Shivaji, who is known to have grieved Tanaji’s loss heavily, had the fort Kondhana renamed ‘Sinhagad’ in the general’s honour. (Wikimedia Commons)
On January 10, the Ajay Devgn, Kajol and Saif Ali Khan-starrer ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’ released in theatres. Directed by Om Raut, the film is based on the story of Tanaji Malusare, the 17th-century Maratha warrior and general of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Malusare is known for his role in the Battle of Sinhagad (1670), which he fought under the Maratha flag against the Mughals, losing his life in the campaign.
What was the Battle of Sinhagad, and why is Tanaji Malusare remembered?
In 1665, as Mughal forces led by the Rajput commander Jai Sinh I besieged Shivaji at the Purandar fort in Deccan, the latter was forced to sign the Treaty of Purandar. Under the agreement, Shivaji had to hand over important forts to the Mughals, including Purandar, Lohagad, Tung, Tikona, and Sinhagad (then called Kondhana).
Historian GS Sardesai describes Sinhagad’s strategic importance in his 1946 book ‘New History of the Marathas’: “Of all the forts surrendered to Jay Sinh the most important was doubtless Sinhagad, for it was looked upon as the capital of the western regions and a key in the hands of those who had to govern them. Purandar ranked next to it. That is why Jay Sinh had insisted that Sinhagad should be the first to be handed over by Shivaji personally… He who possessed Sinhagad was the master of Poona.”
As part of the treaty, Shivaji had agreed to visit Agra to meet the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, which he did in 1666. Here, Shivaji was placed under house arrest, but was able to make a daring escape back to Maharashtra. Upon his return, Shivaji began to recapture the forts ceded to the Mughals under the treaty.
To retake Kondhana (Sinhagad), the Marathas deputed Tanaji Malusare (played by Ajay Devgn in the film), a trusted general of Shivaji, and his brother Suryaji. The fort at the time was held by the Mughal commander Uday Bhan Rathod (played by Saif Ali Khan).
Sardesai describes the challenges that the Marathas would have to endure to retake the fort: “(Shivaji) knew well that the fort could not be taken by any other means than by his brave soldiers scaling the walls by means of rope-ladders stealthily walking in and opening the main gates, through which the storming party could rush in. Sinhagad is the only fort not vulnerable to artillery: there is no room where guns could be brought into position for a bombardment of it. All the sides are steep, upon one of which a narrow path now leads to the main gate for communication with the outside world.”
In the early hours of February 4, 1670, Tanaji with around 300 soldiers successfully captured the fort, but lost his own life. “A large number headed by Suryaji remained concealed near the main gate and Tanaji himself with his selected followers scaled the walls by means of an iguana and opened the gates by putting to the sword the few sentries that came out to oppose him… A sanguinary action ensued in which both sides lost heavily including their leaders Tanaji and Uday Bhan (sic). The fort was captured and a huge bonfire announced the result to Shivaji at Rajgad,” the book recounts.
Shivaji, who is known to have grieved Tanaji’s loss heavily, had the fort Kondhana renamed ‘Sinhagad’ in the general’s honour (‘Sinh’ meaning ‘lion’). A bard named Tulsidas was commissioned to write a ‘powada’ (ballad) for Tanaji, and this literary work continues to be popular in Maharashtra.
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