Chimaji Appa – Hindu Warriors


Shreemant Chimaji Ballal Peshwa (1707–1740) was the son of Balaji Vishwanath Bhat and the younger brother of Bajirao Peshwa of Maratha Empire. He was an able military commander who liberated the western coast of India from Portuguese rule. The high watermark of his career was the capture of Vasai fort from the Portuguese in a hard fought battle.

While Portuguese naval supremacy had been weakened by the British, French and Dutch Navies, they still maintained a strong presence on the western coast of India, from the Gujarat coast, through the Konkan, down to northern Malabar. They maintained well defended fortresses all along the coast located in islands and harbour mouths. From their headquarters in Goa they ran a theological Christian state all along the western coastal region from Daman and Diu down to Mangalore. To further the spread of Christianity, Inquisition was promulgated throughout the Portuguese possessions in India, and a program to annihilate Hindus through conversion or massacre commenced. Hindus were subjected to torture frequently surpassing even the barbarity of contemporary Islamic rulers.

A painting of Chimaji Ballal Peshwa near Parvati temple, a part of the Peshwa Memorial atop Parvati in Pune
It was in this milieu that the Marathas arose, ignited by the call of swaraj given by Shivaji, to restore the land of India to the sons of the soil. While Bajirao was waging war against the Mughal Empire, Chimaji Appa concentrated his energies towards the Western Ghats. Vasai (formerly known as Bassein) was the ultimate objective of the war, as this was the capital of the provincial government of Portugal’s northern Indian possessions.

2.Capture of Belapur Castle
In 1733, the Marathas, led by Chimaji Appa, with Sardar Shankarbuwa Shinde wrested control of the Belapur Fort from the Portuguese. Sardar Jankojirao Shinde actual Great grandfather of Ranojirao Shinde and real younger brother of Dattajirao Shinde opened the attack from maratha side. He had made a vow that if it were to be successfully recaptured from the Portuguese, he would place a garland of beli leaves in a nearby Amruthaishwar temple, and after the victory the fort was renamed as Belapur Fort.

3.The capture of Vasai
After careful planning, Chimaji Appa led a Maratha army into the occupied territories in 1737. Chimnaji’s strategy was to go for the weakest link in the chain to the strongest, thereby progressively weakening the Portuguese.

On 28 March 1737, Maratha forces led by Ranojirao Shinde and his great-grandfather Janojirao with both his sons Chengojirao [actual grandfather of Ranojirao] and Raoloji shinde fought gallantly in this war. Maratha General Shankarbuwa Shinde captured the strategic island fortress of Arnala, thus cutting off a crucial relief line to Vasai. Thane and Salsette Island were freed in 1737.

In November 1738, Chimaji Appa captured the fort of Dahanu and on 20 January 1739, Mahim capitulated. This was speedily followed by the capture of the forts of Kelve/Mahim by Chengojirao shinde, Sirgão – by Ranojirao shinde, Tarapur – by Janojirao shinde, and Asserim on 13 February 1739 by Chimnajirao Peshwa self. On 28 March 1739 Portuguese lost the island and the fortress of Karanja to Raoloji Shinde’s forces.

Finally in February 1739, Chimaji Appa invested Bassein Fort. He first occupied Versova fort., Dharavi and blockaded Bassein Creek. Then mines were laid at various points under the fort walls and detonated, causing a breach in the wall. As the Marathas including Ranojirao Shinde and his cousin grandfather Janojirao son of Shrimanat Changojirao poured into the fortress, the Portuguese fought on desperately and viciously, using their technically advanced weapons and artillery, they caused high casualties among the Marathas. Inch by inch the fort was secured and resistance contained in small pockets. At this stage the tower of Saint Sebastian collapsed in an explosion, and Portuguese morale plummeted.

All resistance ceased immediately. On the 16th of May the Portuguese army surrendered. Portuguese Captain Caetano de Souza Pereira signed the surrender as most of the top army officers were already dead.

Chimaji was magnanimous in victory, and surviving Portuguese were given a safe passage from the city. Legends also speak of his emulating Shivaji Maharaj by returning with honor a woman of Portuguese governor’s household who was presented to him as a spoil of war. Portuguese were given eight days to take all their movable property and move out. Accordingly, the last remnants of Portuguese army and administration pulled out of Vasai by 23 May 1739.

Great maratha warrior Manajirao, alias Jankoji Shinde Son of Chengojirao Shinde [and actual father of Ranoji], killed Portuguese top official General Martinho da Sylveira, General Pedro de Mello and Lt. Colonel João Malhão. The Portuguese sources record that during the entire war with Chimaji Appa during 1737-1740, besides the Northern Province’s capital Baçaim (Portuguese name for Vasai), they further lost eight cities, four chief ports, twenty fortress, two fortified hills and 340 villages. The losses amounted to nearly the whole of the Northern Provinces.

To celebrate his victory and to fulfill a vow taken in front of Devi Vajreshwari, Chimaji appa had a temple built for the goddess nearby. The Vajreshwari Temple still stands there as a relic of Maratha glory.

4. Last Time
Chimaji Appa died in 1740. The conquest of Bassein was long cherished by the Marathas as a matter of national pride and glory. A relationship built on trust and camaraderie between Bajirao and Chimaji was the key to the meteoric rise of the Marathas during Bajirao Peshwa’s reign.

Chimaji was married to Rakhmabai (Pethe family). He had a son, Sadashivrao known popularly as Sadashivrao Bhau who led the Maratha forces in the historic Third Battle of Panipat against Ahmad Shah Abdali. Rakhmabai died shortly after Sadashivrao’s birth, which led to Chimajiappa’s second marriage to Annapuurnabai.

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