The fierce battles between the Gohil Rajput rulers of Rajpipla and the Sultans of Gujarat in the 15th and 16th centuries

The Gohil Rajput clan began ruling the 4,000 square kilometres principality of Rajpipla, lying largely between the rivers Narmada and Tapti, around the year 1340. Kumar Shri Samarsinhji was younger son of Mokhdaji Gohil, chief of Ghogha, with capital at Pirambet in the Gulf of Cambay. Samarsinhji’s mother, and second wife of Mokhdaji, was the daughter of Prince Chokrana, ruler of Rajpipla, descending from the Parmar dynasty of Ujjain. Samarsinhji succeeded Chokrana Parmar, who had no son, to the gadi of Rajpipla. Thus began the six centuries rule of the Gohil dynasty over Rajpipla, marked by valiant struggles as well as exhilarating triumphs. On becoming chief, Samarsinhji changed his name to Arjunsinhji.

While the Tughlaq, Sayyid and Lodhi dynasties ruled Delhi in the 15th and 16th centuries, there were fierce battles between the Gohil Rajput rulers of Rajpipla and the Sultans of Gujarat with their capital at Ahmedabad. This lasted till the time the Mughal emperor Akbar assumed ascendancy and cast his eyes towards Gujarat.

In 1403, Rajpipla under Rana Gomelsinhji, grandson of Arjunsinhji, was overrun by Sultan Muhammad I of Gujarat. Gomelsinhji was forced to flee his fort capital of Devchhatra, high up in the western Satpuras. In 1416, there was defeat again at Modasa at the hands of Sultan Ahmad Shah I of Gujarat. This was when Sultan Hoshang Shah of Malwa had invaded Gujarat on the invitation of Rana Gomelsinhji, who had allied himself with the rulers of Idar and Champaner against Ahmad Shah.

With the Gohil dynasty somehow able to retain its tenuous hold over Rajpipla, there was another attack by Sultan Ahmad Shah I in 1431. Rana Harisinhji, grandson of Gomelsinhji, was also forced to flee his capital. But he was a brave warrior and won back his principality in 1443, in alliance with Sultan Hoshang Shah of Malwa, despite being in exile for 12 years. This was at a time when Sultan Ahmad Shah’s successor, Sultan Muhammad Shah II was occupied in fighting against Mewar and Champaner.

With the capital having shifted from Devchhatra to Junaraj, on the banks of River Karjan lower down the hill, Rajpipla held a very independent position for nearly a century-and-a-half thereafter. At this time the territory comprised the hilly parts of Rajpipla and western Khandesh, Nandod town, and probably including districts along both sides of the Narmada, and south to near the Tapti.       

Harisinhji’s son Rana Bhimdev helped Prince Latif Khan, half-brother of Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. In the ensuing battle in 1526, Rana Bhim Dev was killed.

To avenge the killing of his father Rana Bhim Dev, the next ruler Rana Raisinhji plundered Dahod (Dohad). A punitive expedition sent to Rajpipla ravaged the area for several months without much success.  The submission seems to have been token as Rajpipla mercenaries, Bhil and Koli feudatories, attacked Bahadur Shah’s troops the next year. They were unaware that this army was taking Sultan Mahmud Shah Khilji of Malwa in captivity to Champaner after the capture of Mandu on 25th May 1531. In this battle, Bahadur Shah himself led the field and secured Rajpipla’s submission. But Sultan Mahmud Shah and his sons were killed in the process. Rajpipla, though, continued to be ruled by the Gohil dynasty, tributaries for some time of the Sultans of Gujarat.  

After the fall of Chittor to Emperor Akbar in 1567, Maharana Udai Singh of Mewar was an honoured guest of Maharana Bhairavsinhji of Rajpipla for some time. Reference to this can be found in ‘Veer Vinod’.

Under attack from the army of Akbar, the last Sultan of Gujarat, Muzaffar Shah, fled towards Rajpipla. Bhairavsinhji’s son Maharana Pruthuraj ji gave refuge to Muzaffar Shah and incurred the wrath of Akbar. The imperial troops led by Mirza Khan Khas took Gujarat in 1584. Akbar then levied a tribute of Rupees 35,556 on Rajpipla, along with a contingent of 1,000 men to be furnished to the Mughal army. The district of Nandod was granted to Haider Kuli Khan. This arrangement continued till the last years of Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign when the payments not only became irregular but were altogether evaded when possible.

Such were the trials and tribulations faced by the Gohil rulers of Rajpipla in the 15th and 16th centuries and beyond. With the weakening of the Mughal Empire, Maharana Verisalji I asserted his independence, and in 1705 laid waste south Gujarat. A force sent by Aurangzeb under Nazar Ali, the Nawab of Baroda, was defeated by the Rajpipla forces at Ratanpur in alliance with Dhanaji Jadhav, the commander of the Maratha army of the Chhatrapati. Verisalji I’s son Maharana Jeetsinhji forged a treaty with Maharaja Peelaji Rao Gaekwar of Baroda and succeeded in wresting back Nandod taluka. He transferred the capital to Nandod town (now known as Rajpipla) in the plains, also on the banks of the Karjan, in 1730. Not long after, began the struggles with the Gaekwars until the intervention of the British. That, however, is another story, coming on the heels of the adversities faced by the Gohil dynasty of Rajpipla during the mediaeval times.

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