At the age of 16, Shivaji captured Torna, a small fort around Pune, which was under Vijapur rule. With that success, he later started taking the forts of Sahyadri mountains in Western Maharashtra. He knew the importance of holding forts at strategic locations to control territories around it. In 1658, Aurangjeb occupied the Mughal throne after his father Shahjahan’s death. It took a few years for him to consolidate his position as an emperor. In 1665, Aurangjeb sent a large army under the Rajput commander Jai Singh to take care of Shivaji’s aggression in Deccan. Realizing certain defeat, Shivaji had to seek a temporary truce with Jai Singh and was forced to return some forts to Mughals. Kondana Fort, 22 miles SW of Pune, was one of them.
One day in 1670, Jijabai who was in her Pune palace was deeply disturbed by the Mughal flag flying on nearby Kondana fort. She asked Shivba (as she affectionately called him), that he should send a Sardar to retake that fort. Shivaji thought about Tanaji Malusare, a Maratha sardar from Mahad of Konkan region, who had assisted Shivaji in his earlier expeditions. Tanaji was in the midst of preparing for his son Raiba’s wedding. As soon as Tanaji got the message from his Maharaj (as his sardars used to address Shivaji), he left for Pune not only with his force but also with his brother Suryaji and maternal uncle Shelarmama. In Pune, Shivaji broached the subject of capturing Kondana, Tanaji said; “Raiba’s wedding can wait, but not the attack on the fort!”
The fort was well guarded on three sides and the only access was from the side of a precipe (more than 2000 feet above the ground), which was considered insurmountable. A plan was made that Tanaji, along with 300 Mavlas, would climb vertical cliffs on the west side in the middle of the night. In the meantime, Tanaji’s brother Suryaji and Shelarmama with 500 Mavlas would attack the front gate. Tanaji and his troops used the help of a Monitor Lizard (like iguana) named Yeshwanti (victorious), to climb up the precipe to reach the fort.
Once inside, Tanaji’s men opened the front gate so Suryaji and his men could enter the fort. The fort was controlled by Udaybhan Rathod, appointed by Jai Singh. A fierce sword fight took place between Tanaji and Udaybhan. During the fight, Tanaji broke his shield but he continued fighting bravely by tying his upper garment over his hand to ward off Udaybhanu’s blows. In the fight, Tanaji was gravely wounded and died on the battlefield.
Hearing the bad news, Mavlas started to run from the fort. Suryaji came forward and announced to his troops that ropes for downward escape were cut and the only way out would be to fight the enemy and defeat them. Mavlas listened to him and the battle resumed. Even at 80 years old Shelarmama engaged Udaybhan in a fight and killed him to avenge Tanaji’s death. By dawn, Mavlas who were outnumbered by the enemy, defeated the Mughal army and once again Shivaji’s saffron flag was unfurled out over Kondana.
Upon hearing the demise of Tanaji, Shivaji was struck with grief and expressed his sorrow by uttering in Marathi, “Gad ala, pan sinha gela!” (Fort won, but I lost the lion). So the Kondana was renamed “Sinhagad” (Fort of Lion).
The great historian Sir H. G. Rawlinson said about this battle, “It was a task, which the Mavlas alone, perhaps of any troops in the world, could hope to cope with successfully.” A bust of Tanaji was erected inside the fort in memory of his martyrdom in the 1970s. The Bollywood actor Ajay Degan is producing a Hindi movie titled “Tanaji: The Unsung Warrior” scheduled to be released in 2019.
This article was first published in Tricia Winter Edition 2018.
Sudhir Kulkarni’s Bio
Sudhir Kulkarni was born at Tasgaon, Sangli District, in Maharashtra. He got his School & College education in Mumbai. He earned his B.E. ( Civil ) degree from Pune Engineering College in 1961. He came to the US in 1966 to get a Masters in Civil Engineering from the University of Wyoming, Laramie. After getting that degree in 1968, he started working in Bridge Design of NY State DOT in Albany. While working he got another Masters in Management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute(RPI), Troy. He worked in DOT for 35 years & retired in 2003. After retirement, he published 6 books in Marathi of which (3) are on Bridges. Since 2010, he is serving as a member of Conservative Advisory Council of Town of Colonie, NY. His hobbies include playing Duplicate Bridge, Travel, & Writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.