The Mughal Empire which was at its peak during the times of Akbar was making inroads into Southern India during the reign of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb. At the same time the five Deccan Sultanates of Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar and Berar located in South-Western India ruled over most of the lands that later came under the Maratha Empire. There was a constant struggle for supremacy among the Deccan Sultanates which resulted in frequent outbreak of wars. It is at this time that from among the ranks of the Marathas rose a great Hindu king who halted the massive Mughal juggernaut as well as ended the supremacy of the Sultanates of Deccan to establish the grand Maratha Empire. He was none other than Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
A Kshatriya or warrior’s life revolves around war and every king prided himself on having impregnable forts. Shivaji Maharaj recognised the importance of forts early in his career and hence captured & restored several forts as well as ensured their proper maintenance during his reign. At the time of his death he had around 370 forts under his command.
We will journey through five of the most important forts among the several that Chhatrapati Shivaji had under his control. These forts stand testimony to the various significant events that paved the way for the creation and subsequent dominance of the Maratha Empire in Western and Southern India.
Shivaji Maharaj belonged to the Bhonsale clan, one of the most powerful Maratha clans of that time. Shivaji’s father, Shahaji Raje Bhonsale was a jagirdar serving the Adilshahis. His mother Jijabai was the daughter of Lakhojirao Jadhav. Our journey begins at the Shivneri fort located in Junnar, Pune district. The Fort gets its name from the patron Goddess of the fort Shivai Devi. During those days due to the constant warfare between the Deccan Sultanates the threat of war loomed large on the horizon. Hence when Jijabai was pregnant with Shivaji, Shahaji thought it best to leave her at the well guarded and highly defensible Shivneri Fort while he stayed back at Karnataka with their elder son Sambhaji.
It was here that Shivaji was born on 19th February 1630. Jijabai named him after the Goddess Shivai Devi whose temple is located within the fort premises.
Shivba, as he came to be known among family and friends, spent his childhood days in this fort. It was here that he learnt the skills necessary to become a warrior form his tutor and Shahaji’s trusted friend Dadoji Konddeo. He received his religious training from Jijabai who taught him Hindu scriptures and thus laid the foundation for Shivaji’s lifelong devotion to the Hindu cause.
It had been Shahaji’s dream to set up a Hindu kingdom after the decline of the Nizamshahi Sultanate. But the joint forces of Mughals and Adilshahis put an abrupt end to his vision during one of the battles and he was forced to move further South. This unfinished task was later taken up by Shivaji when he took the ‘Hindavi Swarajya Oath’ at Fort Temple of Lord Raireshwar in 1645 when he was just 17 years old.
Shivaji Maharaj honed his military skills at the hills and area surrounding the Shivneri Fort. He put together his band of soldiers and developed guerrilla warfare tactics that helped him greatly during his future conquests.
The Shivneri Fort was commissioned by Shahaji Raje and he ordered the construction of seven gates before the main entrance of the fort. The hill boundary wall and steep rocks on all four sides made this fort highly defensible.
12 kilometres South-West of Pune lies the king of forts ‘Rajgad’. Its history dates back to 1490 AD when it was brought under the control of Ahmad Nizamshah. It is located on Murumbadevi Dongar- the hill of Goddess Murumba. During the reign of Nizamshah it was called Murumbdev Fort after the patron deity. Shivaji Maharaj took control of the fort in 1647 AD. He ordered the construction of new fortifications and several other additional structures as well as renamed the fort as Rajgad in the year 1654.
This fort is divided into four parts- three outposts known as machee and the central part where the main fortification lies which is called Ballekilla, the upper part. The outposts are called Suvela, Sanjeevani and Padmavati machee (meaning lower part). Suvela lies to the South-East of the fort and was a perfect hideout for sainiks or guards due to its numerous secret doorways and paths. On the opposite side lies the three stepped fortified Sanjeevani machee. The Padmavati machee is located close to the Padmavati lake and houses a temple of a Goddess by the same name. It is here that the Samadhi of Shivaji Maharaj’s first wife Saibai is located. The highest point in the fort is the Ballekilla that contains water tanks, caves and palaces.
This fort played a significant role not only in Shivaji Maharaj’s military life but also his personal one. The citadel witnessed several epic battles as well as personal moments of joy and sorrow. It was here that his son Rajaram from his second wife Soyrabai was born. It was also the place where his Queen Saibai breathed her last.
It is said that Afzal Khan’s head was buried on the walls of Mahadarwaja of Ballekilla. Rajgad is also historical because it was here that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj spent the maximum number of days. In addition it also served as the capital of the Maratha Empire for more than two decades up to 1670 when the capital was shifted to Raigad Fort.
30 kilometres to the South west of Pune, atop an isolated cliff on the Buleshwar range of the Sahyadri mountains, stands the mighty fort of Sinhagad. Earlier known as the Kondhana Fort, after sage Kaundiya in whose honour the Kaundineshwar Temple has been constructed within the fort premises, it was renamed as Sinhagad to honour the sacrifice of Tanaji Malusare, one of Shivaji Maharaj’s foremost military commander. It was a fort of great significance also due to its ideal location; at the centre of a series of other forts such as Torna, Purandar and Rajgad among others.
Of the several battles fought here, Sinhagad is remembered for the epic battle of March 1670 which was launched by the Marathas, under the command of Tanaji Malusare, to recapture the fort from Mirza Raja Jaisingh’s fort-keeper Udhaybhan Rathod. The first offensive that was launched in 1670 by Shivaji Maharaj to regain his territories surrendered to the Mughals under the ‘Treaty of Purandar’ was the Sinhagad campaign.
The battle itself seems to be a scene straight out of movies. Udhaybhan had 5000 soldiers under his command and only the steepest part of the fort was left unguarded because they thought no one would risk climbing the steep cliff. Tanaji, of course, had other plans and unique ones at that. After a fierce battle, in which both Tanaji and Udhaybhan were killed, the Marathas were able to take control of the fort. Tanaji’s sacrifice prompted Shivaji Maharaj to remark ‘Gad aala pan sinha gela’ (we got the fort but lost the lion). A bust of Tanaji Malusare has been erected at Sinhagad to honour his bravery.
Time has taken its toll on this splendid fortress but the ruins are as impressive as the legends it is associated with. The historic gates, a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali, erstwhile military stables, are some of the structures one can view here. It is a favourite with picnickers and trekkers. The fort is also used for training the National Defence Academy Cadets.
If Torna was the first fort captured by Shivaji Maharaj, Purandar was the first one where he exhibited his renowned military prowess. In the year 1646 at the young age of 19, Shivaji Raje fought valiantly to bring the fort, which was once part of his grandfather’s jagir, under his control. This battle was the launch pad for the establishment of the great Maratha Empire that was to subsequently found. Purandar features prominently time and again in the Shivaji’s struggle against the Mughals and Bijapur sultanate.
The earliest known records of this fort dates back to the 11th century when the fort was under the administration of the Yadavas. Much like the other forts of the region, it passed through several rulers including the Persians, Bijapur, Ahmadnagar and Berar sultanates. Bahadur Shah of Ahmadnagar gave the fort along with the jagirs of Pune and Supa to Maloji Bhonsale, Shivaji’s grandfather.
Purandar is well-known for the Mughal siege, led by Mirza Raja Jai Singh, in the year 1665. Despite the brave efforts of the fort-keeper Murarbaji Deshpande to fend off the Mughal attack, Jai Singh showed little sign of relenting. Deshpande lost his life in an effort to keep possession of the fort. Left with no option Shivaji Maharaj had to sign the Treaty of Purandar on 11th June 1665. Through this treaty Shivaji Raje lost possession of some of his important forts including Sinhagad, Rudramal, Tikona, Lohagad and several others. Consequently Shivaji was left with just 12 forts and an area worth 1 lakh huns in revenue. Just five years later in 1670 Shivaji Maharaj was successful in recapturing all the forts within a short span of four months in a major military offensive. In 1818 the fort passed into the hands of the British who used it to house German prisoners of war during the Second World war.
Purandar is divided into two citadels- the stronger and more significant one is known as Purandar and its smaller counterpart is called Rudramal or Vajragad. The Ballekilla of Purandar is surrounded by sheer rock faces on all four sides while its machee houses the cantonment area of the fort. Rudramal is located on an escarpment that extends from the eastern end of the main fort.
At the peak of the hill lies the ancient Kedareshwar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. A temple dedicated to the fort’s patron deity Purandeshwar and a statue of Murarbaji Deshpande are located at the machee.
If Rajgad served as Shivaji Maharaj’s base during the initial years of his reign, then Raigad was the fort which saw the transformation of Shivaji from Maharaj to Chhatrapati, king to Emperor.
This is an ancient fort, some records indicate that the fort was constructed as early as 1030 AD and was part of both the Vijayanagar as well as Bahamani kingdoms. The Nizamshahis captured the fort in 1479. From the end of the Nizamshahi rule in 1636 until 1648, Raigad came under the administration of Chandrarao More. Formerly known as the Rairi Fort, Shivaji Maharaj captured the fort from More. In 1662 he took the important step of making Raigad the administrative headquarters of the Hindavi Swarajya movement. Subsequently, in the year 1670 Raigad was made the capital of the Maratha Empire.
It was here that the ‘Rajyabhishek’, coronation of Shivaji Maharaj took place in the year 1674. Six years after his coronation, on 3rd April 1680, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj breathed his last at the Raigad fort, thus bringing down the curtains on the life of one of the most formidable foes of the Mughal Empire. He left behind a Maratha Empire that covered almost all of Western and Southern India.
Located in Raigad district of Maharashtra, at this fort one can see the remains of the erstwhile palace, cisterns, watch towers, market place and an execution point in the fort today. Since the palace was constructed using wood, much of the structure has fallen into ruins but from what remains it is not hard to imagine how glorious the structure must have been during its heydays. The Takmak Tok or the execution point is a cliff from which convicts were hurled to their death as punishment. Other structures within the fort premises include the queen’s quarters, public durbars, Shivaji Maharaj’s Samadhi and that of his pet dog Waghya, Ganga Sagar Lake, the Jagdishwar temple and a statue of Shivaji Maharaj at the spot where his coronation was conducted among others. In addition to these structures, one can view ancient weapons and artefacts used for both offense and defence purposes.
Legends leave their footprints on the sands of time through their actions and in case of visionaries like Shivaji Raje through their constructions as well. The forts stand testimony to the might of the Maratha empire and the talent of their architects to construct world class monuments. They afford us a rare glimpse into the lives of warriors.
Several features set apart Chhatrapati Shivaji’s fort from his predecessors, contemporaries as well as successors. The design of each fort conformed to the topography of the place thus making it impregnable. He ensured that the forts were not monotonous in their design and the sites were selected carefully so as to provide maximum leverage to the Marathas. Double line of fortifications and Sanskritization of the names in keeping with his policy of founding a Hindu Empire were the other features that made his forts stand out. Most of the more than 350 forts that have survived in Maharashtra today, are directly or indirectly associated with Chhatrapati Shivaji Raje Bhonsale.