From the fall of the Yadavas till the entry of the Moghals in Gondavana, the Gond Rajas were more or less free from any political domination. Even during the hey-day of the Yadavas, it seems that they were never, completely subjugated as their habitat was in the fastness of hills and forests.
Gondavana roughly includes the area running from Jubbulpore to Telangana, north to south and from west to east by the line joining the satapuda hills and the Chattisgad region. The Gonds are mainly divided into the Raja Gonds and the Khatoles. The former consider themselves as Rajputs or Ksatriyas. (NPI, pp. 9, 10.).
The principal Gondi kingdoms in the Gondvana area had their seats at Gadha, Mandla, Devgad, Candrapur or Canda and Kherala, on the northern slopes of the Satapuda. Besides there were petty Gond naiks in the Melghat styling themselves as Rajas. Of these kingdoms Gadha is noted in history because of its brave Rani Durgavati. The ambitious Moghal Emperor, Akbar, appointed Khvaja Abdul-Majid as the Governor of Karra conferring upon him the title of Asaf Khan. One of his valuable services was the conquest of Gadha ruled by Rani Durgavati. The Rani fought valorously against heavy odds and when helpless killed her self in order to escape the disgrace she would have been put to if taken a captive. Gadha had given no provocation to Akbar. Its conquest was an act of Imperial aggression, pure and simple. This historic incident is described in Tarikh-i-Alfl. (S. R. Sharma, Mughal Empire in India, Part I, p. 210.). After the Rani’s death her son Bir Narayan resisted from the fort of Cauragad till he fell fighting. The kingdom of Gadha was offered to Candra sah as the Moghal vassal.
During the reign of sah Jahan the unfortunate ruler of Gadha, Hirde sah was attacked by Raja Pahad Sing Bundela. Hirde sah shifted his capital to Mandla. His successors fought among themselves inviting alternately Aurangzeb and the Marathas for help to put down the rival party. With the rise of Raghuji Bhosle the rules of Gadha and Mandla were once again subjugated and forced to pay tribute. Thus, with the advent of the Moghals-Akbar-in Gondavana and the rise of Raghuji Bhosle these kingdoms lost their independence and were reduced to the status of vassals.
The Gond rulers of Devagad are directly related with the history of Nagpur With the loss of independence of Gadha and Mandla, Devagad, too, was destined to go the same way. The Devagad house hailed from Harayagad, but shifted its seat, to Devagad under its founder Jatba. Originally Devagad was a feudal state under Gadha. However, when the latter passed under the Moghal rule, Devagad automatically became part of the Moghal territory. According to the Ain-i-Akbari when Akbar was the Emperor, Jatba, the ruler of Devagad, possessed two thousand horses, fifty thousand foot-soldiers and a hundred elephants. Jatba extended his kingdom as far as Nagpur and constructed there a fort as an outpost. The descendants of this family are yet known as “killevale -Raje” in Nagpur. (NPI, p. 28.)
According to a local Gondi tradition recorded by Craddock in the old edition of Nagpur Gazetteer, Devagad was originally a Gavali Kingdom conquered later by Sarabasa, a Gond king of Gadha. Jatba was the eighth descendant from Sarabasa. Historically it is Jatba who merits our attention and not his predecessors whose account is shrouded in legends.
By about 1600 A. D. Koka Sah, the son of Jatba, succeeded to the gadi. For the non-payment of tribute to the imperial treasury sah Jahan ordered Khan Dauran to raid Devagad territory. In 1637 A. D. Khan Dauran laid siege to the fort of Nagpur and blew off its bastions. Koka Sah hastened to Nagpur from Devagad and purchased peace by paying one and a half lakh of rupees and hundred and seventy elephants. Nagpur fort was restored to Koka sah.
Later, during the reign of Sah Jahan Devagad was raided twice, once by Sah Navaz and next by Aurangzeb as the Governor of the Deccan, with a view to extract its wealth. But poor Devagad was like a cow which had gone dry due to constant milking without proper feeding.
Koka Sah was succeeded by Bakht Sah or Bakht Buland the most distinguished ruler of the Devagad house. Bakht Buland was driven out of Devagad in the War of succession by his brothers. He appealed to Aurangzeb for help. Aurangzeb, a staunch Sunni, agreed to help on the condition that Bakht should embrace Islam. Helpless Bakht became a Musalman with the understanding that he would dine with Muslims but would continue to take brides from among the Gonds. Aurangzeb accepted this compromise and with the military assistance offered by him Bakht Buland regained his lost gadi. The descendants of Bakht continued to have marital relations with the Raja Gonds. They, however, performed their marriage ceremony according to the Hindu rites followed by those of the Islamic. Elastic Hindu religion has never taken serious note of such lapses but has given them a place within its fold.
Bakht Buland was a capable ruler. He extended his kingdom reaching up to the borders of Berar from north and east. He founded the city of Nagpur by joining the twelve small hamlets formerly known as Rajapur Barsa or Barasta. He constructed roads, divided the city into wards and erected a strong wall around as a protective measure. Part of old Nagpur is even today known as Burhan Sah’s Killa named after the last deposed king of this house. Bakht Buland died in about 1706 A. D.
His kingdom included the present district of Chindvada and Baitul and some portions of Nagpur, Sivani, Bhandara and Balaghat. During the declining days of the Moghal empire Bakht Buland raided the territory on both the banks of Wardha and drew upon himself the disfavour of Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb thereupon ordered that the title Bakht Buland meaning ‘of high fortune’ should be changed to Nigun Bakht-of mean fortune. Nothing is known of the army sent to punish Bakht. ‘
Nagpur attained importance under Cand Sultan, the son and successor of Bakht. Taking advantage of the fast collapsing Moghal empire after Aurangzeb’s death, Cand Sultan captured Paunar in Berar, an important military station. It remained under him for more than twenty years. After Cand Sultan’s death in 1738, his illegitimate son Wali Sah put to death Bahadur Sah, the legitimate heir and occupied the gad. The younger brothers of Bahadur Sah, Akbar and Burhan being teen-agers, their mother Rani Ratankuvar, the dowager, appealed to Raghuji Bhosle for help. This was a welcome opportunity for young Raghuji who was aspiring for power. At the request of the queen he promptly moved from Bham, his headquarters, defeated Wali and took him a captive. He then moved to Devagad and installed Burhan Sah on his ancestral throne. In recognition of his timely help Rani Ratankuvar gave Raghuji one-third of her kingdom. Later, when the two brothers Akbar and Burhan quarrelled with each other, the latter asked for Raghuji’s help. Raghuji exploited the family dispute to his full advantage and became the de facto ruler of the Gond kingdom of Devagad. At present Jatba’s tomb and some foundations of buildings are the only remains among the ruins of Devagad fort.
The Gondi house of Candrapur or Canda like that of Devagad was destined to fall a prey to its powerful neighbour Raghuji Bhosle. This house originally hailed from sirpur on the west bank of Wardha. About 895 A.D. Bhlma Balla is said to have founded the kingdom. Relevant details of Candrapur are given under Raghuji’s exploits in the following pages.
According to Sir Richard Jenkins much of the credit for the development of agriculture, industry and commerce in Gondavana and Nagpur goes to Bakht Buland. He brought industrious settlers into his domain by offering them liberal land grams. The superstructure of the Maratha administration erected by the Bhosles stood on the ground work prepared by Bakht Buland. With due regard for the work done by the Gonds, for their bravery and simple virtue, it must be admitted that they remained in the backwaters of civilization.
Administration under the Gonds.
The administrative system obtaining in Nagpur and the territory to its east during the Gondi period was semi-feudal. Nagpur proper then formed part of Devagad below the ghats.
The Raja Gonds ruled the tract known as Gondavana, and Nagpur formed part of it till it was conquered by Raghuji Bhosle I. The whole country under the Raja Gonds was distributed among a number of subordinate local chiefs known as Rajas, Rais and Thakurs. These subordinate chiefs exercised considerable power within their jurisdiction but recognised the authority of the Maharaja of Devagad in a general manner (RMSH, p. 182.).
From Abul Fazal’s account of the Gadha-Katanga Gondi Kingdom one gathers that a number of paraganas in the area were held by the Rajas. Obviously, such paraganas in the days of Abul Fazal yet retained the traces of the Gondi administration.
The system of administration by subordinate chiefs existed in the Gondavana till the Marathas overran it. Those areas of Gondavana which remained unaffected by either the Moghal or Maratha influence naturally retained their semi-feudal characteristics peculiar to the Gonds. The Government of Damoh, for instance, was entirely feudal, unaffected as it was by foreign influence for a long time. This country was divided into a number of chiefships each having the headman of the clan who enjoyed the entire revenue and rendered military service to the Government whenever called upon to do so. The chiefs in addition had to pay an annual tribute of a jar of butter or one or two bamboo walking-sticks or the like. (RMSH. P. 185.)
Similarly, the Gondi administrative system in the Narsingpur district was almost exclusively feudal. The district was divided among the feudatory chiefs who were bound to attend upon the overlord at the capital with a stipulated number of troops but were not required to pay revenue in money.
In the Chattisgad area there existed greater chiefs and smaller chiefs prior to its conquest by the Bhosles. (Ibid p. 187)
In Harrai in the Chindavada district where Gondi administration continued for a long time the tribute (takoli) was settled in chironji-nuts-and honey. (Ibid p.189.)
Some useful details of Gondi administration in the Devagad above the ghats are presented here for, what was existing there was most probably obtaining in the Devagad below the ghats i.e., the Nagpur area in the pre-Bhosle period.
The local chiefs called Thakurs took cognisance of petty crimes and offences in their area. They could levy fines and confiscate the property of the offenders. For good Government the Thakurs were to protect the travellers passing through their country and were responsible for any harm done to them within their jurisdiction. Further they were not to punish any person with death or mutilation or imprisonment beyond a certain number of days without reference to the Government.
Petty offences such as abusing, beating, stealing were decided according to the customary rules. Adultery, rape, fornication, disputes about marriage, breach of observance of caste rules, etc. were settled according to the laws of the caste.
Dispute between two Thakurs was to be judged by the overlord. Thus, within his own area the position of the Thakur was very strong. He was the head of the local minor clan,captain of the local levies and the representative of the authority of the Raja of Harrai immediately above him, and finally of the. Maharaja of Devagad.
A comparatively small domain was held, by the Maharaja, the surrounding area being under the local chiefs known as the Rais or Rajas. They were in complete subjugation to the Maharaja according to his military strength. They attended him with levies of local troops and definitely paid much more than a jar of butter or bamboo sticks. They had a free hand in internal matters. The major part of the estate was under the Thakurs who made contributions in cash and kind according to their means and provided a quota of troops for their service of the Raja.
This structure of the Kingdom of the Raja Gonds of Gadha and Devagad, though common, was subject to modifications elsewhere.
One of the striking features of Gondvana administration was the absence of hereditary officers like Desmukhs and the Despandes so common in Berar. The only hereditary officer in Gadha-Mandla was the registrar or accountant called beohar or sometimes gumasta who was always a Kayastha. Beohar is quite likely the corrupt form of the Sanskrt word vyavahara. In the semi-feudal semi-tribal Governments these hereditary officers were absent (RMSH, pp. 194-95).
In Devagad and Canda, the original basis the same as in Gondvana. The Rajas were little more than feudal superiors of a number of petty chiefs. Their dependants contributed to them military service. The Rajas like other feudatories possessed a territorial domain in which they exercised direct authority.
With regard to the land revenue system of Devagad i.e., Nagpur and Canda there were officers known as Desmukhs,
Despandes, Hudars, Muharirs and Waradpandes. The Marathas soon after the occupation of Devagad and Canda removed the Desmukhs and the Despandes, and. changed the name Hudar to Kamavisdar-general manager, and Muharir or accountant to Phadnavis. They, however, retained the office of the Waradpandes who had his deputies all over the country to keep the account of actual cultivation, occupancy and rents of lands. The office of the Priti under the Gonds corresponded to that of the Phadnavis of the Marathas.
This highly centralised administration through the Desmukhs, Despandes, Hudars etc., in the Gondavana appears an anomaly. It was certainly common in Berar. But its presence in some parts of Devagad Kingdom would mean that it was found there by the Gond Rajas already existing when they conquered it. In other words, the system of administration by Desmukhs and Despandes in some parts of Gondavana i.e., Devagad was remnant of the previous Khalsa or centralised system, and was continued by the Gonds when they conquered it. The Marathas, when they conquered the Gondi kingdoms of Devagad and Canda, therefore, found in some parts the administration by Desmukhs and Despandes not in fact indigenous to Gondavana. It may be noted here that in Devagad above the ghats the real home of the Devagad Maharajas which forms part of the present Chindavada district, administration by Desmukhs and Despandes was unknown Again, as late as 1801 A. D., the Pathan jagirdar of Sivani (Seoni) maintained a feudal state owing allegiance to the Bhosles of Nagpur as his overlord. (RMSH, pp. 197-98).