The Battle of Salher took place in February 1672CE between the Maratha Empire and the Mughal Empire. The fighting took place near the Salher fort in the Nashik district. The outcome was the Maratha Empire’s decisive victory. This war is important because it is the first time the Mughal Dynasty has been defeated by the Marathas.
According to the Treaty of Purandar (1665), Shivaji had to hand over 23 forts to the Mughals. The Mughal empire took control of strategically important forts such as Sinhagad, Purandar, Lohagad, Karnala, and Mahuli, which were fortified with garrisons. The Nashik area, which included the forts Salher and Mulher, had been firmly in the Mughal Empire’s hands since 1636 at the time of this treaty.
Shivaji’s visit to Agra was triggered by the signing of this treaty, and after his famous escape from the city in September 1666, two years of “uneasy truce” ensued. However, the destruction of the Viswanath and Benares temples, as well as Aurangzeb’s resurgent anti-Hindu policies, led Shivaji to declare war on the Mughals once more.
Shivaji’s power and territories expanded significantly between 1670 and 1672. Shivaji’s armies successfully raided Baglan, Khandesh, and Surat, retaking over a dozen forts in the process. This resulted in a decisive victory on an open field near Salher against a Mughal army of over 40,000 soldiers.
In January 1671, Sardar Moropant Pingle and his army of 15,000 captured the Mughal forts of Aundha, Patta, and Trimbak, and attacked Salher and Mulher. With 12,000 horsemen, Aurangzeb dispatched two of his generals, Ikhlas Khan and Bahlol Khan, to recover Salher. Salher was besieged by the Mughals in October 1671. Shivaji then ordered his two commanders, Sardar Moropant Pingle and Sardar Prataprao Gujar, to retake the fort. For more than 6 months, 50,000 Mughals had besieged the fort. Salher, as the main fort on key trade routes, was strategically important to Shivaji.
In the meantime, Dilerkhan had invaded Pune, and Shivaji was unable to save the city because his main armies were away. Shivaji devised a scheme to distract Dilerkhan’s attention by pressuring him to travel to Salher. To relieve the fort, he ordered Moropant, who was in the South Konkan, and Prataprao, who was raiding near Aurangabad, to meet and assault the Mughals at Salher. ‘Go to the north and assault Salher and defeat the enemy,’ Shivaji wrote in a letter to his commanders. Both Maratha forces met near Vani, bypassing the Mughal camp at Nashik on their way to Salher.
The Maratha army had a combined strength of 40,000 men (20,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry). Since the terrain was unsuitable for cavalry battles, the Maratha commanders agreed to entice, break, and finish the Mughal armies in separate locations. Prataprao Gujar attacked the Mughals with 5,000 cavalry, killing many unprepared troops, as anticipated.
After half an hour, the Mughals were completely prepared, and Prataprao and his army began to escape. The Mughal cavalry, numbering 25,000 men, began pursuing the Marathas. Prataprao enticed mughal cavalry into a pass 25 kilometres from Salher, where Anandrao Makaji’s 15,000 cavalry was concealed. Prataprao turned around and assaulted the Mughals once more in the pass. Anandrao’s 15,000 fresh cavalry blocked the other end of the pass, encircling the Mughals on all sides.
In only 2-3 hours, the fresh Maratha cavalry routed the exhausted Mughal cavalry. Thousands of Mughals were forced to flee the war. With his 20,000 infantry, Moropant surrounded and attacked the 25,000 strong Mughal infantry at Salher.
Suryaji Kakde, a famous maratha sardar and Shivaji’s childhood friend, was killed in the battle by a Zamburak cannon.
The fighting lasted an entire day, and it is estimated that 10,000 men from both sides were killed. The light cavalry of the Marathas outmatched the Mughal military machines (which included cavalry, infantry, and artillery). The Marathas defeated the imperial Mughal armies and handed them a humiliating defeat.
The triumphant Maratha Army captured 6,000 horses, an equal number of camels, 125 elephants, and the entire Mughal train. Aside from that, the Marathas confiscated a significant amount of goods, treasures, gold, gems, clothing, and carpets.
The fight is defined in the Sabhasad Bakhar as follows: “As the battle began, a (cloud of) dust erupted to the point that it was difficult to say who was friend and who was foe for a three-kilometer square. Elephants were slaughtered. On both sides, ten thousand men were killed. There were too many horses, camels, and elephants (killed) to count.
A river of blood gushed out (in the battlefield). The blood transformed into a muddy pool, and people started to fall in it because the mud was so deep.”
The war ended in a decisive Maratha victory, resulting in Salher’s liberation. This war also resulted in the Mughals losing control of the nearby fort of Mulher. Ikhlas Khan and Bahlol Khan were arrested, and 22 wazirs of note were taken as prisoners. Approximately one or two thousand Mughal soldiers who were held captive escaped. Suryajirao Kakade, a famous Panchazari Sardar of the Maratha army, was killed in this battle and was renowned for his ferocity.
A dozen Maratha sardars were awarded for their outstanding performance in the battle, with two officers (Sardar Moropant Pingle and Sardar Prataprao Gujar) receiving special recognition.
Up until this battle, most of Shivaji’s victories had come through guerilla warfare, but the Maratha’s use of light cavalry against the Mughal forces on the Salher battlefield proved successful. The saint Ramdas wrote his famous letter to Shivaji, addressing him as Gajpati (Lord of Elephants), Haypati (Lord of Cavalry), Gadpati (Lord of Forts), and Jalpati (Lord of Forts) (Master of the High Seas). Shivaji Maharaj was proclaimed Emperor (or Chhatrapati ) of his realm a few years later in 1674, but not as a direct result of this war.