuming that the two southern states would assist him against the Marathas, Aurangzeb initially concentrated his entire force against Sambhaji. The result was that obviously the Marathas could not withstand the Mughals in the open field and withdrew. It was at this juncture that the rulers of Golcunda and Bijapur decided to support Sambhaji against the Mughals.

Due to this attitude of these states, Aurangzeb was also convinced that unless these states were finally annexed to the Mughal Empire, the Maratha menace would not be eliminated.

Now he directed his attention towards Bijapur, the strongest state in the Deccan.

A doubt has been raised by historians that it was a mistake on the part of Aurangzeb to annex Golcunda and Bijapur as these two were the surest guarantee to exercise effective check on the expansionist policy of the Marathas.

By annexing Golcunda and Bijapur Aurangzeb removed that check.

Sir Jadunath Sarkar has answered this question and is of the opinion that neither Golcunda nor Bijapur was in a position of applying check on the Marathas as both of them were not sufficiently powerful to do so.

Attitude of Sambhaji

On his part Sambhaji adopted a very rash policy towards his nobles and also towards the Mughals. In January 1682, he plundered the suburbs of Burhanpur and escaped with immense booty.

Khan-i Jahan Kokaltash tried to intercept him but failed. It was widely believed that it was Khan-i Jahan Kokaltash that had been bribed by the Maratha leader.

In March 1682 Aurangzeb reached Burhanpur. For about one year Aurangzeb was not following a very clear-cut and vigorous policy. He was the prisoner of indecision and suspected every noble and his sons and had not yet recovered from the rebellion of Prince Akbar.

Prince Akbar was staying at the court of Sambhaji along with Durgadas Rathore and was persuading Sambhaji to provide him sufficient resources, men and material both, to organize a rebellion in the North while Aurangzeb was staying in the south.

Obviously this demand of Prince Akbar could not be fulfilled as Sambhaji was not prepared to take the risk of exposing the Maratha army to Mughal onslaughts in the north. Akbar thus got disappointed and fled to Persia.

After a year or so, Aurangzeb started a grand offensive against the the Marathas.

The Mughal Offensive

Shah Alam, the eldest son of the emperor was deputed: he occupied the western coast, plundered a number of towns and captured a few strongholds of the Marathas. But then in this campaign, Shah Alam incurred the hostility of the Portuguese as a result of which his army had to face famine conditions. Supplies could not be sent by sea as the Portuguese were hostile. Thus he withdrew from Konkan and came to Ahmadnagar.

Aurangzeb made repeated attempts to persuade Bijapuris to cooperate in his struggle against Sambhaji. There is direct evidence to suggest that they contrarily assisted the Marathas.

Thus Aurangzeb had to despatch two armies, one against Bijapur, and one against Golcunda so that no reinforcements may reach the Marathas through them.

While all this was happening in the Deccan (1684-88), Sambhaji instead of helping the states of Golcunda and Bijapur, as would have been the case had Shivaji been alive, spent his time in merriment and even neglected the state affairs.

Kailash and Sambhaji: Reaction of Shirkes

The entire power during this time was concentrated in the hands of Sambhaji’s advisor, Kailash. Due to this the Shirke family, which was the leading Maratha family in the Deccan, revolted against him. Kailash shut himself up in the fort. Sambhaji came out with his forces and defeated the Shirke family. About 20 leading Marathas who were suspected to be sympathisers of the Shirkes were executed.

After this affair ended, Sambhaji sent his army towards Raigadh and himself went to Sangeswar, a place near Ratnagiri which was thought to be a safe haven from Mughal incursions as it was surrounded by jungles, broken land and high mountains. At this place Kailash had constructed pleasure gardens and palaces for Sambhaji who thus spent his time in pleasure.

Qazi Nizam and Attack on Sambhaji

In the meanwhile, Qazi Nizam, who was given the title Muqarrab Khan by Aurangzeb, and who was originally an official of Qutb Shah of Golcunda and who had joined the Mughals during the siege of Golcunda and was now enjoying a mansab of 6000/6000, being familiar with the geographical details of the region, had been ordered by Aurangzeb to besiege the fort of Khelna. On the way to Khelna, he got the intelligence that Sambhaji was staying at Sangeswar accompanied by only a handful of guards. With 2000 picked cavalry, Muqarrab Khan made a dash for Sangeswar.

The route was so difficult due to high mountains and forests that his army had to undergo untold hardships. But as a contemporary historian remarked that in spite all difficulties, he reached the place with ‘the speed of lightening’ and covered 90 miles in two days!

Spies of Sambhaji brought the news that a Mughal army was advancing, but Sambhaji shrugged it off as an imagination of the spies and ordered their tongues to be cut off. Within two days, along with a band of 300 soldiers, Muqarrab Khan fell upon the Marathas: the rest of the Mughal army had been left far behind as they could not keep pace with them.

During the ensuing battle both Sambhaji and Kavi Kailash were captured and throughout the Deccan this news of the arrest of the two spread like wild fire.

Death of Sambhaji

Both the arrested Marathas were dressed as buffoons and paraded at the fort of Bahadurgarh and presented before Aurangzeb who held a full durbar for the occasion.

When Aurangzeb saw the two presented before him dressed as buffoons, he came down from the thrown and offered two rak’ats of nafil-i shukrana the thanksgiving prayers for such a victory. Kailash addressed Sambhaji that even Aurangzeb could not sit on the throne in his presence!

A section of the nobility at the court was in favour of purchasing the friendship of Sambhaji and persuading him to ally himself firmly with the Mughals and favoured offering him that his life could be spared if he peacefully handed over all the forts to the Mughals and appoint Mughal officers in them.

Ruhullah Khan also offered that he be in return awarded a mansab in return for his capitulation. But Sambhaji, being extremely bitter due to the humiliation suffered abused the emperor in return.

His tongue was cut off and both he and his minister were executed. Thus end came to Sambhaji in 1689.

Zenith & Decline

Thus by 1689 Aurangzeb was now the undisputed master of the entire subcontinent: in 1686 Golcunda, in 1687 Bijapur and now in 1689 Sambhaji. The year 1689 was the crowning year as far as Aurangzeb was concerned. Apparently it appeared that every barrier had been crossed, no king was left to be deposed or arrested, no capital to be captured and no regular army to be defeated!

Asad Khan, the wazir, told him that all the three objects had been achieved by 1689 and the imperial prestige had been vindicated. Aurangzeb was now adviced by him to go north and leave the work of consolidation to the nobles. Aurangzeb rejected the offer on the grounds that his officers were lazy and will not assert themselves in the process of consolidation and decided to take up the job himself.

In reality the year 1689 was not the year when everything had been gained. Perhaps it was the year when intrinsically the process of the beginning of the end started!


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A history buff interested to unravel the past as it was!

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