The Battle of Salher and it's significance for the Hindavi Swaraj
25 January 2023
"Salher is the highest fort in the state of Maharashtra. Due to its strategic location...."
.....it became a contested fort in between empires. The Marathas and the Mughal Empire engaged in combat at the Battle of Salher in February 1672 CE. In the Nashik district, the battle took place close to the Salher fort. The outcome was a resounding Maratha triumph. This conflict is notable because it was the first pitched conflict in which the Mughal Empire was defeated by the Marathas.
Shivaji Maharaj was compelled by the Treaty of Purandar in 1665 to hand over 23 forts to the Mughals. The Mughal Empire took control of forts including Sinhagad, Purandar, Lohagad, Karnala, and Mahuli that were strategically significant and reinforced with garrisons. The Nashik region, which included the forts Salher and Mulher, had been firmly under the control of the Mughal Empire since 1636 at the time of this pact. This treaty's signing prompted Shivaji Maharaj to visit Agra, and following his memorable escape there in September 1666, two years of an "uneasy ceasefire" ensued. Shivaji Maharaj fiercely restored the nascent Maratha state in between 1670 and 1672 to its earlier stage. More than a dozen forts were successfully recaptured by Maratha army after successful operations at Baglan, Khandesh, and Surat. On an open field close to Salher, this resulted in a resounding victory over a Mughal force of more than 50,000 soldiers.
In 1670, the Maratha-Mughal conflict in the Baghlan area (Today's North Western Maharashtra and Southern Gujarat) took a fierce form. Aurangzeb deliberately sent Mahabat Khan, a mighty and powerful chieftain, on a southern expedition to destroy the Marathas. But there was no sign of any substantial performance from quick-witted Mahabat khan. Mahabat Khan put all his bravery to the test while conquering the remote fort of 'Ahivant'. But the credit of conquering the fort finally went to Dawood Khan, Subhedar of Khandesh. Even after that, Mahabat Khan should have faithfully done the work of moderating the Marathas. But he camped at Parnera in southern Gujarat and started spending every day happily without doing military activity. He did not shrink from plucking feasts from the rich. Aurangzeb heard this news. Someone slyly informed Aurangzeb that, 'Mahabat Khan is involved with Shivaji from within.' This enraged the Emperor and he called back Mahabat Khan from Deccan.
In January 1671, Senapati Prataprao Gujar assaulted Salher and Mulher and seized the Mughal forts Aundha, Patta, and Trimbak with his force of 15,000.This prompted Aurangzeb to dispatch Ikhlas Khan and Bahlol Khan, two of his generals, and 12,000 horsemen to retake Salher. The Mughal Army besieged Salher in October 1671. Shivaji Maharaj then gave orders to Peshwa Moropant Pingle and Sardar Prataprao Gujar to take back the fort.
For more than six months, the fort was under siege by 50,000 Mughal Army. Shivaji Maharaj was aware of the strategic significance of Salher fort as being the principal fort on important commerce routes. He gave orders to Peshwa Moropant who was raiding in South Konkan, and SarSenapati Prataprao, who was raiding near Aurangabad, to meet and fight Mughals at Salher. Shivaji Maharaj had instructed his commanders to "go to the north and assault Salher and beat the enemy" in a letter to them.
After avoiding the Mughal camp at Nashik and coming together near the town of Vani, the two Maratha troops arrived close to Salher. Maratha forces totaled 40,000 men which included 20,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry. The Maratha leaders resolved to entice, split, and defeat the Mughal forces at various locations because the terrain was unsuitable for a cavalry battle. Senapati Prataprao Gujar carried out the plan and attacked the Mughals with 5,000 horsemen, killing numerous unprepared soldiers. When the Mughals were fully prepared after 30 minutes, Prataprao and his men began to run as previously decided. The entire 25,000-man Mughal cavalry began pursuing the Marathas. Prataprao tricked the 15,000 mounted soldiers under Anandrao Makaji in a pass 25 kilometers from Salher by luring the Mughal cavalry there. In the pass, Prataprao attacked the Mughals once more after turning around. The other end of the pass was closed by the 15,000 new cavalry under Anandrao, and the Mughals were encircled on all sides. In a few hours, the energized Maratha cavalry decisively destroyed the worn-out Mughal cavalry. After the Battle, many Mughals fled.
Later, Peshwa Moropant's 20,000 infantrymen surrounded and fought the 25,000-strong Mughal infantry at Salher. A Zamburak cannon killed Suryaji Kakde, a prominent Maratha sardar and Shivaji Maharaj’s childhood companion. This has a reference in the 'Sabhasad Bakhar'. A total of 10,000 men are thought to have died on both sides throughout the day-long conflict. Marathas light cavalry was proved to be superior to the Mughal military apparatus which included infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The Marathas handed the imperial Mughal army a humiliating defeat after thoroughly routing them. The triumphant Maratha Army took control of 6,000 horses, 6,000 camels, 125 elephants, and the complete Mughal train. In addition to this, the Marathas captured a considerable number of commodities, treasures, money, gems, clothing, and carpets.
Mughals had chosen mighty and loyal Ikhlas Khan, Bahlol Khan, Amar Singh and his son Mhukum Singh as Sardars who fought while leading the battle while on the side of the Marathas, General Pratap Rao himself, Peshwa Moropant Pingle, Anandrao Mohite, and Venkoji
Dutta, Rupaji Bhosale, Surya Rao Kakade, Shidoji Nimbalkar, Khandoji & Godoji Jagtap,Manaji More,Visaji Ballal, Moro Nagnath & Mukund Ballal fought vigorously. The following is how the Sabhasad Bakhar depicts the conflict
"Mogal,Rajput,Pathan,Rohile,Marathas,Canons,Camels,Elephants;As the fighting started,a three-kilometer square area of dust rose, making it impossible to tell who was a friend and who was an enemy. There were elephant deaths. On both sides, 10,000 men died and were reduced to corpses. There were too many horses, camels, and elephants killed to count. Blood flowed in torrents in the battlefield turned into a muddy pool in which people started to sink."
Salher was freed as a result of the resounding Maratha victory in the fight. Victory was won after such fighting. The news was flashed to the Shivaji Maharaj and the canon boomed and sugar was distributed. Gold wrist lets were put on the arms of the spy who brought the news.
As a result of this conflict, the Mughals were also driven from the adjoining fort of Mulher. Diler Khan who was four marches away from Salher at that moment, fled. Mughal Sardar Amar Singh & his several other camp chieftain were killed in the battle. Ikhlas Khan, Mhukum Singh and Bahlol Khan sustained injuries & were arrested along with 22 wazirs of note were taken prisoner. Bahlol Khan and the Nawab and wazirs who had been taken prisoner were dismissed with horses and robes with about one or two thousand of the Mughal soldiers held as prisoners fled.
Sardar Suryajirao Kakade, a renowned Panchazari Sardar of the Maratha army, was killed in this conflict and was admired for his fury in combat. Shivaji Maharaj came to know this news & was then deeply saddened by the loss of his companion. Sabhasad Bakhar had mentioned the heroic sacrifice of Suryajirao as ''Warrior have an stature like Karna in Mahabharat had fallen “A dozen or so Maratha sardars received gifts in recognition of their heroic actions during the conflict, and the two officers Peshwa Moropant Pingle and General Prataprao Gujar received special recognition.
Up until this conflict, Shivaji Maharaj had won most of his battles with guerilla tactics, but the Maratha's employment of light cavalry on the Salher battlefield against the ostensibly stronger Mughal forces proved successful. As a result of this significant victory, the saint Ramdas addressed Shivaji Maharaj in his well-known letter as Gajpati (Lord of Elephants), Haypati (Lord of Cavalry), Gadpati (Lord of Forts), and Jalpati (Master of the High Seas).
Battle of Salher was the battle fought by the exceptional men of the nascent Maratha Kingdom. The English records also confirm the victory in which the Marathas "forced the two generals, who with their armies had entered into Sevagy's country, to retreat withshame and loss. “
Although not directly as a result of this conflict, Shivaji Maharaj was named the Chhatrapati of his realm two years later, in 1674. Aurangzeb was shocked & crest fallen after hearing this catastrophic defeat of royal Mughal Army at the hands of Marathas. Sabhasad observes: ‘The Badshah at Delhi felt much distressed at the bad news. For three days he did not come out into the Hall of Public Audience. So sad was he that he said: "It seems God has taken away the Badshāhi from the Musulmans and conferred it on Shivaji. Before Shivaji we should die now. Now the concern of Shivaji is unbearable. “This shows the significance of the battle of Salher; one of the greatest open field battles that the Maratha Empire had fought!
Sabhasad, Krushnaji Anant (1697),Sabhasad Bakhar.
H.S. Sardesai (2002). Shivaji, the Great Maratha, Volume 2. Cosmo Publications.p.366.
Nath, Surendra. Siva Chhatrapati, Being a Translation of Sabhasad Bakhar with Extracts from Chitnis and Sivadigvijaya, with Notes.p.104.
Jaswant Lal Mehta (1981). Advanced Study in the History of Medieval India: 1526-1707.
Y.G. Bhave (2000). From the Death of Shivaji to the Death of Aurangzeb. Northern Book Centre. p.27.