Kanhoji Angre was the chief of the Maratha Navy in 18th century India. In historical records, he is also known as Conajee Angria or Sarkhel Angré.
Kanhoji fought against the British, Dutch and Portuguese naval interests on the coasts of India during the 18th century. Despite the attempts of the British and Portuguese to subdue Angre, he remained undefeated until his death.
Early lifeAngre was born in the village of Angarwadi, six miles from Pune in the Maval Hills in the year of 1669. His surname "Angre" is derived from Angarwadi; the family's original name was Sankpal, and the family members before Kanhoji were known as Sankpals.
Historian Sen concludes that Angre's origin is "obscure and he certainly did not belong to the nobility of the land". Citation of the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino is given to show that Kanhoji started his life as a humble servant of some Hindus in the island of Versova. According to his official family history, he was a "Kshatriya Maratha"- however, modern scholars state that Maratha caste is formed from members from several distinct castes who served in Maratha empire - such as Maratha Kolis and Maratha Agris. According to Reginald Edward Enthoven, Kanhoji had east African ancestry. Historian V. G. Dighe, in 1951, cites G. S. Sardesai's Selections from the Peshwa Daftar, and calls them "blue-blood Marathas" who "would spurn to marry in families lower than those of Deshmukhs, Jadhavs, Jagtaps and Shitoles." However, Modern Indian historians such as S.R.Sharma agree with the Portuguese opinions and believe him to have been a "Maratha Koli captain". Historian Dr.Pathak, in 2007, has published details from earlier records. According to these records, the grandfather of Kanhoji was Tukaji Sankhpal. Tukaji was an African Muslim who was born in the Gulf of Ormuz and in 1643 was shipwrecked near Cheul. He helped Shahji in the war with the Moghals and married the daughter of Shahji's minster, and their son Parab was the father of Kanhoji. This is an example of foreign warriors being admitted into the Hindu fold and marrying Hindu wives and such examples are given in the chapter on Thana History.
In 2009, Modern Dutch Historian, Rene Barendse, specializing in South Asian history as well as history related to the Indian Ocean, summarizes that Kanhoji Angre's origin is highly controversial. He writes:
Kanhoji grew up among Koli sailors, and learned seamanship from them.
Angre's mother was Ambabai and his father, Tukoji, served at Suvarnadurg under Shivaji with a command of 200 posts. Little is known about his early life except that he was involved in daring exploits at sea with his father. He spent much of his childhood in the Suvarnadurg Fort, where he would later become the governor.
Naval careerHe was originally appointed as Sarkhel or Darya-Saranga by the chief of Satara in c. 1698. Under that authority, he was master of the Western coast of India from Mumbai to Vingoria in present-day state of Maharashtra, except for the property of the Muslim Siddis of Murud-Janjira who were affiliated with the powerful Mughal Empire.
Kanhoji started his career by attacking merchant ships of the British East India Company and slowly gained respect from all the colonial powers. In 1702, he abducted a merchant vessel from Calicut with six English sailors and took it to his harbor. In 1707, he attacked the frigate Bombay which blew up during the fight. In time, the British feared that he could take any merchant ship except large European ships. When Maratha Chhatrapati Shahu ascended the leadership of the Maratha Empire, he appointed Balaji Viswanath Bhat as his Senakarta and negotiated an agreement with Angre around 1707. This was partly to appease Angre who supported the other ruler, Tarabai, who claimed the Maratha throne. As per agreement, Angre became head of the Maratha Navy.
When the Maratha empire was weak, Angre became more and more independent and in 1713, an army was sent headed by Peshwa Bahiroji Pingale to control Angre, but Angre won the battle and captured and held Bahiroji Pingale as his prisoner. Angre planned to march to Satara where Chhatrapati Shahu was acting as a head of state and where Angre was requested to appear for negotiations, after which Angre was confirmed as Admiral of entire fleet. Angre was also placed as chief of 26 forts and fortified places of Maharashtra.
In 1720, Angre captured the vessel Charlotte along its owner, a merchant named Curgenven who had been bound to China from Surat. Curgenven would be imprisoned for 10 years.
Europeans on rollsAngre employed Europeans, generally Dutch, to command his best vessels. He also employed a Jamaican pirate named James Plantain and entrusted him with significant responsibilities such as the chief gunner post. Angre reemployed Manuel de Castro, who was considered as a traitor and punished by the Bombay Council for his failure in capturing Khanderi Island, which was controlled by Kanhoji Angre.
- In 1698, Angre located his first base at Vijayadurg , Devgad Taluka, located about 485 km from Mumbai. The fort which was originally built by king Bhoj and strengthened by Maratha ruler Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, is located on the coast and has an entrance hollowed out in it to accommodate entry of a vessel from the sea.
- Angre created an operating base from the fortified islands of "Kolaba" at Alibaug. Khanderi and Underi off the coast of Thal, Alibaug, and attempted to levy a tax on every merchant vessel entering the harbour.
- He established a township called Alibag on seashore at southern tip of Mumbai. The main village at that time, was today's Ramnath. Kanhoji even issued his own currency in the form of a silver coin called the Alibagi rupaiya.
- In 1724, Angre built a port at Purnagad, located in Ratnagiri District, Maharashtra. Seven guns and 70 cannonballs were found in the port. The port was also used for limited trading activities.
Angre eventually signed a treaty with the East India Company President Aislabie to stop harassing the company's fleet. Aislabie would eventually return to England during October 1715.
After the arrival of Charles Boone as the new Governor of Bombay on 26 December 1715, Boone made several attempts to capture Angre. Instead of succeeding, in 1718 Angre captured three ships belonging to the British leaving them to claim that he is a pirate.
The British launched a fresh campaign in 1720, when shells from floating batteries burst in vain against the rocks of Vijaydurg fort. The attempt to land inside the fort ended in disaster, and the British squadron soon retired to Bombay.
On 29 November 1721 a joint attempt by the Portuguese and the British to humble Kanhoji also failed miserably. This fleet consisted of 6,000 soldiers in no less than four of the European's largest Man of war class ships led by Commander Thomas Mathews. Aided by Maratha warriors including Mendhaji Bhatkar and his navy, Angre continued to harass and plunder the European ships. Commander Matthews returned to Great Britain, but was accused and convicted of trading with the pirates in December 1723. Also, during 1723, Governor Boone returned to Great Britain. After Boone's departure, relative calm prevailed between the British and Angre, until Angre's death in 1729.
- 1702 - Seizes small vessel in Cochin with six Englishmen.
- 1706 - Attacks and defeats the Siddi of Janjira.
- 1710 - Captures the Kennery islands near Mumbai after fighting the British vessel Godolphin for two days.
- 1712 - Captured the yacht of the British President of Mumbai, Mr. Aislabie, releasing it only after obtaining a hefty ransom of Rs. 30,000.
- 1713 - Ten forts ceded to Angre by British.
- 1717 - Angre captures the British ship Success bombard Kennery island and Angre signs treaty with Company paying Rs. 60,000.
- 1718 - Blockaded Mumbai port and extracted ransom. British storm Vijaydurg fort but lose the battle/ Governor Boom returns empty hand to Mumbai
- 1720 - British attack Vijaydurg, unsuccessfully.
- 1721 - British fllet reaches Mumbai. British and Portuguese jointly attack Alibag, but are defeated.
- 1722 - Angre attacks 4 yachts and 20 ships of British near Chaul
- 1723 - Angre attacks two British vessels, Eagle and Hunter.
- 1724 - Maratha and Portugees pact.Dutch attack Vijaydurg but get defeated.
- 1725 - Kanhoji Angre and Siddi sign a pact.
- 1729 - Kanhoji Angre wins Palgad Fort.
After Kanhoji, his son Sekhoji continued Maratha exploits at sea till his death in 1733. After Sekhoji's death, Angre's holdings were split between two brothers, Sambhaji and Manaji, because of divisions in the family. With the Marathas neglecting naval concerns, the British soon found it easier to defeat the remnants of the kingdom. Angre and his sons' reign over the Western coast ended with the capture of Tulaji in a joint British / Peshwa attack on the fort of Gheriah in February 1756.
Seals of Kanhoji AngreThree seals have been known to be used by Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre. One during the reign of Chhatrapati Rajaram, and two during the reign of Chhatrapati Shahu.
The three seals, along with their inscriptions and meaning are given below.
सादर तुकोजी सुत
Kanhoji, son of Tukoji, Angre is forever present at the feet of Rajaram.
राजा शाहू चरणी तत्पर
तुकोजी सुत कान्होजी आंगरे
Kanhoji Angre Sarkhel, son of Tukoji, is forever eager at the feet of Shahu.
श्री शाहू नृपती प्रि
त्या तुकोजी तनुजन्म
ना कान्होजी सरखे
लस्य मुद्रा जय
King Shahu's favoured, Tukoji's son, Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre's seal is always victorious.
LegacyKanhoji Angre stands as one of the most notable admirals of the Maratha Navy who offered significant competition and damage to the prestige of the colonial powers. Kanhoji is credited with the foresight that a Blue Water Navy's ultimate and strategic role is to keep the enemy engaged far from the shores of the homeland. At one time, Kanhoji was so successful that he attracted enterprising Europeans in his fleet as mercenaries, including one Dutchman, whom he appointed to the rank of Commodore. At the height of his power, Kanhoji commanded hundreds of warships and thousands of sailors at a time when the Royal Navy had little in the way of naval resources in far-away India that could significantly offset the growing strength of the Maratha Navy.
Kanhoji's harassment of British commercial interests and the Battle of Swally led them to establish a small naval force that eventually became the modern Indian Navy. Today, a statue of Angre proudly stands in Indian Naval Dockyard in Mumbai. While the original fort built by Angre that overlooked the Naval Docks has vanished, its boundary wall is still intact and within it lays the Headquarters of Indian Western Naval Command and is called INS Angre.
The end of Angre family influencesThe descendants of Angres continued to hold Kolaba till the 1840s and in 1843, it was annexed to British East India Company as per a despatch to Governor General of Bombay dated 30 December 1843.
Publication of family historyChandrojirao Angre, a descendant of Kanhoji Angre and a contemporary Jijabai of same family supported the publication of History of the Angres in 1939 at Alibag Mumbai.
- Angria Bank, a submerged atoll structure located on the continental shelf 105 km west of the coast of Vijaydurg, Maharashtra, was named after Kanhoji Angre.
- The Western Naval command of the Indian Navy was named INS Angre on 15 September 1951 in honour of Kanhoji Angre. Other important naval offices are also located at INS Angre. His statue is erected at the old Bombay Castle located within the enclave located at the Naval Dockyard, South Mumbai.
- During April 1999, the Indian Postal Service released a Rupee 3 stamp showing a ghurab of Kanhoji Angre's fleet as depicted in a c. 1700 AD painting.
- The old Kennery Lighthouse, on Khanderi Island which marks the southern boundary of the Mumbai Port, was renamed as Kanhoji Angre Light House.
- The large residential colony of Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers at Alibaug is named as " Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre Nagar".
- During the Malwani Jatrotsav festival in 1995 at Parel, Mumbai, a simulation of the naval battle between Angre and the British fleet led by Charles Boon was conducted using remote-control wooden boats in an open tank. Radio Controlled boats carved out of Teak wood and powered by high torque motors were constructed by Vivek S. Kambli and Vishesh S. Kambli. A thrilling soundtrack complemented this Audio Visual 3 Dimensional depiction of an important chapter from Maratha Naval history. The show lasted 10 days and was witnessed by thousands of eager Mumbai citizens.
- An all-weather port at Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, named as Angre port, was inaugurated on 24 April 2012 by 9th descendant of Kanhoji Angre.