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Panhala Fort

Panhala Fort Panhalgad Pahalla Panalla is located in Panhala, 20 kilometres northwest of Kolhapur in Maharashtra. It is strategically located looking over a pass in the Sahyadri mountain range which was a major trade route from Bijapur in the interior of Maharashtra to the coastal areas. Due to its strategic location, it was the centre of several skirmishes in the Deccan involving the Marathas, the Mughals and the British East India Company, the most notable being the Battle of Pavan Khind. Here, the queen regent of Kolhapur, Tarabai, spent her formative years. Several parts of the fort and the structures within are still intact.

Panhala fort was built between 1178 and 1209 CE, one of 15 forts (others including Bavda, Bhudargad, Satara, and Vishalgad) built by the Shilahara ruler Bhoja II. A copper plate found in Satara shows that Raja Bhoja held court at Panhala from 1191-1192 CE. About 1209-10, Bhoja Raja was defeated by Singhana (1209-1247), the most powerful of the Devgiri Yadavas, and the fort subsequently passed into the hands of the Yadavas. Apparently it was not well looked after and it passed through several local chiefs. In 1376 inscriptions record the settlement of Nabhapur to the south-east of the fort.

It was an outpost of the Bahamanis of Bidar. Mahmud Gawan, an influential prime minister, encamped here during the rainy season of 1469. On the establishment of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur in 1489, Panhala came under Bijapur and was fortified extensively. They built the strong ramparts and gateways of the fort which, according to tradition, took a hundred years to build. Numerous inscriptions in the fort refer to the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah, probably Ibrahim I (1534-1557)

In 1659, after the death of the Bijapur general Afzul Khan, in the ensuing confusion Shivaji took Panhala from Bijapur In May 1660, to win back the fort from Shivaji, Adil Shah II (1656-1672) of Bijapur sent his army under the command of Siddi Johar to lay siege to Panhala. Shivaji fought back and they could not take the fort. The siege continued for 5 months, at the end of which all provisions in the fort were exhausted and Shivaji was on the verge of being captured.

Under these circumstances, Shivaji decided that escape was the only option. He gathered a small number of soldiers along with his trusted commander Baji Prabhu Deshpande and, on 13 July 1660, they escaped in the dead of night to flee to Vishalgad. Baji Prabhu and a barber, Shiva Kashid, who looked like Shivaji, kept the enemy engaged, giving them an impression that Shiva Kashid was actually Shivaji. In the ensuing battle (see Battle of Pavan Khind), almost three quarters of the one thousand strong force died, including Baji Prabhu himself. The fort went to Adil Shah. It was not until 1673 that Shivaji could occupy it permanently.

Sambhaji, Shivaji's son and successor to the throne, fell out of favor with his father. Shivaji imprisoned Sambhaji in Panhala fort. He escaped from here along with his wife on 13 December 1678[9] and attacked Bhupalgad. He returned to Panhala, however, on 4 December 1679 to reconcile with his father just before his father's death on 4 April 1680. At the height of Shivaji's power in 1678, Panhala housed 15,000 horses and 20,000 soldiers.

When Shivaji died, Sambhaji was able to convince the garrison at Panhala to join him in overthrowing his stepbrother Rajaram, thus becoming the Chhatrapati(king) of the Maratha Empire. In 1689, when Sambhaji was imprisoned by Aurangzeb's general Takrib Khan at Sangameshwar, the Mughals came to possess the fort. However, it was re-captured in 1692 by Kashi Ranganath Sarpotdar under the guidance of Parshuram Pant Pratinidhi a Maratha garrison commander of the fort of Vishalgad. In 1701 Panhala finally surrendered to Aurangzeb, who came for it in person. On 28 April 1692 the Mughal Emperor famously received the English ambassador Sir William Norris at Panhala fort. Norris spent "300 pounds in fruitless negotiation" with Aurangzeb but the details of what was being discussed was not disclosed. Within a few months the fort was retaken by the Maratha forces under Ramchandra Pant Amatya.

In 1693, Aurangzeb attacked it again. This led to another long siege in which Rajaram escaped disguised as a beggar to Gingee Fort, leaving his 14-year-old wife Tarabai in Panhala. As Aurangzeb pursued Rajaram, Tarabai would stay at Panhala for almost five years before meeting her husband again. During this formative period of her life, Tarabai looked after the administration of the fort, resolved disputes and gained the respect of the people. The time she spent at Panhala provided her with experience in courtly matters and the support of her officers, which would influence later events. Rajaram did send reinforcements from Gingee, and Panhala came into Maratha hands in October 1693.

In 1700, Rajaram, died leaving behind a 12-year-old son-Shivaji II-by his wife Tarabai. In 1705, Tarabai asserted her autonomy by founding an independent dynasty in the name of her son Shivaji II and ruling it as regent with Panhala as her headquarters. In Tarabai's war with Shahuji of Satara in 1708, Shahu took Panhala and Tarabai fled to Malvan in Ratnagiri. Shortly after, in 1709, Tarabai again took Panhala, established a separate state (Kolhapur) and made Panhala the capital. This it would remain till 1782.

After the death of Tarabai, Sambhaji II, the son of Rajaram by his second wife Rajasbai succeeded to the throne. He died without issue in 1760. His widow Jijabai adopted the son of a Sahaji Bhonsle of Kanvat. Thus, Jijabai became the acting regent during the time that her adopted son was a minor. She came to believe that to prevent the fall of Panhala, the Mahakali shrine at the fort had to be ritually offered human blood for the appeasement of Goddess Kali. She would periodically send out her soldiers at night to scour the neighboring villages for victims. This practice would continue until her death in 1772. One of the towers near where these sacrifices occurred is still called the Kali tower. There were reports of Jijabai bestowing a plot of land to an oilman or Teli in return for the grant of his daughter-in-law to be buried alive under one of the Panhala towers. A shrine to the Teli's daughter-in-law (Gangubai) was subsequently erected and it is still a pilgrimage site for the people of the Teli community.

In 1782, the seat of the Kolhapur government was moved from Panhala to Kolhapur. In 1827, under Shahoji I (1821-1837), Panhala and its neighboring fort Pavangad were given over to the British Raj. In 1844, during the minority of Shivaji IV (1837-1860), Panhala and Pavangad were taken by rebels who seized Colonel Ovans, the Resident of Satara, when he was on tour and imprisoned him in Panhala. A British force under General Delamotte was sent against the rebels and on 1 December 1844 breached the fort wall, took it by storm, and dismantled the fortifications. Thereafter, a British garrison was always left to guard the fort. The administration of the fort remained with Kolhapur until 1947.