350th anniversary of 'Battle of Sinhagad' - Tanaji Malusare led a near impossible mission to capture the fort of Sinhagad
Today marks the 350th anniversary of 'Battle of Sinhagad' and the Punyatithi of Tanaji Malusare who led the near impossible mission on February 4, 1670, to capture the fort of Sinhagad near Pune.
- Ratnakar Sadasyula
One of the greatest military operations in the history of India, would be the capture of Sinhagad . It is a story of courage, heroism, adventure. When you walk around Pune , and the surrounding areas, you feel the valor of the Marathas at every step. Pune itself home of the Peshwas, Raigad where Shivaji was coronated, Purandhar, Pratapgarh , all those names resonate with the glory of one of India’s greatest sons. A man who gave sleepless nights to Aurangzeb, yet he respected Hindus and Muslims equally.
But it is Sinhagad , which takes your breath away, with it’s sheer grandeur, and of course one of the most soul stirring tales behind it. Sinhagad was originally called as Kondhana , and is located around 12 miles from Pune. Located on the eastern side of the great Sahayadri range, it is connected to Purandar on the east and west by very high ridges, and on the north and south, there is a huge rugged mountain with a sheer vertical drop.
The fort is located on the mountain, and it has a strong wall, flanked by towers. The only entrance to the fort is by the gates. Shivaji was forced to surrender this fort to Raja Jai Singh, by the Treaty of Purandar , and the fort passed into the hands of the Mughals. Raja Jai Singh appointed Udai Bhan to look after the fort, and it had a huge garrison of Mughal, Rajput and Pathan soldiers. Jijabai, Shivaji’s mother, was not able to digest the loss of this fort, Maharashtra’s pride. She demanded the fort as a gift to her. Shivaji was not very enthusiastic, because of the hazards in accessing the fort, as well as the fact that Udai Bhan was an able commander himself.
But he gave in to his mother’s request, and he called his childhood friend, and one of his ablest men, Tanaji Malusare , for the mission. Shivaji had the faith in Tanaji , a giant of a man, and a fiercely loyal general. But the mission was hazardous in the extreme, the cliffs on which this fort is located, are absolutely steep, and an attack in dark is really dangerous. The doors and gates were heavily guarded, and the fort itself had a strong garrison. And Udai Bhan was a man of no mean abilities, a true Rajput himself. Tanaji did a survey of the area, and found that the only way to get into the fort, was from the South side, as it was the least guarded.
The southern flank was on the top of a huge cliff, and it was assumed that no one could really scale it. Once he was sure of his strategy, he gathered 1000 Malvis( Maratha soldiers) and attacked in the darkness of night. The point of access choosen was the South Western gorge, which had the least security. Once, Tanaji and his men broke into the fort, the doors would be thrown open, following which another contigent of Maratha soldiers would attack .Hmm does this remind any one of the Guns of Navaronne? Now came the toughest part, climbing the huge cliff.
And this is where Tanaji pulled off the master stroke. Humans could not climb the cliff, but ghorpad( Marathi for monitor lizards) could. Tanaji took Shivaji’s pet ghorpad, Yaswanthi , tied a rope around it’s waist, and bade it to run up the cliff. As the lizard, raced to the top, it was able to secure a foothold on the cliff, thanks to it’s talons. The Marathas led by Tanaji clambered up the hill, and soon they let down the ropes for others to follow. As they entered the fort, a commotion caused the garrison to wake up. Though the Marathas were outnumbered by the 1000 strong garrison consisting of Arabs, Afghans, Rajputs and Pathans , they fought like cornered tigers. Tanaji, leading the fray like a man possesed, slaughtering every one who came in his way. As the garrison soldiers fled before Tanaji’s furious onslaught, Udai Bhan himself entered the fray, and time stood still, as these two great warriors fought furiously, like two lions, but finally, Tanaji was wounded fatally around the waist, and he fell.
Just when it seemed all was lost, Tanaji’s brother appeared with reserves, and the Marathas shouting “Har Har Mahadev” fell upon the garrison with a fierce onslaught. So furious was the assault, that many of the defending soldiers, tried to save themselves by jumping over the walls, and fell to their death on the rocks. Udai Bhan , the great Rajput warrior, died like a hero, fighting till the last breath to defend the fort. When Shivaji, came to the fort, he refused to celebrate the capture, seeing his closest friend, and ablest general, lying dead. He broke down saying “Gad Aala, Pan Sinha Gela” , meaning “I have won the Fort, but lost the lion”.
The fort can be reached from Pune , and though it is not very properly maintained, it needs to be watched for the sheer majestic grandeur of the Sahayadri ranges around it. Stand on the walls and as you recall, the Maratha soldiers climbing in the pitch darkness of the night, over the cliffs, a chill runs up your spine. It is sad, that a fort, which has been witness to one of the greatest military operations the world has seen, should lie in a state of criminal neglect. As you walk around and see grafitti scribbled, you wonder when will we learn to respect our history and heritage. But all such feelings vanish, when you come across the bust of Tanaji. As you watch this great man, and recall his valour, loyalty and courage, you feel a sense of pride and joy. Tanaji was truly a lion.
Probably this could be the reason, that NDA cadets, take their most grueling hike ,from Khadakavalsa to Sinhagad fort. Every cadet who passes out from the NDA, proudly recalls, his climb to Sinhagad. It is fitting that the spirit of a man who carried out one of the most brilliant and daring military operation, and an emperor, who was acknowledged as a military genius, should inspire our brave men, who guard our borders day in and day out. Lokamanya Tilak stayed here for some time, while Gandhiji is said to have asked water from this place, whenever he was in Pune.