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The 27 Year War That Changed Course Of Indian History – V

Reflection: Strategical Analysis:

In this war, Aurangzeb’s army totaled more than 500,000 in number (compared to total Maratha army in the ballpark of 150,000). With him he carried huge artillery, cavalry, muskettes, ammunition and giant wealth from royal treasuries to support this quest. This war by no means a fair game when numbers are considered.

The main features of Aurangzeb’s strategy were :-

Use of overwhelming force to demoralize the enemy

This tactic had proved successful in Aurangzeb’s other missions. Thus he used this even in Maharashtra. On several occasions giant Mughal contigents were used to lay siege to a fort or capture a town.

Meticulously planned sieges to the forts

Aurangzeb knew that the forts in Sahyadri formed backbone of Maratha defense. His calculation was to simply lay tight siege to the fort, demoralizing and starving the people inside and finally making them surrender the fort.

Fork or pincer movements using large columns of infantry and cavalry

With large number of infantry and cavalry, pincer could have proved effective and almost fatal against Marathas

Marathas had one advantage on their side, geography. They milked this advantage to the last bit. Their military activities were planned considering the terrain and the weather.

The main features of Maratha strategy were :-

Combined offensive-defensive strategy

Throughout the war, Marathas never stopped their offensive. This served two purposes. The facts that Maratha army was carrying out offensive attacks in Mughal land suddenly made them psychologically equals to Mughals launching attack in Maratha land, even though Mughals were a much bigger force. This took negative toll on Mughal morale and boosted morale of their own men. Secondly, these offensive attacks in terms of quick raids often heavily damaged enemy supply chains taking toll on Mughal army.
The forts formed backbone of Maratha defense. Thanks to Shivaji, the every fort had provision of fresh water. The total forts numbered almost 300 and this large number proved major headache to Aurangzeb.

Strategic fort defense

Marathas had one big advantage on their side. They were the expert in fort warfare. The game of defense using forts had two components.

First component was the right play of the strategic forts . In modern warfare, you have some strategic assets like aircraft carrier, presence of which needs a substantial change of plans on your enemy side.  And then there are tactical assets, like tanks and large guns, which matter from battle to battle, but can be effectively countered by your enemy without making big plan changes. Similarly there are strategic forts, like Raigad, Janjira, Panhala and Jinji. Then there are number of tactical forts like Vishalgad, Sinhgad, Rajgad, etc.

Raigad, by its very nature, is large daunting fort. Built in 11th century by decedents of Mauryan Empire, it served as anchor to various kingdoms. Its cliffs sore high more than 1200 feet from base. It has abundant fresh water supply. Raigad, like Jinji could be defended for years at a stretch. No one could claim Sahyadri and Konkan as theirs without winning Raigad.

Aurangzeb knew difficulties in winning Raigad by war. So he managed to win it by using insider traitor, Suryaji Pisal. Had Marathas kept Raigad, Aurangzeb’s task would have been much tougher. Marathas lost Raigad early and could not win in back till much later. But they played the remaining two forts, Panhala and Jinji very well. Panhala is strategic because of its location on the confluence of multiple supply chains.  Thus Marathas defended Panhala as long as they could and tried to win it back the earliest when they didn’t have it.

The second component of defensive fort warfare was matching the movements with weather.  Forts are an asset in rest of the year, but are a liability in monsoon as it costs a lot to carry food and supplies up. Also the monsoon in coasts and ghats is severe in nature and no major military movement is possible. Thus Marathas often fought till Monsoon and surrendered the fort just before Monsoon. Before surrendering they burned all the food inside. Thus making it a proposition of loss in every way. Often times Marathas surrendered the fort empty, but later soon won it back filled with food and water. These events demoralized the enemy.

Offensive attacks in terms of evasive raids

Marathas mostly launched offensive attacks in the region when Mughal army was away. They rarely engaged Mughal army in open fields till later part of the war. If situation seemed dire, they would retreat and disperse and thus conserve most of their men and arms for another day.
The rivers Bhima, Krishna , Godavari and the mountains of Sahyadri, divide entire Maharashtra region is in several North- South corridors. When Mughal army traveled South through one corridor, Marathas would travel North through another and launch attacks there. This went on changing gradually and in the end, Maratha forces started engaging Mughals head on.

A noted historian Jadunath Sarkar makes an interesting observation. In his own words, “Aurangzeb won battle after battles, but in the end he lost the war. As the war prolonged, it transformed from war of weapons to war of spirits, and Aurangzeb was never able to break Maratha spirit.”

What Marathas did was an classic example of assymetric defensive warfare. The statement above by Mr. Sarkar hides one interesting fact about this assymetric defense. Is it really possible to lose most of the battles and still win the war?

The answer is yes, and explanation is a statistical phenomena called “Simpson’s paradox.”. According to Simpsons paradox, several micro-trends can lead to one conclusion, however a mega-trend combining all the micro-trends can lead to an exact opposite conclusion. Explanation is as follows.

Say two forces go on war, force A with 100 soldiers and force B with 40 soldiers. Now say in every battle between A and B, the following happens.

If A loses, they lose 80% of the soldiers fighting.
If B loses, they only lose 10% of the soldiers fighting.
If A wins, they lose 50% of the solders fighting.
If B wins, they lose only 10% of the soldiers fighting.

In the case above, the ratio of (resource drain of A / resource drain of B ) is higher than (initial number of A soldiers / initial number of B soldiers). So even if A wins battle more than 50% of the time, they will lose their resources faster and, in the end, will lose the war. All B has to do is keep the morale and keep the consistency.

One of the most famous warrior in ancient Indian history seems to agree with the conclusion above. In “Bhishma- perva” of Mahabharata, pitamah Bhishma begins the war-advice to king Yudhisthira with a famous quote –
“The strength of an army is not in its numbers”



15 Responses

  1. Fabulous

  2. […] Maratha empire. The war lasted 27 years and Aurangzeb lost. Kedar has a seven part series (1,2,3,4,5, 6,7) on this war which is barely mentioned in our books. For the most part, Aurangzeb was a […]

  3. […] (continued…) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The 27 Year War That Changed Course Of Indian History – V […]

  4. Great article.

  5. from Anonymous
    date Wed, Mar 24, 2010 at 10:56 PM
    subject comment on 27 Year War That Changed Course Of Indian History.

    Anonymous has left a new comment on your post “27 Year War That Changed Course Of Indian History”:

    Excellent article. A minor nitpick – you say that because of Aurangzeb’s imposition of Sharia, the Sikhs and Rajputs did not participate in the Deccan campaign. In the early 1700’s, the Sikh power had not emerged – it really emerged AFTER the marathas and afghans had exhausted each other in their struggle for control of Punjab (so after 1761). As far as Rajputs – Aurangzeb did not trust them to fight against their Hindu co-religionists. So while he would send Rajput generals, he would also send muslim ones to keep an eye. An example is Raja Jai Singh and Diler Khan.

  6. Love your blog….
    You mention Panhala and Jinjee as the other two forts after Raigad. Panhala was close but jinjee as shown in the map you attached is way south in present tamilnadu. Did maratha go beyond banglore and control such a huge area and move their troops back and forth.

    • Mak,

      Maratha divisions under Santaji and Dhanaji were the most mobile, lightweight and fast moving divisions. They carried no artillery or heavy weapons with them. They were the ones doing most travelling. They indeed went beyond Banglore when time demanded. Some Maratha divisions were permanently in South, like those with Mahadik and Ballal.
      Rest of the Maratha army was, for the most part, North of river Godavari. This included divisions under Parshuram Trimbak, Bavdekar, Bhosale, etc. Also most of Maratha navy was active between Surat and Goa.

      In the Western ghats, Maratha divisions under Parashuram Trimbak and other generals were

  7. […] Link : https://kedarsoman.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/the-27-year-war-that-changed-course-of-indian-history-V/.అన్ని హక్కులు రచయిత కేదార్ సోమన్ […]

  8. Kedar ,

    One more comment is worth noting made by J N Sarkar , the great historian of the Marathas , ” Aurangzib had not yet got proper measure of the Maratha ‘people ‘ . ” Further he says , ” It became a war of the people of Deccan against the empire and it was the genius of the people that won them this war ” .

    The entire Maratha populace aided by Berads and Nayaks of Karnataka , fought against the superior enemy . ” Enemy was at their gates and they drove away the evil Aurangzib to his grave who under the garb of Islam was a tyrant and oppressive emperor . He could not conclude his sinister designs and caused ruins to the Mughal Empire .

    Good that you have started a debate on this glorius topic …..

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  14. Contrary to the Rajput Code of war, Ch. Shivaji and Maratha followed different doctrine. Maratha did not follow “Pran Jai par vachan jai”. One important guideline of Ch. Shivaji was killing the king or holding the king (read Shivaji in 1666 & Sambhaji in 1689) the kingdom would not change ownership by default.

    In 1659, while going to Afzal Khan, advised his mother not surrender the kingdom, in the event of his death. Similarly in 1666, Shivaji instructed Jijabai that if he does not return, the kingdom should not be surrendered to Mughals. Identically Sambhaji told that he would not surrender Forts, treasures and kingdom for his life. This also means, if Aurangzeb kills Sambhaji, he has to fight for securing possession of Raigarh, in fact separate battles for each of 100s of fort would be required. His Sardars were free to fight, even after defeat or death of their kings.

    By signing the treaty under duress or for whatever lures, Sambhaji could not surrender his forts. In fact Yesubai or his ministers would not follow his orders or surrender, since it may not be under Sambhaji’s free un-coerced will.

    Shivaji’s code advises to save and spare the lives of soldiers and animals. He stopped the Battle of Purandar precisely for this reason. The Guerrilla warfare was method economic use of scarce manpower vis-a-vis massive forces of Adilshahi & Mughals. Ch. Shivaji believed that if we save manpower, the battle can revived later at more favourable places and conditions. Unlike Rajputs, Shivaji allowed soldiers allowed to run away from battle, if the conditions were bad,for the same reason.

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