Prataprao Gurjar: Defeat of Mughal Army in Salher Battle and Encounter with Bahalol Khan
1672. Battle of Salher, Nashik. It took place between the Marathas and Mughals. This was significant as it was the first open battle where the Mughals faced defeat. This was the battle that reinforced the supremacy of the Maratha Empire. Two brave sons of the soil made this victory possible. They were Prataprao Gurjar, the Maratha Senapati and Morapant Pingle, the first Peshwa, also called Sardar. The Maratha army numbered 20,000 and the Mughals 40,000. The Marathas were less superior to the Mughals in terms of weaponry and war animals. Yet in this fierce battle, the Marathas emerged victorious! Many a war fought in India between Indians and invaders do find a place in our History textbooks. But is the Salher Battle of 1672 well glorified and well described – a battle that saw the Mughals decimated for the first time in an open battle?
You have heard about the Rakt Talai or the lake of blood pertaining to the Battle of Haldighati, one of the bloodiest of battles in world history that took place in June 1576. In this battle between Rana Pratap’s Mewar army and Akbar’s Mughal forces, around 18000 – 4000 from Mewar army and 14000 from Mughal army were killed within four hours leading to the creation of a river of blood that flowed. The Battle of Salher witnessed a similar event on that eventful day of February 1672. In the battle that continued throughout the day, blood of ten thousand men on the two sides that died including that of war animals led to the creation of a stream and a muddy blood pool where soldiers and animals began to sink!
Shivaji had four different Commanders-in-Chief – Mankoji Dahatonde, Netaji Palkar, Prataprao Gurjar, and Hambirrao Mohite. Prataprao Gurjar was the third royal Senapati of Shivaji’s army. As commander of the Maratha cavalry, he won the confidence of Shivaji as a trusted military leader after he defeated Mughal armies in Baglan and Bijapur armies near Panhala and helped Shivaji establish the Maratha supremacy. He was in charge of the Maratha forces at Aurangabad during the two years of peace between Shivaji and the Mughal Emperor. After Bijapur kings broke the conditions of the treaty with an attack on Maratha territory, Prataprao Gurjar defeated them.
To ensure good administration of his empire, Shivaji created the Ashta Pradhan, a council of eight ministers. Morapant Pingle was the first of these ministers, the first Peshwa. A Deshahstha Brahmin, he led battles to victory and won the trust of Shivaji. He participated in several victorious battles against Mughal forces and Bijapur kings – against Adil Shah, Trimbakeshwar Fort, Wani-Dindori, and Shivaji’s invasion of Surat. Morapant Pingle was entrusted with the construction and administration of Pratapgad.
On June 11, 1665, the Treaty of Purandar was signed between Shivaji and Rajput ruler Jai Singh I, who represented the Mughals as commander of the Mughal army. Jai Singh had besieged Purandar fort and he agreed to sign a pact and avoid war on certain terms and conditions. Shivaji agreed to save his men and his empire by avoiding a war. According to the treaty, Shivaji ceded 23 strategically important forts including Purandar, Lohagad, Sinhagad, Karnala to the Mughals. These forts were fortified with garrisons. Salher and Mulher forts of Nashik were already under Mughal siege. Following the terms of the treaty, Shivaji visited Agra to meet Aurangzeb. Shivaji had already built an empire, which proved to be a threat to the Mughals. Shivaji knew about Aurangzeb’s secret intentions of inviting him to Agra. Soon after Shivaji, his eldest son Sambhaji, and few soldiers reached Aurangzeb’s court, they were arrested. After few months, father and son miraculously escaped. Uneasiness between Maratha and Mughal forces followed after this.
Neither party arose for war until under Aurangzeb’s orders many temples in Benares were destroyed. Besides, rejuvenation of anti-Hindu policies further hurt the sentiments of Shivaji. And Shivaji declared war against Aurangzeb. In between 1670-1672, Shivaji regained many a territory from the Mughals and retook over a dozen forts. Shivaji’s Maratha forces led successive and successful raids into several Mughal territories including Khandesh, Surat, and Baglan. Prataprao Gurjar played an instrumental role in annihilating the Mughal forces at Baglan. Besides, Shivaji also raided territories of the Bijapur Sultanate.
Moropant Pingle led an army of 15000 Maratha soldiers and captured the Mughal forts of Aundha, Patta, and Trimbak. He successfully laid an attack on Salher and Mulher in January 1671. Aurangzeb sent a force of 12000 horsemen under the commandment of Ikhlas Khan and Behlol Khan, two of his generals to reclaim Salher. Mughals laid siege of Salher in October 1671. Shivaji entrusted Moropant Pingle and Prataprao Gurjar to reclaim Salher fort.
Both Prataprao Gurjar and Moropant Pingle marched towards Salher through different directions. The combined army of around 20,000 soldiers met at a plain field near Salher. The Mughal forces under Ikhlas Khan and Behlol Khan were double the Maratha forces. Mughal combination of cavalry, infantry, and artillery were outmatched compared to the light Maratha cavalry. Furthermore, Mughals were superior in arms and ammunition and the use of war animals. A fierce battle ensued. Part of the Mughal forces fought with artillery-swivels carried on elephants and camels. Soon Maratha forces routed the Mughal army and gave them a crushing defeat.
According to Sabhasad Bakhar, a historical narrative in Marathi that chronicles the heroic exploits of Shivaji and his successful wars and raids, the battle of Salher is described such:
“As the fighting began, such a (cloud of) dust arose that for a space of a three-kilometer square, friend and foe could not be distinguished. Elephants were killed. Ten thousand men on the two sides became corpses. The horses, camels, elephants (killed) were beyond counting. A flood of blood streamed (in the battlefield). The blood formed a muddy pool and in it (people) began to sink, so (deep) was the mud.”
The Marathas gained hold of 6,000 horses, an equal number of camels, 125 elephants from this battle. Marathas also seized large amount of goods, gold, jewels, treasures, carpets, etc. from the Mughal camps. The two generals were captured along with several Mughal prisoners of war.
After the first Battle of Tarain in 1196, Battle of Salher happens to be the first battle won by a Hindu army against Muslim invaders. The 1196 battle was fought between Prithviraj Chauhan and Ghori. After this victorious battle, Shivaji further reinforced his forces and established Hindu supremacy. His coronation took place two years later, i.e. in 1674.
A few months before Shivaji’s coronation, the Sultan of Bijapur Adil Shah sent his general Bahalol Khan with a huge army to attack Maratha territory. Shivaji entrusted Prataprao Gurjar for resistance. The Maratha army under Prataprao Gurjar surrounded Bahalol Khan’s camp at Nesari. In a fierce battle that ensued, the Maratha Senapati took Bahalol Khan captive. They captured the Bijapuri forces along with their war material.
Shivaji had warned all of his Senapatis and the Sardars to never trust enemies and never let them go free. When Bahalol Khan repeatedly begged for pardon and promised never to attack Maratha territory again, Prataprao Gurjar gave a second thought. The enemy general’s repeat request to let him and his captured army free made him forget Shivaji’s warning. His impulsive emotional nature came into play. And he released Bahalol Khan, his troops including the seized war material.
When Shivaji heard about this blunder by Prataprao Gurjar, he sent a letter stating he would not see him until he recaptured Bahalol Khan. Prataprao realized his mistake and he made up his mind to capture Bahlol Khan at any cost.
Meanwhile, days after his release, Bahalol Khan started preparing for a fresh invasion of the Maratha territory. He advanced towards Nesari with a troop of 15,000 soldiers. He camped at Nesari. Prataprao Gurjar had a strength of 1200 soldiers, who were no match to the 15000 Bijapuri army. He felt taking his small army against a huge force would only mean taking them for suicide. At the same time, he remembered Shivaji’s letter. His impulsive emotional nature came into play again. He left alone towards Bahalol Khan’s camp. Six Maratha sardars joined him when they saw him galloping in his horse towards the enemy all alone. Seven Marathas against 15000 Muslim soldiers! Prataprao Gurjar and the six Maratha sardars fought until death.
Later, the Maratha forces under Anandrao and Hambirao Mohite, defeated Bahalol Khan.
Shivaji was deeply grieved hearing about Prataprao Gurjar’s death. He arranged the marriage of the Senapati’s daughter Jankibai Gurjari with his younger son Rajaram Bhosale. Jankibai later became the Maharani of the Maratha Empire.
Featured image courtesy: Anurag’s Corner and Facebook.
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3. Shivaji, the Great Maratha, Volume 2, by H. S. Sardesai
4. Shivaji and the Maratha Art of War, by Murlidhar Balkrishna Deopujari.