• 14 July, 2024
Foreign Affairs, Geopolitics & National Security

A Guerilla Victory At Umberkhind!

Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) Wed, 12 Oct 2022   |  Reading Time: 7 minutes

Screenshot Portraying The Battle of Umberkhind: Source-inmarathi.com

 “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose”.

                                                                                                                                             -Henry A. Kissinger

An outstanding example of the successful use of guerilla warfare, many years before this art of war was made famous by the likes of Che Guevara and the tactics of the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War, was the use of this technique by the Maratha King Chhatrapati Shivaji, in the Battle of Umberkhind.

Umberkhind is a ghat or a mountain pass on the Sahyadri Mountain Range above the present-day industrial city of Khopoli, on the banks of the Patalganga River in Raigad District of Maharashtra, India.

A Panoramic View of Umberkhind and the ‘Dukes Nose’ Feature on the Right: Source- indiahikes.com

Causus Belli

Mohammed Adil Shah, the seventh ruler of Bijapur, regularly assisted the Mughals with their campaigns and also signed a peace treaty with the latter in 1636, during the reign of Shah Jahan. However, Mohammad Adil Shah’s reign witnessed the revolt of the Maratha General Shahaji Bhosale and subsequently the rise of his son, Chhatrapati Shivaji to eminence, who founded an independent Maratha Kingdom, carved out of the Bijapur Sultanate. Mohammed Adil Shah failed to check this rise of the Marathas. Aurangzeb knew that he could not ignore Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s valour and rising power any longer and decided that it was imperative to quell the Marathas at the earliest. After Aurangzeb’s accession to the Mughal throne in 1659, he sent Shahista Khan as viceroy to the Deccan with a large Mughal Army to enforce this treaty. Shahista Khan was accompanied by the Uzbek Kartalab Khan, his right-hand man, whom Aurangzeb had specifically sent to defeat Shivaji. As was expected, Shivaji’s writ ran large in this territory, where the Maratha Warrior now enjoyed a formidable reputation after he famously killed Afzal Khan (a General of Mohammed Adil Shah who had tried to turn the Mavale’ Chieftains of the Pune region against Shivaji) with steel claws in 1659. 1660 saw the Marathas under attack by the Abyssinian Salabat Khan at the head of a Bijapuri column, who besieged the fortresses of Panhala, where Shivaji was located, and Pavandurg, in the South, while Shahista Khan, who had arrived in Aurangabad in January 1660, lost no time in advancing and establishing the Mughal presence in the area of Pune, which was Shivaji’s heartland. Shahista Khan’s advance to Pune was interdicted repeatedly by the Maratha light cavalry, but he defeated them decisively at Purandar, 50 Km Southeast of Pune on 09 May 1660.  The Mughals, however, could not sustain themselves in the arid terrain around Pune.  Shahista Khan captured the Chakan Fort by June 1660, after a 54-day siege and decided to withdraw to this location, which was closer to Ahmednagar. In 1661, Shahista Khan sent Kartalab Khan to capture the forts of Kalyan, Bhiwandi, Panvel, Chul and Nagothane in present-day Maharashtra and in the North of Konkan, which he did so after some heavy fighting.

In his attempt to rout Shivaji from the Konkan Region, Shahista Khan despatched Kartalab Khan and Rai Bagan ([alias Savitribai Deshmukh]- a female Mughal general and widow of the Mughal Sardar Raje Udaram Deshmukh of Mahur Jagir in the Deccan) in early 1661 along with a sizable force.

Relevant Places In the Mughal-Maratha Wars of 1659-1660: Source-loneyeti.wordpress.com

Prelude and Terrain

Kartalab Khan decided to advance to Rajgad Fort via the Khandala Ghat (approximately 70 Km Northwest of Pune). On learning this, Shivaji announced that he was moving his forces Northwards. Kartalab Khan then decided to divert his advance through the dense Tungaranya Forest, which descended into the Konkan Region after ascending 300 feet through the Umberkhind Pass. The Umberkhind Pass is one of many ghats in the Mawal Taluka in Pune District which descend into the Konkan Region and is located 2,200 feet above MSL.  It is located just below the Kuruwande Ghat and is one of the narrowest passes in the Western Ghats and straddles the route between Lonavla and Pen, 40 Km to the West.

Kartalab Khan’s route towards Tungaranya took him via Chinchwad, Talegaon, Vadagaon and Malavali (roughly along the present-day alignment of the Mumbai-Pune railway line- interestingly, the British built the Mumbai-Pune railway line via the Khandala Ghat and not via Umberkhind, the latter being much more inhospitable terrain!). The Mughals then turned towards the Lohagad Fort, approximately 50 Km from Umberkhind, on the border of the Deccan Plateau and the Konkan Region. Shivaji used his informants and spies to telling effect and ensured that Kartalab Khan was first fed information that Shivaji’s forces would be outside Lonavala. However, there was no sign of Shivaji’s forces there. Kartalab Khan was then fed information that Shivaji’s forces were at Pen, at the base of the Western Ghats. Kartalab Khan decided to quickly move across the Ghats via Umberkhind to decimate Shivaji’s forces.

Topography Around Umberkhind: Source-rattibha.com

Force Levels

The Battle

On 02-03 February 1661, Kartalab Khan’s Army, with a surfeit of mercenaries who were adept at warfare in the plains, but with no prior experience in guerrilla warfare, reached the Tungaranya forest and advanced to the base of the Umberkhind Pass.  Unknown to Kartalab Khan, Shivaji’s forces were already deployed in the forest and along the escarpment leading up to the Pass. Shivaji had equipped his small force with the wherewithal for stand-off fighting in the hills, including bows & arrows, rifles and rocks/ boulders, in addition to their normal close-quarter weapons. The dense foliage of the Tungaranya forest and in the path up to the Pass ensured that Shivaji’s soldiers were completely hidden from view and therefore eminently poised for a surprise attack on Kartalab Khan’s forces. As is the way of the guerilla, Shivaji’s forces bade their time and did not show their hand even when the Mughal forces were at the base of the Pass, thus convincing the Mughals that their passage through Umberkhind would remain uncontested.

With his deployment along the forest and the escarpment leading up to the Pass, Shivaji ensured that his forces were deployed along the length of Kartalab Khan’s Army and ready to strike at short notice. As soon as the Mughal Forces started climbing up from the base of Umberkhind and therefore were committed along that route with no escape possible, the Maratha forces commenced the assault by hurling boulders onto the foot soldiers and cavalry, resulting in disarray. Soldiers were then picked off at will by Shivaji’s ‘invisible’ archers and musketeers, with the Maratha swordsmen completing the rout! In less than half a day, Kartalab Khans’ forces were routed, forcing the Mughal General to surrender. Shivaji agreed to the surrender provided the Mughal Army left behind all possessions and weapons, which the Maratha forces collected after the Mughals had left behind and then moved back to Rajgad.

The Memorial to The Battle of Umberkhind, On the Amba River:Source- sahasa.in


The battle of Umberkhind witnessed Kartalab Khan losing close to 500 men, while Maratha casualties numbered only one-tenth that figure! The battle of Umberkhind was followed by the battles of Surat and Purandar in quick succession-the former also resulting in a Maratha victory while the latter, though it resulted in defeat for the Marathas, stands out as an example of Maratha bravery. Emboldened by the success of guerilla tactics, Shivaji employed these tactics in many similar skirmishes thereafter, including his famous infiltration into Poona  (Pune) with 200 men in April 1693, when he managed to kill almost all of Shahista Khan’s kin, the latter himself narrowly escaping this fate. The rout at Umberkhind salvaged the Konkan, as the Mughals gave up their plans to conquer this region, lest they met with similar fate in the ghats that abound there!

Significance/ Lessons

The battle of Umberkhind is considered one of the great victories in Chhatrapati Shivaji’s reign and is commemorated every year since 2001 on 02 February. The careful planning that went into this operation is legendary. Shivaji’s deftness at information warfare was displayed as he knew that Kartalab Khan’s singular mission was to bring the Maratha forces to battle- a fact that Shivaji took advantage of as he repeatedly fed Kartalab Khan’s forces with inaccurate information about his whereabouts, leading to many unsuccessful attempts by Kartalab Khan to encounter him. Shivaji then carefully chose his inputs to Kartalab Khan to bring him to Umberkhind- familiar ground for the Marathas, at a time of Shivaji’s choosing. The location for battle was aptly chosen, since the constricted terrain did not allow the Mughal forces to take advantage of their superior numbers, while enabling the Marathas to employ the guerilla tactics they were adept in. Shivaji’s preparation for the battle was deliberate, in which the weapons and soldiers were chosen to drive home the advantage of stand-off warfare in broken and harsh terrain.


Unconventional strategy and tactics in warfare, though fraught with risk, have always yielded disproportionate dividends. Chhatrapati Shivaji’s planning for and execution of the battle at Umberkhind stands out as a shining example of astute planning, diligent preparation and flawless execution, to decisively win a battle against a numerically superior and better equipped force, which, unfortunately for the Mughals, did not cater for the diktats of terrain in preparing and equipping themselves for battle.


Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) has commanded an operational Brigade and has been Brigadier- in- charge Administration in a premier training facility. He has had exposure abroad on deputation to Botswana, Southern Africa as member of an Indian Army Training Team and has had extensive exposure in mentoring of Defence Forces overseas. He possesses vast instructional experience, imparting instructions in both technical aspects and tactical application of weapon systems.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.

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Oct 27, 2022
What the earnest endeavour of one man can achieve in this wicked world is illustrated in Shivajl’s life narrated so far. It has not been possible, within the limited space, to give a more detailed account of all the varied activities and achievements of that unique personality. Only the main incidents and their prominent features could be attempted. But even these will doubtless prove the divine gift of genius which Shivaji possessed and which baffles analysis. On more than one occasion he so recklessly plunged into a venture that he had burnt his boats and made retreat impossible for himself. Today, after the lapse of three centuries from his birth, even the most severe critic is bound to admit that though Shivaji’s dynasty is extinct and his State has crumbled into dust, yet he set an example of innate Hindu capacity and left a name which would continue to fire the spirit of man and shine forth as an ideal for ages yet unborn.” We have now before us for study records and eulogies referring to Shivaji from the pen of those who came in direct contact with him — poet Parmanand, Ramchandra Pant Amatya, Raghunath Pant Pandit Hanumante, and not a few European traders and travellers who visited him in India in one connection or another. The Amatya has left a piece of writing elaborately describing the polity and personality of Shivaji, a unique production in Marathi. Saint Ramdas often gives vivid pen pictures which appear to pertain to no other person but Shivaji, whose valour, circumspection, selflessness, and devotion to religion are now attested to and scattered throughout his writings. Krishnaji Anant Sabhasad, a member of Shivaji’s court, composed an elaborate faithful account of Shivaji’s life and achievements, which is of inestimable value. Did Shivaji aim at a Hindu Empire for India? A look at Shivaji's whole life closely discloses his intense regard for religion. He indeed cared more for religious emancipation of his land than mere political dominion. Ramdas has exquisitely described this spirit of Shivaji in his work Anandvana-Bhuvan. The religious persecution practised by Muhammed ‘Adil Shah and Aurangzib moved Shivaji intensely and influenced all his actions. He at the same time realized that religious freedom could not be obtained without political power, and to that extent he exerted himself in freeing his homeland from Muslim control. As a result of his visit to the emperor’s court he was perhaps convinced of the hollowness of the Mughul empire, and thereafter exerted himself in bringing India under Hindu control. The imposition of chauth on lands outside his immediate sway was a means to that end. His coronation ceremony and the grand title he assumed suggest his intention of establishing a Hindu empire, certainly by degrees according to his means. His expedition to the Karnataka was a clear move towards a Hindu India, in which he roped in Qutub Shah of Haidarabad. He had all but engulfed the State of Bijapur also. His public protest against the imposition of jizya explains his attitude in unmistakable terms. If he had been vouchsafed a little longer span of life, he could have brought about the deposition of Aurangzib, so clearly emphasized a little later by his son ShambhujI in his Sanskrit letter to Ram Singh. ‘This kingdom belongs to Gods and Brahmans’, ‘Hindustan is essentially a land of the Hindus’, and similar phrases scattered throughout Sanskrit and Marathi literature are sentiments actuated by Shivaji’s endeavour, so closely followed after him by the Peshwas also. Mahadji Scindia indeed felt the glory of having achieved some of these dreams when he attained supreme power at the court of Delhi. At the same time Shivaji was never actuated by a hatred of the Muslims. He was no bigot and allowed equal freedom to all faiths. He was served as zealously by the Muslims as by the Hindus. The Muslim saint, Baba Yakut of Kelsi, was treated as his guru. Mulla Haidar was his confidential secretary. Ibrahim Khan, Daulat Khan and Sidi Misri were his naval commanders. A large Muslim population lived under him in equal contentment with their brother Hindus. He respected the personal honour of a Muslim as his own. He built a mosque opposite his palace at Raigarh for the use of his Muslim subjects. Shivaji’s ideals were broad and philanthropic, embracing the highest good of all. He respected all holy men equally. Wherever he travelled in his expeditions, it was his particular passion to contact the holy men and preachers of the various localities; he valued their blessing to which he attributed his success. While he intensely respected Ramdas, it cannot be maintained that in political affairs he was influenced by that guru. They were both exalted characters and worked in different spheres in their own ways. Ramdas was a great practical teacher; he did not meddle in politics. Shivaji’s administrative measures were a marvel of his time and far in advance of his age. He strictly prohibited grants of land in lieu of military or other service, thereby avoiding the patent evils of the jagir system. While the Mughul administration continued blindly on the same old model built up by Akbar, Shivaji had created innovations in almost every branch. His division of official work among eight ministers, his system of forts for the defence of his realm, his organization of the navy, his army regulations includ ing those for discipline and plunder, his compilation of the Raja-Vyavahara-kosa, his imposition of the system of chauth are all measures of his own creation, utterly unlike what was then in vogue. Shivaji lavished money like water on repairing old forts and constructing new ones, about 250 in all, which particularly suited the geographical situation of the Maratha region. Each fort was a self- sufficient unit with plenty of water supply and cornland enclosed, so that when besieged, each fort could stand defence by a small garrison for any length of time. The sonorous and significant names given to these forts reveal Shivaji’s ingenuity even in this detail and remind us even today what their use and grandeur must have been at that time. The annual revenue of Shivaji’s dominions has been roughly calculated at seven crores of rupees, possibly much less in actual realization. It may be roughly put down that all the peninsular lands, south of the river Tapti, either wholly or partially owed allegiance to Shivaji. Many writers, particularly the western, represent Shivaji as a plunderer and a rebel, conveying thereby that he was no steady or confirmed ruler, but a pest to the society. This is entirely a wrong view. Every patriot striving to free his land from foreign domination is bound to be a rebel until his position becomes stabilized. Shivaji never committed wanton atrocities during his raids and never harassed innocent population. He subjected Muslim lands to plunder and devastation only when he was at war with those powers. Shivaji’s plunder had the nature of a war levy of our modern days. Glowing tributes have been paid to Shivaji’s character as a national hero alike by foreign biographers and his own countrymen, both of his own day and during recent times of advanced historical research. The French envoy, Germain, who visited Shivaji near Tanjore, wrote in July, 1677: “The camp of Shivaji was without pomp, without women; there were no baggages, only two tents of simple cloth, coarse and very scanty, one for him and the other for his prime minister.” But what his formidable antagonist, emperor Aurangzib, himself wrote upon hearing of Shivaji’s death is no small praise; he said: “He was a great captain and the only one who has had the magnanimity to raise a new kingdom, while I have been endeavouring to destroy the ancient sovereignties of India. My armies have been employed against him for nineteen years and nevertheless his State has been increasing.” Insistence on order, obedience and strictest discipline were the main characteristics of Shivaji’s rule. Bernier, Tavernier, Khafi Khan, Grant-Duff, Elphinstone, Temple, Acworth, W.S.M. Edwards, Sir Jadunath Sarkar and other scholars and writers have all given Shivaji glowing tributes regarding him as unequalled by any hero in recent Indian history. He was not only the maker of the Maratha nation but the greatest constructive genius of medieval India. No Bacon had appeared in India to point out a new way to human advancement. Even Ramdas did not dream of a new path. Shivaji alone understood how to organize his national resources. He called the Maratha race to a new life of valour and self-reliance, of honour and hope. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that he is the creator of the Maratha nation, as Sir Jadunath had aptly put it, “the last great constructive genius and nation-builder that the Hindu race has produced.” Jadunath further observes: “He called the Maratha race to a new life. He raised the Marathas into an independent self-reliant people, conscious of their oneness and high destiny, and his most precious legacy was the spirit that he breathed into his race. He has proved by his example that the Hindu race can build a nation, found a State, defeat enemies; they can conduct their own defence, protect and promote literature and art, commerce and industry; they can maintain navies and ocean-trading fleets of their own and conduct naval battles on equal terms with foreigners. He taught the modern Hindus to rise to the full stature of their growth. ShivajI has shown that the tree of Hinduism is not really dead, that it can rise from beneath the seemingly crushing load of centuries of political bondage; that it can put forth new leaves and branches. It can again lift up its head to the skies.”

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