The Deccan wars were a series of military conflicts between the Mughal Empire and the descendants of the Maratha ruler Shivaji from the time of Shivaji's death in 1680 until the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707.[3] Shivaji was a central figure in what has been called "the Maratha insurgency" against the Mughal state.[4] Both he and his son, Sambhaji, or Shambuji, typically, alternated between rebellion against the Mughal state and service to the Mughal sovereign in an official capacity.[5] It was common practice in late 17th-century India for members of a ruling family of a small principality to both collaborate with the Mughals and rebel.[5]

Deccan wars

Early Maratha history c. 1680 showing the former jagirs of Shahji and the territories of Shivaji
Date1680 – 1707
Present-day states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu.
Maratha Confederacy Mughal Empire
Commanders and leaders
150,000[2] 500,000[2]

Upon Shivaji's death in 1680, he was immediately succeeded by Rajaram, his second-born son by his second wife.[3] The succession was contested by Sambhaji, Shivaji's first-born son by his first wife, and quickly settled to his benefit as the result of the murders of Rajaram's mother, of the loyal courtiers favouring Rajaram's succession, and by Rajaram's imprisonment for the following eight years.[3] Although Sambhaji's rule was riven by factions, he conducted several military campaigns in southern India and Goa.[3]

In 1681, Sambhaji was contacted by Prince Akbar, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb's son, who was keen to enter into a partnership with the Marathas in order to assert his political power againt his ageing father's continuing dominance.[3] The prospects of an alliance incited Aurangzeb to move his household, court and army to the Deccan. Akbar spent several years under the protection of Sambhaji but eventually went into exile to Persia in 1686. In 1689 Sambhaji was captured by the Mughals, and executed with some cruelty.[3] at the age of 31. His death was a significant event in Indian history, marking the end of the golden era of the Maratha Empire. Sambhaji's wife and minor son, later named Shahuji was taken into the Mughal camp, and Rajaram, who was now an adult, was re-established as ruler; he quickly moved his base to Gingee, far into the Tamil country.[3] From here, he was able to frustrate Mughal advances into the Deccan until 1700.

In 1707, Emperor Aurangzeb died. Although by this time the Mughal armies had regained total control over lands in the Deccan, their forts had been stripped bare of valuables by the exiting Marathas, who thereafter took to raiding Mughal territory in independently operating "roving bands."[6] In 1719, Sambhaji's son, Shahu, who had been raised in the Mughal court, received the rights to the Chauth (25% of the revenue) and sardeshmukhi over the six Deccan provinces in exchange for maintaining a contingent of 15,000 troops for the Mughal emperor.[7]

Marathas under Sambhaji (1681–1689)

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

Sambhaji was born in 1657 to Shivaji and his first wife, Saibai. He was trained in the art of warfare from a young age and was known for his bravery and military skills. After Shivaji's death in 1680, Sambhaji ascended to the throne of the Maratha Empire, which was resisting Mughal dominance.[citation needed] In the first half of 1681, several Mughal contingents were dispatched to lay siege to Maratha forts in present-day Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. The Mughal empire was experiencing tension between the Emperor and his son at the time. The Maratha Chhatrapati Sambhaji provided shelter to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb's rebel son Sultan Muhammad Akbar, which angered his father.[8] In September 1681, after settling a dispute with the royal house of Mewar, Aurangzeb began his journey to Deccan to conquer the Maratha lands, as well as the sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda. He arrived at Aurangabad, the Mughal headquarters in the Deccan and made it his capital. Mughal contingents in the region numbered about 500,000.[9] 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 Marathas prepared and defended against the attack, and it took the Mughals seven years to take the fort. 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.[citation needed]

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 ordered 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 the 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. As he pushed further, he was continuously harassed by Marathas forces, who 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 therefore failed.[citation needed]

After the 1684 monsoon, Aurangzeb's other general Shahbuddin Khan directly attacked the Maratha capital, Raigad. The 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. The second division of the Maratha army attacked Shahbuddin Khan at Pachad, inflicting heavy losses on the Mughal army.[citation needed]

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 the Marathas and Aurangzeb disliked them. He broke his treaties with both kingdoms, attacked them and captured them by September 1686.[citation needed] While he was at war with them, the Marathas saw an opportunity to counterattack, and 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. The Marathas alo tried to win Mysore through diplomacy. Sardar Kesopant Pingle was running the 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.[citation needed]

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

Execution of Sambhaji

After the fall of Bijapur and Golkonda, Aurangzeb turned his attention again to the Marathas, but his first few attempts had little impact. In January 1688, Sambhaji called together his commanders for a strategic meeting at Sangameshwar in Konkan to decide on the final blow to oust Aurangzeb from the Deccan. To execute the decision of the meeting quickly, Sambhaji sent ahead most of his comrades and stayed back with a few of his trustworthy men, including Kavi Kalash.

Ganoji Shirke, one of Sambhaji's brothers-in-law, turned traitor and helped Aurangzeb's commander Muqarrab Khan to locate, reach and attack Sangameshwar while Sambhaji was still there. The relatively small Maratha force fought back although they were surrounded from all sides. Sambhaji was captured on 1 February 1689 and a subsequent rescue attempt by the Marathas was repelled on 11 March.[citation needed]

He was tortured and executed in Aurangzeb's camp[10] on 11 March, 1689.[citation needed] His death gave the Marathas a newfound zeal and united them against their common foe, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.[11][12] His death was a significant event in Indian history, and despite the Maratha resurgence it inspired, is regarded as marking the end of the golden era of the Maratha Empire.[citation needed]

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 war aims impossible. Sambhaji's younger brother Rajaram was now given the title of Chhatrapati (Emperor).[13] 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 Aurangzeb himself slept. Aurangzeb was elsewhere, but his private force and many of his bodyguards were killed. This was followed by a betrayal in the Maratha camp. Raigad fell to the treachery of Suryaji Pisal, and Sambhaji's widow, Yesubai and their son, Shahu I, were captured.[citation needed]

Mughal forces, led by Zulfikar Khan, continued this offensive further south. They attacked fort Panhala. The Maratha killedar[clarification needed] of Panhala defended the fort and inflicted heavy losses on Mughal army. Finally Aurangzeb himself was obliged to attend the battle personally and Panhala was surrendered.[citation needed]

Maratha capital moved to Jinji

Maratha ministers realised that the Mughals would move on Vishalgad. They insisted that Rajaram leave Vishalgad for Senji (Gingee) (in present Tamil Nadu), which had been captured by Shivaji during his southern conquests and was now to be the new Maratha capital. Rajaram travelled south under escort of Khando Ballal and his men.[14]

Aurangzeb was frustrated with Rajaram's successful escape. Keeping most of his force in Maharashtra, he sent a small number to keep Rajaram in check. This small force was destroyed by an attack from two Maratha generals, Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav, who 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.[citation needed]

In late 1691, Bavdekar, Pralhad Niraji, Santaji, Dhanaji and several Maratha sardars met in the Maval region and reformed the strategy. Aurangzeb had taken four major forts in Sahyadrais and was sending Zulfikar khan to subdue the fort Ginjee. 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 in order to divide the Mughal won territories in two, thereby posing a significant challenge to enemy supply chains. Having a strong navy established by Shivaji, the Marathas could now extend this divide into the sea, checking any supply routes from Surat to south.[citation needed]

Now war was fought from the Malwa plateau to the east coast, in a strategy devised by the Maratha commanders to counter the strength of the Mughals. Maratha generals Ramchandrapant Amatya and Shankaraji Niraji maintained their Maratha stronghold in the rugged terrains of Sahyadri.[citation needed]

Through cavalry movements, Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav defeated the Mughals. In the Battle of Athani, Santaji defeated Kasim Khan, a noted Mughal general.[citation needed]

Fall of Jinji (January 1698)

Aurangzeb by now had realised that the war he had started was much more serious than he had originally thought. He decided to regroup his forces and rethink his strategy. He sent an ultimatum to Zulfikar Khan to capture Jinji or be stripped of the titles. Zulfikar Khan tightened the siege, but Rajaram escaped and was safely escorted to Deccan by Dhanaji Jadhav and the Shirke brothers. Haraji Mahadik's son took command of Jinji and bravely defended the city against Julfikar Khan and Daud Khan until its fall in January 1698. This gave Rajaram ample amount of time to reach Vishalgad.[citation needed]

After significant Mughal losses, Jinji was captured in a Pyrrhic victory. The fort had done its work: for seven years the three hills of Jinji had kept a large contingent of Mughal forces occupied while inflicting heavy losses. It had significantly depleted Mughal resources in the region, from the treasury to material.[citation needed]

Marathas would soon witness an unpleasant development 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Revival of Maratha fortunes

The Marathas again consolidated and began a counter-offensive. Rajaram appointed Dhanaji Jadhav as commander-in-chief and the army was split into three divisions, headed by Jadhav himself, Parshuram Timbak and Shankar Narayan. Jadhav defeated a large Mughal force near Pandharpur and Narayan defeated Sarja Khan in Pune. Khanderao Dabhade, who led a division under Jadhav, took Baglan and Nashik, while Nemaji Shinde, a commander with Narayan, scored a major victory at Nandurbar.[citation needed]

Enraged at these defeats, Aurangzeb took charge and launched another counter-offensive. He laid siege to Panhala and attacked the fort of Satara. A seasoned Maratha commander, Prayagji Prabhu, defended Satara for a good six months but 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.[citation needed]

Marathas under Tarabai

In March 1700, Rajaram died. His queen, Tarabai, who was daughter of the Maratha commander-in-chief Hambirrao Mohite, took charge of the Maratha army and continued fighting for the next seven years.[13]

Aurangzeb leads the Mughal Army during the Battle of Satara

After the Battle of Satara, Aurangzeb contested for every inch of Deccan region at great cost of life and money. Aurangzeb drove west, deep into Maratha territory notably conquering Satara (the Maratha capital) the Marathas expanded eastwards into Mughal lands Hyderabad. Aurangzeb waged continuous war in the Deccan for more than two decades with no resolution and thus lost about a fifth of his army.[15]

Signs of strain were showing in the Mughal camp in late 1701. Asad Khan, Julfikar Khan's father, counselled Aurangzeb to end the war and turn around. The expedition had already taken a giant toll, much larger than originally planned, on the empire and it looked possible that 175 years of Mughal rule might crumble due to being involved in a war that was not winnable.[citation needed]

By 1704, Aurangzeb conquered Torana, Rajgad and some other handful forts mostly by bribing Maratha commanders,[16][17] but he had spent four precious years for this. It was slowly dawning to him that after 24 years of constant war, he was not succeeded to annex the Maratha State.[18]

The final Maratha counter-offensive gathered momentum in the North, where Mughal provinces fell one by one. They were not in position to defend because the royal treasuries had been sucked dry and no armies were available. In 1705, two Maratha army factions crossed Narmada. One, under the leadership of Nemaji Shinde, hit as far north as Bhopal; the second, headed by Khanderao Dabhade, struck Bharoch and the west. With his 8000 men, Dabhade attacked and defeated Mahomed Khan's forces numbering almost fourteen thousand. 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.[citation needed]

In Maharashtra, Aurangzeb became despondent. He started negotiations with the Marathas, then cut them abruptly and marched on the small kingdom of Wakinara whose Naik rulers traced their lineage to the royal family of the Vijaynagar empire. His new opponents had never been fond of the Mughals and had sided with the Marathas. Jadhav marched into Sahyadris and won almost all the major forts back in a short time, while those of Satara and Parali were taken by Parshuram Timbak, and Narayan took Sinhgad. Jadhav then turned around, taking his forces to help the Naiks at Wakinara. Wakinara fell but the Naik royal family escaped.[citation needed]

Aurangzeb's death

Aurangzeb had now given up all hope and planned a retreat to Burhanpur. Jadhav attacked and defeated his rearguard but Aurangzeb was able to reach his destination with the help of Zulfikar Khan. He died of a fever on 21 February 1707.[19]

Aftermath of the war

Maratha Empire became a major power in the Indian sub-continent after the 1720s. The above map is of 1760.

Marathas expanded their territory to include Malwa after the Battle of Delhi and Battle of Bhopal in 1737. By 1757, the Maratha Empire had reached Delhi.

The Mughal empire was split into regional kingdoms, with the Nizam of Hyderabad, Nawab of Oudh and Nawab of Bengal quick to assert the nominal independence of their lands.[citation needed] Anxious to divert the Marathas away from his Deccan strongholds, and to save himself from the Mughal emperor of North India's hostile attempts to suppress his independence,[20] the Nizam encouraged the Marathas to invade Malwa and the northern Indian territories of the Mughal empire.[21] The Nizam says that he could use the Marathas to his own advantage in the Maasir-i Nizami:[22]

I consider all this army (Marathas) as my own and I will get my work done through them. It is necessary to take our hands off Malwa. God willing, I will enter into an understanding with them and entrust the Mulukgiri(raiding) on that side of the Narmada to them.

The Mughal–Maratha Wars had a significant impact on the political and social landscape of India. The wars weakened both the Mughal and Maratha empires, paving the way for European colonial powers to establish themselves in India.[citation needed] The wars also contributed to the decline of the Mughal Empire, which was already facing internal political and economic challenges. The Marathas, on the other hand, emerged as a major power in India, and their influence continued to grow in the 1700s.[23]

See also


  1. ^ a b Mehta 2005, p. 52.
  2. ^ a b Malešević, Siniša (2017). The Rise of Organised Brutality. Cambridge University Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-107-09562-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Laine, James W. (2003), "The Hindu Hero: Shivaji and the Saints, 1780–1810", Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, Oxford University Press, pp. 45–47, ISBN 978-019-514126-9
  4. ^ Metcalf, Barbara D.; Metcalf, Thomas R. (2012), A Concise History of Modern India, Cambridge University Press, pp. 59–60, ISBN 978-1-107-02649-0, Shivaji Bhonsle (1630–80), the pivotal figure in the Maratha insurgency that so plagued Aurangzeb in the Deccan
  5. ^ a b Bang, Peter Fibiger (2021), "Empire—A World History: Anatomy and Concept, Theory and Synthesis", in Bang, Peter Fiber; Bayley, C. A.; Scheidel, Walter (eds.), The Oxford World History of Empire, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, p. 8, ISBN 978-0-19-977236-0
  6. ^ Asher, C. B.; Talbot, C. (2008), India Before Europe t, Cambridge University Press, p. 290, ISBN 978-0-521-51750-8, By the time Aurangzeb died in 1707, many forts had been captured, but the Marathas had already fled them, taking as much treasure as possible. They formed roving bands, often acting independently, and raided Mughal territory even across the Narmada river, the traditional boundary between the Deccan and north India.
  7. ^ Mehta 2005, pp. 492–494.
  8. ^ Puri, B. N.; Das, M. N. (1 December 2003). A Comprehensive History of India: Comprehensive history of medieval India. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 978-81-207-2508-9 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Malešević, Siniša. The Rise of Organised Brutality. Cambridge University Press. p. 119.
  10. ^ Gordon, Stewart (1993). The Marathas, 1600-1818. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-511-46874-2. OCLC 268773964.
  11. ^ Bhave, Y. G. (2000). From the death of Shivaji to the death of Aurangzeb : the critical years. New Delhi: Northern Book Centre. p. 60. ISBN 81-7211-100-2. OCLC 46353204.
  12. ^ Osborne, Eric W. (24 June 2020). "The Ulcer of the Mughal Empire: Mughals and Marathas, 1680-1707". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 31 (5). Informa UK Limited: 1002. doi:10.1080/09592318.2020.1764711. ISSN 0959-2318. S2CID 221060782.
  13. ^ a b Pāṭīla, Śālinī (25 May 1987). Maharani Tarabai of Kolhapur, C. 1675-1761 A.D. S. Chand & Company. ISBN 978-81-219-0269-4 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Hatalkar, V. G. (25 May 1958). "Relations Between the French and the Marathas, 1668-1815". T.V. Chidambaran – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Gascoigne, Bamber; Gascoigne, Christina (1971). The Great Moghuls. Cape. pp. 239–246. ISBN 978-0-224-00580-7.
  16. ^ Abraham Eraly (2000). Emperors of the Peacock Throne: The Saga of the Great Mughals. Penguin Books India. p. 502. ISBN 9780141001432.
  17. ^ Ashvini Agrawal (1983). Studies in Mughal History. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 168. ISBN 9788120823266.
  18. ^ Gordon, Stewart (1993). The Marathas 1600–1818 (1. publ. ed.). New York: Cambridge University. pp. 101–105. ISBN 978-0521268837. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  19. ^ Mehta, Jaswant Lal (1 January 2005), Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1707-1813, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd, pp. 54–, ISBN 978-1-932705-54-6
  20. ^ Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona: Volumes 51-53. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 1970. p. 94. The Mughal court was hostile to Nizam-ul-Mulk. If it had the power, it would have crushed him. To save himself from the hostile intentions of the Emperor, the Nizam did not interfere with the Maratha activities in Malwa and Gujarat. As revealed in the anecdotes narrated b Lala Mansaram, the Nizam-ul-Mulk considered the Maratha army operating in Malwa and Gujarat as his own
  21. ^ The New Cambridge Modern History. University Press. 1957. p. 549.
  22. ^ Richard M. Eaton (2013). Expanding Frontiers in South Asian and World History Essays in Honour of John F. Richards. Cambridge University Press. p. 21.
  23. ^ Truschke, Audrey (2017). Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India's Most Controversial King. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-1-5036-0259-5.