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Monday, August 10, 2015

Did Shivaji Maharaj "really plunder" Surat ??

Hi all..

Today i am making a post related to Maratha King - ChattraPati ShivaJi Maharaj. Though, this blog caters to Mughal, Rajput and Mauryan history at present. Yet, i am making a post related to Marathas. 

I was discussing an event related to his life with a friend and hence decided to make this post. It is related to the Surat incident which happened in 1665. It is said that Shivaji plundered this city, but what is NOT told are the reasons for doing so.!

The Surat incident happened in 1665.

Aurangzeb came to throne in 1659. He was in South in 1656, and he knew that the Marathas were becoming powerful. So, the first thing on his mind was to counter the increasing authority of the Marathas. He sent his maternal uncle, Shaistha Khan to devastate the Maratha territories and crush any opposition. He went there and captured many Maratha Forts and many close relatives of Shivaji died, while defending the forts. The entire area around Pune was captured and turned into a ghost city through a complete devastation. Its revenue was seized by the Mughals. 

The Mughal Governor Shaista Khan and his troops occupied the Maratha territory for 3-4 years and because of this, the Marathas suffered huge economic losses. The land revenue, which was earlier used for the maintenance of Maratha troops, was channelized to the Mughal treasury during those 3-4 years. Shivaji had no money left to maintain his army. The peasantry was suffering. Survival itself became a big challenge. 

Even Pune was lost in May 1660.


Now came the time of revenge..

April 1663 - Shivaji attacked the Mughal Camp containing 10,000+ soldiers with ONLY 400 of his chosen men. {This is not an exaggeration, this is from Persian sources.} Shaistha Khan's son was killed and Marathas escaped unhurt. Shaistha Khan suffered humiliation as his 3 fingers were cut off in the attack - a brutal blow to Aurangzeb's prestige. This was Shivaji's revenge. Months before this, he disposed off Afzal Khan, another Mughal official; and there is a very famous story associated with this.

By now, the Mughals feared Shivaji. He was "thought" to be a magician who could single-handedly come anywhere and dispose off his target, despite the presence of any number of enemy soldiers. He also sent letters to Aurangzeb's officers challenging them to enter Maratha territories and capture it if they could. He was a FEARLESS fighter and a bold strategist. He had great faith in his hill forts, which were tough for Mughals to conquer, as they were used to fighting on plains.

Portrait of Shivaji - Courtesy : British Museum

Surat Incident:

The Surat incident followed the above event. Before attacking Surat, Shivaji sent letters to the Mughal Governor of Surat and 3 wealthy merchants, asking them to meet him and come to terms with him. They did not answer Shivaji. Shivaji wanted the return of revenue which was being taken out from Maratha territories for the last many years.


The next day, Shivaji reached Surat. Its Mughal Governor then was Inayat Khan. He had run away from Surat city the previous night itself and taken refuge in the safe fort of Surat.


Now, here is a lesser known event which is normally not mentioned at many places..

Shivaji reached Surat on the morning of 6th January, 1665. Many soldiers of the enemy were taken prisoners. The Mughal Governor Inayat Khan sent a trusted aide to the Maratha camp to propose "terms of peace". After Shivaji received him, the Mughal aide took out a dagger and attacked Shivaji. The 2 rolled on the ground together and after a few moments, blood was seen on Shivaji's chest. It appeared that he had been assassinated. But, Shivaji was fortunately alive. It was the assassin who perished in this daring one-to-one scuffle. 


Angered by this betrayal, Shivaji's men wanted to go on a massacre to exact revenge. But, Shivaji stopped them and forbade any kind of massacre. 4 Mughal soldiers were given death punishment. 24 were wounded. This is the ONLY casualty suffered by the Mughals in this event. None of them offered any opposition to Shivaji.


Surat was under Maratha control for 3 days. Shivaji took the wealth from Mughal and Portuguese trading centers of Surat. This also included the wealth from the 3 rich merchants mentioned earlier.


Now, come the counters of this much maligned loot and plunder which is again a lesser known fact::

Counter Number 1.

Shivaji did NOT touch the family business of Mohandas Pareikh, a rich employee of the Dutch East India Company. Amidst all this "so-called" loot and plunder, Pareikh's entire business was spared and left untouched by Shivaji.  

The reason was that this man was reputed to be a charitable person who gave alms for the well being of the poor and the oppressed. Hence, Shivaji ordered his forces not to touch his family or his business.


Counter Number 2.

Shivaji did not "plunder" the houses of the foreign missionaries. The contemporary French doctor Bernyeir wrote in his account about this.

"During pillage of Surat, Shivaji - The Holy Shivaji respected the habitation of the reverend father Ambrose, the Capuchin missionary." 

" The Frankish Padres are good men, he said and shall not be attacked. "

It is amazing to discover that though the British and Portuguese armies were up in arms against Shivaji during this Surat incident and supported the Mughals, he was such a liberal person that he refused to even touch their Christian missionaries. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb gave trading concessions to the foreign forces for their "help".


For me, this was an act of great religious tolerance and true secularism. The REAL character of a man comes into light during testing times.
Shivaji's motive in attacking Surat was NOT simply to plunder its wealth. His motive was to destroy the Mughal establishment in the Deccan because the Mughal forces had destroyed the Maratha economy in continuous wars. 

Shivaji gave a stinging reply to Aurangzeb by raiding the port of Surat and setting it ablaze and thus, severely impacting Mughal revenue. 

I will conclude by saying that Shivaji had valid reasons for attacking Surat, which was then a Mughal dominion and an important trading port for them. His action was more political in nature than merely a mercenary act to "loot and plunder" a rich business hub."

Article Category : Miscellaneous

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