Channamma, Rajaram and Aurangzeb: Separating Fact From Fiction

After the fall of Bijapur and Golconda in 1686 and 1687, the Marathas were the only enemy left whom Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (r: 1658-1707) had to subdue for completing his conquest of the Deccan. In February 1689, he succeeded in capturing Sambhaji, Chhatrapati Shivaji's eldest son. Sambhaji was executed in March 1689.

After the capture of Sambhaji, his younger half-brother Rajaram (r: 1689-1700), who had been kept in prison, was declared the Maratha king at Raigarh. Aurangzeb dispatched Zulfiqar Khan to capture the Maratha capital Raigarh. Despite the Marathas' valiant efforts to defend their stronghold, the Mughal forces eventually succeeded in taking control of Raigarh.

On the fall of Raigarh in October 1689, the widows of Shivaji and Sambhaji, along with the wives, daughters and sons of Rajaram, including the young Shahu, were captured by the Mughals.


However, prior to the capture of the fort, Rajaram disguised himself as a yogi and fled from Raigarh (April 1689). Aurangzeb sent Sayyid Abdullah Khan Barha and Bahadur Khan to pursue him.

Rajaram's journey from Raigarh to Gingee in Tamil Nadu is documented in the Sanskrit work Rajaramacharitam by Keshav Pandit. From Raigarh Rajaram went to Pratapgarh with few followers and from there to Panhala [in Maharashtra], all the while being pursued by the Mughals. Eventually, he arrived at the banks of the Tungabhadra River.

Aurangzeb's spies informed him that Rajaram had gathered about 300 followers and had entered the dominions of the Rani of Bednore. 

Abdullah Khan Barha, in pursuit of Rajaram, crossed the Tungabhadra and reached the boundaries of Bednore. The Marathas, who had taken refuge on an island in the Tungabhadra, were attacked in the dead of night. In the ensuing battle, many Maratha soldiers perished and the Mughals captured several Maratha generals, including Hindurao, Yekoji, Bahirji, Manaji Ghorpade, Rupaji Bhosle (Rupa Singh Bhonsle), Santaji Jagtap, Manaji More and Sharjarao Gadhe. In the midst of this fighting, Rajaram managed to escape.

After crossing the Tungabhadra River, Rajaram with a small number of followers, disguised as yogis, proceeded towards the kingdom of Bednore in Karnataka.

Rajaram in Bednore:

The Keladi Nayakas of Bednore, also known as Ikkeri, Kanara and Nagara, once a feudatory under Vijayanagara, held power until their last queen, Rani Viramma, was overthrown by Hyder Ali in 1763.

According to Kannada and Sanskrit sources, Rajaram sought refuge in the kingdom of Channamma (r: 1672/73-1697), the Rani of Bednore, who was popularly known as Keladi Channamma and was the widow of Somasekhara Nayaka. Masir-i-Alamgiri, an important historical document, refers to her as the "She-Bear".

Keladinripavijayam of poet Linganna, tells that upon arriving near Ponnali [Honnali], Rajaram dispatched his men to Channamma informing her of his deplorable condition and requested her to arrange a safe passage to escape to Gingee. Channamma convened a council of ministers and it was decided to give protection to the refugee; and assist him in his escape to Gingee via Gajanur, Bore, Nadahalli, Aduvalli, Kalas, Khandya and Vasudhare (Vastare).

Aurangzeb received intelligence that Channamma had provided refuge to Rajaram. He demanded her surrender of Rajaram and dispatched the following order: 'The presence of Rajaram in your dominion is against the exalted wishes. Soon after the receipt of this imperial order you must arrest and send him escorted by your soldiers to the royal presence through Abdulla Khan'.

Channamma adamantly denied the charges and declared, 'Rajaram has not come to this place. Abdulla Khan has captured Rupa Singh Bhonsle with his followers and I am sure that fugitive is among them'. 

As she was suspected of harboring Rajaram, Aurangzeb commanded Jan Nisar Khan (Aurangzeb's son Azam Shah according to Keladinripavijayam and Portuguese account; Abdullah Khan Barha and Bahadur Khan according to Futuhat-i-Alamgiri) to launch an invasion of Bednore.

Keladinripavijayam states that when Aurangzeb demanded the surrender of Rajaram, Channamma replied that Rajaram had passed through her kingdom, but was not currently staying there. She also revealed that she had taken possession of some of the ornaments and horses that had fallen from the Maratha prince while he was passing through her dominions; and handed them over to Aurangzeb's men. Aurangzeb's officers informed him that, although the Queen had delivered them the belongings of the fugitives, she refused to surrender them. Consequently, Aurangzeb determined to destroy Bednore. Channamma sent a huge army to confront the Mughals, who ultimately suffered defeat and were forced to conclude a treaty with her.

Authors such as I. M. Muthanna and Naraharayya S.N. have gone even further, claiming that she refused to surrender Rajaram and successfully defeated the Mughal army, which was led by Aurangzeb himself! 



Mughal records reveal that Channamma was forced to sue for peace with the Mughals by paying tribute to Aurangzeb.

Masir-i-Alamgiri records that the Maratha chieftain Santa Ghorpade valiantly resisted Jan Nisar Khan, Matlab Khan and Sharza Khan. Ultimately, the conflict with the Rani concluded with her paying a nominal tribute in the form of a fine.

Ishwar Das Nagar gives further details of this event: Channamma tried her best to protect her kingdom from destruction. During the Mughal raid, many villages and districts were destroyed. She left Bednore fort and sought refugee in the impregnable fortress of Komgarh [could be Kavaledurga]. From there she sued for peace and sent a letter to Aurangzeb, 'A few selfish persons have reported to you about the coming of Rajaram to me, which is not correct. He came to me but there have been differences between us since long. So I did not allow him to stay here and he went back to his uncle. Thus humble-self is still faithful to you, how can anything against the wishes of your Majesty be done by me? I have, however, full faith in your benign kindness that the utterances of wrong persons and loose talkers would not be believed. I pray that the victorious army, which has been appointed to plunder my dominions, be called back so that peace and order may be maintained there'.

When Aurangzeb received this reply, he graciously pardoned the Rani and recalled the army from Bednore. It was ordered that the Rani must pay 8 lakh rupees annually as tribute. Additionally, she would provide 2500 hanas, 500 horsemen and 2000 foot-men in accordance with the custom to Talkonkan, to serve under the faujdar of that place. Aurangzeb also conferred upon her a robe of honour, an elephant, five horses and other commodities, which were delivered to her vakil.

After receiving the order and gifts, she sent another message thanking Aurangzeb, along with 115,000 hanas, two elephants and ten horses. Masir-i-Alamgiri records in 1693 that, 'the agent of the Rani of Bednore presented her letter and tribute consisting of 300 hana'.

It appears that Bednore had already been a tributary of the Mughals. According to Ishwar Das' Futuhat-i-Alamgiri, Zulfiqar Khan led a six-month Mughal campaign against Rani Channamma in May 1688, which ultimately resulted in her submission; and the arrival of her vakil at Delhi: 'Ankuji, the vakil of the Rani arrived at the Delhi court and paid his respects to the emperor....The emperor sent a wrapper, a dushala, a female clothes consisting of embroidered sari etc., and other articles for her and a special robe, an elephant and two horses for her son [Basavappa Nayaka]. It was ordered that the Rani, "who owes to pay the tribute of 8 lakhs rupees should pay like this: 5 lakhs to the emperor, 2 lakhs to the treasury of Bijapur and 1 lakh to Zulfiqar Khan". Two or three ahadis were dispatched to enforce the payment'.

Ishwar Das also mentions that Rajaram was one of her relatives, so she gave him protection. In 1675, Rajaram's father Shivaji had given her protection from the rebel chief Timmanna Nayak. According to Muni Lal, once Sambhaji had saved her from humiliation at the hands of tribal bandits.

An order issued by Rani Channamma in 1691 mentions the Mughal oppression of 1689 (79 - Epigraphia Carnatica, Vol. VII- Inscriptions in the Shimoga District). A Portuguese record of 1691 reports that the Rani suffered defeat at the hands of the Mughals.

A letter written by the Portuguese Viceroy to the king of Portugal dated January 1691, describes that Channamma had allowed Rajaram to pass through her country and Aurangzeb sent a division of his army under his son Azam Shah to pursue him. Azam Shah's forces surrounded the Rani, taking several of her fortresses and entering her court at Bednore, compelled her to retreat and seek peace. She surrendered three forts - Madhavpura, Ananthapur, and Mahadevapura - which were located in the Ghats and belonged to Adil Shah, and offered to pay him 18 lakhs of pagodas in three years. She promptly paid the first installment of six lakhs. In order to pay such a large sum of money the Rani has imposed heavy taxes on her subjects to their great vexation.

Muni Lal in his book 'Aurangzeb' records that Channamma was pardoned by Aurangzeb at the instance of his Prime Minister Asad Khan. He also narrates a story according to which Asad Khan's son Zulfiqar Khan was in secret love with the Rani, and remarks that Rajaram's escape to Gingee was a fairly complicated tale of love's conflict with loyalty!


Channammaji and the Marathas By Dr. B. Muddachar
Rajaram and the Portuguese By Cavaliero Panduranga Pissurlencar
Jadunath Sarkar's Aurangzeb & Shivaji
Ishwar Das Nagar's Futuhat-i-Alamgiri Translated & Edited by Tasneem Ahmad
Rajarama's Escape to Ginji By G. H. Khare