Kanhoji Angria (Angre) was the commander of the Maratha Navy, and is famous for taking on the might of the seafaring colonial powers that were trying to find their foothold in India in the early 18th century. Such was his might that he became the undisputed master of the sea on the western coast of India, right from Surat up till Vengurla.
As per the official history of his family, Kanhoji was a Maratha by birth, and his family name was ‘Sankpal’, which later changed to Angria or Angre, based on the name of their village ‘Angarvadi’. His father Tukoji had served under Shivaji, and in his footsteps, Kanhoji too joined the service of the Marathas. The Maratha ruler, Rajaram, appointed him the admiral of the navy in 1698 and gave him the title of Sarkhel.
Kanhoji led the Maratha navy established by Shivaji. He used his ships to protect Maratha merchants from the pirates operating in the Malabar, and in securing the sovereignty of the sea for the Maratha state. For fulfilling these aims, Kanhoji set up a base in Kolaba, a small island fort close to Alibag, and established stations at Suvarndurg and Vijaydurg in Ratnagiri. He compelled the foreign traders to buy a pass or a license issued by him to enter the Indian waters. Any failure on their part was met with swift retribution, by way of the capture of men and the destruction of vessels.
This brought him into direct conflict with the colonial powers, namely the English at Bombay, the Portuguese at Goa and the Dutch at Vengurla. In 1718 open hostilities broke out between Kanhoji and the English. The latter sent many expeditions to Kolaba, but none were successful. Then the combined forces of the English and the Portuguese launched an offensive against him in December 1721. This expedition too, came to nought as Kanhoji beat them through both war and diplomacy. Not only did he defend his fort and other inland stations, but he also managed to get the Maratha army under Pilaji Jadhav to come to his aid.
Kanhoji passed away on 04 July 1729, undefeated, unrivalled and unmatched. His might was such that even when he was fighting his rivals, their subjects continued buying the passes issued by him. The English writer, Grose, writing about him, said that even though Kanhoji was ‘very severe in his commands, and exact in punishing’, yet ‘he was liberal to his officers and soldiers with whom he affected a sort of military frankness’ and as a true Maratha, he was ‘very careful of keeping faith’.
As a tribute to this hero of India, the shore-based logistics and administrative support establishment of the Western Naval Command, in Mumbai was named INS Angre, on September 15, 1951.