The Bundelas – a proud brave race of central India Rajputs – the Gaharwar Rajputs, like so many others, are lost in the sands of time and to malicious history. Like so many tales of brave men & women, this story too is a story told too many times by too many narrators. But what makes this tale special are 2 epochal events that would have ramifications on the story of mughals.

Just as river Betwa cuts the hard lands of Bundelkhand into two, fate had also drawn a line through the history of the Bundelas. This line, like the Betwa, divided their fate into two – Bravery & Bitter Betrayals.


The Bundela kingdom was established in 1501, by Raja Rudra Pratap Singh amidst the clang of swords. The Bundelas came from Kashi, through Mirzapur to fight and defeat the ruling Afghans & the local Gonds chieftains and conquer the ravines & dense forests that were to be their domain, their karmabhumi – Bundelkhand. In 1531, they built a new city – Orcha, their first capital. The Bundelas were always a confederacy with many small principalities and kingdoms ruled various branches of the Bundela clan. These rajas bowed to the head of the clan who sat on the throne in Orcha (Later shifted to Panna).


The Bundelas had a very interesting relationship with the premier power of India – The Mughals. Under its clan head Bir Singh Dev, the Bundelas had reached the zenith of their power. Bir Singh enjoyed very close relationship with Shahjahan so much so that there was nothing that was refused to Bir Singh. This was a time of great power and expansion of the Bundela domains. Bir Singh built magnificent forts and temples especially in Orcha & Mathrua. But Bir Singh and Shahjahan were not always on the same side. Bir Singh & Kurram (Later Shahajahan) were friends but Bir Singh stood with Jahangir during prince Khurram’s revolt. He fought & defeated Khurram’s army in decisive battles. Jahangir was so impressed by Bir Singh’s valour that he granted him the title of Maharaj in 1628 CE & granted Mansabdari of 2000 infantry & 1000 cavalry to his son Jujhar Singh. But later at strategic moments of the rebellion he chose to stand aside to let Khurram threaten Delhi. After Shahjahan’s ascension, he never forgot Bir Singh’s help and accepted all the new territories that Bir Singh had conquered in 1623-26 CE. Thus at it peak the Bundela Kingdom had 1,26,000 villages & 28 strategic major forts. His domains extended well into Malwa (MP). His treasure was estimated to be worth 38 crore gold mohars. He commanded a standing army of 20,000 cavalry besides matchlock men, and 50,000 infantry.


After Bir Singh’s death, his son & heir Jauhar Singh ascended the throne in 1627 CE. Shahjahan, too recognized Jujhar Singh and sent him the ceremonial Tikka & Royal Robes to Jujhar Singh as mark of friendship and royal favour. After the ceremony Jujhar Singh left Orcha and went to Akbarabad (Agra) to pay homage to Shahjahan. During the course of celebrations, that went on for months, Shahjahan was petitioned by jealous courtiers & Jujhar’s estranged relatives, to investigate the wealth of Bundelas. Always greedy, the emperor ordered the detention of Jujhar Singh.

As the royal guards were on their way to detain Jujhar Singh, he slipped out of the Palace and rode through the night. His desperate flight took him to the fort at Irich (40 miles from Jhansi). Shahjahan dispatched an army of 34,500. Irich was attacked from 3 sides (the fourth side had Betwa River) and the fort was overrun. But Jujhar Singh had already left for Orcha. Unaffected, the mughal army slaughtered 2000 civilians including old and children. Women were taken as slaves and young boys forcibly converted to Islam. Inspite of paying a very heavy fine, the Raja of Irich was forced to witness the genocide of his people. The brutal slaughter of Hindus of Irich caused much anger and proved to be a trigger in the ever widening schism between Bundelas & Mughals.

Note:- The main instigator was Devi Singh, a cousin of Bir Singh and a claimant of the bloodline of the founder of the Bundela Dynasty, Raja Rudra Pratap. This betrayal by Devi Singh marked the end of peace between the Mughals & Bundelas.


Jujhar Singh, planned the revenge for Irich and its hapless citizens. In1628, he rose in revolt against the mughalia saltant. In response to his revolt, Shahjahan in October deputed 3 armies under –

  • Sayyid Khan-e-Jahan with 10,500 men from Badaun.
  • Abdullah Khan Bahadur Firoz Jung with 6,000 men from North
  • Khan-e-Dauran with 6,000 men from Gwalior

Meanwhile the Bundela Army was severely depleted after the battle at Irich and numbered only 15,000 (5,000 cavalry & 10,000 infantry). The mughal army was predominantly horsemen with only a limited number of infantry. The mughal army chose speed and therefore relied on its cavalry. Amongst the mughal army was the traitor Devi Singh Bundela who had now staked a claim on the throne of Bundelas. The traitor Devi Singh helped the mughal army traverse the dense jungles of the region and he pointed out the weak points in the defense of Bundelkhand region.

Aurangzeb (16 yrs) was appointed the supreme commander of the expedition.

Jujhar Singh was sent a firman from Shahjahan asking Jujhar to surrender, pay a fine of 30 lakh gold mohurs & cede a district. As expected Jujhar Singh refused and bugles of war were sounded by the mughals. They were assisted by Devi Singh & other treacherous Bundela & Gond chieftains, namely Bhagwan Das Bundela (brother of Jujhar Singh), Raja Bharat Bundela, Pahar Singh Bundela, Raja Bittal Das Gaur. They actively helped the mughals with men and material, leaving Jujhar Singh to fight alone.

The mughals started cutting through the dense jungles of the region. But they had a tough time as they were constantly harassed by the guerrilla tactics of Jujhar Singh. It took full seven (7) years for the mughal armies to cross the jungles and reach Orcha. Both armies clashed 2 miles outside Orcha on 2nd October 1635. Aurangzeb deputed the Bundela chieftains to lead the first attack. As Hindu spilled Hindu blood, mughals stood aside. By late afternoon, the treacherous Bundela chieftains were slowly being routed and Jujhar Singh was in sight of victory. Just then Mahmat Khan, deputy of Aurangzeb was ordered to attack with his matchlock (rifle men). Concerted salvos of lead balls disrupted the Bundela advance. Eyeing an opportunity Aurangzeb ordered the cavalry to attack the hill top where Jujhar Singh was preparing his reserve forces for another attack.

Sudden reversal of fortunes forced Jujhar Singh to retreat back to Orcha. Knowing mughal tactics, Jujhar Singh left Orcha with his family & army. Jujhar Singh sought shelter in the Dhamuni. On October 4 1635, the mughal army sized the fort of Orcha. What followed is the textbook case of religion fueled retribution against the citizens of Orcha. After the bloodbath ebbed, Shahjahan appointed Devi Singh as the new ruler of Orcha & set about extracting his revenge.


Mughals gave chase to Jujhar Singh. As they reached Dhamuni, Jhujar Singh had already left. If Shahjahan thought that taking the fort of Dhamuni would be easy, they were sorely mistaken. The quiledar of Dhamuni, Ratnai fought bravely till midnight but a body of Ruhelas (Rohillas – Afghan mercenaries) tunneled underground to reach a bamboo thicket near the side gate of the fort. The gate was opened from inside by a loyalist of Devi Singh (Betrayed once again by a fellow Bundela). What followed was the customary slaughter of men and rape of Hindu women. But Ratnai was not done yet. He fought his way to the armoury and lit a fuse to blow up a section of the wall where the mughal forces had accumalated. The blast blew up 80 yards of the wall, killing 300 mughal soldiers and blowing up 200 horses.


Jujhar Singh had taken refuge in Chauragarh. When the mughal army reached Chauragarh they found that Jujhar Singh was moving through south through the god kingdoms. He had with him 6000 soldiers, 60 elephants & was making 14 miles a day. The mughals with their cavalry took pursuit. They covered 40 miles per day and soon closed on Jujhar Singh near the border of Gond kingdom of Chanda. The obstinate Jujhar Singh refused to surrender, fought & lost. He sought shelter in the jungles with his family and a few loyal retainers.

Even after a relentless pursuit, the mughals failed to capture Jujhar Singh who fought a brave rearguard battle against the pursuing mughals. Due to continued losses inflicted by Jujhar Singh, mughals bribed the local Gond tribal chiefs to track him. The Gonds informed the mughals of the location of Jujhar’s family. The mughals, in a surprise attack killed Jujhars family and imprisoned the women and daughters of the royal family. Though the Bundela women tried to perform Jauhar, only a few were successful the remaining were captured. Meanwhile, the Gonds were also tracking Jujhar Singh & his son Jograj Singh (who had taken a different route). The Gonds attacked and killed Jjujhar Singh & his son. They cut off their heads and presented them to the mughals.

The captured royal women of the Bundelas, queens & princesses were forcibly converted to islam, kept as sex slaves in the harem of Shahjahan. Some women were given as booty (maal e ganimat) to various mughal chieftains. Death would have been preferable than the fate of these women as playthings & slaves of a race that knew no mercy or meaning of human dignity or chivalry.

His minor grandsons were converted to islam and Udaybhan, the last surviving son of Jujhar Singh was captured from Golkunda & executed after torture because he refused to convert to islam.

The temple of Orcha was destroyed and a mosque was built over the ruins. All this happened when Devi Singh, cousin brother of Jujhar Singh sat on the throne of Orcha. Devi Singh epitomizes all that is wrong with Hindus – slaughter of his kinsmen, rape and slavery of Bundela women of his family, destruction of the temple of his Gods mattered nothing – for he now sat on the throne of Bundelkhand.

PS – Fate repaid the Gonds for their treachery. The mughals extracted a tribute of 6 lakhs gold mohurs & 20 elephants. The Gonds of Chanda were humiliated by the mughals.


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