Military Wiki
Maratha-Mughal war
DateSeptember 1681 – May 1707
LocationPresent-day states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu.

Maratha victory

(Permanent end to Mughal expansion in Deccan/Peninsular India)
Maratha dominion over Deccan. Establish tributaries around Western Ghats.
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg The Marathas Flag of the Mughal Empire.svg Mughal Empire
Commanders and leaders
Maharani Tarabai
Azam Shah
Husain Ali Khan
Bahadur Shah
150,000 troops[1] 500,000 troops[1]

The Deccan Wars, also called the Mughal–Maratha Wars or the War of 27 years, was fought between the The Marathas and the Mughal Empire from 1680 to 1707. It is the longest recorded military engagement in the history of India.[citation needed] The Deccan Wars started in 1680 with the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s invasion of the Maratha enclave in Bijapur established by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Despite the Mughal army's vast numerical superiority, the empire's treasury, and the support of allies like the Siddhis, the Portuguese, the Golkonda and the Bijapur sultanates, the war ended in 1707 with a victory for the Marathas.[2][3][4] On his side, Aurangzeb commanded an army numbering half a million soldiers (which was more than three times that of the Maratha army), a powerful artillery, a cavalry of several thousands and thousands of elephants.[2]


A depiction of Shivaji in Aurangzeb's court.

Shivaji at the age of 19 inherited his family's wealth and land and rose to the status of chieftain operating from the western ghats near Pune. Shivaji's father Shahji had served as an officer in the kingdom of Bijapur that Shivaji now claimed as Maratha land. He attacked Bijapur which was ruled by the Adil Shahi dynasty. Shivaji initiated his attack first by capturing the fort of Torangarh and then eventually constructed a series of forts all over the Deccan region. Shivaji also began raiding trading establishments of the Europeans which enraged emperor Aurangzeb. A Mughal army under the command of Raja Jai Singh was sent to assist Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur. Shivaji lost to Raja Jai Singh and surrendered all his forts and sent his son Sambhaji to serve as hostages of his loyalty. Sambhaji made his escape with the help of Shivaji at Agra and then started launching fresh attacks against the Mughals.[5] By the time of Shivaji's death, The Marathas controlled much of the Deccan, either directly or through alliances with other kingdoms such as the Bijapur Sultanate and the Hyderabad Sultanate. Soon after his death, the Mughal Emperor (Badshah) Aurangzeb decided to personally lead his army against the Marathas to regain influence over the Deccan resulting in the Deccan wars.

The war can be broken down into three distinct phases :

1) Marathas under Sambhaji (1681–1689) : Concluding with the fall of Raigad Fort and the execution of Sambhaji.

2) Marathas under Rajaram (1689–1699) : Concluding with the fall of Jinji and the death of Rajaram.

3) Victory of Marathas under Tarabai (1699–1707) : Concluding with victory of the Maratha Empire under Tarabai and the death of Aurangzeb.

Marathas under Sambhaji (1681-1689)

Sambhaji led the Marathas for the first nine years of the Deccan Wars.

In the first half of 1681, many Mughal contingents were dispatched to lay siege to Maratha forts in present day Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. Sambhaji provided shelter to the emperor's rebel son Sultan Muhammad Akbar, which angered Aurangzeb.[6] In September 1681, after settling his dispute with the royal house of Mewar, Aurangzeb began his journey to Deccan to kill the relatively young Maratha Empire. He arrived at Aurangabad, the Mughal headquarters in the Deccan and made it his capital.[7] Mughal contingents in the region numbered about 500,000.[1][8] It was a disproportionate war in all senses. By the end of 1681, the Mughal forces had laid siege to Fort Ramsej. But the Marathas did not succumb to this onslaught. The attack was well received and it took the Mughals seven years to take the fort.[9] In December 1681, Sambhaji attacked Janjira, but his first attempt failed. At the same time one of the Aurangzeb’s generals, Husain Ali Khan, attacked Northern Konkan. Sambhaji left janjira and attacked Husain Ali Khan and pushed him back to Ahmednagar. Aurangzeb tried to sign a deal with the Portuguese to allow trade ships to harbour in Goa. This would have allowed him to open another supply route to Deccan via the sea. This news reached Sambhaji. He attacked the Portuguese territories and forced them back to the Goan coast. But the viceroy of Alvor was able to defend the Portuguese headquarters. By this time the huge Mughal army had started gathering on the borders of Deccan. It was clear that southern India was headed for a large, sustained conflict.[9]

In late 1683, Aurangzeb moved to Ahmednagar. He divided his forces in two and put his two princes, Shah Alam and Azam Shah, in charge of each division. Shah Alam was to attack South Konkan via the Karnataka border while Azam Shah would attack Khandesh and northern Maratha territory. Using a pincer strategy, these two divisions planned to encircle Marathas from the south and north to isolate them. The beginning went quite well. Shah Alam crossed the Krishna river and entered Belgaum. From there he entered Goa and started marching north via Konkan.[9] As he pushed further,he was continuously harassed by Marathas forces. They ransacked his supply chains and reduced his forces to starvation. Finally Aurangzeb sent Ruhulla Khan to his rescue and brought him back to Ahmednagar. The first pincer attempt failed.[9]

After the 1684 monsoon, Aurangzeb’s other general Shahbuddin Khan directly attacked the Maratha capital, Raigad. Maratha commanders successfully defended Raigad. Aurangzeb sent Khan Jehan to help, but Hambirao Mohite, commander-in-chief of the Maratha army, defeated him in a fierce battle at Patadi.[9] The second division of the Maratha army attacked Shahbuddin Khan at Pachad, inflicting heavy losses on the Mughal army.[9]

In early 1685, Shah Alam attacked south again via the Gokak-Dharwar route, but Sambhaji’s forces harassed him continuously on the way and finally he had to give up and thus failed to close the loop a second time. In April 1685, Aurangzeb changed his strategy. He planned to consolidate his power in the south by undertaking expeditions to the Muslim kingdoms of Golkonda and Bijapur. Both of them were allies of Marathas and Aurangzeb was not fond of them. He broke his treaties with both kingdoms, attacked them and captured them by September 1686.[9] Taking this opportunity, Marathas launched an offensive on the North coast and attacked Bharuch. They were able to evade the Mughal army sent their way and came back with minimum damage. Marathas tried to win Mysore through diplomacy. Sardar Kesopant Pingle was running negotiations, but the fall of Bijapur to the Mughals turned the tides and Mysore was reluctant to join Marathas. Sambhaji successfully courted several Bijapur sardars to join the Maratha army.[9]

Sambhaji led the fight valiantly but was treacherously captured by the Mughals and killed. His wife and son (Shivaji's grandson) were held captive by Aurangzeb for twenty years.[9]

Execution of Sambhaji

Stone arch at Tulapur confluence where Sambhaji was executed.

After the fall of Bijapur and Goalkonda, Aurangzeb turned his attention again to his main target – Marathas. The first few attempts proved unsuccessful in making a major impact. In Jan 1688, Sambhaji called his commanders for a strategic meeting at Sangameshwar in Konkan to decide on the final blow to oust Aurangzeb from Deccan. To execute the plans soon, Sambhaji sent ahead most of his comrades and stayed back with a few of his trustworthy men. Ganoji Shirke, one of Sambhaji's brothers-in-law, turned traitor and helped Aurangzeb's commander Muqarrab Khan to locate, reach and attack Sangameshwar when Sambhaji was in the garden of Sangameshwar, resolving some issues and was about to leave the town. Sambhaji, Kavi Kalash and his men were surrounded from all sides. The Marathas took out their swords, roared 'Har Har Mahadev' and pounced upon the far more numerous Mughals. A bloody battle took place and Sambhaji was captured on 1 February 1689. Maratha soldiers and other followers unsuccessfully tried to rescue Sambhaji but were killed by the Mughals on 11 March 1689.[10]

Sambhaji was beheaded and his body was cut into pieces on his refusal to bow down to Aurangzeb and convert to Islam.[10]

Marathas under King Rajaram (1689 to 1700)

To Aurangzeb, the Marathas seemed all but dead by end of 1689. But this would prove to be almost a fatal blunder. The death of Sambhaji had rekindled the spirit of the Maratha forces, which made Aurangzeb's mission impossible. Sambhaji's younger brother Rajaram was now given the title of 'Chhatrapati' (Emperor).[11] In March 1690, the Maratha commanders, under the leadership of Santaji Ghorpade launched the single most daring attack on mughal army. They not only attacked the army, but sacked the tent where the Aurangzeb himself slept. Luckily Aurangzeb was elsewhere but his private force and many of his bodyguards were killed. This brought disgrace to the Mughals. This positive development was followed by a negative one for Marathas. Raigad fell to treachery of Suryaji Pisal. Sambhaji’s queen, Yesubai and their son, Shahu, were captured.[9]

Mughal forces, led by Zulfikar Khan, continued this offensive further south. They attacked fort Panhala. The Maratha killedar of Panhala gallantly defended the fort and inflicted heavy losses on Mughal army. Finally Aurangzeb himself had to come and Panhala was surrendered.[9]

Shift of Maratha Capital to Jinji

Maratha ministers had foreseen the next Mughal move on Vishalgad. They insisted Rajaram to leave Vishalgad for Jinji (in present Tamil Nadu), was earlier captured by Shivaji during his southern conquests. Rajaram travelled south under escort of Khando Ballal and his men. Jinji became new capital of Marathas.[12] This breathed new life in Maratha army. It was to be the Maratha capital for next seven years.

Aurangzeb was frustrated with Rajaram’s successful escape. His next move was to keep most of his force in Maharashtra and dispatch a small force to keep Rajaram in check. But the two Maratha generals, Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav would prove more than match to him. They first attacked and destroyed the force sent by Aurangzeb to keep check on Rajaram, thus relieving the immediate danger. Then they joined Ramchandra Bavadekar in Deccan. Bavdekar, Vithoji chavan and Raghuji Bhosale had reorganised most of the Maratha army after defeats at Panhala and Vishalgad.[9]

In late 1691, Bavdekar, Pralhad Niraji, Santaji,Dhanaji and several Maratha sardars met in Maval region and reformed the strategy. Aurangzeb had taken four major forts in Sahyadrais and was sending Zulfikar khan to subdue the fort Jinji. So according to new Maratha plan, Santaji and Dhanaji would launch offensives in the East to keep rest of the Mughal forces scattered. Others would focus in Maharashtra and would attack a series of forts around southern Maharashtra and northern Karnataka to divide Mughal won territories in two, thereby posing significant challenge to enemy supply chains. Having a strong navy established by Shivaji, Marathas could now extend this divide into the sea, checking any supply routes from Surat to south.[9]

Now war was fought from the Malwa plateau to the east coast. Such was the strategy of Maratha commanders to counter the might of the Mughals. Maratha generals Ramchandrapant Amatya and Shankaraji Niraji maintained the Maratha stronghold in the rugged terrains of Sahyadri.[9]

In several brilliant cavalry movements, Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav defeated the Mughals. Their offensive, and especially that of Santaji, struck terror into the hearts of the Mughals. In the Battle of Athani, Santaji defeated Kasim Khan, a noted Mughal general.[9]

Fall of Jinji (Jan 1698)

By now, Aurangzeb had the grim realisation that the war he began was much more serious than he thought. He consolidated his forces and rethought his strategy. He sent an ultimatum to Zulfikar khan to finish Jinji business or be stripped of the titles. Zulfikar Khan tightened the Siege. But Rajaram escaped and was safely escorted to Deccan by Dhanaji Jadhav and Shirke brothers. Haraji Mahadik’s son took the charge of Jinji and bravely defended Jinji against Julfikar khan and Daud khan till January 1698. This gave Rajaram ample of time to reach Vishalgad.[9]

After great losses, Jinji was captured but it did a big damage to the Mughal empire. The losses incurred in taking Jinji far outweighed the gains. The fort had done its work. For seven years the three hills of Jinji had kept a large contingent of Mughal forces occupied. It had eaten a deep hole into Mughal resources. Not only at Jinji, but the royal treasury was bleeding everywhere and was already under strain.[9]

Marathas would soon witness an unpleasant development, all of their own making. Dhanaji Jadhav and Santaji Ghorpade had a simmering rivalry, which was kept in check by the councilman Pralhad Niraji. But after Niraji’s death, Dhanaji grew bold and attacked Santaji. Nagoji Mane, one of Dhanaji’s men, killed Santaji. The news of Santaji’s death greatly encouraged Aurangzeb and the Mughal army.[9]

But by this time the Mughals were no longer the army they were earlier feared to be. Aurangzeb, against the advice of several of his experienced generals, continued the war. Aurangzeb's position was much like that of Alexander on the borders of Taxila.[9]

Revival of Strong Maratha Position

The Marathas again consolidated and the new Maratha counter offensive began. Rajaram made Dhanaji the next commander in chief. Maratha army was divided in three divisions. Dhanaji himself would lead the first division. Parshuram Timbak led the second and Shankar Narayan led the third. Dhanaji Jadhav defeated a large Mughal force near Pandharpur. Shankar Narayan defeated Sarja Khan in Pune. Khanderao Dabhade, who led a division under Dhanaji, took Baglan and Nashik. Nemaji Shinde, another commander with Shankar Narayan, scored a major victory at Nandurbar.[9]

Enraged at these defeats, Aurangzeb himself took charge and launched another counteroffensive. He laid siege to Panhala and attacked the fort of Satara. A seasoned commander, Prayagji Prabhu, defended Satara for a good six months, but he surrendered in April 1700, just before the onset of the monsoon. This foiled Aurangzeb’s strategy to clear as many forts before the monsoon as possible.[9]

Victory of Marathas under Tarabai

In March 1700, Rajaram took his last breath. His queen Tarabai, who was also daughter of the gallant Maratha commander-in-chief Hambirao Mohite, took charge of Maratha army.[11] Daughter of a braveheart, Tarabai proved her true mettle for the next seven years. She carried the struggle on with equal valor. Thus began the phase III, the last phase of the prolonged war, with Marathas under the leadership of Tarabai.[9]

After death of Rajaram, his widow, Tarabai assumed the charge of the empire. She herself took to the field and remained mobile and vigil during the crisis. In words of Jadunath Sarkar, 'It is her character that saved the nation in that awful crisis.'[9]

The signs of strains were showing in Mughal camp in late 1701. Asad Khan, Julfikar Khan’s father, counselled Aurangzeb to end the war and turn around. This expedition had already taken a giant toll, much larger than originally planned, on Mughal empire. And serious signs were emerging that the 200 years old Mughal empire was crumbling and was in the middle of a war that was not winnable.[9]

Mughals were bleeding heavily from treasuries. But Aurangzeb kept pressing the war on. By 1704, Aurangzeb had Torana and Rajgad. He had won only a handful forts in this offensive, but he had spent several precious years. It was slowly dawning to him that after 24 years of constant war, he was no closer to defeating Marathas than he was the day he began.[9]

The final Maratha counter offensive gathered momentum in North. Tarabai proved to be a valiant leader once again. One after another Mughal provinces fell in north. They were not in position to defend as the royal treasuries had been sucked dry and no armies were left in town. In 1705, two Maratha army factions crossed Narmada. One under leadership of Nemaji Shinde hit as deep North as Bhopal. Second under the leadership of Khanderao Dabhade struck Bharoch and West. Dabhade with his eight thousand men,attacked and defeated Mahomed khan’s forces numbering almost fourteen thousand.[9] This left entire Gujarat coast wide open for Marathas. They immediately tightened their grip on Mughal supply chains. By 1705 end, Marathas had penetrated Mughal possession of Central India and Gujarat. Nemaji Shinde defeated Mughals on the Malwa plateau. In 1706, Mughals started retreating from Maratha dominions.[9]

In Maharashtra, Aurangzeb grew despondent. He started negotiations with Marathas, but cut abruptly and marched on a small kingdom called Wakinara. Naiks at Wakinara traced their lineage to royal family of Vijaynagar empire. They were never fond of Mughals and had sided with Marathas. Dhanaji marched into Sahyadris and won almost all the major forts back in short time. Satara and Parali forts were taken by Parshuram Timbak. Shankar Narayan took Sinhgad. Dhanaji then turned around and took his forces to Wakinara. He helped the Naiks at Wakinara sustain the fight. Naiks fought very bravely. Finally Wakinara fell, but the royal family of Naiks successfully escaped with least damage.[9]

Aurangzeb's escape and death

Aurangzeb had now given up all hopes and was now planning retreat to Burhanpur. Dhanaji Jadhav again fell on him and in swift and ferocious attack he dismantled the rear guard of his imperial army. With the help of Zulfikar Khan, Aurangzeb escaped to Burhanpur.[13]

Aurangzeb witnessed bitter fights among his sons in his last days. Alone, lost, depressed, bankrupt, far away from home, he died on 3 March 1707. “I hope God will bless me abundantly for fighting these infidels and may one day Allah shine the light of Islam on these people despite the fact that they are blinded right now, may God forgive them for their sins for they do not know what they are doing and may Islam in India last forever”, were his last words[citation needed]. Thus ended a prolonged and gruelling period in history of India. The Mughal kingdom fragmented and disintegrated soon after, paving the way for the Maratha Empire to become the dominant power in India.[13]

The Indologist Stanley Wolpert, emeritus professor at UCLA,[14] says that:

the conquest of the Deccan, to which, Aurangzeb devoted the last 26 years of his life, was in many ways a Pyrrhic victory, costing an estimated hundred thousand lives a year during its last decade of futile chess game warfare. The expense in gold and rupees can hardly be accurately estimated. Aurangzeb's encampment was like a moving capital – a city of tents 30 miles in circumference, with some 250 bazaars, with a 12 million camp followers, 50,000 camels and 30,000 elephants, all of whom had to be fed, stripped the Deccan of any and all of its surplus grain and wealth ... Not only famine but bubonic plague arose ... Even Aurangzeb, had ceased to understand the purpose of it all by the time he was nearing 90 ... "I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing," the dying old man confessed to his son, Azam, in February 1707.[15]

Aftermath of the war

File:India 18th century.JPG

Maratha Empire, 1774 (in orange) was the major power in the Indian sub-continent at that time.

Marathas emerged victorious against the Mughals and started northward expansion. For the first time they crossed the Narmada the traditional boundary between northern plains and peninsula. After defeating the Mughals, there was no other power to oppose Marathas successfully. With the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, the Maratha army marched in to Delhi itself, within a decade forced the Mughal clan to being confined to Delhi. Under the pressure of Marathas, the Mughals released the grandson of Shivaji, Shahu from captivity.[16]

The Mughals suffered heavy losses in the entire war. Entire Mughal Empire got split in small kingdoms. Nizam of Hyderabad, Nawab of Oudh and Nawab of Bengal quickly declared their kingdoms as independent from Mughal Empire. The Mughals were now confined to Delhi and nearby areas.[9]

Meanwhile the Maratha cavalry continued their expansion in north under various Maratha generals like Nemaji Shinde, Hybtarao Nimbalkar, Parsoji Bhosle, Dhanaji Jadhav, Baji Rao I and by May 1758, Marathas had extended their territory to Peshawar (now in Pakistan).[17]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2
  2. 2.0 2.1 Patil, Vishwas. Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj. 
  3. [1]
  4. [2]
  5. Phillips (2005a). "Encyclopedia of Wars". In Axelrod. Encyclopedia of Wars. Zenda, Inc.. ISBN 0-8160-2851-6. 
  6. Medieval India
  7. History of Mughal capitals
  8. Land and People of Indian States and Union Territories: In 36 ..., Volume 34
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 9.13 9.14 9.15 9.16 9.17 9.18 9.19 9.20 9.21 9.22 9.23 9.24 9.25 9.26 9.27 9.28 Robinson, Howard; James Thomson Shotwell (1922). "Mogul Empire and the Marathas". The Development of the British Empire. Houghton Mifflin. p. 106-132.
  10. 10.0 10.1
  11. 11.0 11.1 Maharani Tarabai of Kolhapur, c. 1675-1761 A.D.
  12. Relation between French and Marathas
  13. 13.0 13.1
  14. "Stanley A. Wolpert". UCLA. Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  15. Wolpert, Stanley A. (2004) [1977]. New History of India (7th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195166774. 
  16. Indian History (21st Edition, 2005)

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