Panhala literally meaning “Home of Serpents” was one of the 15 forts built by Bhoja II, the Shilhara ruler between 1178 and 1209 AD. The famous aphorism of Raja Bhoj, Gangu Teli is believed to have been associated with this fort. Apparently, when the walls of the fort repeatedly collapsed during construction, and the king’s astrologer, recommended the sacrifice of a woman and her newly born to appease the gods. This was when Gangu Teli, offered to sacrifice his wife Jakkubai and her newborn, taking it as a matter of pride.
Bhoja Raja was defeated by Singhana, the most powerful ruler of the Devagiri Yadavas, who took control of the fort. It subsequently passed through many hands, before the Adil Shahi dynasty made it one of their strategic outposts in 1589, fortifying it extensively with ramparts and gateways.
One of the largest forts in the Deccan with a perimeter of 14 Km, and 110 lookout posts, located at a height of 845m above sea level, on the Sahyadris, with numerous underground tunnels. The walls are protected by steep escarpments, reinforced by parapet with stilt holes. One of the features of the fort was a hidden well called Andhar Bavadi, built by Adil Shah, a secret source of water, which could be protected from poisoning by the enemy forces. In fact this more like an emergency shelter, with living quarters, hidden passageways, and was also the fort’s main water source.
The other structures in the fort were the Kalvanticha Mahal, the courtesan’s palace, used as a ladies quarter by the Bahmani sultans, when they occupied the fort. The Amberkhana, or the granary, built in Bijapur style, it had 3 Kothis called Ganga, Jamuna, Saraswati, which later would help Shivaji in withstanding the long siege. With stairs leading up to top, and 16 bays with it’s own flat vault, and a hole on the top for grains to be passed.
The Teen Darwaza was one of the 3 double gateways to the fort along with Char Darwaza and Wagh Darwaja. While the Char Darwaza was destroyed during the British siege, the Teen Darwaza is the main entrance to the fort, basically a double gateway with a court in between, decorated with arcades. The Wagh Darwaza, was designed to trick invaders into getting trapped in a small courtyard, and has an elaborate Ganesh motif.
Rustam Zaman was the Bijapur commander in chief who was sent to face Shivaji. He had taken part in the Battle of Pratapgarh, but was allowed to go back by Tanaji Malusare, after the rout. On 27 December, 1659 he camped at the town of Miraj, near to Kolhapur, known for its classical music tradition and manufacture of musical instruments. He was assisted by other chieftains Fazal Khan, Malik Itbar, Sadat Khan, leading a large Adilshahi army of 10,000 that had one of the best cavalry, as well as front line defence of elephants. Zaman commanded the centre, while he was flanked by Fazal Khan on the left, Malik Itbar on the right, and Fateh Khan, Mullah Yahya making up the rear.
Shivaji on the other side was assisted by Netaji Palkar, Godaji Jagtap, Sidhoji Pawar among others. Palkar was one of his finest commanders, who had led the successful campaign at Pratapgarh, where the Adil Shahis were routed. As much of a hero among people, as Shivaji was, to the extent that he was known as Prati Shivaji (image of Shivaji). He led many a successful campaign against the Adilshahis, and was responsible for the expansion of the Maratha Empire. Shivaji was at the center, flanked by Siddi Hilal and Jadhavrao on the left and Ingale and Sidhoji Pawar on the right. Netaji Palkar was off the center, while Mahadik and Wagh made up the rear end.
In quick anticipation of Zaman’s plan to move to Panhala fort, Shivaji made a sudden attack in the wee hours of December 28, 1659 on the Adil Shahi forces. He led a full frontal attack on the Adilshahi forces, targeting the centre, while 2 units of his cavalry, attacked the other two flanks. It was one of the bloodiest battles ever fought, where over 7000 men fell on the Adil Shahi side, under the rapid, lightning attacks by the Marathas, who lost around 1000 too. Zaman fled from the battlefield and it turned out to be another rout after Pratapgarh for the Adil Shahis.
The Adilshahis lost around 7000 men, 2000 horses and 12 elephants at the Battle of Kolhapur. This was an even bigger rout than that of Pratapgarh. Shivaji later targeted another strategic fort of Khelna that was located in some real tough terrain. He also had to face far tougher resistance from the Adil Shahi soldiers defending it. Faced with a long drawn campaign, Shivaji hit upon a plan, by which some Maratha soldiers pretended to defect, and gain the confidence of the Adilshahi Qiledar (fort in charge). The ruse worked, as the Marathas managed to sneak into the fort, and the very next day, they revolted, causing chaos, and opening the doors for the rest of the army to come in. The Adil Shahi defenders were overcome, and Shivaji renamed the fort as Vishalgarh.
The victory at Battle of Kolhapur and the conquest of Vishalgarh, gave Shivaji a decisive edge, as he began to occupy more and more of Adilshahi territory. It also led to Aurangzeb taking notice of him, and the rising Maratha power.