Shivaji's Forts

Shivaji attached great importance to his forts. As has been observed, "Not a pass was left undefended, not a peak was left unfortified and every Taluka (sub-division of a district) was provided with one or more strongholds, and the whole country was secured by a net-work of forts". The territory old and new under Shivaji contained 240 forts, both land and naval forts, out of which 111 were built by him and 79 were situated in eastern Karnatak and Tamilnadu.

The sites of the forts were carefully selected. Often a narrow and steep path that zigzagged along an inaccessible precipice would be the only way leading to the fort. The fortifications were simple but effective – a massive wall defended by a few resolute men, even with primitive arms and crude missiles, could defy for months the utmost efforts of the strongest besieging force. "All that was needed therefore was a good site, a strong rampart, sufficient provisions and plenty of military stores".

Besides the barracks for men and officers, every fort had a powder house (Darukhana), a granary (Ambarkhana), and a store room for oil and ghi. Due care was taken as to the water-supply. While forts like Raigad had a number of tanks, even a small fort like Satara had more than one tank.

The infantry garrisoned in the forts were permanently recruited after a personal examination and submission of surety. Chitnis informs that while 200 guns were kept ready for field service, the rest were placed on the forts.

Every fort and outpost was placed under three officers of equal status and conjoint authority – the Havaldar, who ws the head of the garrison; the Sabnis, who maintained the accounts and muster roll; and the Karkhananavis who was responsible for the commissariat work. No fort was left solely under a single officer. The Havaldar was from the Maratha caste, Sabnis from the Brahmin and Karkhananavis from the Kayastha, "so that one caste served as a check upon the other". The keys of the fort were kept by the Havaldar and it was his personal responsibility to lock the gates at sunset and open them at sunrise. The official correspondence was done by him and marked by his personal seal but he could do nothing without sharing information with Karkhananavis and Sabnis. The environs of a fort were watched by Koli, Ramoshi, Bhil and other tribes. As they had good knowledge of the jungle byways, they made excellent watchmen, specially for keeping vigil at night.

Minute written instructions were issued by Shivaji for keeping in each fort ammunition, provisions, building materials and other necessary stores adequate to its size and for keeping proper watch, and these regulations were strictly enforced.

In 1671-72, Shivaji decided to have a reserve fund to meet extraordinary needs of a beleaguered fort by raising money from each mahal in his provinces and watan, to be touched only when war with the Mughals would break out and Mughals would lay siege to the fort. The same year he created another reserve fund for building and repair work in the forts.

The value of these forts was amply demonstrated during Aurangzeb's invasion of Maharashtra in 1682 and continued warfare there lasting for almost quarter of a century. Each fort cost the Mughal Emperor enormous expenditure and loss of men and time.

When Shivaji died in 1680 A.D., his kingdom was defended by two hundred and forty forts and not one of them was held by a hereditary noble. Later, specially after Shambhaji, even the chief officers of the State became the custodians of the forts. Even then, till the invention of the more advanced guns, what William Henry Tone wrote in the last decade of the eighteenth century about the great natural strength of the Maratha country studded with forts, ruled by the Peshwa, was even more true in Shivaji's time, "No country is better calculated for the purpose of defensive war, whatever might be the fortune of the Marathas in the field".