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Santaji Mhaloji Ghorpade,(?-1696) popularly known as ‘Santaji’ or ‘Santaji Ghorpade’, was one of the greatest warriors and the chief General of the Maratha Empire during Chhatrapati Rajaram’s regime. His guerrilla technique of war is supposed to be the best. His name became inseparable from the name of Dhanaji Jadhav with whom he made terrifying campaigns against Mughal Army continuously from 1689 to 1696.
Santaji belonged to the historical Ghorpade family which is a branch of the Bhosale clan. His year of birth is not known, however, it is estimated to be circa 1660. He along with his younger brother Bahirji accompanied Shivaji in his Karnataka campaign in 1678.
Contribution to the Maratha War of Independence
In the beginning of the Rajaram’s regime in 1689, Santaji had attained the rank of Pancha Hajari officer i.e. commander of 5,000 soldiers. Immediately after Sambhaji’s brutal torture and execution by Aurangzeb, Santaji attacked his camp at Tulapur with the help of his brothers, Bahirji Ghorpade and Maloji Ghorpade, nephew Vithoji Chavan and 2000 soldiers from Dhanaji's troops. In a daring feat, he cut the ropes of Aurangzeb’s tents and took the imperial golden pinnacles and fled. This incidence helped to boost the Maratha morale and restored their self-confidence to resist and attack the Mughal occupation of Maharashtra. Rajaram Chhatrapati conferred titles to the three Ghorpades and Vithoji Chavan for this brave attack ; Santaji was given title of Mamalakatt Madaar, Bahirji was given title as Hindurao and younger brother Maloji as Ameer-ul-Umrao and Vithoji Chavan was given title as Himmat Bahadur.
In September 1689 along with Dhanaji, Santaji attacked Aurangzeb’s General Shiekh Nizam who had placed a siege around the fort of Panhala. Nizam's army was severely beaten and his treasure, horses and elephants were captured. Then during 1689 – 1690 period, Santaji and Dhanaji were directed to prevent Mughal army in Maharashtra from chasing and entering Karnataka after Rajaram’s flight to Jinjee. They succeeded in this task and were able to slow down and engage the Mughals in harassing skirmishes. In December 1690, Santaji and Dhanaji were promoted as leading Maratha generals, and were placed respectively under the supervision of Ramchandra Pant Amatya and Shankraji Narayan Sacheev.
On 25 May 1690, Sarzakhan alias Rustamkhan, a Mughal nobleman and commander, was soundly defeated and captured near Satara jointly by Ramchandra Pant Amatya, Shankraji Narayan, Santaji and Dhanaji and this proved to be a major setback to emperor Aurangzeb. In July 1692, for his great victory, Chhatrapati Rajaram rewarded him with the Deshmukhi (fiefdom) of Miraj.
In the last quarter of 1692, Santaji and Dhanaji were sent south to alleviate the Mughal pressure on Jinjee. And on the way there they managed to capture Dharwad on 8 October 1692, Dharwad with an army consisting of 7000 Maratha foot soldiers under the duo's command.
On 14 December 1692, Santaji defeated Aurangzeb’s General Alimardan Khan, captured him and brought him back to fort Jinjee. In December 1692, the Mughal army under Zulfikhar Ali Khan around fort Jinjee was blocked and beaten by Santaji and Dhanaji as a result of which Zulfiquar khan had to sue King Rajaram for peace and was forced to compromise. Then on 5 January 1693, Santaji attacked the Mughal camp at Desur and looted their treasure, weapons and livestock.
In 1693, after lengthy negotiations with Rajaram, Zulfiquar Khan was granted a safe passage out which Santaji did not approve. He argued with Rajaram and left the place without his permission as a result of which Dhanaji was given tentative charge of the army chief. Santaji, in spite of this insubordination, soon resumed his duties, mainly due to his prowess on the battlefield. On 14 November 1693, Mughal General Himmat Khan beat back Santaji near Vikramhalli in Karnataka. Soon thereafter, Santaji regrouped his troops and reengaged Himmat Khan again on 21 November 1693 and avenged his earlier defeat.
In July 1695, Santaji trapped the Mughal army camping near Khatav and harassed it with lightning strikes. Italian visitor to the Mughal court, Minnucci, has listed details of the lightning-fast and devastating Maratha attacks on the Mughal camps. High level of tension, stress and apprehension among the troops and camp followers, about the ever present Maratha threat were recorded. On 20 November 1695, Kasim Khan, Aurangzeb’s powerful General in Karnataka, was attacked, defeated and killed by Santaji at Doderi near Chitradurga.
In December 1695, Dhanaji was defeated in a battle near Vellore by Zulfiquar Khan. On 20 January 1696 near Baswapattan, Santaji attacked, defeated and personally killed the Mughal General Himmat Khan. On 26 February 1696, Mughal General Hamid-uddin Khan defeated Santaji in a brief tussle. In April 1696, Santaji was also defeated by Zulfikhar Khan at Arani in Karnataka. On 8 May 1696, Santaji met Rajaram at fort Jinjee, argued with him on certain issues and left Jingee without resolving their differences.
In June 1696, by order of Rajaram, Dhanaji attacked Santaji for his rebellion near Vriddhachalam but had to turn back. Soon, thereafter, Santaji was officially sacked and his charge was given to Dhanaji again. In March 1697, Dhanaji defeated Santaji at Dahigaon with the help of Hanmantrao Nimbalkar. In July 1697, Nagojirao Mane, a Maratha General and a Turncoat in service of for Aurangzeb, killed Santaji in the forest of Karkhala while performing religious rites on banks of a local river.
Santaji’s son Yeshoji & Tukoji continued his military activities by shifting their base to Sandur near Bellary & Guti in Karnataka. With help of Telangi-Berads, they sided with Tarabai faction of Kolhapur during Maratha war of succession fought between Shahu & Tarabai. After the Peshwa of Pune obtained additional powers in 1749, Ghorpades concentrated their activities in Karnataka.
Murarrao Ghorpade, a grandnephew of Santaji, made an alliance with Muhammad Ali and helped him to defeat Chanda Sahib in famous Battle of Arcot fought in 1751. This battle is known in history of British East India Company as part of the Carnatic Wars fought between Robert Clive led forces of British East India Company and Dupleix led French East India Company between 1751 and 1758, also known as 7 years war. English historians tend to highlight & threat from Nizam of Hyderabad-Hyder Ali-Tipu Sultan kept them engrossed in Karnataka-Tamil Nadu away from politics of Pune Darbars. Ghorpades maintained working relationship with British East India Company in their Karnataka-Tamil Nadu operations maturing from the cordial relationship established with Robert Clive during siege of Arcot in 1751. Descendants of Santaji still live in Sandur & Guti, Karnataka. His descendants are also part of the families of Bedag Thane,Madhabhavi Thane, Khemlapur Thane, of state Datwadd, Satave in Kolhapur and Sangli districts of Maharashtra. One branch of descendants continued to serve under Kolhapur Princely State of Bhosale. Ramchandra Ghorpade of this branch held feudal estate near Satave of Panhala. Later after independence of India his grandson Nivruti Vithoji Ghorpade co-founded Warana Sugar and allied industries. He remained vice-chairman of Warana industries for 35 years.
Jadunath Sarkar the noted historian writes in his famous book namely military history of India about Santaji:
- "He was a perfect master of this art,which can be more correctly described as Parthian warfare than as guerrilla tactics, because he could not only make night marches and surprises, but also cover long distances quickly and combine the movements of large bodied over wide areas with an accuracy and punctuality which were incredible in any Asiatic army other than those of Chengiz Khan and Tamurlane".