Bundela - Mughal War

As the old road from Agra to the Deccan leaves Gwalior, it skirts on its left-hand side an extensive forest tract known as Bundelkhand. The Jumna river and the Kaimur range, meeting at a sharp angle near Mirzapur, enclose this district on the north, east, and south. Its western boundary is the edge of the Malwa plateau. The river Betwa flowing north-eastwards to the Jumna cuts it into two. The country took its name from its dominant race, the Bundelas, a clan of Gaharwar Rajputs.

An ancestor of the family migrated from the Benares, through the Mirzapur District, and established his rule over this tract by dispossessing its older rulers, Afghans and aborigines. Urchha, on the Betwa, was their first capital, (founded in 1531). Here lived the head of the clan. The Bundelas multi- plied fast, and the younger branches established principalities all over the land, each centring around a fort. One of these, Mahoba, sheltered within a network of ravines, rose to prominence in the latter half of the seventeenth century, under, Champat Rai and his son Chhatra Sal, who long troubled the Imperial government. Other scions of the family reigned at Simroha Shahpur, and many other towns.

The Bundela power reached its zenith under Bir Singh Dev, the agent employed by Jahangir in murdering his father’s beloved minister Abul Fazl. There was hardly any favour which the Emperor could refuse to this Rajah. Bir Singh grew in wealth and power, and towards the close of his patron’s reign, when the Imperial administration grew slack, he freely levied contributions from the neighbouring princes, for none dared to complain against the favourite. As a still higher mark of his master’s favour, he was permitted to build grand temples at Mathura, Urchha, and other places. With all his lavish expenditure on temples and ghats, gifts to Brahmans, and construction of palaces, forts and lakes, Bir Singh died in 1627, the master of fabulous wealth, fully two crores of rupees, — which in Bundela fashion was buried in wells and other safe places in the pathless jungles, and their secret confided only to a few.

His eldest son Jhujhar Singh had offended Shah Jahan by leaving the
capital for his home without permission, soon after the Emperor’s accession. But an army of 34,500 soldiers — cavalry, foot musketeers, and sappers, penetrated his country from three directions, stormed the fort of Irich, slaughtered 2000 of the garrison including "many young and old,’ and quickly forced the Rajah to submit. He secured pardon only by promising a large tribute and sending a contingent of his clansmen to fight in the Emperor’s wars in the South.

To this race of primitive warriors, a peaceful life was impossible. War was their sole occupation, their sole means of earning glory and riches, and their only amusement. This restless spirit made the Bundelas, when not usefully occupied in war, a bye-word for robbery and disturbance throughout the seventeenth century.

Jhujhar could not long remain quiet. He led an army to Chauragarh, an old Gond capital, beyond the Narmada, captured it, and, in violation of his plighted word, slew the Rajah Prem Narayan and seized his ancestral hoard, amounting to ten lakhs of rupees. The victim’s son appealed to Shah Jahan, but strangely enough, the Mughal Emperor’s righteous indignation was not roused by this act of spoliation, he only demanded a share of the booty and offered to leave Jhujhar in possession of his conquest if he ceded an equivalent territory to the Mughals! This the Bundela was most unwilling to do. Deciding on a policy of resistance, he secretly recalled his son Yograj (surnamed Vikramajit), whom he had left in charge of his contingent in Balaghat. The youth slipped away unperceived. But an energetic Mughal officer, Khan-i-Dauran, was soon at his heels, reached Ashta from Burhanpur by forced marches in five days, and overtook Vikramajit, who fled defeated and wounded to his father at Dhamuni.

A habitual plunderer and refractory chieftain could not be left unsubdued on the edge of the Deccan road. Shah Jahan organised an expedition to hunt him down. Three armies were to converge upon the rebel’s country: Syed Khan-i-Jahan with 10,500 men from Budaun, Abdullah Khan Bahadur Firuz Jang with 6,000 men from the north, and Khan-i-Dauran with 6,000 men from the south-west. The Bundela army numbered less than 15,000 but was aided by the rocks and jungles of their home.

Among the Hindu mercenaries of the Mughal army was a Bundela claimant in whom Shah Jahan found a useful tool. Devi Singh was the representative of the eldest branch of the Rajahs of Orchha, which had been set aside by Jahangir when he gave the throne to his favourite Bir Singh Dev. Jhujhar had duly succeeded his father, but in Devi Singh’s eyes the usurpation continued, and he himself was the rightful heir to the Bundela throne. He was now earning his bread as a Captain in the Mughal army and waiting for some opportunity of winning the Emperor’s favour and ousting his rival. Shah Jahan now offered to make him Rajah of Orchha and got the invaluable help of a Bundela contingent burning with hatred of Jhujhar and eager to guide the invaders through the jungles and disclose all the weak points of their native land.

The three Mughal generals were of equal rank and it would have been hard to ensure unity of plan and co-operation among them if they had been left to themselves. A supreme commander was needed, whose high position would of itself enforce discipline and obedience. For this purpose, the Emperor sent his son Aurangzib, then a lad of sixteen, with the rank of a Commander of 10,000 and escorted by 1000 archers of the guard and 1000 horses. He was to be the nominal chief of the expedition and stay far in the rear. The three generals were to advise him about every military operation, but his voice was to be decisive, and they were not to act without consulting him.

In the meantime an ultimatum had been presented to Jhujhar Singh: he must submit, pay a fine of 30 lakhs, and cede a district. But these terms had been rejected. After the rainy season, the three divisions united together near Bhander, about 25 miles north-east of Jhansi, and matched upon Orchha. Every day the pioneers cut the jungle and extended the road, while the Bundela skirmishers shot at them under cover of the trees, but with no success. On 2nd October 1635, the army arrived at a village two miles from Orchha; and the Bundela prince in the Imperial camp, fired with domestic hatred and ambition, stormed the hillock where the enemy had mustered in force and took many prisoners. At this Jhujhar lost heart, removed his family to Dhamuni and soon afterwards fled thither himself. Early in the morning of 4th October, the Mughals scaled the walls of the Bundela capital, while the small garrison left by Jhujhar escaped through the opposite gate. A day was spent in taking full possession of the city and installing Devi Singh as Rajah. Then the Mughal army crossed the Betwa and hastened southwards to Dhamuni. But their prey had again fled. Jhujhar Singh had found no safety in Dhamuni, but gone further south, across the Vindhya hills and the Narmada river, to Chauragarh in the land of the Gonds. Dhamuni had, however, been prepared to stand a siege. The houses around the fort had been razed to the ground and a gallant Rajput named Ratnai left in command. On 18th October the Imperialists arrived before the fort and began siege operations. The garrison fought till midnight and then sent a man to Khan-i-Dauran to beg for quarter. But a body of Ruhelas had run their trenches to the edge of the bamboo thicket adjoining the eastern wall of the fort and occupied the jungle under cover of the darkness. After midnight some of them entered the fort from that side and began to plunder. Khan-i-Dauran soon arrived and tried to restore order in the darkness. The fort was rapidly filling with the victors when suddenly a powder magazine in a tower of the southern wall took fire from the torch of a careless plunderer; a dreadful explosion followed, blowing up 80 yards of the enormously thick wall and killing 300 Rajputs standing under the wall and also 200 horses.

News arrived about the exact route of the fugitives, and on 27th October the pursuit was resumed. Arriving at Chauragarh the Imperialists found that Jhujhar had evacuated that fort also, after breaking up the artillery, burning all property, and blowing up the old Gond palaces. A Mughal garrison was posted here, but the main army encamped four miles off, at Shahpur. Here they learned that Jhujhar was flying south through the Gond kingdoms of Deogarh and Chanda, with 6000 soldiers and 60 elephants, and making about 16 miles a day. Though he had got a start of 14 days, the Mughal generals took up the chase from Shahpur with a light force that daily covered 40 miles. On the frontier of Chanda, they came upon his traces and doubled their speed. Jhujhar turned at bay, fought the Mughals obstinately, but was defeated and driven into the jungle, and the pursuit was resumed. The fugitive, encumbered with women and property, and hindered in his movements by his paucity of horses, had no peace. He could not snatch any sleep, nor refresh his worn-out horses. As soon as he halted for the night, he heard of the approach of the pursuers, broke up his camp and urged his tired men and beasts on again. All means of escape were tried; the foot-tracks of the elephants were rubbed out; treasure-laden elephants were sent by another path to lure the Mughals away from the road taken by the Bundela chief. But the Imperialists were too astute; they neglected everything else and steadily pursued the rebel himself. They also bribed the local landowners, who showed them the way and kept them regularly informed of the movements of Jhujhar, so that the jungle was now a hindrance rather than a shelter to him. And from the thievish Gonds, no Bundela could expect mercy.

Jhujhar’s party was now divided, but all to no purpose. His sons were overtaken and got no time to slay their women, as was the Rajput custom when death was to be preferred to dishonour. A few of the ladies had been stabbed, when the Mughals fell upon them, slew the guards, and captured the Bundela royal family.

The rebel chief and his eldest son Vikramajit had fled into the heart of the jungle, where their doom overtook them. The Gonds, moved by their instinct of plunder and hope of reward from the Mughals, surprised the exhausted princes in their sleep and cruelly did them to death. Their heads were cut off and sent to the Emperor (December 1635), who exposed them on the gates of his camp at Saihur.

Reference

  • History of Aurangzeb,Vol 1 ,by Jadunath Sarkar