Kanhoji Angre occupies a unique position in the history of our country. For four decades a terror to the maritime powers of the Western coast, he led his sailors from victory to victory and raised the naval Prestige of Maharashtra to an unprecedented height. Yet we know little or nothing about his career and daring and warlike qualities.
Birth and Early Life
Kanhoji was born to the couple Tukoji and Bimbabai Sankpal, who belonged from a small village in the Pune District of Maharashtra. Kanhoji's name came from their family god - Kanifnath, who they had vowed for the birth of a child.
The surname "Angre" remains controversial. Some say that, as the boy was born from the Angara (sacred ash) of Kanifnath, so the family was named "Angre". Some say that they belonged to a village named Angarwadi from where the surname "Angre" derived[ref].
Born in the monsoon of 1667, on the Suvarnadurg Fort, Kanhoji started his life in the sea. In his young days, Kanhoji was brought up by an intelligent Brahmin-Joshi at Harne ( an important port town during that period).
Kanhoji as a savior
With the untimely demise of Shri Shivchhatrapati and the brutal end of Shambhu Chhatrapati, the Hindavi Swarajya was found in disaster. The capital of Swarajya, Raigad was captured by Itikad Khan along with Yesubai Saheb and Yuvraj Shivaji.
17-year-old Rajaram Maharaj took the Maratha empire in his hand. At that time, Achloji Mohite was the fort keeper (Killedar) of Suvarnadurga. Kanhojirao had a suspicion that the "politics of Fituri" would one day hand over an excellent fort-like Suvarnadurg to Janjirekar Siddhi.
Kanhoji immediately captured Suvarnadurg and took charge of Suvarnadurg himself. When Rajaram Maharaj got to know all the facts in detail, Rajaram Maharaj handed over the fort of Suvarnadurga to Kanhoji.
During Aurangzeb's invasion, Kanhoji retained the Konkan. With his own expeditions and work, he was proclaimed as "Daryacha Swami" which means the king of the sea.
Some of the battle tactics of the Marathas during the reign of Admiral Kanhoji Angre)were as below:
- As far as possible, no engagement on the high seas; coastal waters were preferred, since the stronger winds at sea would benefit foreign ships because of their better spread of sail
- The attack was generally from the leeward or astern side. If enemy ships were to pursue the Maratha ships, the latter could make the use of shallow creeks and bays as a cover, where larger enemy ships could not follow
- Attack from astern ensured that the enemy ships could not bring to bear her broadside guns while Maratha Grabs could deploy its guns firing over the prow
- A constant readiness for a retreat, making use of the creeks and fort guns
- Enemy ships were captured by hand-to-hand combat after boarding the ship
- Spread out ships in small squadrons rather than having them all in one place
- Tire out the enemy by heavily defending the forts and avoid getting lured at open seas[ref]
Titles Given to Kanhoji Angre
- Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre: The title Sarkhel was given to Kanhoji during the reign of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur. It means earnestness, expressivity, and empowerment.
- DaryaSarang: The word Darya translates to Creek or Ocean and Sarang translates to Deer. The word means The deer of the Ocean which implies the invincibility and quickness of Kanhoji in the sea.
By the beginning of the 18th century, Kanhoji Angre controlled the entire coastline from Sawantwadi to Mumbai, which is the entire coastline of present-day Maharashtra. He built fortifications on almost all creeks, cove, and harbors, such as a fortress or citadel with navigational facilities. Any ship sailing through Maratha territorial waters was to pay a levy called Chouth, which expressed Angre's dominance.
Between 1717 and 1720, the East India Company made at least two attempts to defeat the Maratha Navy but were unsuccessful. In response to a British ship being captured by Kanhoji's seamen, the British attempted to capture Vijayadurg and Khanderi, but these attempts were unsuccessful[ref].