Henry Montgomery Lawrence.

Essays, military and political, written in India online

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negligent, Sivajee consulted Tannajee Maloosray, one of
his bravest officers, as to the best plan of surprizing
the place. Tannajee replied that, if permitted to take
his own younger brother and 1000 selected Mawulees,
he would engage to seize the fortress. His offer was
accepted. A dark night was selected for the assault.
Having received their orders at Eajgurh, the Mawulees
separated, and by different paths, known only to them-
selves, proceeded to the rendezvous in the vicinity of
Singurh. Tannajee then divided his men into two
parties, one to storm, the other to support. He selected
the most precipitous point of the rock, and by means
of rope-ladders, led his advanced party, one by one, up
the precipice. Scarcely three hundred had ascended
when the garrison were alarmed. The challenge of the
foremost sentinel was answered by an arrow, and the
bowmen then plied their weapons in the direction where
they perceived, by the lights, that the garrison were
collecting. A desperate conflict ensued, and the
Mawulees were gaining ground, when their leader was
slain. They then fell back, and were on the point of
retreating by the fearful path they had ascended, when
Tannajee's brother, Sooryajee, with the relief, appeared,
rallied the fugitives, and upbraided them for deserting
their Chief, saying, " Will you leave your father's
corpse to be tossed into a pit by Mhars?" He added
that the rope-ladders were destroyed, and that now
was their time to prove themselves Sivajee' s Mawu-
lees. In an instant the tide was turned, and, with a
deafening shout of their battle cry, "Hur Hur Ma-
hadeo,'' they returned to the charge and were soon in
possession of the fort. Of the Mawulees, nearly one-


tliird were killed or wounded, and five hundred of the
Eajputs, with their commander, were found dead or

Sivajee was hardly consoled for the loss of his gallant
officer by the capture of the important post. When
congratulated on the success of his arms he sorrowfully
replied, " The den* is taken, but the lion is slain ; we
have gained a fort, but alas ! I have lost Tannajee
Maloosray ! " Sivajee, who, as he paid his soldiers
regularly, was chary of gifts, on this occasion gave
every surviving Mawulee a pair of silver bangles, and
rewarded the officers proportionally.

A new tide of conquest had now opened on Sivajee ;
again, fort after fort fell before his arms or his finesse.
The city of Surat (October, 1670) was again plundered;
and for three days, at the head of 15,000 men, he
leisurely squeezed all who had anything to yield. The
English factory, as before, defended themselves. Hear-
ing of the approach of a Mogul army, Sivajee suddenly
decamped, leaving behind him a letter for the inhabi-
tants in which he demanded a tribute of 12 lakhs of
rupees as the price of exemption from future plunder.
Such was often, with the Mahrattas as with the Sikhs,
the origin of their territorial acquisitions. They plun-
dered the weak, and gradually assumed a proprietary
right in all they had the power to destroy or molest.
Their visits were commuted for choiith, or a fourth of
the produce, to be paid as protection, or rather exemp-
tion money; gradually the stronger pai*ty appointed
their own collectors, and, step by step, assumed the
government of the lands they had originally wasted.
This year, we first hear the word Choiifh. The large
town of Kurinja being plundered, a regular agreement

* SiiigLii'h — i. c. the Lioii'sj dwelling.


was taken from the local autliorities to pay one-fourth
of the yearly revenue ; in consideration of which they
were not only to be exempted from plunder but pro-

Sivajee's attention was now turned to the sea as well
as the land, and his exertions were unremitting on both
elements. He sought either to expel the Portuguese
from the coast or to reduce them to the condition of
tributaries. His troops, who had hitherto rather
harassed than attacked the Moguls and had been for-
midable chiefly in forests and fastnesses, began to meet
the Emperor's troops boldly in the plain and daily with
increased success. His usual tactics were to aflect
retreat; to draw on the Mogul horse in their usual
tumultuous disorder, and then, either to lead them into
an ambuscade, or, suddenly rallying his apparently
broken parties, to return to the offensive, and, by
repeated attacks on the broken squadrons, to sweep all
before him. The Mahratta and also the Sikh horsemen
were long famous for such manoeuvres ; and so prevalent
is this Parthian policy, not only among the Mahrattas,
but throughout Indian warfare, that it is not unusual,
as at the battle of Assaye, for gunners, when ridden
over by cavalry, to lie quietly down till the torrent has
passed, and then to rise and turn their guns on the
squadrons that have overwhelmed them.

In 1673, Sivajee, after a siege of several months,
captured the fort of Satara. The place had been long
used as a state prison : its captor little anticipated that
it would be the dungeon of his successors, whence they
would be released and reinstated by the English traders,
with whom, in their merely mercantile character, he
now first became acquainted. Sivajee, who had long
struck coins and styled himself Maharaja, was in June
of this year formally enthroned. He was weighed


against gold, the whole of which being then given to
the Brahmans, sharpened their wits for the discovery
that the donor was of high Bajput descent.

Aurungzebe's attention had been for some time with-,
drawn from the Deccan by the disturbances arising from
his revival of the jezia or Hindoo capitation tax, a mea-
sure which transformed the Rajputs from faithful
dependants and followers into stout rebels. Raja
Jeswunt Sing had died at Kabul, fighting the Mogul
battles. He was rewarded by an attempt to convert
his children by force, but this outrage on his family,
together with the jezia, drove the Rajputs into a hos-
tile confederation which occupied the Emperor for two
years. In the year 1676, he again felt at liberty to
turn his attention towards the Deccan, and at this time
he seems to have believed that his schemes for weaken-
ing the several kingdoms in that quarter had taken

The Mogul influence had for some time been para-
mount at Golcondah; there was, what was called, a
close alliance with Rajapoor; and even Sivajee now
found it his interest to pay temporary tribute. Having
determined to proceed to the Carnatic and oblige his
brother to yield (according to Hindoo law) half their
father's inheritance, he came to an understanding with
the King of Grolcondah, and took the politic step of
offering a sop to the Mogul commander to spare his
possessions during his absence ; jocosely comparing his
paying tribute to giving oil-cake to his milch cow, by
which " she would produce the more milk." In 1676-7
he proceeded on his expedition at the head of 30,000
horse and 40,000 foot, but Yenkajee soon found the
inutility of opposition, and agreed to divide the revenues
of Tanjore and his other districts ; on which peace was
concluded between the brothers. After an absence of


eighteen montlis, Sivajee returned to Maharashtra and
was soon again in hot hostility with the Emperor.

The Moguls, having now thrown off the mask
towards both Golcondah and Beejapoor, appeared before
the latter place. The Eegent called urgently on Sivajee
for aid. He gave it effectually, cut off the Mogul's
supplies, and obliged them to raise the siege. His
reward was the abrogation of the Beejapoor rights of
sovereignty over all the conquests he had at different
times made. During this campaign Sivajee' s son, Sam-
bajee, fled in discontent from his father to the Mogul
commander Dilere Khan, who proposed to Aurungzebe
to set him up as a counterpoise to Sivajee, but the
Emperor declined to take a step that would virtually
recognise, and thereby strengthen, the predatory system.
Dilere Khan being soon after displaced, avenged him-
self by conniving at Sambajee's escape. The latter
returned to his father and received partial forgiveness,
but was detained at large in the fort of Panalla.

Scarcely were the terms of the engagement with
Beejapoor concluded, when Sivajee's earthly career
closed. His last illness was caused by a swelling in the
knee-joint, ending in fever that carried him off on the
5th April, 1680, in his 53rd year. Few conquerors
have effected so much with equal means. Long dis-
owned by his father, and unaided by the local chiefs,
until by his own stripling arm he had rendered himself
independent, he died the recognised ruler of a territory
fifty thousand square miles in area; his name was
dreaded from Surat to Tanjore, and in every quarter
between those remote points, his bands had levied con-
tributions and tribute. The Mahommedan yoke was
now for ever broken in Maharashtra. The long- dor-
mant military spirit of the people was roused, to be
quelled only in the entire disruption of that system on


which it had risen. The genius of Sivajee emancipated
the Mahrattas : succeeding chiefs, by neglecting the
pohcy which had aggrandized their founder, and
adopting an organization which they could never per-,
fectly master, precipitated the State to a second downfall.
Our brief sketch will have shown the line of tactics
that Sivajee pursued. Personally brave, he never
fought when he could fly, or when stratagem or treachery
could effect his object : but whatever was his design,
he weighed it deliberately, gained the most accurate
information on all necessary points, and then, when
least expected, pounced upon his prey. The heavy and
slow-moving Moguls must have been sadly puzzled at
encountering such a foe. Many stories are told of the
terror his very name inspired. He was equally feared as
a soldier, a marauder, and an assassin. His own dagger,
or those of his emissaries, could reach where his troops
could not penetrate ; no distance or precaution could
keep his prey from him. The old Jaghir system, under
which the Mahratta chief served the Deccan kings, was
a good foundation for the regenerator of his country to
work upon ; but it must be remembered that it was not
with the chiefs that Sivajee commenced operations, but
with the despised and half-starving peasantry of the
Grhat-Mahta and Sawunt-waree. It was when Sivajee
had gained a name, and had himself become a chief, that
chiefs joined his standard. It is ever so in India.
There is always ample material abroad to feed the
wildest flame of insurrection; but not until it has
assumed a head, will those who have a stake in the land
join it. They will talk, they will write, they will plot ;
but seldom, unless in instances of great infatuation,
when misled by false prophets, will the chiefs of the
land join an insurrectionary move, so long as their own
izzut has not been touched.

siva.tee's career. 178

During Sivajee's whole career, he cannot be said to
liave enjoyed, or rather suffered, one single year of
peace. He seems from the outset to have declared per-
petual hostility against all who had anything to lose.
His pacifications, or rather truces, were but breathing
spaces, to enable him to recruit or collect his means, or
to leave him unshackled to direct his whole force in
another quarter. Aurungzebe played into Sivajee's
hands by his timid and suspicious policy. The Em-
peror was incessantly changing his commanders, and
feared to entrust any one of his sons or generals with
means sufficient to quell the Deccan insurrections, lest
the power so deputed should be used, as he himself had
used it, to the usurpation of the throne. Thus dis-
trusted, his children and officers managed the war with
Sivajee, as with Beejapoor and Golcondah, for their own
aggrandizement. They fought as little as they could,
while they plundered and received bribes as much as

There was thus much in the times, and there was still
more in the condition 2C£A feeling of the country, favour-
able to Sivajee. His cause was, or appeared to be, that
of the people. They had long groaned beneath a Ma-
hommedan yoke, and some openly, all secretly, hailed
a liberator of their own blood, caste, and country. It
was this strong feeling in his favour that enabled him to
procure the excellent intelligence for which he was noted ;
his spies were in every quarter, in the very zenanas
and durbars of his enemies, and always gave timely
warning of all designs, and full information of the weak
points against which to direct his enterprizes. "With
all these advantages it may seem more surprising that
Sivajee's rise was not quicker, than that it made the
progress we have shown ; but it must be remembered
that the Maliratta chiefs were never unanimous, that


few ever joined the founder of their empire, that
Sivajee's officers and soldiers were the creatures of liis
own genius, and that for many years the majority of
his troops were infantry, excellent in their own strong
country, but ill adapted for foreign conquest. Above
all, there was the prestige of antiquity and of power
around the Mahommedan thrones, and especially around
that of the Great Mogul. In no quarter of the world
does so much respectful fear attach to long-established
authority as in India. If there is little veneration for
sovereignty, there is abundance of awe. Loyalty and
patriotism we put out of the question; but in every
case of insurrection the majority of chiefs and men of
war, of all castes, will first offer their services to the
established power to fight either for or against their
own kindred and country ; and it is only when refused
employment that they flock to the newly- displayed
banner. The middle and lower classes act differently ;
their sympathies will be with their fellows, but they
will naturally be cautious to conceal their feelings until
the progress of events and the conduct of the contend-
ing parties afford some clue to the probable result of
the struggle. Thus Aurungzebe might originally have
commanded the services of all that were then considered
the fighting classes of Maharashtra; but his suspicious
temper, fearing to admit Hindus into his ranks, and
even refusing the services of the Deccan Mussulmans,
drove them into the ranks of his enemy. The Mahom-
medan Government in India had, in short, lost its tact,
elasticity, and vigour : luxury had sapped the Moslem
strength, and deadened their one solitary virtue. Their
hardihood declined, and with it their empire fell.
Sivajee was the first to take advantage of the imperial
decay, and his example was soon followed in every
quarter of India.

sivajef/s military system. 175

Sivajee early established a strict military system.
His infantry, as already stated, were originally re-
cruited chiefly from the Concan and Ghat-Mahta. The
Hetkurees of the former were good marksmen, but his
chief dependence was on the Mawulees, or inhabitants
of the mountain valleys. He employed the latter on all
undertakings requiring cool courage and hand-to-hand
work. They never failed him. The usual arms of both
were a sword, shield, and matchlock ; but a bow was sub-
stituted for the matchlock of every tenth man, as being
useful in ambuscades and night attacks. The cavalry
were of two classes, Sillidars, or men bringing their own
cattle, and Bargeers, who were mounted on horses of
the State. A select body of the latter, forming a third
and very important class, were designated the Pagah,
or household troops. Individuals of this body were
mingled with the sillidars and ordinary bargeers to
overawe them, and act as spies on their conduct. Horse
and foot of all ranks were hardy, active, and abstemious.
Camp equipage was unknown among them, a single
blanket, in addition to their light coarse vestments, com-
pleted their wardrobe ; and a small bag of parched grain
sufficed for their commissariat supplies. Thus furnished,
the infantry would for days and days thread the defiles
and jungles of their wild country, and, by paths known
only to themselves, appear where least expected ; while
the cavalry, supplied with small saddle-bags to hold
such grain or plunder as they might pick up, swept the
country at the rate of fifty, sixty, and even eighty
miles within twenty-four hours. The grand secret of
Mahratta hardihood was, that chiefs and officers shared
equally in the privations of their men. A picture was
once taken of the Peishwa Bajee Eao by order of his
enemy, the great Nizam-ul-Mulk, as he chewed his
dinner of parched grain, sitting on his horse with all his


baggage under him, and liis long Maliratta spear stuck
in the ground by his side, while he thus took his repast.
Plunder and profit formed the object of all expedi-
tions, the test, and in Mahratta eyes the only proof, of
victory. During Sivajee's life, all plunder was public"
property. It was brought at stated periods to his
durbar, where the man who had taken it was praised,
rewarded, or promoted.

" Then lands were fairly portioned ;
Then spoils were fairly sold :
The Bergees were like brothers
In the brave days of old."

Sivajee had sense enough to perceive how much he
should personally gain by the punctual payment of his
army. The pay of the infantry varied from three to ten
rupees per month, that of bargeers from seven to
eighteen, and of sillidars from twenty to forty. All
accounts were closed annually : assignments were given
for balances on collectors, but never on villages. Cows,
cultivators, and women were exempt from plunder.
Eich Mahommedans and Hindus in their service, were
favourite game. Towns and villages were systema-
tically sacked, and where money or valuables were not
forthcoming, Sivajee would take promissory notes from
the local authorities. He shed no unnecessary blood ;
he was not cruel for cruelty's sake, but on these
occasions of plunder he mercilessly slaughtered and
tortured all who were supposed to have concealed
treasure. An Englishman, captured by Sivajee at
Surat, reported that he found the marauder, surrounded
by executioners, cutting off heads and limbs.

The mountain fortresses were the key-stones of his
power. His treasure, plunder, and family safe, he could
freely move wherever an opening offered. His garrisons
were under strict discipline, and were composed of


mixed classes as mutual checks. All were told off to
such duties as were respectively suited to their habits.
Brahmans, Mahrattas, Ramoosees, Mhars and Mangs
were in every fort. The whole were called Gurhku-
rees, and were maintained by hereditary assignments of
rent-free land in the neighbourhood. The Eamoosees,
Mhars, and Mangs were the scouts and intelligencers ;
the Mahrattas formed the garrison. All relied for their
daily bread on the charge of their post ; it was, in Grant
Duff's words, " the mother that fed them."

The rainy season was usually the holiday of the
Mahrattas ; the infantry took their ease, the cavalry
horses grazed at will on the rich pasture lands, — and, as
often as possible, on those of the enemy. This was, how-
ever, a busy time for Sivajee and his confidants. They
now made their inquiries, and spied out the land for the
ensuing campaign. At the autumnal dussera, the
scattered bands were collected ; the Bhugwa Jenda, or
national flag, was unfurled, and the wild marauders
poured like a torrent over the country. Under penalty
of death, not a woman was taken into camp,* and, un-
fettered and unencumbered, Sivajee's bands struck the
severest blows at points most distant from the places
where they were expected.

It is only justice to state that this extraordinary man,
while devastating other lands, was not unmindful of the
duty he owed to his own subjects. In his conquered
territory, and where the inhabitants had compounded
for security, he was kind, considerate, and consequently
popular. He usually took two-fifths of the crop, and
protected the ryot in the enjoyment of the remainder.
He set his face altogether against the farming and

* In this, and in some other mat- Endless trains of cattle and camp-
ters, the English might with advan- followers constitute a veri/weak point
tage take a leaf out of Sivajee's book, in our military system.— H. M. L.


assignment system, now, as formerly, so prevalent
throughout the Mahratta and other native States. In
civil cases he employed punchayets, the best, if not
the only resource in countries where official honesty
is uncertain. Punchayets may decree wrongfully ; but,
imder efficient superintendence and such checks as are
easily applied, they will administer quicker and more
substantial justice, among a rude and simple people,
than the most strait-laced courts. The truth or false-
hood of nine out of ten cases that are tried in cutcheries,
and that may long enough puzzle the wits of strangers,
is well known in the adjoining villages. It needs,
therefore, only that interested parties be prevented from
being members of punchayets, that such courts be open,
and, as far as possible, that suits be decided by them at
a single sitting, which may be effected in ninety -nine
cases out of a hundred.

To assist in the management of affairs, Sivajee ap-
pointed eight principal officers, the chief of whom, or
Prime Minister, he designated Peishwa, an ominous
name for his descendants. Among his countrymen and
admirers, Sivajee is still spoken of as an incarnation of
the Deity, to which opinion his deeds of blood and
treachery are no drawback. Mahrattas consider that
political assassination is wise and proper, and that ne-
cessity justifies murder.

Sivajee was small of stature, and of dark complexion.
His countenance was intelligent and animated, his eyes
piercing, his frame active rather than powerful, and, as
already mentioned, he was master of all the weapons
commonly used in his country. Scott Waring calls him
a good son to a bad father, but he does not show that
there was ever any intercourse between them; and, as
we have shown, the only proof he gave of dutiful regard
was in the destruction of his father's enemy; unless,


indeed, it be considered an act of filial piety that he
seized his parent's jaghir in his absence, and by his re-
bellion against Beejapoor occasioned Shahjee's long and
cruel imprisonment. On the whole, we may pronounce
the founder of the Mahratta empire to have been the
man of his day in India : greater than any of the Mah-
ratta chiefs who succeeded him, and unrivalled since,
even by Hyder Ally or Eunjeet Sing. Sivajee could
not only conquer and destroy, but he could legislate and
build up. There is the germ of civil organization in
his arrangements ; and had he lived the ordinary period
of man's life, he might have left to his successors a
united and well-established principality. He died
suddenly, and with him his empire may be said to have

Sivajee left immense treasure. The amount has been
variously estimated; but always in millions of pounds
sterling. Heaped together in his coffers at Eajgurh
were the dollars of Spain, the sequins of Venice, the
pagodas of the Carnatic, and all the various gold mohurs
of the different quarters of India, with innumerable
kinds of rupees of every shape and stamp. But all his
spoil, the harvest of more than thirty years of crime
and blood, of restless nights, of ceaseless and unseason-
able marches, did not bring peace to the owner, nor save
his son from a fearful death ; it did not preserve his suc-
cessors from the prison his own hands had prepared,
nor his people from being split into factions that soon
sealed their own destruction.

Sivajee had four wives ; two survived him, of whom
one performed suttee; the other, having intrigued to
raise her own son, Eaja Eam, to the guddee, was put to
a cruel death by her step-son, Sambajee, who executed
all the parties concerned in this scheme for his super-

N 2


Once established in power, Sambajee showed, indeed,
a soldierly spirit in the field ; but his government was
lax, cruel, and corrupt. His troops plundered the hus-
bandman with impunity; and this relaxation of dis-
cipline, though it attracted a large accession of daring
and dissolute adventurers to the Mahratta standard, yet
proved a bad preparation for meeting the formidable
power that was coming against them. Aurungzebe was

Online LibraryHenry Montgomery LawrenceEssays, military and political, written in India → online text (page 14 of 39)