Tarabai Bhosale: Maratha Queen Who Successfully Led War against Aurangzeb’s Forces
Tarabai Bhosale! She was the daughter-in-law of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the queen of Chhatrapati Rajaram Bhosale. She ruled the Maratha Empire from 1700 until 1708 as the Queen Regent as the heir to the throne Shivaji II was a minor when the king died. After the death of Rajaram Bhosale, Mughal attacks on Maratha supremacy continued. But Tarabai Bhosale dealt it with an iron hand. She herself led her army into the battlefield and successfully fought against the Mughal forces. According to Jadunath Sarkar, a prominent Bengali historian, it was because of the administrative genius and strength of Tarabai that the Maratha Empire survived the awful crisis from 1700 to 1707 – when Mughals tried their best to occupy Maratha territories, but in vain. She valorously defended her territories. But have we ever read about the unflagging courage and indomitable spirit of this brave daughter of Bharat Mata? Ironically never, except few from Maharashtra!
The Marathas comprise of 96 clans – 60 Somvanshi and 36 Suryavanshi. Mohites belong to the Maratha Royal Deshmukh clan. Tarabai Bhosale was a Mohite. She was the daughter of Maratha general Hambirao Mohite. Since her childhood, she was fiercely independent. Rather than taking part in activities pertaining to girls of her age, she was more interested in getting trained in the art of warfare. She was inspired by the heroic exploits of her commander father. She was well-trained in the art of sword fighting, archery, cavalry, and war tactics. She learnt military strategy from her father.
Tarabai Bhosale was married to Shivaji’s younger son Rajaram Bhosale when she was just eight years old. Rajaram Bhosale was older to her by 5 years. She was Rajaram’s second wife. Rajaram was then already married at the age of ten to Jankibai, the daughter of Prataprao Gurjar, the chief of Shivaji’s Maratha army. Hambirao Mohite later succeeded Prataprao Gurjar as the Maratha army chief. Rajaram was also married to Rajasbai Ghatge from Kagal.
Before we delve about Tarabai Bhosale, let us dig into the history of the Marathas to know better about the situation when she became Queen Regent and what led to war with Mughals. The occasional war between the Mughals and Marathas, also termed 27 Year War or Maratha war of Independence started in the year 1680 in the Deccan after the death of Shivaji. It started with Aurangzeb’s invasion of the Maratha enclave in Bijapur. Even before this, after the establishment of the Maratha kingdom by Shivaji in 1674, there were constant conflicts with the Muslim rulers, but Shivaji resisted the attacks. Do you know During Shivaji’s reign the Maratha Empire had about 300 forts with 50,000 foot soldiers, 40,000 cavalry, and a strong naval base along the west coast? The 27 year war that started in 1680 ended in 1707 with the death of Aurangzeb. Initially Shivaji’s successor Sambhaji gave stiff resistance to the Mughal forces. After his death in 1989, Marathas under Rajaram Bhosale continued with the resistance efforts until the king died of an illness in 1700. And then Tarabai Bhosale took the reins of the Maratha kingdom in her hands and offered stiff resistance to the Mughal forces.
Rajaram Bhosale was born to Shivaji and his younger wife, Soyarabai. After the death of Shivaji, Sambhaji, who was the elder son and 13 years older to Rajaram, was the strong contender to the Maratha throne. Soyarabai conspired with few of the Maratha nobility and installed Rajaram as the king. However, Sambhaji claimed the throne after winning over the Maratha generals to his side. He imprisoned Soyarabai and Rajaram and got rid of the nobility who supported them. Meanwhile, the Mughal Maratha war continued. Soyarabai and Rajaram remained in prison until Sambhaji was captured and executed by the Mughals in 1689. The Maratha nobility freed the duo and Rajaram Bhosale became the king of the Maratha Empire.
Rajaram was crowned at Raigad on 12 March 1689 at the age of 19. On 25 March 1689, the Mughals started laying siege to the region around Raigad. The Marathas fought with the Mughals and managed to let Rajaram escape through Kavlya ghat to Tamil Nadu. He was to seek refuge in the fort of Jinji. Rajaram reached the fort of Keladi in disguise and sought refuge from queen Chennamma and asked her help for his safe passage and escape to Jinji fort. The queen knew that if she gave shelter to Rajaram, the robust Mughals would certainly attack her kingdom. Yet she wasn’t bothered.
Aurangzeb sent a messenger with a letter along with diamonds and precious stones to the Keladi court asking Rani Chennamma to hand over Rajaram to him. By the time the messenger reached her court, the queen had already facilitated Rajaram’s safe escape to Jinji fort. The queen replied that handing over Rajaram was impossible. Aurangzeb had already sent his son Azamath Ara with a huge army to invade Keladi.
Do you know Rani Chennamma almost defeated the Mughal forces when the latter proposed for a peace treaty? The Rani agreed for peace. Rajaram Bhosale remained in Jinji for few years and then continued the Maratha Mughal war until his death in 1700.
After the death of Rajaram Bhosale, there were two legal heirs (both minors) to the throne – Shivaji II, Tarabai Bhosale’s son and Sambhaji II, Rajasbai’s son. Shivaji II was elder, then aged only four years. Tarabai Bhosale proclaimed her son Shivaji II as the heir to the throne and successor to Rajaram and declared herself as Queen Regent, taking charge of the administrative, judiciary, and military powers of the Maratha Empire. Ramchandra Nilkanth, the veteran administrator of the Maratha Empire during Rajaram’s presence in Jinji, wanted Sambhaji’s son Shahuji to claim the throne. But Shahuji was then under the custody of Aurangzeb. Tarabai Bhosale carried out the royal thread ceremony of her son in the hill fort of Vishalgarh with the help of her supporters.
Tarabai Bhosale was 25 years old when she became the Queen Regent of the Marathas. Mughal chronicler Khafi Khan wrote about Tarabai, “The chiefs then made Tarabai, the chief wife and the mother of one son (of Rajaram) Regent. She was a clever intelligent woman, and had obtained a reputation during her husband’s lifetime for her knowledge of civil and military matters.”
When Rajaram was in Jinji Fort, the teenage Tarabai stayed at Panhala. Under the tutelage of Ramchandra Nilkanth, she studied statecraft and administrative knowledge. She further trained in military affairs. Later she joined her husband at Jinji. In the words of Richard M. Eaton, author of A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761: Eight Indian Lives, Volume 1, “The experience and skills gained at this time evidently infused her with considerable self confidence. For in February 1999, after she and Rajaram had returned to Maharashtra from Jinji, it was Tarabai, not her husband who resolved a dispute between the kingdoms’ commander-in-chief Dhanaji Jadhav and another prominent chieftain.” Tarabai Bhosale decided the dispute against the power Dhanaji Jadhav.
After Tarabai Bhosale assumed power, she became the supreme force of the Marathas. She regulated things so well that not a single Maratha leader acted without her order. And the power of the Marathas increased by the day, a proof of which was chronicled by Muslim historian Khafi Khan. He wrote about her, “She won the hearts of her officers, and or all the struggles and schemes, the campaigns and seizes of Aurangzeb up to the end of his reign, the power of the Marathas increased day by day.” The Portugese in Goa termed her the ‘Queen of the Marathas.’
Tarabai Bhosale single handedly directed Maratha defense against Mughal forces sent by Aurangzeb from 1700 to 1707. Aurangzeb was then deemed one of the mightiest rulers, but his might failed in front of Tarabai. She moved tirelessly from fort to fort and motivated the Maratha forces. She mobilized resources and mastered Aurangzeb’s own game of offering bribes and counter bribes to commanders on both sides of the conflict.
Indian kings often strategized about launching offensive against enemy forces and create terror in their minds. This involved setting out to invade enemy territories even before the enemy thought about planning an attack from that territory. This strategy often helped check the enemy’s future plans of attack. Narasimhadeva of Orissa followed this strategy and defeated Turkic Afghan Tughan Khan in 1244 AD. For several years the Delhi Sultanate and the Nawabs of Bengal did not even think of attacking Narasimhadeva’s territory after this strategy worked. Tarabai Bhosale followed a similar strategy. She sent large forces beyond the Maratha speaking Deccan deep into Mughal territories to the north. This she did despite Maratha forts in the Deccan falling into Aurangzeb’s hands.
Here is a list of successful raids by Marathas under Tarabai Bhosale as part of the above strategy:
1. 1700 AD: She sent a troop of 50,000 soldiers as far north as the region west of Chanderi in modern Guna of northwestern Madhya Pradesh
2. 1702 AD: Invaded Khandesh, Berar, and Telangana, Maharashtra’s northern and eastern borderlands
3. 1703 AD: Attacked urban centres in Khandesh and Malwa (Ujjain, Burhanpur, Munda, Sironj)
4. 1705 AD: Attacked cities in Gujarat and Khandesh.
Khafi Khan wrote about these raids of Tarabai Bhosale, “They penetrated into the old territories of the Imperial throne, plundering and destroying wherever they went…. The commanders of Tarabai cast the anchor of permanence wherever they penetrated, and having appointed kamaish dars (revenue collectors), they passed the years and months to their satisfaction, with their wives and children, tents and elephants. Their daring went beyond all bounds. They divided all the districts (parganas) amongst themselves, and following the practice of the Imperial rule, they appointed their Subadars (provincial governors), kamaish dars (revenue collectors), and rahdars (toll collectors).”
After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the 27 year war between the Marathas and Mughals ended. Shahuji was released by the Mughals. He claimed the Maratha throne. As he was Sambhaji’s son and Shivaji II was still a minor, most of the Maratha nobility supported Shahuji. Tarabai Bhosale was sidelined. The Maratha queen then established a rival court in Kolhapur in 1709. But she was deposed by Rajasbai who put her own son Sambhaji II to the throne. Tarabai and Shivaji II were imprisoned by Rajasbai. Shivaji II died in 1726. Tarabai was released from prison after she reconciled with Shahuji. But she was left with no political power.
Tarabai assumed some power during her later years. She breathed her last at the age of 86 in December 1761 after the 3rd Battle of Panipat that saw the Maratha army decimated by Ahmad Shah Abdali. Had the brave Tarabai Bhosale not taken charge of Maratha power in 1700, the Marathas might have faced a similar defeat long beforehand. Had she continued ruling as the queen after 1707, the History of the Marathas would have been different. Maybe they would have established Hindu supremacy by subjugating the Mughals and ending their rule! The 7 years of her successful raids and attacks into Mughal territory corroborate this.
Salute to Tarabai Bhosale! Jai Hind!
Featured image courtesy: Pinterest and Amazon.in
1. A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761: Eight Indian Lives, Volume 1, by Richard M. Eaton
2. The Mughul Empire, RC Majumder.
3. Advanced study in the history of medieval India, JL Mehta.