The Rebel Who Challenged An Empire
Book Three depicts the growth of Shivaji as a formidable enemy to Aurangzeb and their clashes on the battlefield and eventually, in person.
Determined to crush the growing Maratha rebellion, Aurangzeb began sending his own closest aides into the fray. Sending his own maternal uncle Shaista Khan with a huge army of over 150,000 men and one of the biggest artillery divisions in the Moghul empire, he commanded that Khan capture the stronghold of the Marathas by force. With another 150,000 Moghul and Sultanate forces pitched against him, Shivaji’s rebels faced an army of over 300,000, often forced to defend crucial forts with barely 350 soldiers! Yet despite these absurd odds, the Marathas used their now-legendary guerilla methods to continue to hold out for months at a time. Enfuriated, Shaista Khan ransacked Maratha homelands and villages, committed atrocities and even set up residence in Lal Mahal, Shivaji’s own home palace in Pune where he used Shivaji’s mother’s prayer room as his harem. In another daring assault, Shivaji infilterated the Lal Mahal disguised as wedding procession attendees and started a riot within the Moghul camp. Surrounded by the might of the Moghul army, a small band of daring warriors fought their way into the mansion where Shivaji found, confronted, then pursued Shaista Khan personally, severing three of his fingers as the Khan leaped out of a window to save his own life. The impossible had come to pass: A tiny band of Marathas had retaken Pune from the mighty Moghul army! Humiliated, Khan left pune and returned to Agra, where Aurangzeb banished him to Bengal as punishment. Emboldened, Shivaji went on the offensive, attacking Surat and other wealthy Moghul territories to gain gold for his treasury and weapons and armor for his men. Enraged, Aurangzeb sent another great army led by Jai Singh who came close to defeating Shivaji. Forced to treaty for the sake of his people’s survival, Shivaji gave up 23 forts. But when Aurangzeb tried to have Shivaji assassinated at Agra, Shivaji and his son hid in sweet boxes and fled, launching a new offensive and beginning a string of crucial assaults that cost the Moghuls the worst defeats in their entire history. The swelling Maratha forces had now grown to over 100,000 with the dream of a Maratha nation and self-rule (‘swarajya’) seeming an achievable reality.