Shankarji Narayan Gandekar is a classic example of Bad Times Create Good Men. His grandfather Mukundpant, the Deshmukh of Gandapur left the village in search for better opportunities and settled in Mangdari. His son Naropant joined military finance department of Shivaji and became the Sabnavis of Sudhagad for his services in the Konkan campaign. In 1677, he took his son Shankarpant with him to office for a job and Moropant Pingle, the Peshwa appointed him as a clerk. That would start one of the potent combination of Sankarji Narayan Gandekar and Parashuram Tryambak Pant Pratinidhi – two of the most dominant Maratha leaders in Rajaram-Tarabai era. Both of them were clerks under Moropant Pingle and both of them climbed the ranks both in civil services and military service through sheer hardwork to become what they became due course of time. Shankarji Narayan in time became closely associated with the Mavala tribesmen and the area would become the base of his operations in due time.

The death of Sambhaji and Moropant Pingle was a major boost for the Mughals and they redoubled their efforts to subdue the Marathas. In 1690, with Zulfiqar Khan on rampage, Chatrapati Rajaram left to Gingee and appointed the Peshwa Ramchandra Nilkanth Bavadekar or Ramchandra Pant Amatya as the regent for Maratha lands under the title Hukumat Panah. The royal family was left in custody of Shankarji Narayan and he arranged their travel to Gingee by the sea. In time, Ramchandra Pant Amatya tasked with creating a Maval infantry and he outdid himself by storming Rajgad with the Mavalas in 1692. He was granted the Jagir of Wai and Rajaram granted him the title Madar-ul-Maham. Soon after, he took Torna and Rohada and that completely collpased the Mughal position in Maval area. From then on, one would see Shankarji Narayan taking one fort after the other – with Purandar being one of his crowning glories. From there, he attacked Mughal interests in Konkan before attacking the royal camp itself at Dhanagad. By then, he controlled all lands west of Indapur. On the other hand, Parashuram Pant Pratinidhi took Panhala and Santaji Ghorpade, the commnader in chief of army was holding fort in Bijapur-Carnatic even to the extent of destroying the whole army of the Subah in the Battle of Dodderi-Basavapatna. An angry Aurangzeb realized it’s impossible to run the two fronted war and sent additional troops to reduce Gingee. In the meanwhile Rajaram returned back, again escorted by Shankarji Narayan. In 1697, he became the Pant Sachiv. The general offensive against the Mughals started in 1699 under Rajaram and Shankarji commanded one third of the whole army. He defeated the Mughal commander Sarjekhan and seized Pune post which he joined hands with Parashuram Pant Pratinidhi and harassed the Mughals everywhere. In 1705, Shankarji Narayan took Rajgad and Torna again and in 1706, he took Sinhagad. The fall of Sinhagad was a shock to Aurangzeb and was in fact, one of the reasons which led to the death of the old and broken Emperor. Using the confusion of Aurangzeb’s death, Shankarji took Purandar and whatever territories Mughals held in the area.

To divert the Marathas during the struggle for the Mughal throne, Azam Shah released Shahu and sent him back. The Maratha country was divided – Rajaram’s widow Tarabai who managed the country refused to cede power and the Maratha country vertically split into competing camps. Dhanaji Jadhav, Parashuram Pant Pratinidhi, Shankarji Narayan Gandekar, Ramchandra Pant Amatya believed the Shahu sent was an impostor but Dhanaji Jadhav when sent at the head of an army to tackle Shahu realized he is not an impostor and switched sides in the battlefield at Khed-Kadus. Chakan, Pune, Jejuri and Chandan Wandan fell while Parashuram Pant Pratinidhi, with the remnants of Tarabai’s army locked himself in Satara and refused to surrender. Satara eventually was surrendered by it’s commander who asked Shahu to be lenient towards Parashuram Pant Pratinidhi. But, the Pant Pratinidhi refused to leave the cause of Tarabai and was imprisoned. On the other hand, the esteem of Shankarji Narayan was that great, because he was still with Tarabai, the post of Pant Sachiv was left vacant. Though he gained initial successes against Tarabai in 1709, Shahu’s position started to falter by the next year. The whole of Pune tract with it’s impregnable and well provisioned forts of Pune, Sinhagad, Purandar, Rajgad and Torna were with Shankarji Narayan and blocked Shahu’s access to Kandesh and Nasik. By then, Shankarji Narayan who was in Rajgad understood Shahu is not an impostor and unable to break the vow he made to Tarabai to protect her son, and unable to oppose his suzerain, he took sanyasa and left to Ambavade in November 1712. Ramchandra Pant Amatya accused him of cowardice and a torn Shankarji committed suicide by drowning himself in Nira. Notes Kincaid on his death,

The fortunate event was the strange collapse of Shankar Narayan Gandekar. After his failure against Rangna, Shahu resolved to try and reduce the ring of forts round Poona. It was with their capture that the great King had begun his wonderful career and they were regarded by the Maratha people as the keys of the Maratha Kingdom. So long as they were in Tarabai’s hands, her son might well be deemed the true successor of Shivaji and Sambhaji. On the other hand Tarabai, who had carefully provisioned and garrisoned them and had entrusted their defence to the skilful hands of Shankar Narayan, looked forward with confidence to their prolonged resistance. Long before her fortresses fell, her armies would be able to attack with effect Shahu’s rear and retake Satara. Neither side foresaw nor could have foreseen how Shankar Narayan would act…Trusting to Tarabai’s word that Shahu was a pretending knave, Shankar Narayan had sworn to defend her son’s cause against all comers. He was now convinced that Shahu was no impostor but Sambhaji’s son. Devotedly loyal to the house of Shivaji, himself a hero of the war of independence, Shankar Narayan could not bear to fight against the great King’s grandson. At the same time he had sworn an oath of loyalty to Tarabai, which he could not as an honourable man break. The dilemma in which he found himself was too great for that loyal, brave, and simple soul. While he hesitated what course to pursue, Shahu’s troops stormed Raj gad and threatened Sinhgad and Torna. Forced at last to a decision, he chose a course of conduct, that would present itself more readily to an eastern than a western mind. He resigned his charge and his powers; and donning the garb of an anchorite, went to reside at Ambavade, a holy place on the Nira river. But even thus he did not escape from the vexations of life. Ramchandra Nilkanth incensed at what he regarded as desertion, sharply reprimanded Shankar Narayan and accused him of cowardice. The charge weighed heavily on one who had taken cities and won stricken fields. One way remained by which he might prove to his old master that fear of death had not prompted his action. He built for himself a small raft. To each end he fastened earthen jars, in the bottoms of which holes had been bored. Seating himself on the raft, he had it towed to a deep pool in the Nira river. As the water entered the jars, the raft sank carrying with it the gallant but misguided soldier.

The sudden death of Shankarji Narayan collapsed Tarabai’s position completely and she never recovered from that – Tarabai had to contend herself by ruling a small kingdom centred around Kolhapur. It is curious to see how the high and mighty of the Maratha Empire dealt with their oath to Tarabai over milk and boiled rice to protect her son to the death – Dhanaji Jadhav preferred righteousness and broke the oath, Shankarji Narayan committed suicide in order not to break the oath, Parashuram Pant Pratinidhi and Ramchandra Pant Amatya preferred the oath over righteousness. All were right and all were wrong and they acted on their conscience and we are nobodies to judge why they did what they did that day.

Shahu was shaken at Shankarji Narayan’s death – he noted not even one of those mighty forts resisted capture and on the death of Shankarji Narayan decided not to seize his estates but handed them over to his son Naro Shankar and made the title of Pant Sachiv hereditary on his family. His estates evolved into the kingdom of Bhor and contained most of the mighty forts Shankarji Narayan held.

Maratha Empire, in actuality, is a unique Bahmanid experiment which royally backfired. The Bahmanid tradition was that while the villages were held by their headmen who were usually Marathas, they appointed overseers on the villages who would receive the tribute and send it back to the headquarters. These Deshmukhs were generally Brahmins and as like the Patils were a pious Hindu lot and when the clarion call came from Shivaji to rid the territory of the foreign rule, both the Patils and the Deshmukhs jumped headlong into the fight. Overnight the semblance of Bijapuri authority in massive tracts disappeared completely as the bickering Patils and Deshmukhs joined hands wholeheartedly without expecting anything in return. Shankarji is from one such of the families and the ease with which he dealt with the Mavalas clearly tells the ground support Shivaji and his successors had, and on the other hand, Maratha Empire was based on merit more than caste as the case of Malhar Rao Holkar or Govind Pant Bundele(again a Brahmin) or Shindak Mahar would prove. Where did this unity break and why did the world forget behemoths like Shankarji Narayan or Prahlad Niraji? The answer was given by Montstuart Elphinstone, the then British Resident at Pune and later Governor of Bombay when referring to Satara kingdom on on 8 April 1818 –

The Governor-General’s intention in founding a small state for the Raja, is to afford an honorable maintenance to the representative of the ancient princes of this country, and to establish among the Mahrattas a counterpoise to the remaining influence of the former Brahmin government: to the extent which I intend to propose for the Raja’s territories, I have taken in the further object of providing for a portion of the soldiery of the country, whose habits might be unsuitable to our service, and likewise of maintaining some of the civil and religious orders whom it might be difficult to dispose of under our own direct government.

And we know what devastating consequences this led to.


  1. A History of Maratha People – Kincaid and Sardesai
  2. A Short History Of The Bhor State – VG Ranade
  3. Story of Satara – Major BD Basu

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