Gautam Guha, Agami Kalarab: In his short rule spanning nine years, Sambhaji gained recognition for his valour and patriotism. He continues to be celebrated, particularly in Maharashtra as the ruler who choose death over conversation. Son of brave Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was a scholar of Sanskrit and other eight languages. He single handedly fought with the massive army of Aurangzeb for 9 years. Many visiting dignitaries at the coronation ceremony have written about his acumen, intelligence, personality and most important of all, his modesty. As a prince, Sambhaji proved his bravery and military brilliance on more than one occasion. Sambhaji Maharaj had established a separate department in his province for the ‘reconversion ceremony’ of the Hindus who had earlier converted into other religions.
1681 was the year when war finally began between the Marathas and the megalomaniac Mughals in its true sense. It became obvious that the vast lands under his control was not enough to satiate Aurangzeb’s lust for power and the ambition to unfurl the Kesari Dhwaj across the lengths and breadths of Bharata meant that the Marathas could not and would not back away from the war. During the same time, a Mughal general, Hussein Ali Khan, attacked Northern Konkan. However, Sambhaji managed to push him back to Ahmednagar. It was now 1682 and monsoons had begun forcing both sides to halt their military operations. However, Aurangzeb was conspiring to secure a deal with the Portuguese which would have allowed the Mughals a supply route to Deccan via the sea. Of course, the Marathas could not let that happen and thus attacked the Portuguese and penetrated deep into their territory. However, the Portuguese were able to secure their headquarters. The Marathas, for an overwhelming majority of the War, were terribly ill-equipped when compared to the Mughals.
Therefore, they could not afford a head-on battle. They would be obliterated. And, as the situation with the Portuguese demonstrated, they were surrounded by enemies from all sides.What they did have working in their favour was their superior knowledge of the territory they ruled and were acutely aware of the unique features of the terrain which they could exploit to maximize their gains. Thus, it turned out to be a war of attrition and under those circumstances, a war of attrition was the only one they could win.Thus, a year later, Aurangzeb was forced to rethink his strategy. Instead of further attacks on the Marathas directly, he attempted to consolidate Mughal power in the south by conquering Bijapur and Golkonda. The rulers of those empires were Shia Muslims and being the fanatic Sunni that he was, Aurangzeb did not hesitate to sever his treaty with them. However, the Marathas saw an opportunity to take the offensive to Mughals in the North Coast while the latter was busy in their expeditions in the South.
They suffered minimum damage but inflicted maximum destruction. It became the dominant theme in the battles to come. The Marathas were quick and sharp in their attacks while the Mughals, vast as their resources were, were often caught unaware until the very last minute. In many ways, the Marathas had successfully implemented a very cunning strategy, using the resources of the Mughals themselves to wage war against them.
Bijapur and Golkonda, however, soon fell to Mughals and their rulers were captured and imprisoned. With the Shia empires out of his way, he could again shift his focus to his primary target to the Marathas.
The next couple of years brutal fenetic Aurangzeb was unable to make any major dent on his Hindu foes as the latter continued to strengthen their position. However, in 1687, at the battle of Wai, the Mughals succeeded in inflicting a severe blow to Maratha aspirations. The key Maratha commander Hambirao Mohite fell in battle and troops began deserting the Maratha forces. The real tragedy, nevertheless, befell the Hindu empire in 1688 when Sambhaji was captured by Mughal forces at Sanghameshwar. The events that followed would perhaps definitively seal the fate of the Mughal empire in India and of Aurangzeb himself.
There has been a certain code of conduct that honourable men have tried to adhere to during war across the ages. These codes are difficult to adhere, especially since you have to apply them while dealing with a sworn enemy. But then, having the resolve to adhere to them is what honour is all about. And it’s also a fact that invariably, it has been monotheistic rulers who have demonstrated time and again that their religious zeal often prevents them from honouring such dignified traditions. Aurangzeb was no different. His treatment of Sambhaji would resonate across the ages and would serve as a testament to the grave peril our forefathers suffered under and the great threats they braved in their battle to restore Dharma in the ancient land of our Gods.Following Sambhaji’s capture, which was felicitated by treacherous men in his own ranks, he was presented in front of Aurangzeb who presented him with the option to convert or ready to persecute. Accounts differ as to what exactly transpired but it’s well accepted that Sambhaji refused to convert which led to the brutal treatment he was subjected to. Following such failed attempts, Aurangzeb had him paraded on a donkey wearing the clothes of a clown. He was brutally tortured by 40 days. His eyes were plucked and so was his tongue. The nails on his fingers were removed and so was his skin. Sambhaji was made to rot in prison under such circumstances and his torture was prolonged over a fortnight. After every torture, Aurangzeb would ask him if he had had enough and wanted to convert – but the courageous king kept refusing. By doing so he earned the title of Dharmaveer (Protector of Dharma) by which he is known to this day. Aurangzeb ordered for Sambhaji’s body to be cut into pieces and be thrown into the river. Residents of the nearby village named ‘Vadhu’ collected as many pieces of his body as they could find, sewed them together and performed the final rites on his body. These villagers later went on to use the surname ‘Shivale’, which means ‘sewing’ in the Marathi language. In hindsight, Aurangzeb had sealed his fate with this act of exceptional barbarity. There were many, previously, who were averse to siding with the Marathas openly due to their personal dislike for Sambhaji. However, the horrid cruelty that the Maratha King was subjected to inspired everyone to rally underneath the banner of the Kesari and swear a sacred vow that they would not rest until the last vestiges of the Mughal empire were uprooted from this sacred land of ours.The act of protecting his faith over life earned him much praise, particularly among Hindu nationalist historians. Historian Y.G. Bhave, in his book, ‘From the Death of Shivaji to the Death of Aurangzeb: The Critical Years,’ writes about Sambhaji: “His leadership of nine years had been quite inspiring for the Maratha spirit of resistance. But his death by torture at the hands of the fanatic Moghul emperor set the Maratha hearts on fire.” The capture and death of Sambhaji is believed to have infused new determination among the Marathas to overcome the Mughal power.