The mighty fort of Sinhagad

The name ‘Sinhagad’ literally translates to ‘ The Lion’s Fort’.  Sinhagad is a fortress located roughly 30 kilometers southwest of the city of Pune, Maharashtra,  India. Previously called Kondhana (Marathi: कोंढाणा), the fort has been the site of many important battles, most notably the Battle of Sinhagad in 1671 fought between the legendary Tanaji Malusare, a Maratha general under Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Udaybhan Singh Rathod , a Rajput sardar under the then Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. It was also strategically located at the center of a string of other forts such as Rajgad, Purandar and Torna.

Perched on an isolated cliff of the Bhuleswar range of the Sahyadri Mountains, it is situated on a hill rising some 760 metres above ground level and 1,312 meters above mean sea level.Given natural protection by its very steep slopes, the walls and bastions were constructed at only key places; it has two gates – the Kalyan Darwaza in the south-east and the Pune Darwaza in the north-east.

The Battle of Sinhagad is one of the most legendary battles fought by the Maratha army under  Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.  Before I launch into the story of Sinhagad, let me tell you a little about the events that led to the battle.

There is a conflict as to when Shivaji Maharaj was born. Some historians claim that he was born in 1627 and some  others say that he was born in  1630. Shivaji Maharaj was born in the hill-fort of Shivneri, near the city of Junnar in Pune district on 6 April 1627 or 19 February 1630. Per legend, his mother named him Shivaji in honour of the goddess Shivai, to whom she had prayed for a healthy child. Shivaji was named after this local deity. Shivaji’s father Shahaji Bhonsle was a Maratha general who served the Deccan Sultanates. His mother was Jijabai, the daughter of Lakhujirao Jadhav of Sindkhed (Sindkhed Raja). At the time of Shivaji’s birth, the power in Deccan was shared by three Islamic sultanates: Bijapur, Ahmednagar, and Golconda. Shahaji often changed his loyalty between the Nizamshahi of Ahmadnagar, the Adilshah of Bijapur and the Mughals, but always kept his jagir (fiefdom) at Pune and his small army with him.

Shivaji Maharaj, at barely fifteen or sixteen years of age took the oath of Swaraj ( Self- government). Though still a teenager, he had already envisioned  a great dream. He had dreamt of an independent kingdom free of oppression and slavery.  He began to take steps to achieve this dream with the help of soldiers who were tough men of the hills. His vision of an independent kingdom did not go down too well with the  Islamic sultanates of  Bijapur, Ahmednagar, and Golconda. In the north, the Mughal empire was at the peak of its prosperity. Emperor Auranzeb was most displeased by Shivaji Maharaj’s movements.

As the time passed, Adilshah of Bijapur and Emperor Auranzeb both grew worried. Adilshah of Bijapur in the year 1659 sent his most trusted and brave general Afzal Khan with a huge army to subdue Shivaji Maharaj. But Afzal Khan was slain by Shivaji Maharaj. And Shivaji Maharaj’s small but highly efficient army routed Afzal Khan’s army. Bijapur then sent Siddi Jauhar, but even he could not do anything  against the artful Shivaji. Around this time Emperor Aurangzeb sent his maternal uncle Shahista Khan to put an end to Shivaji Maharaj’s reign. Shahista Kahn marched towards deccan with his huge army. He captured the city of Pune and set up his camp near Lal Mahal, Shivaji Maharaj’s residence in Pune. Shivaji Maharaj attacked Lal Mahal late one night with a handful of his soldiers and sent Shahista Khan packing, in the process, cutting some of his fingers. Emperor Aurangzeb was furious. Shahista Khan was sent to Bengal in disgrace. Then came Mirza Raja Jai Singh, an experienced Rajput commander in the Mughal army. He besieged the Fort of Purandar. The fort was bravely defended by the killedar ( the keeper of the fort) Murarbaji Deshpande. He laid down his life while defending the fort.( Each of the above mentioned incident is an intriguing narrative by itself.)

Shivaji Maharaj eventually realized that the odds were against him. He agreed to make peace with the Mughals. The Treaty of Purandar was signed and according to the treaty, Shivaji Maharaj had to surrender twenty three of his forts to the Mughals. The fort of Kondana, later renamed as Sinhagad, was also one of the twenty three forts.

-To be continued…

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