Sambhaji Bhosale (14 May 1657 – 11 March 1689) was the eldest son of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Empire, and his first wife Saibai. He was successor of the realm after his father’s death. Sambhaji’s rule was largely shaped by the ongoing wars between the Maratha kingdom and the Mughal Empire, as well as other neighbouring powers such as the Siddis, Mysore and the Portuguese in Goa. Sambhaji was captured, tortured, and executed by the Mughals, and succeeded by his brother Rajaram.
Sambhaji was born at Purandar fort to Saibai, Shivaji’s first and favourite wife. His mother died when he was two and he was raised by his paternal grandmother Jijabai. At the age of nine, Sambhaji was sent to live with Raja Jai Singh of Amber, as a political hostage to ensure compliance of the Treaty of Purandar that Shivaji had signed with the Mughals on 11 June 1665.
As a result of the treaty, Sambhaji become a Mughal sardar and served the Mughal court of Aurangzeb and the father and son duo fought along the Mughals against Bijapur. He and his father Shivaji presented themselves at Aurangzeb’s court at Agra on 12 May 1666. Aurangzeb put both of them under house arrest but they escaped on 22 July 1666.
Sambhaji was married to Jivubai in a marriage of political alliance, and per Maratha custom she took the name Yesubai. Jivabai was the daughter of Pilajirao Shirke, who had entered Shivaji’s service following the defeat of a powerful Deshmukh who was his previous patron. This marriage thus gave Shivaji access to the Konkan coastal belt.
Sambhaji’s behaviour, including alleged irresponsibility and “addiction to sensual pleasures” led Shivaji to imprison his son at Panhala fort in 1678 to curb his behaviour. Sambhaji escaped from the fort with his wife and defected to the Mughals for a year but then returned home unrepentant, and was again confined to Panhala.
When Shivaji died in the first week of April 1680, Sambhaji was still held captive in Panhala fort. Shivaji’s widow and Sambhaji’s stepmother, Soyarabai, started making plans with various ministers to crown her son Rajaram as the heir to the Maratha kingdom and the ten-year-old Rajaram was installed on the throne on 21 April 1680. Upon hearing this news, Sambhaji plotted his escape and took possession of the Panhala fort on 27 April after killing the commander. On 18 June, he acquired control of Raigad fort. Sambhaji formally ascended the throne on 20 July 1680. Rajaram, his wife Janki Bai, and mother Soyarabai were imprisoned. Soyarabai was executed in October 1680 on charges of conspiracy.
Bahadurkhan Kokaltash, a relative of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was in charge of Burhanpur, a Mughal stronghold. He left Burhanpur with a portion of his army to attend a wedding, giving the charge of the city to Kakarkhan. Sambhaji tricked Mughals into thinking that Marathas were going to attack Surat that had been plundered twice by Shivaji, but Hambirrao Mohite, the commander of the Maratha army, surrounded Burhanpur. Sambhaji then plundered and ravaged the city in 1680, his forces completely routed the Mughal garrison and punitively executed captives. The Marathas then looted the city and set its ports ablaze. In contrast to his father’s tactics, Sambhaji permitted torture and violence by his forces. Sambhaji then withdrew into Baglana, evading the forces of Mughal commander Khan Jahan Bahadur.
Sambhaji gave shelter to Sultan Muhammad Akbar, the fourth son of Aurangzeb, who sought Sambhaji’s aid in winning the Mughal throne from his emperor father. Upon the death of Shivaji, Aurangzeb came to Deccan in 1680 CE with about half a million troops and 400,000 animals. He defeated the Adilshahi (Sultanate of Bijapur) and Qutubshahi (Sultanate of Golconda) empires, acquiring two generals, Mukarrabkhan and Sarjakhan, from Qutubshahi and Adilshahi empires respectively. He then turned his attention to the Maratha kingdom, engaging Sambaji’s armies. In 1682 the Mughals laid siege to the Maratha fort of Ramsej, but after five months of failed attempts, including planting explosive mines and building wooden towers to gain the walls, the Mughal siege failed.
Entering the 1680s, the Marathas came into conflict with the Siddis, who were Muslim of African descent settled in India and held the fortified island of Janjira. At the start of 1682, a Maratha army, later joined by Sambhaji personally, attacked the island for thirty days, doing heavy damage but failing to breach its defenses. Sambhaji then attempted a ruse, sending a party of his people to the Siddis, claiming to be defectors. They were allowed into the fort, and planned to detonate the gunpowder magazine during a coming Maratha attack. However, one of the female “defectors” became involved with a Siddi man, and he uncovered the plot and the infiltrators were executed. The Maratha then attempted to build a stone causeway from the shore to the island, but were interrupted halfway through when the Mughal army moved to menace Raigad; Sambhaji returned to counter them, and his remaining troops were unable to overcome the Janjira garrison and the Siddi fleet protecting it.
Having failed to take Janjira, in 1682 Sambhaji sent a commander to seize the coastal fort of Anjadiva instead. The Marathas seized the fort, seeking to turn it into a naval base, but in April 1682 were ejected from the fort by a detachment of 200 Portuguese. This incident led to a larger conflict between the two regional powers.
The Portuguese colony of Goa at that time provided supplies to the Mughals, allowed them to use the Portuguese ports in India and pass through their territory. In order to deny this support to the Mughals, Sambhaji undertook a campaign against Portuguese Goa in late 1683 storming the colony and taking its forts, while local Goans uprose against the Europeans. The situation for the colonists became so dire that the Portuguese viceroy, Francisco de Távora, conde de Alvor went with his remaining supporters to the cathedral where the crypt of Saint Francis Xavier was kept, where they prayed for deliverance. The viceroy had the casket opened, and gave the saint’s body his baton, royal credentials, and a letter asking the saint’s support. Sambhaji’s Goa campaign was checked by the arrival of the Mughal army and navy in January 1684, forcing him to withdraw.
Meanwhile, in 1684 Sambhaji signed a defensive treaty with the British at Bombay, realising his need for British arms and gunpowder, particularly as their lack of artillery and explosives impeded the Maratha’s ability to lay siege to fortifications. Thus reinforced, Sambhaji proceeded to take Pratapgad and a series of forts along the Ghats.
Much like his father Shivaji’s Karnataka campaign, Sambhaji attempted in 1681 to invade Mysore, then a southern principality ruled by Wodeyar Chikkadevaraja. Sambhaji’s large army was repelled, as had happened to Shivaji in 1675. The Chikkadevraja later made treaties and rendered tribute to the Maratha kingdom during the conflicts of 1682-1686. The Chikkadevraja however began to draw close to the Mughal empire and ceased to follow his treaties with the Marathas. In response, Sambhaji invaded Mysore in 1686, accompanied by his Brahmin friend and poet Kavi Kalash.
The 1687 Battle of Wai saw the Maratha forces badly weakened by the Mughals. The key Maratha commander Hambirao Mohite was killed, and troops began to desert the Maratha armies. Sambaji’s positions were spied upon by Shirke clan Marathas who had defected to the Mughals. Sambhaji and 25 of his advisors were captured by the Mughal forces of Muqarrab Khan in a skirmish at Sangameshwar in February 1689 .
The captured Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash were taken to Bahadurgad, where Aurangzeb humiliated them by parading them wearing clown’s clothes, and they were subjected to insults by the Mughal soldiers. Accounts vary as to the reasons for what came next: Mughal accounts state that Sambhaji was asked to surrender his forts, treasures, and names of Mughal collaborators with the Marathas, and that he sealed his fate by insulting both the emperor and the Islamic prophet Muhammad during interrogation, and was executed for having killed Muslims. Maratha accounts instead state that he was ordered to bow before Auguranzeb and convert to Islam, and it was his refusal to do so that led to his death, lending a religious martyrdom to the narrative. By doing so he earned the title of Dharmaveer (“protector of dharma”). Aurangzeb ordered Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash to be tortured to death; the process took over a fortnight and included plucking out their eyes and tongue, pulling out their nails, and removing their skin. Sambhaji was finally killed on 11 March 1689, reportedly by tearing him apart from the front and back with wagh nakhe (metal “tiger claws”) and beheading with an axe at Tulapur on the banks of the Bhima river, near Pune.
Some accounts state that Sambhaji’s body was cut into pieces and thrown into the river, or that the body or portions were recaptured and cremated at the confluence of rivers at Tulapur. Other accounts state that Sambhaji’s remains were fed to the dogs.
The Maratha confederacy was put into disarray by Sambhaji’s death, and his younger half-brother Rajaram assumed the throne. A few days after Sambhaji’s death, the capital Raigad fell to the Mughals and Sambhaji’s wife, Yesubai, and son, Shahu were captured. Rajaram shifted the Maratha capital far south to Jinji, while Maratha guerrilla fighters under Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav continued to harass the Mughal army. Yesubai and Shahu, who was 7 years of age when captured, remained prisoners of the Mughals for 18 years from February 1689 until Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s death in 1707. Shahu was then set free by Emperor Muhammad Azam Shah, son of Aurangzeb.After his release Shahu had to fight a brief war with his aunt Tarabai, Rajaram’s widow who claimed the throne for her own son, Shivaji II.
The Mughals kept Yesubai captive to ensure that Shahu adhered to the terms of his release. Yesubai was finally released in 1719 when Marathas became strong enough under Shahu’s rule.