The Ballad Of Tanaji Malusare

The Ballad Of Tanaji Malusare

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Friday, June 2, 2023 02:51 PM IST
The Ballad Of Tanaji MalusareStatue of Tanaji at Sinhagad Fort. (Wikimedia Commons) 


Once upon a benighted age,

Our land lay under a foreign horde.

Hampi had fallen a century before, and,

Even the Rajputs now rarely roared.


A Turkic sultanate ruled the Northern Plains,

Which itched to expand its empire south.

It eyed the Adil Shahis of Bijapur,

Who reigned from Nasik to The Pennar’s mouth.


Under these trammels lay ancient Bharata,

With her traditions in tatters, and her head bowed.

Infidels in our own homes, ‘kafirs’ to our liege,

Our spirit was broken; we were cowed.


Zakat and Jiziya were our new ways of life,

After hammers had shattered our holy abodes.

But just when we thought that all was lost,

A soul was born to raise Dharma’s sword.


They named him Shiva, after the Goddess Shivai,

His mother Jija taught him the bhajans of Bhavani.

He was the spark which rekindled our flame,

That later stretched from Peshawar to Palani.


Shiva grew as all boys do,

On tales of honour and duty.

They opened his eyes to the reality,

Of the injustice meted out to the laity.


So, the nobleman’s son took it upon himself,

To bring the legends he loved to life:

Rana Pratap of Mewar, Arjuna at Kurukshetra,

And others, who restored order from strife.


Slowly, slowly, year after year, Shiva’s strength grew,

As he started recapturing what we had lost.

First Torna fort, then Purandar, then Pratapgadh,

Until even the Mughal Alamgir started fretting at the cost.


Many imperial campaigns were launched,

To bring this ‘infernal brigand’ to heel.

But every time they tried, they failed,

And were slaughtered by Maratha steel.


An incensed Alamgir tried to deceive Shivaji once,

By imprisoning him in Agra during peace talks.

But the Maratha was craftier than the Mughal lord,

And escaped in a basket of reed stalks.


This ebb and flow of win and loss,

Raged across the Deccan plateau,

But try and try as the Mughals did,

Shivaji remained an irrepressible foe.


Then a lull descended on the contest,

Not long after Shivaji recaptured Poona.

While the Marathas had twenty-nine forts,

The Mughals still held the keep of Kondana.


“That vital fort must be ours”,

Jijabai sternly told her son.

“Whatever the cost, Shiva-ba,

For Dharma, Kondana must be won”.


Shivaji chewed his lips in thought,

For a mother’s orders were inviolable.

‘Whatever the cost’, he now had to find,

An apt warrior both brave and capable.


It didn’t take him long to decide,

For only one could win such a fray –

His childhood friend and brother in arms,

The gallant Tanaji Malusare.



Tanaji was at his fief, Umaratha,

Preparing for his son’s wedding.

When a grim-faced horseman arrived

Carrying Shivaji’s formal bidding.


“Kondana, eh?”, the Malusare grinned,

To his startled wife standing by his side.

“The marriage is postponed till I have taken the fort,

Now fetch me my sword, my shield, and my ride”.


Tana rode north with peculiar haste,

To fulfil the wishes of a mother.

With him rode his uncle Shelar,

And Suryaji, the Malusare’s brother.


By the time they neared Kondana,

The assault force was three-hundred strong.

These Mavale warriors were so seasoned by war,

Few doubted that anything could go wrong.


But Kondana was a difficult prize,

Not least because of its terrain.

A sole approach was the fortified Kalyan Gate,

Meaning, brawn had to be matched by brain.


East of the crest of the Western Ghats,

Steep ridges line these Maratha realms.

Knife-narrow apices by nature begot,

With dense forests filling the glens.


The fastness of Kondana lies on one such ridge,

Barely a dozen crow-miles from Poona’s Lal Mahal.

With ramparts on three sides, and a cliff to the west,

Assaulting it was a ticket to hell.


For two days and nights Tanaji scoured the site,

Studying bastions, forces, and shift changes.

Then he spent two days more, gathering news,

From locals who lived in these ranges.


The Mughal commander, Uday Bhan Rathod,

Had placed his troops with a professional penchant.

And up his sleeve to foil a coup-de-main,

Was Chandraveli, his deadly killer elephant.


The Rathod also had his many sons,

Each more valiant than the other.

Tanaji mulled these factors and more,

Before revealing his mind to his brothers.


“We’ll scale the western cliff at night,

Kill the rampart guards when the hour is late.

And while we attack the Mughal forces,

One group will open the Kalyan Gate”.


“My lord Shivaji will be waiting there.

Once the gate is open, he’ll enter in force.

And soon as the main body is in,

This impregnable fort will be ours”


One young warrior gasped at the plan:

“Climb that sheer cliff? It cannot be!”

“Fool!” chuckled Tanaji, “We can!

With the aid of my lovely Yashwanti”.



It was a cold and bleak and cloudless night,

When the Mavale gathered at the cliff base.

The only blaze was the excitement in their eyes,

As they prepared to scale the rock face.


Then, Tanaji opened a wicker basket,

To reveal Yashwanti, his secret weapon.

Though, truth be told, the sight of a monitor lizard,

Didn’t create a favourable impression!


She was ugly and fat and seemed forlorn,

Flicking her forked tongue in consternation.

But Tanaji patted Yashwanti fondly on the head,

And said: “This is my ghorpad. Pay attention”.


“She is my pet and I’ve trained her well,

To climb sheer walls without pause.

I’ve tied a long rope to her waist,

Which she’ll hoist to the ramparts with her claws”.


“Once she’s atop, I’ll clamber up,

And throw down more ropes for you.

When all three hundred have scaled the cliff,

We’ll run the Mughals through”.


Tanaji placed the lizard on the rock,

And pointed up the escarpment.

But Yashwanti sulkily refused to budge,

Raising titters of Mavale merriment.


Angered, Tanaji whispered fiercely:

“By Bhavani, you ghorpad, go, now, go,

This is your master’s command!

Scale the cliff and let us surprise our foe”.


Finally, after what seemed like eternity,

Yashwanti commenced her upward slither.

Every warrior mouthed a silent prayer —

That the lizard’s vigour should not wither.


“Go, ghorpad, go” They whispered,

“Go, ghorpad, go” they prayed.

For if the Mavale took Kondana tonight,

Mughal power would be frayed.


In time, Yashwanti climbed the cliff,

And wrapped the rope to a battlement.

Tanaji swiftly pulled himself up,

And crouched quietly behind a revetment.


Three hundred men followed suit

And for a moment all was still.

Then, at a signal from their leader,

The Mavale proceeded for the kill.



Tanaji started a silent slaughter along the north walls,

Shelar Mama killed the southern sentries at a frenetic rate.

And as Tajik and Uzbek fell to Maratha blade,

Suryaji led his troops towards the Kalyan Gate.


Outside the fort, amidst the tree-filled slopes,

Shivaji and his army waited with bated breath.

The first inkling they got that the assault had begun,

Was when Mughals started falling to their death.


By the time the alarm was finally raised,

And Uday Bhan Rathod had been roused,

The Marathas had the upper hand,

As they fought their way to the south.


First to the counter-charge were the Rathod sons;

Every young Rajput was a master of the blade.

One even managed a cut on Shelar Mama’s arm,

But in the end, they were all sadly slayed.


Enraged, the Rathod ordered his men,

To release Chandraveli, their war elephant.

She was a gigantic beast with deadly tusks,

Who would render the Maratha attack redundant.


The pachyderm’s trumpets ripped the night,

Into furious, frightening fragments.

Sweeping Mavale after Mavale into her trunks,

Chandraveli smashed them against the battlements.


“Keep going, keep going!” Tana urged his men,

“Make for the gate while we tackle this monster”.

For although the Marathas still had the edge,

They knew they couldn’t hold on much longer.


Grabbing a spear, Tanaji leapt with a roar,

Onto the elephant’s forehead.

He stabbed and he thrust, holding his balance,

Until the beast dropped dead.


By now, dawn was nearly on the break;

The shield of night would lift with the sun’s first ray.

That is when the Rathod unsheathed his sword,

And launched a ferocious entry into the fray.


He cut and he thrust with superb finesse,

Dropping the Mavale one by one.

Closer and closer he got to Tanaji, growling,

“I’ll get you afore the sun”.


Suryaji and his troops were within sight of the gate,

When the Rathod engaged Tanaji in battle.

“Mama!”, the Malusare shouted with a grin,

“Aid Surya, while my blade makes merry prattle”.


“Come, commander, show me how good you are”,

Tanaji teased the Rathod gently.

“You’ll be dead before the show begins”,

The Rathod replied, eyeing his foe intently.


Below, the final assault on the Kalyan Gate began;

The Marathas crashed upon the Mughals like a gale.

Above on the ramparts, two men circled each other,

Preparing to script a legendary tale.



A pale glow drew outlines around,

The two figures fighting on the wall;

Tanaji – short and stocky,

The Rathod – trim and tall.


They fought like none had fought before,

In a contest where era was arena.

One sword swung for Mughal imperium,

The other, to restore Sanathana Dharma.


The Rathod leapt like a panther,

To deliver a downward slice.

Tana rolled his body to the left,

Then jumped to his feet in a trice.


The Maratha attacked with slicing cuts,

But the Rajput refused to yield.

Instead, he swirled to lay a mighty blow,

Which shattered the Malusare’s shield.


Even as both men weakened,

The Marathas gained at the Gate.

If Tanaji could hold the Rathod a few moments more,

The Mavale would seal the Mughals’ fate.


Without a shield, Tana knew the game was up,

That he’d have to buy time with deftness.

So, he led the Rajput on a dangerous dance,

Along the rocky fastness.


Twice he cut the Rathod on the arm,

Then twice more across the thigh.

And though the enemy’s blood flowed fast,

The Malusare knew his time was nigh.


In the end, the Rajput managed to land,

A deadly stroke on the Maratha’s head.

Tanaji staggered back in pain,

Before slowly falling dead.


But it was not a victory the Commander could savour,

For the Maratha’s blade had cut too deep.

A moment later, he too collapsed,

And drifted into eternal sleep.


At that very moment a great roar went up,

As the Kalyan Gate flew open.

Shivaji and his waiting army cheered,

As Kondana’s last lock was broken.


Later, when the fort had been secured,

Shiva sat with Tana’s head on his thigh.

He thought of their youth, the battles they won,

Then he cried for a friend who died.


“I’ve lost a brother for a mother’s wish.

It’s come at a cost too high.

Yet this fort is the price we pay to protect

Our ancient way of life”, He sighed.


This is the tale of Tanaji’s valour

Which from our land will never fade,

For as great souls can, so great souls do,

And thus, are legends made.


So, if you visit Kondana fort

Pay heed to the winds that blow

For they still whistle those three words:

“Go, Ghorpad, Go”

“Go, Ghorpad, Go”

“Go, Ghorpad, Go”

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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