Book House

“The Sea Hawk”: Manohar Malgonkar’s book brings to life the many adventures of Maratha navy admiral Kanhoji Angrey

'Maratha Grabs and Gallivats attacking the sloop Aurora of the Bombay Marine', by Thomas Buttersworth
  • The book “The Sea Hawk: Life and Battles of Kanhoji Angrey” by Manohar Malgonkar is about Kanhoji Angrey, ‘Lord of the Konkan’.

  • In seventeenth-century India, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s dominion has been firmly established over the Deccan peninsula. Troubled by the mounting European threat along the Konkan coast, the Maratha empire turns to Kanhoji Angrey, master mariner, excellent swordsman and astute strategist, to lead their navy.

  • For the next few decades, until his death in 1729, no matter who rules the land or lords over the trading settlements, none can defy Kanhoji’s hold over the waters of the Konkan coast. In this book, join Kanhoji on his many adventures and naval campaigns as he courts danger and evades capture.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

In the year 1942, the British Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, General Auchinleck, sent out a commando party to kill or capture the opposing German Commander, Erwin Rommel. The party, under Major Geoffrey Keys, was landed by submarine at a place called Beda-Littoria in Libya, where Rommel lived. Major Keys and his commandos got into Rommel’s house and shot up a number of its inmates, but Rommel himself was away.

In much the same manner, in the year 1689, the Moghul General, Taqrib Khan, organized and led a commando raid sixty miles into the heart of the Maratha country through some of the most difficult terrain, to capture or kill the Maratha King Sambhaji. The planning and staff-work that must have gone into this expedition is worthy of a military staff-study. ‘Having procured correct intelligence, and guides well-acquainted with the passes through the ghats and the intricate windings of the route, he chose a few active infantry and a small party of horse’, and set out for Sambhaji’s riverside pleasurepalace near Sangameshwar.

Unlike Rommel, Sambhaji was where he was expected to be. The rest was easy. He was captured and taken to the Moghul camp at Tulapur. There, under Aurangzeb’s orders, he was publicly exhibited, bound upon a camel. Then Aurangzeb ordered a red-hot iron rod to be thrust into his eyes and his tongue to be cut off. Only after these orders had been duly executed, was the head cut off, and his body badly hacked into pieces and thrown to the dogs.

The nature of Aurangzeb’s vengeance shook every Maratha to the core. All the damage that Sambhaji might have done while he lived, was wiped out by the death he suffered: in a flash, his cruelties, his temper were forgiven and forgotten. What Aurangzeb had intended to serve as an example to terrorize the Marathas into submission, had a directly opposite effect upon them: it gave rise to the most terrible vows of vengeance.

Drawn together in a moment of shock, the Maratha chieftains, who during Sambhaji’s reign had cut themselves off from the King and had begun to operate on their own, suddenly awoke to a new sense of responsibility. The fragmented components of Shivaji’s carefully built-up military hierarchy were once again swept together.

Unfortunately, their unity lasted only as long as the crisis lasted.

Of their own accord, the Maratha chieftains gathered together at Raigad to decide their future course of action. Sambhaji’s son, Shivaji (later to become King as Shahu), was six years old. Until he came of age, they decided to appoint Sambhaji’s step-brother, Rajaram, as Regent. Calmly, ‘they calculated their means of resistance, and saw with dismay a public treasury exhausted, the laxity of all discipline, the unprovided state of their forts, and even the probability of their being reduced.’

This was the legacy inherited by Rajaram, Shivaji’s second son. But amongst those gathered at Raigad to take stock of the situation, there was no panic or desperation, only grim resolution. They realized that their primary concern was the protection of the new Regent, Rajaram. To keep the people together, to keep alive the idea of a Maratha kingdom, it was essential to provide a focus for the aspirations and loyalties of the people. Emboldened by their success in capturing Sambhaji, other Moghul commanders were bound to attempt similar raids to capture Rajaram. To guard against this, they decided that Rajaram should have no fixed abode but that he should move about from fort to fort, keeping his movements secret; and if the forts were in danger of falling, then, as a last resort, shift his camp to Jinji, a small Maratha pocket on the east coast of India a thousand miles away, leaving his chieftains to carry on the war against the Moghuls as best as they could.

It was a wise decision. For even as the new Maratha Regent and his councillors were making their plans for the future, the Emperor’s General, Yettikad Khan, was marching towards Raigad at the head of a powerful column.

The siege of Raigad began at the end of the rains. But there was no question of Raigad falling easily. It was one of the strongest forts, with a plentiful store of food and ammunition.

The attacking force, commanded by Yettikad Khan and assisted by the Siddy Kassam Yakoot Khan of Janjira, battered at the walls of Raigad well into the spring of 1690 without making the slightest dent in its defences. A new stubbornness amongst the Maratha soldiers was already apparent. Besides, Raigad was consecrated ground, with a special symbolic significance to every Maratha; it was the capital, the centre of the Maratha power; it was at Raigad that Shivaji had been enthroned, married, died and cremated.

Above all, although Rajaram had left Raigad long before the attack began, Sambhaji’s wife Yesubai, and the young heir to the throne, Shivaji, were still at Raigad.

In the end, it was treachery that won the fort for the Moghuls. A man called Suryaji Pisal undertook to lead a party of his own soldiers into the fort and to throw open the gates to the Moghuls. His price was the grant of a large tract of land to be given to him in perpetuity.

In the middle of 1690, Raigad fell into the hands of the Moghuls, and with it the future king of the Marathas and his mother. Both of them were taken away to Aurangzeb’s camp, and the Emperor is said to have treated them with unusual consideration. Perhaps Aurangzeb was already lamenting the results of his barbarity to Sambhaji.

Sensitive Marathas still hang their heads in shame at the mention of Suryaji Pisal’s name—the man who betrayed their young Prince and sold their capital to the Moghuls.

But even the fall of Raigad and the capture of the heir to the throne were not enough to shatter the new spirit amongst the Marathas. Even now, as the Emperor’s victorious columns were fanning out into the plains of the Deccan, there was no sign of defeatism. Two more forts, Miraj and Panhala, were surrounded by the Moghuls, but the Maratha chieftains had already begun to retaliate; they were planning, not panicking; they had begun to form themselves into independent groups and to carry out lightning raids into the Moghul columns.

Rajaram was now ready to make a dash for Jinji, leaving the Deccan to the Moghuls and to his chieftains. But before leaving, the formalities incumbent upon a new ruler had to be completed. He appointed a skeleton cabinet and gave them the widest powers; he also announced various new military commands and nominated the commanders. His government and his commanders were not unlike the exiled ‘free’ governments and generals of the last war. Many of his chieftains found themselves appointed to the command of forts which were in Moghul hands. But all the same, Rajaram saw to it that there was a cabinet of ministers even if it was a shadow cabinet, and that there were commanders of forts even though they had no forts to command: the form had been maintained, which was vastly preferable to leaving a total vacuum in the Deccan or to the chaos of Sambhaji’s reign.

Among the new appointments was the name of Siddoji Gujjar, placed in command of the Maratha fleet and given the overall responsibility of defending the coast from both land and sea. Siddoji Gujjar was granted the altogether new rank of Surkhail or Grand Admiral. By a curious coincidence, it was about the same time that the British Navy, which until then had designated its flag officers as ‘generals-at-sea’, began to call them ‘Admirals’.

The Deputy Commanders of Siddoji Gujjar were also named. There were two of them. One of them was Bhawanji Mohitay; the other, a young man of twenty who had recently soared into the limelight. His name was Kanhoji Angrey.

Excerpted with permission from The Sea Hawk: Life and Battles of Kanhoji Angrey, Manohar Malgonkar, HarperCollins India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.


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