The brave Maratha, Santaji Mahulkar
During the 1600s India was not the best of places to live for the Hindus. The Mughal invasions and the Mughal rule had eroded the wealth and prosperity in the country. The Mughals were ruling Delhi, the capital of the country at that time while, the rest of the country was under the firm control of the former Mughal Sardars. Adilshah of Bijapur, Qutubshah of Golconda, Nizamshah, Imadshah and Bidarshah were the 5 sardars who had firmly brought various provinces under their control. The resident Indians were facing a struggle for survival. Large attacks on the Indian villages, the Mughal soldiers looted the houses, raped the women and ransacked the fields all this was a part of life and the Indians were accepting this with their heads held low.
During these times of slavery, misery and misfortune arguably the greatest king to have ever ruled the country, Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj fought against the cruel Mughal rule and set the foundation of Swaraj or self rule. He laid the foundation of a Maratha empire that 300 years later went onto extend to the whole of India. He was the first king to have ever challenged the might of the Mughals and successfully pushed back the armies of the cruel Mughal rulers. Some of the most brave soldiers fought with Shivaji Maharaj in his struggle for Indian people and Swaraj. Many laid their lives down for the noble cause and are remembered in history as great heroes and warriors. Shivaji Maharaj himself will always be one of the best kings to have graced Indian soil. There are however some stories of great warriors that are lost in the pages of history. One such warrior was Santaji Mahulkar.
Born to a farmer in the village of ‘Ranthi’, Santaji lived a simple life till he turned 17. He was an ambitious young man who wanted to excel at business and thus began to travel to the prosperous city of Surat to trade the crops grown by his family. Raised with limited resources but unlimited urge to succeed in life, Santaji decided to change the way crops were traded and began buying crops at rates higher than the market from neighbouring villages and then sold them in the sophisticated markets of Surat and reaped rich rewards. However, the success of Santaji had not gone well with some of the crop traders from Surat. One among them was Abdali Shekh. Abdali made sure that Santaji faced a lot of problems in the markets of Surat but Santaji overcame all of these. As a final resort he poisoned Santaji’s crops leading to many traders suffering from food poisoning. The Mughal soldiers dragged him out of the market and chopped of one of Santaji’s hand. They hit him with iron bars and whips. Santaji suffered a lot of injuries and tremendous humiliation. He came back to the village of Ranthi and his family was aghast after seeing their son suffer at the hands of the Mughal soldiers. His father however did not console him but egged him on to battle against the cruelty of the Mughals and contribute to the Swaraj movement started by Shivaji Maharaj.
Santaji knew his limitations but decided to contribute towards the efforts started by Shivaji Maharaj. Santaji decided to practice the art of swordsmanship and that too with one hand. It was no mean task as very often Santaji was left exhausted due to the weight of the swords. He practiced from dawn to dusk and against some of the best swordsmen in his village. Santaji had a great reputation in his village as a businessman and thus many of the young men who had joined Shivaji Maharaj in his cause advised him to meet Shivaji Maharaj and ask for a place in his army. Santaji knew his limitations and thus decided to perfect an art so that no one could be better than him at it. Santaji became a master of traps. He designed some of the most effective and vicious traps and presented them to Shivaji Maharaj. Maharaj was also impressed by the way he handled the sword. Shivaji Mahraj knew that Santaji was a man of honour and though he would not be the best swordsman around he was better than many at it. Santaji thus became a part of Shivaji’s army. He was a part of the planning for war team and also trained the youth in various forms of war.
It was a period of war and many expected it to end Shivaji’s reign as the Maratha king. This was the period when Afzal Khan the mighty sardar from Adilshah’s army was hell-bent on defeating Shivaji Maharaj. Afzal Khan had left no stone unturned in a bid to bring Shivaji into the plains. Afzal khan knew that Shivaji could not be defeated in the jungles of Javli and thus destroyed and devastated the Hindu villages of Shivaji’s kingdom. He started out by burning all the fields in his army’s way and destroying all the temples that he crossed. No Hindu was spared and the people suffered a great deal. He massacred many on his way to the outskirts of Javli where he intended to wait till Shivaji descended to meet him.
During his stay on the outskirts of Javli at Wai, he received the news of the death of one of his most experienced generals, Farhaad Khan, who had visited and fought in the jungles of Javli. Afzal Khan was taken aback at the news and the entire story was narrated to him in detail by one of his soldiers.
On their way to Afzal Khan’s waiting place at Wai, Farhaad Khan came across a village named Ranthi. He decided to overlook the village as he wanted to reach Afzal Khan’s campa t the earliest. Shivaji Maharaj intended to persuade Afzal Khan into the jungles of Javli, but Farhaad Khan knew that such a move would be equal to certain death. He knew that fighting in Javli meant that the Maratha army though not even fraction of Afzal Khan’s army would easily rout them. He wanted to suggest Afzal Khan an alternate way to tackle Shivaji.
As luck would have it, Farhaad Khan could help but ignore the wonderful temple in the village at Ranthi. Built in pure marble, the temple exuded the spirit of divinity and its grandeur was unparalleled. The temple had a rich compound made of expensive marble bought from the bazaars of Surat and had art work only some of the best artists were capable of. The gardens in the vicinity were spectacularly maintained and the interiors of the temple had some of the most precious stones embedded in the marble. Farhaad Khan was stunned. The village did not one bit seem rich or prosperous but the temple at the centre would easily fetch him gems worth millions he thought. He could not control his temptation to destroy the beautiful temple and loot the people of Ranthi. He however did not know that Santaji was in the village and that it would be the village he would breathe his last.
Farhaad Khan had about 100 horsemen and another 50 swordsmen with him decided to ransack the temple and the surrounding houses. He started off by sending some men to find ways to attack. As the men entered the village and started to gain information, one of the local guys suspected foul play and informed the house of the Mahulkars. Fortunately for the village, their son Santaji was in the village visiting his ailing father. Though the times were tough his king had allowed him to go meet his ailing father. Santaji heard of the news and at once decided to look into the matter. He could easily see that a certain group had circled the boundaries of the village. He could see the horses and the flags on them and knew at once that the village was under threat. Afzal Khan was to attack Shivaji Maharaj, but Ranthi was in no way under any danger as the village was not en-route Pune. However the grand temple built in recent times had invited unwanted guests. Santaji was ready to give them the right treatment.
Santaji ordered the troops with him about 10 horsemen to circle the main temple. He did not want the temple to be hurt at any cost. He advised the villagers to dig 5 feet deep into the ground and make a circle around the temple. The deep circle was about 50 yards from the temple premises and horsemen were standing inside the circle. The biggest building in the village was the Panchayat building and Santaji ordered his men to fill the entire building with inflammables. He then convened a meeting with the youth and the brave men in the village. There were hundreds of them but Santaji knew that without weapons they were just chickens waiting to be slaughtered. He advised about 100 men to take the responsibility of fighting with him while the others were summoned to take the women, children and the aged to safety at once. Santaji did not want any loss of life in this battle. He had built the temple with his wealth and he could not help but think that the temple was the cause of this impending fight. He was not the one to give up and he knew he could easily handle the 150odd fleet of the Mughals.
Santaji was not the only one making the plans. Farhaad Khan called for some army of his own and after the information from the village, added another 100 horsemen and 100 swordsman to his fleet. He knew that a successful fight would mean a lot of wealth and tremendous praise from his sardar, Afzal Khan. He however wanted to win this battle quickly and that was the biggest flaw in his approach. While Santaji was fighting for his village and the temple of his deity, Farhaad was fighting for wealth and that too with an intention of destroying a place of worship.
Santaji had spread a word that the village had stored all its wealth and collections in the Panchayat building and that all the soldiers in the village would only protect the temple. Farhaad Khan was unaware that Santaji had a plan ready for his troops. On the third day of his wait outside Ranthi, Farhaad decided to storm the village. He and about hundred of his troops attacked the front side of the village and about 50 were asked to secretly find the way to the Panchayat building and to find the wealth. As they began burning houses and dousing them in fire, Farhaad realized that nobody was actually inside these houses. He had always noticed the movement around the houses and was amazed to find that he could now not spot a single villager. Santaji had smartly asked the men designated to move the others to safety to behave in a normal manner when evacuating the houses. These men made sure the movement was normal and the enemy did not suspect foul play. Farhaad knew that his first move was useless he would not have anyone resisting him in the village neither would he get a chance to spill Hindu blood. He advised his troops to march towards the temple. His 50 men grouped as units of 10 found their way to the Panchayat house. As one unit entered the house, Santaji’s men attacked them and called the other 4 groups inside to collect the wealth. These groups thinking that it was a signal from their own men entered the house, the doors were then sealed and then Santaji’s men set the house on fire. It was not something Santaji wanted to do but his foresight was brilliant.
As soon as the flames erupted and the 50 swordsmen burnt to their death inside the rest of Farhaad’s troops thought the battle had been won. They stormed the village only to face the 100 strong men appointed by Santaji at the gates of the village. These 100 men started the fight by hurling bags of chilly powder in the air. They headed to the nearby houses in the mean time and fought bravely with the troops of Farhaad using small knives. These 100 men knew that they would never survive the battle but they had to bide time before Santaji saved the temple and killed Farhaad. These soldiers attacked from all sides but the long swords of Farhaad’s men could not be controlled for long. Santaji’s men however ensured that they couldn’t head to the temple in the mean time.
Farhaad and his troops approached the temple. They could not see more than 15 soldiers. Farhaad was ecstatic. He had seen the Panchayat house go up in flames and had no idea of what had happened he was imagining a rout and his troops marched towards the temple to smash it to pieces and loot the gems. The soldiers guarding the temple came out of the circle around the temple and set the hay inside the 5 feet deep pits on fire. The entire hay caught fire and the flames surrounded the temple. The flames acted as a safety net as no one could enter the temple premises unless the fire subsided. Santaji led the 5 soldiers guarding the temple and they began fighting with the 100 before them. Farhaad waited about 100 yards away sure that his troops would do the job. Amazingly the 5 brave men were dealing blows for blows. Farhaad was amazed to see that a one handed warrior was slashing his men to bits. Santaji slashed and swiped, he turned around and defended with one blow and then swiveled across to stab another horse rider. 3 of his fighters fell in this heavily lopsided battle, Santaji waved a flag, a group of another 10 men rushed out of the temple jumping through the fire circled the horsemen. Santaji kept fighting. He moved in an arc towards the new set of fighters. Together these men were biding time. Santaji was waiting for some news, he had not just asked the men in his village to drive others to safety he had asked them to gather as much weapons as needed and inform an army post nearby about the situation. He fended blows after blows as he knew that they had to take the fight to the evening as it would at least take till then for the help to arrive. Santaji fought bravely he took over a horse from one of Farhaad’s men and charged towards Farhaad, five guards met him on the way, Santaji took them one by one while defending blows off the other.
He cut hands, heads and limbs before he reached Farhaad. Farhaad had a cunning smile on his face. He took swords in both his hands and struck Santaji. Santaji was in the battle for about 4 hours now and Farhaad was fresh and ready to take on a one handed man. Farhaad had the better of him. He struck Santaji on the chest and once on the back. Santaji knew his limitations now. He knew he had to defend his side. Santaji opened up his unarmed side for Farhaad. Farhaad struck the side 3 times and Santaji was bleeding profusely. Santaji once again presented the side to Farhaad. Farhaad with an intention to hit the final blow let go off one of his sword and put all his efforts in that single strike Santaji swerved out of the way knowing his enemy’s way of attack and struck a meaty blow on Farhaad’s right hand chopping it off to the ground. Farhaad could not believe what had just happened. He did not attempt to move or save himself. He was taken aback and was shocked at the skills and determination of Santaji. He tried to lift the sword on the ground with his other hand but before he could do that Santaji tore open his chest and drove the sword through it. Farhaad was dead. Santaji fell heavily into the ground. All his soldiers were dead too.
About 25 of Farhaad’s men had survived the battle near the temple and were waiting for the fore to subside. However, 100s of villagers stormed towards them with mashaals and swords. 50 horsemen with the Maratha flag also rode towards them, they could see death just like their leader had in the eyes of Santaji. The entire batch of Farhaad’s men started running helter-skelter. They had no way to go and eventually were killed.
100s from the village of Ranthi layed their lives down for glory and the pride of their village. Their leader Santaji fought not only with might but with planning and organization.
The temple was saved and the Panchayat house was rebuilt by Shivaji Maharaj.
Afzal Khan never got the advise that Javli was dangerous he ended up entering Javli and the rest as they say is HISTORY……
Many people change HISTORY, but all do not gain recognition. Santaji’s sacrifice will never be forgotten.