History Files


Early Modern India

The Marathas: Shivaji

by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, 4 April 2010

Part 1: Early Conquests

Shivaji was the first Hindu king in a very long time to carve out a kingdom in an otherwise Islamic Deccan.


Shivaji Bhosale was born in Fort Shivneri on 19 February 1630 (although there are other claims about his date of birth. Sir Jadunath Sarkar places it on 10 April 1627).

He was named Shivaji after Shivai, the fort's goddess, and was the second child of Shahaji raje Bhosale and his queen, Jijabai (who hailed from the family of the Jadhavs of Sindkhed). Apparently, due to Shahaji's shifting loyalties, his father-in-law, Lakhuji Jadhav, was entrusted with orders for his immediate capture and he was surrounded at Fort Mahuli. Jijabai was then pregnant with Shivaji, so for her safety she was sent to Fort Shivneri, which was under the control of a relative named Sriniwas Vishwasrao (who also later became the father-in-law of the eldest son of Shahaji and Jijabai: Shambhuraje).

Childhood and youth

Shahaji raje had served under various rulers, such as the Nizamshah, the Mughals (briefly), and finally the Adilshah of Bijapur. Adilshah had conferred on Shahaji the jagir (estate) of Banglur (Bangalore), and he stayed there with his second wife, Tukabai (from the house of the Mohites. Shahaji had a son named Vyankoji through Tukabai. Vyankohi later started the Thanjavur, or Tanjore, royal dynasty in present day Tamil Nadu), and their elder son Shambhuraje.

Jijabai, along with the young Shivaji, remained at Pune to manage Shahaji's estates (between the rivers Bhima and Nira, an area known as the parganas of Puna, Chakan, Indapur, Shirwal and Supa). To supervise the affairs of the estate, a Deshastha Brahmin manager by the name of Dadoji Kondeo Gochivde was deputed in 1637 (he would later become subhedar or administrative/military head of Fort Kondana, to which role he was appointed by Adilshah in 1639). [1]

To assist him were Shahaji's trusted men, including Sonopant the Dabir (envoy), Shamrao Nilkanth the Peshwa (chief minister), Balkrishnapant the Muzumdar (revenue minister), and Raghnath Bhat the Sabnis (chronicler).

The jagir had various deshmukhs, deshpandes, and desais (regional chieftains and revenue collectors for the sultan) such as Khopde, Bandal, Jedhe, Maral, and Silamkar, among others. Some of them were often unruly and fought amongst themselves over trivial issues, besides terrorising their village folk. It was imperative that these people be brought under control. Some came willingly, but for others there was the option of force. [2]

Part 1: Early Conquests
Part 2: Kingdom
Part 3: All the King's Men

The estate was in the mountainous area of the Sahyadri hill range. It was a dense forest region, infested by dacoits and wild animals such as wolves, leopards. The people in that area were called Mavales (belonging to the Maval valley region. The valleys in Maval are Andar, Nane, Karyat, Gunjan, Hirdas, Pawan, while those towards Junnar are Shivner, Bhimmer, Ghodner, and so on). The people were mainly peasants or shepherds.

The first thing Dadoji Kondeo did was to clear the region and make it secure and safe for farming. He introduced strong law and order (and established a strict and impartial justice system), making it more inhabitable and accessible. This brought forth a lot of goodwill from the people towards their new masters.

Dadoji constructed the town of Shivapur in 1636 (as per Jedhe Shakavali), and built the Lal Mahal for Jijabai and Shivaji to reside in.

Shivaji grew up in these free mountains, along with his 'Mavala' playmates. He was raised under the watchful eye of his religious and independent-minded mother Jijabai and the disciplined supervision of his guardian, Dadoji Kondeo. Shivaji grew up on stories inspired by epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as told to him by Jijabai. This may have instilled in Shivaji his religious and moral values which were to be seen later in his conduct as a king.


[1] As per Marathi Riyasat by G S Sardesai, and Shri Raja Shivchatrapati by Mehendale, Shahaji sired another son by his second wife, Tukabai Mohite, by the name of Koyaji raje, and another through Narsabai by the name of Santaji raje. Also there were children through his other concubines, those children being Shivji, Pratapji and Hiroji (Farzand). (Acknowledgement: Rajesh Khilari.)

[2] Shivaji never trusted the loyalty of these deshmukhs and we see that during his wars against Bijapur and the Mughals. The deshmukhs switched sides with relative ease. Hence Shivaji had to create his own army in order to reduce his dependence on the deshmukhs.

Some historians, such as J Sarkar, state that Shivaji was unlettered, but this seems unlikely. Education for a noble's son was a necessity (especially in 'Marathi', his mother tongue and the language of the land; 'Sanskrit', the language of the religious texts; and 'Persian', the language of the Islamic courts. Subjects were required to learn the processes involved in the administration of their land, including law, mathematics, and economics). Moreover, Shivaji was very sharp and intelligent as a child. Yes, he did ask his courtiers to read out letters for him in court (fuelling the speculation), but that was the way of the royals in this period.

Shivaji was trained in the use of the talwar and dhal (sword and shield), bhaalaa (the spear), the danda pattaa (a long, sharp-edged flexible steel sword), dhanushya baan (archery), secret weapons like the khanjir/bichwa (knife/dagger), waagh nakha (tiger claws), and other martial requisites such as ghod sawaari (horse riding), malla yudh/kusti (wrestling), and so on. Dadoji Kondeo was also said to be an excellent swordsman and he imparted his knowledge to the young Shivaji.

Why Shivaji wanted independence

There are various possible reasons for this. It may have had something to do with the stories of valour he heard from his mother, about traditional heroes like Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Rana Pratap, Prithviraj Chauhan, and even about his own father, Shahaji, who ruled the old Nizamshahi as regent for the young Nizam Murtuza and who subdued many a powerful enemy.

Shivaji may have looked on the old lands of the Nizamshahi which his father once ruled (though briefly) as his own backyard.

It may also have something to do with the erratic behaviour of the sultans. The earlier Nizamshah of Ahmednagar had murdered Shivaji's grandfather, Lakhujirao Jadhav, in cold blood. Jijabai must have sworn vengeance then, and instilled this anger into the young Shivaji. There was also an instance when the men of the Mughal commander, Mahabbat Khan, had carried off the wife of Shivaji's cousin, Kheloji, and held her to ransom. Some historians claim the kidnap victim was Jijabai herself and that she was released from the Mughal camp by the efforts of either her brother or her uncle who were then part of the Mughal army.

Also, some time in 1644, Adilshah had accused Dadoji Kondeo of impropriety (and probably Shahaji of being hand-in-glove with him), and ordered the seizure of Shahaji's Pune Jagirs and the hands of Dadoji Kondeo, his vakil (lawyer/envoy) to be cut off. Apparently, in his capacity as the subedar of Kondana, Dadoji Kondev had removed certain officials such as Sardar Ghorpade and Shaikh Mirad from their jobs and replaced them with his own men, Sardar Balkawde, Netaji Palkar and Mrudangal Deshpande. These sacked officials went and complained about this treatment and raised doubts about the loyalty of Dadoji in the sultan's mind. (Dadoji was a temporary fugitive at the time). But soon these fears were assuaged and the seizure order was soon revoked. [3]

But for some time there must have been a feeling of insecurity in young Shivaji's mind and he must have longed for the security of his own impregnable fort, in which he could be protected against future attacks such as these.

[3] It is said that Ghorpade later cut off one of Dadoji's hands for his impudence.

Moreover, the Hindus always felt like second class citizens in an Islamic kingdom. Though they were entrusted with jagirs, they were never made governors, and neither were they amongst the close courtiers of the sultans. The Hindus were always the 'jimmis', ie. non-Muslim subjects of a Islamic state.

Though not regular, there were also instances of forcible conversions, the desecration of temples, and tyrannical behaviour by some Muslim officials who had a disregard (and a level of disrespect) for Hindu culture and religion. As per Busalatinussalatin (by Muhmd Ibrahim Ali Zubairi, sourced by Sarkar), it was a deliberate policy of the Bijapur kingdom to keep its non-Muslim subjects suppressed. Shivaji must have resented this arrogance and felt alienated towards his Muslim masters. This may have propelled him to desire to have a kingdom which the Hindus could consider their own.


Along with his Mavla friends, Shivaji is said to have taken a blood oath to fight against the Islamic tyranny (at Rohideshwara Temple). [4]

Early conquests

In 1646, with the help of a small band of local Mavalas, Shivaji made his first conquest of Fort Torna. He subdued the local Bijapuri commandant and seized the fort, later naming it Prachandgad. He found government treasure worth two lakh huns (gold coins, with a lakh equalling 100,000). Buoyed by his success he made another acquisition in the form of Fort Murumbgad. He renamed it Rajgad (forty kilometres from Pune). The treasure he collected was used to strengthen the defences of the two forts.

The fort of Chakan (guarding the Puna road from the north, around forty kilometres from Pune) had been entrusted by Dadaji Kondeo to Firangoji Narsala. So it automatically came under the control of Shivaji. Next, Shivaji bribed Babuji Pant, the commander of Fort Kondana (who died in 1647, as per Shivapur Deshpande Bahi and Muhammadnamah), and secured its possession (Kondana is also about forty kilometres from the city of Pune).

Dadaji Kondeo died in 1649. Understanding the gravity of the situation, Sultan Adilshah of Bijapur ordered Fateh Khudavand Khan to put down Shivaji and appointed Kedarji Khopade of Bhor and Balaji Haibatrao to assist him in this endeavour.

Adilshah further instructed Farhad Khan and Tanaji Dure to capture Bangalore from the hands of Shambhuraje, Shahaji's eldest son.

In 1649, Shahaji raje was also arrested at Jinji, by his own cousin, Baji Ghorpade (along with Jaswant rao Asad Khani). Afzal Khan was entrusted with the job of bring back Shahaji in chains to Bijapur and a eunuch was asked to attach his properties (the use of a eunuch was a deliberate move to humiliate Shahaji as they were viewed alongside women, as being more inferior than men). Shivaji then asked for Mughal help from Prince Murad Baksh, the son of Shah Jahan (a letter dated to 1649). But Shah Jahan refused to intervene.

Maratha weapons
A display of some of the weapons which would have been available to Shivaji and his Maratha warriors at the time

[4] But this oath story seems apocryphal , more created as a part of the folklore.

Finally the Bijapuri forces reached both Bangalore and Shirval (near Pune). But both the valorous sons of Shahaji rose to the occasion and defeated their enemy.

Shivaji's forces consisted of his trusted captains, including Kavji, Baji Jedhe (son of Kanhoji Jedhe, the deshmukh of Kari, a follower of Shahaji), Baji Pasalkar (deshmukh of Muse Khore), Godaji Jagtap, Bhimaji Wagh, Sambhaji Kate, Shivaji Ingle, Bhikaji Chor and his brother Bhairav (as written by Parmanand).

Bijapur was shaken by the strength of the Maratha forces and now sought reconciliation. Shahaji was released from prison and given back his jagirs. Also, for his part Shahaji instructed Shivaji to return Kondana to the Bijapur officers.

The capture of Fort Purandar in 1654

Shivaji knew very well the importance of these mountain forts. Though the lands below them were under his father's control, his position against the enemy was very vulnerable.

After the submission of Fort Kondana to Adilshah, Shivaji was in need of a strong fort. His eye fell upon Fort Purandar (Purandar is about forty kilometres south-east of Pune and some ten kilometres south-west of Saswad). The commandant of the fort, Mahadji Nilkanth had just died. Owing to his allegiance to Shahaji raje, Mahadji had earlier allowed Shivaji and his men to encamp near Purandar during the Bijapuri invasion, but they were not allowed inside the fort, lest he incur the wrath of the sultan. Shivaji was certainly feeling the need for the security offered by Fort Purandar and decided to take it under his control.

After Mahadji's death his sons, Niloji, Pilaji and Shankarji, started quarrelling amongst themselves over the issue of their inheritance. The quarrel led Shivaji to sense an opportunity to take over Purandar and as luck would have it, circumstances also started to favour Shivaji. Niloji became the new fort administrator and was neglecting his brothers. Shankarji implored Shivaji to intervene in their family dispute and give him his rightful inheritance. He was even willing to give Shivaji and his men access to the fort in return for his rights. Taking advantage of this fact, Shivaji surreptitiously captured Fort Purandar (probably with Shankarji's help), and without much bloodshed. However, Shankarji dithered on his earlier promise and refused to hand over possession of the fort to Shivaji. Therefore he too was arrested along with his brothers, but then freed soon after, when all of them agreed to comply with Shivaji's demands.

Shankarji was given the village of Chamli as his inheritance. Niloji was given the ancestral inam village as Nayakwar, and Pilaji was inducted into Shivaji's army as an high official (as per the family records which have been studied by V S Bhave).

This was how the mighty Fort Purandar became part of Shivaji's early collection of forts, for his use whenever he felt threatened.

Javali was a strategically important region. It was the gateway to the Konkan region, a densely forested area mainly comprising of eighteen valleys, called 'Khores'. It was a region traditionally ruled by the Mores who owed their allegiance to the Adilshahi. Under the Mores came the 'khores' of Jambhul, Jor, Shivthar, Kandat, Tam, Bamnoli, Atgaon, Chatwarbet, Solas, etc.

The Mores had a clan head called 'Chandrarao'. The last Chandrarao More was Daulatrao. When he died he was issueless. Therefore Afzhal Khan, Adilshah's commander, wanted to annexe the More territory to the Adilshahi. So Daulatrao's widow turned to Shivaji for help. Shivaji advised her to adopt a son, which is how Krishnarao was adopted from within the clan (he belonged to the family of the Mores of Shivthar). Shivaji promised them help against any external aggression.

Initially Chandrarao More was indebted to Shivaji and professed loyalty towards him. But later he changed his tune somewhat. His attitude towards Shivaji's officials and envoy turned from polite to haughty. He even started showing a disrespectful attitude towards Shivaji and refused to accept him as his king (he had also started communicating with Bijapur by then). Shivaji was taken aback by Chandrarao's sudden arrogance, and decided to teach him a lesson by annexing his territory.

It was tough terrain over which to mount a campaign, but Shivaji had local support in the form of the Jedhes, the Bandals, and the Silimkars. On 27 January 1656, Shivaji attacked Javali and Chandrarao proposed a treaty, which Shivaji accepted. But then Shivaji's men captured secret correspondence between Chandrarao and the Ghorpades of Mudhol who, besides being Shivaji's rivals and relatives, were also Bijapur's officers.

Shivaji ordered the execution of Chandrarao More (his chief agent, Hanumantrao, was killed by Shivaji's man, Raghunath Ballal), and Javali was annexed. [5]

Soon the forts of Wasota and Rairi were also in Shivaji's hands. Now the central Konkan region comprising Adilshah's provinces of Kalyan Bhivandi were practically isolated from rest of the Bijapur territory. The Kolaba district, which was managed by the Siddi's of Janjira, were now within the reach of Shivaji.

Shivaji then instructed Moropant Pingale to construct a powerful fort for Shivaji within the vicinity of Javali. That fort was named Pratapgad.

[5] Murar Baji, who had previously served with the Mores, was to play an important role with Shivaji in the future.

Shivaji's next acquisition was the fort of Rohida in May 1656. Krishnaji Bandal, the commandant of the fort, was killed in the battle to gain control of it. [6]

Supa captured

Supa was being administered by Sambhaji Mohite, the brother of Shahaji's second wife, Tukabai. Shivaji took it under his possession in September 1656, arresting Mohite (on charges of corruption) and sending him packing to Bangalore.

Death of Muhmd Adil Shah

Muhammed Adil Shah died on 4 November 1656 after a prolonged illness. The administration of the kingdom passed to Badi Begum (who was the sister of Qutubshah of Golkunda). She ruled the sultanate on behalf of the young Ali Adilshah II.

Confrontation with the Mughals

The post-Muhmd Adilshah period was one of turmoil in Bijapur. All his ministers were envious of each other and covertly plotted each other's downfall. Afzal Khan, Khan Muhammed, Fateh Khan, Ranadullah Khan, the Pathan, Bahlol Khan, and his sons, the Maratha nobles, Shahaji raje, Sarnobat, Baji Ghorpade, etc, were all embroiled in political intrigues with Mir Jumla, the ex-minister of the Golkunda kingdom, who had defected to the Mughals.

(These political intrigues later cost the lives of Muhammed Khan I Khanan in mysterious circumstances.)

[6] Baji Prabhu Deshpande, minister of the Bandals, later joined Shivaji and played an important role in Shivaji's career. (Refer the next paragraph on the Battle of Pawan Khind.)

Even Shivaji had begun negotiations with the Mughals in 1656, in case of an attempted Bijapuri retaliation (especially after the invasion of Javli). Prince Aurangzeb (who was then the viceroy of the Deccan) had plans to capture the south and wanted to start with Golkunda and Bijapur, so he engaged the services of Mir Jumla, requiring that he correspond with these Bijapur nobles on his behalf. Some were seduced, but some refrained. Mir Jumla advised Aurangzeb to first attack Bijapur and then Golkunda. With Golkunda being the weaker of the two, it could easily been overcome at any time. [7]

Shah Jahan had already instructed Aurangzeb to capture the old Nizamshahi territories which included Poona (which was then in Shivaji's control). Shivaji feared a Mughal attack, so he decided to strike the first blow. He attacked Junnar in May 1657, a Mughal territory. It yielded Shivaji a large booty of 300,000 honas and two hundred horses, besides jewellery. His men further raided the Mughal-controlled territory of Ahmednagar and captured seven hundred horses.

This went on while Aurangzeb was concentrating on Kalyani. That fell to the Mughals on 31 July 1657.

Aurangzeb was outraged by Shivaji's audacity at capturing his own territory behind his back, so he ordered his commanders, Nasirikhan and Irajkhan, to attack Shivaji's forces at Ahmednagar, which they did on 4 June 1657, as well as mounting another attack on Junnar.

The Maratha forces had to withdraw.

Aurangzeb's brother, Dara, feared Aurangzeb's power would be increased too far if he succeeded in his Karnatak campaign. At Dara's bidding, Shah Jahan ordered Aurangzeb's men, including Mahabat Khan, Nasirikhan, and Rao Chatrasal, to return. Exasperated, Aurangzeb had to agree a treaty with Bijapur, whereby Bidar, Kalyani, Parenda and Konkan would be handed over to the Mughals, although it was less than he could have expected to win by force of arms.

Just as the treaty was being enforced, Shah Jahan fell ill on 6 September 1657. Aurangzeb realised that the time for his succession had come, and raced back to Delhi. Parenda remained with the Bijapuris and even Shivaji was left alone.

[7] Mir Jumla was an ex-minister of Qutubshah of Golkunda. Aurangzeb had therefore attacked and captured the Bijapur territory of Bidar on 29 March 1657 and was now facing Kalyani, which was sixty-four kilometres from Bidar.

Shivaji straight away seized this opportunity and attacked the Bijapuris. He captured Prabalgadh (in the vicinity of Matheran) before continuing his campaign. In 1657, Kondana (which was recaptured), Lohagadh, Tikona, and Rajmachi (facing the Konkan plains) all fell to him.

While Shivaji was busy fighting the Bijapuri and the Mughal forces, his wife Saibai bore him his son, Sambhaji, on 14 May 1657 at Fort Purandar.

Konkan invasion

Shivaji then marched into Konkan (the coastal regions of Maharashtra), and began his Konkan invasion with Kalyan. Bhiwandi, Tale, Ghosale, Surgadh, Birwadi, Sudhagad, Kangori, Aseri, and Mahim Jawbar fell in quick succession. Upper Chaul was captured by November 1657.

The Siddis of Janjira (Siddi Fateh Khan) were held at bay at Kolaba on behalf of Bijapur. Earlier in July 1657, Shivaji had dispatched Raghunath Ballal to take on Siddi-controlled Danda Rajapuri. The Sabhasad Chronicle states that Ballal captured Tale and Ghosale and was marching on Rajapuri. But Raghunath Ballal's unexpected death put a halt to Shivaji's plans. In 1658, Shivaji dispatched Vyankoji Datto to Rajapuri. He put up a stiff fight against the Siddi and captured Janjira (which territory also included Danda and Raiuri), all except his castle at Janjira itself. [8]

Meanwhile, Shivaji wanted to give the Mughals the impression that he was in fact capturing Konkan for them and in future would be willing to accept Aurangzeb's suzerainty. He even professed to send a large contingent to serve at the Mughal court along with his envoy, Sonaji Pant. In return, the request was that Shivaji be allowed to keep the captured domains of Bijapur. Shivaji was well aware of his own limitations. His army was very small compared to the mighty Mughal army, so he certainly didn't want to take on Bijapur's forces and the Mughal forces at the same time.

Shivaji builds a navy

After the acquisition of the coastal towns of Kalyan, Bhiwandi and Panvel, Shivaji envisioned a navy which would be able to take on the navies of Bijapur and the Mughals, and also facilitate his foreign trade.

In order to help achieve this dream, some Portuguese ship builders helped him (probably secretly, as they feared the wrath of the Siddi, the Bijapuri admiral, and the Mughals). Though Shivaji officially maintained that it was to be used ostensibly against the Siddi, he secretly desired to reduce the influence of the Mughals, the Portuguese, and the English, who were encamped in the coastal areas, and on the basis of their powerful navy, they controlled the trade of the Arabian Sea. But since naval technology was only available from these European powers, he didn't want to antagonise them.

Maratha chronicles speak of Shivaji's fleet having 700 vessels of various sizes and classes such as ghurabs (gunboats), tarandis (large sailing vessels), tarambes, gallivats, shibars (large vessels with two masts but no deck), pagars (canoes), manchwuas (large cargo boat with a single mast). English reports puts the figure at between 60-160 vessels (barring ghurabs and gallivats - the rest were used for mercantile purposes). Shivaji's navy used to accompany and guard his trading vessels and his naval forts from European pirates. [9]

[8] During the siege of Janjira the Siddi was secretly helped by the Portuguese, who supplied arms and provisions.

There were limitations to Shivaji's navy, however. It was in its infancy. Moreover the Europeans were hesitant about supplying any new technology to Shivaji (partly out of a fear of Mughal wrath and partly because they didn't want Shivaji's naval power to grow in the way his mainland power had).

The Marathas didn't even have regular access to gunpowder, as the sources of saltpetre and sulphur were inaccessible to them. Shivaji's navy was also meant only for the coastal waters. It didn't have the capacity to attack warships and was based on know-how supplied by the local fishing communities like the Kolis and Badhelas. Shivaji's navy lacked the basic armoury required for warships. There were no cannon foundries and neither was there any gunpowder. Whatever cannons Shivaji had were those captured on land (the lighter ones being used on his ships).

[9] Gallivats are large rowing boats built like ghurabs but of smaller dimensions, The largest rarely exceeded seventy tons and had one sail only.

As a result, and in spite of his ambitions, Shivaji couldn't improve his naval power. Nevertheless, due to his foresight and military genius, he realised the importance of the navy, and he made up for its deficiencies with excellent fortifications which he built around the western coast, such as forts at Kalyan, Malvan, Vijaydurg, Sindhudurg, etc.

Incursions in Karnataka

In 1657, 1658, and 1659, Shivaji conducted several raids into the southern region of Karnataka. This was the parent territory of Bijapur. The reason may not have been to capture land, but was more to suffice the growing needs of his expanding army.

Confrontation with Afzal Khan

The queen mother of Bijapur, Bari Begum, was now getting worried about the growing power of Shivaji. She had requested that Shahaji rein in his son, but the latter had expressed his helplessness in the matter, stating that Shivaji was beyond his control and was his own man.

Then Afzal Khan (Abdullah Bhatari of Afzalpura village near Bijapur) took up the challenge of bringing Shivaji down to his knees. Afzal Khan was an old rival of Shahaji's in the Bijapur court (Shahaji belonged to the rival camp of Ranadaulla Khan aka Rustam e Zaman). He had also served as the governor of Wai and was well aware of the terrain. He was also said to be responsible for the death of Shahaji's elder brother, Shambhuraje, allegedly by treachery. [10]

Afzal Khan, along with his huge army (which consisted of a large force of cavalry which numbered 10,000, plus 1,200 camels and 65 elephants) marched into Maratha territory. He was joined by other Bijapur sardars such as Ambar, Yaqut, Muse Khan, Hassan Pathan, Ranadullah Khan (the younger), and Ankush Khan, along with various Maratha deshmukhs, chiefs such as Ghorpade, Pandhare Naik, Kharate Naik, Kalyan Jadhav, Mambaji Bhosale, Jhujharrao Ghatage, Kedarji, and Khandoji Khopade, etc. On his way (from Pandharpur to Phaltan where he arrested Bajaji Nimbalkar, brother-in-law of Shivaji and the deshmukh of Phaltan-Wai), he pillaged towns, villages, murdering and ransacking at will. In order to antagonise Shivaji's religious sentiments and bring Shivaji out into an open confrontation, Afzal Khan desecrated the temples of Tuljapur and Pandharpur, defacing and destroying the deity idols. [11]

Shivaji was well aware of his limitations and a pitched battle would have been suicidal. There was no way he could match the Khan's might man to man. So Shivaji cunningly professed his inability to fight the Khan. He sent peace overtures to the other side from his base at Pratapgad. He managed to give the impression that he was willing to negotiate on the Khan's terms and in return his life should be spared. The same message was conveyed to Afzal Khan's emissary, Krishnaji Bhasker.

Shivaji had continued to refuse to go to Wai to meet Afzal Khan, stating that his fear for his life was the reason, and insisted that he would talk of surrender only if Afzal Khan would meet him at Javli. Afzal Khan took the bait.

He encamped in the foothills of Fort Pratapgad (near Javli), and a meeting was arranged between Shivaji and Afzal Khan at some distance from Afzal's camp (on 30 November 1659).

It was agreed that everyone at the meeting would be unarmed, and each man was to bring ten personal bodyguards. Both were prepared for treachery. (Afzal Khan had a reputation for treacherously murdering his enemies when they surrendered, most notably Kasturi Ranga, raja of Sera. Afzal was also involved in the murder of Khan Muhammed, the wazir of Bijapur and a rival of his at court.)

Afzal hid a 'kataar', a small sharp-edged dagger, in his coat. Shivaji wore armour under his clothes, and carried a weapon called 'waagh nakha' (tiger claws), consisting of an iron finger-grip with four razor claws, which he concealed within his clenched fist. He also carried a hidden 'bichwa' (small dagger).

It was like a meeting between David and Goliath. While Shivaji was barely 1.68 metres tall, Afzal Khan was a giant of a man at 1.98 metres and built like a mountain.

The two men entered the tent which had been erected for their meeting. Afzal Khan pretended to greet Shivaji with a bear hug (even though there was no love lost between the two). He tried to grip Shivaji in an iron-like vice and (allegedly) stabbed Shivaji in the back with his dagger. However Shivaji, was protected due to the armour under his coat. Shivaji opened his fist and disembowelled Khan with his tiger claws. In a swift movement he again wounded the giant Khan with his bichwa. Afzal managed to hold on to his bleeding abdomen and staggered outside. He moved towards his palanquin. But the Khan was swiftly decapitated by one of Shivaji's bodyguards (Sambhaji Kavji). The Khan's bodyguard, Sayyed Banda, struck Shivaji on his head with his sword, but Shivaji was saved because of the protective helmet inside his turban. Just as the bodyguard was about to strike the second blow, Shivaji's aide, Jiva Mahala, chopped off his hand and then struck him down. Shivaji killed Krishnaji Bhasker, Afzal Khan's assistant, as he tried to block Shivaji's way.

[10] Sambhaji (senior) Bhosale or Shambhuraje was born at Verul (Ellora) near Aurangabad in 1619. He was the elder son of Shahaji and Jijabai, and was appointed jagirdar of Kolar (Karnataka). According to 'Shedgaonkar bakhar' his wife's name was Makau/Makai. He had two sons, Suratsingh, plus Umaji (adopted from Parsoji raje Bhamberkar). During the period of Raja Shivaji's birth (around 1630) she was at Jinti (near Daund, near Pune). During Shahaji's arrest by Adilshah, Sambhaji (Sr) governed Banglore and successfully defeated Farhad Khan and Tanaji Dure. In 1654 the palegar of Kanakgiri, Aapakhan, revolted against Adilshah, so the latter was deputed to take over Kanakgiri with Sambhaji. However, Afzalkhan treacherously failed to provide the required help, and Sambhaji lost his life in this battle (1654). During the Afzalkhan incident at Pratapgad, in case of failure, Shivaji had planned to give the state to Umaji, son of elder brother Sambhaji. Umaji was five years old. (Ref: Chitnis Bakhar, ed by R V Herwadkar, footnotes). After the death of Sambhaji (Sr), Kolar was carried on as Jagir to Sambhaji's son, Suratsingh, and later by Shivaji during his southern campaign.

[11] Saibai, Shivaji's wife and the mother of his eldest son Sambhaji had just died at Rajgadh (on 5th September 1659) leaving Shivaji grief stricken.

Shivaji and his men then rode back towards the fortress. A bugle was sounded. This was a predetermined signal to his men, who had been strategically placed in the densely covered valley. All of Shivaji's generals, including his cavalry chief, Netaji Palkar, his Peshwa, Moropant Pingale, plus Bandal and Shahaji's trusted aide, Kanhoji Jedhe, the deshmukh of Kari (who had all kept themselves camouflaged and ready for the assault), launched swift and rapid attacks from all sides and routed Afzal Khan's army.

Netaji Palkar pursued the fleeing forces and hacked them to the ground before they could regroup with their reserve forces (which were stationed at Wai). Afzal Khan's forces were thoroughly defeated.

Afzal Khan's eldest son, Fazal Khan, barely managed to escape with his life (helped by Khandoji Khopade, the deshmukh of Bhor). Subsequently, an Afghan regiment from Bijapur was also decimated at Panhalgad.

After the Pratapgad encounter, Shivaji constructed a temple there, installing the idol of his goddess, Bhavani (made from the stone of the River Gandaki). This encounter with the great Khan became a subject of local folklore and made a legend of Shivaji.

Battle of Kolhapur

To compensate for the losses, on 28 December 1659 Bijapur dispatched another general, Rustam e zaman, with 10,000 troops. To assist him were Fazal Khan, son of Afzal Khan, plus Malik Itibar, Fateh Khan son of Aziz Khan, Mullah Yahiya, Santaji Ghorpade, and Sarjerao Ghatage. The force was humbled by Shivaji with only half his army (Netaji Palkar, Bhimaji Hiraji Wagh, Ingle,Mahadik, Sidhoji Pawar, Gondaji Jagtap, Kharate and his son Hanumantrao, plus Pandhare, Siddi Hilal, and Jadhav). [12]

Battle of Pavan Khind

Shivaji added further salt to the Bijapur wounds when he overran Satara and Sangli, and captured the forts of Chandan and Wandan. On 28 November 1659 he also secured Fort Panhala. This time the rulers of Bijapur decided to strike Shivaji with all their might. They made a deal with the Mughals whereby both forces would attack Shivaji together. The Mughals had also begun to be alarmed by Shivaji's growing power. He was encroaching on their territories. So they readily accepted the Bijapuri request for a joint attack.

But Shivaji did the unthinkable. His cavalry rode right into the heart of the Bijapur kingdom and demanded payments from the towns of Belgaum and Dharwad. Then his forces lay siege to a suburb of Bijapur called Shahpur. Though this attack was warded off by Khawas Khan and his five thousand troops, it sent a chill down the spine of Ali Adil Shah. Never before had he felt the enemy so close to him.

Meanwhile the troops of Bijapur led by the Abyssynian, Siddi Jauhar, had laid siege to Fort Panhala, while Shivaji was present within. He was assisted by many of the Bijapur sardars such as Siddi Masud, Sayyad, Jaswantrao the raja of Pali, Suryajirao the raja of Shringarpur, Fazalkhan, Baji Ghorpade, Pidnaik, Bhaikhan, Badekhan, and more (as related by Shiv Bharat of Parmanand). They encircled the fort in March 1660, making escape very difficult. The siege lasted for months, thwarting attempts by Shivaji to escape the fort. Even an attempt by Shivaji's general, Netaji Palkar, to attack Siddi Johar's camp was foiled.

Then Shivaji tried a different tactic. He knew Siddi Jauhar was a conceited person, and harboured secret designs about an independent kingdom. Shivaji therefore decided to cater to his ego. He sent several costly presents to Siddi Jauhar and even offered to surrender, provided that Johar agreed to protect Shivaji from the wrath of Adilshah. Shivaji successfully managed to create an impression in Siddi's camp that Shivaji was befriended, and willing to accept defeat. This made Siddi Johar's army a little complacent. They let down their guard.

[12] Many historians have already alluded that Rustam e zaman and his father, Ranadaullah Khan (Khan e zaman), who were close to Shahajiraje, were said always to be soft on his son, Shivaji.

Taking advantage of this situation, Shivaji managed to give the Siddi's forces the slip. He created a diversion whereby his lookalike (his barber) was sent out in one direction so that Siddi Johar's men gave chase and captured him, only to find that he was not Shivaji. Meanwhile, Shivaji himself set off in another direction, with his select band of 300 men (including his captain, Baji Prabhu Deshpande) to Fort Vishalgad.

Siddi's army chased Shivaji into a mountain pass called Ghod Khind. But the brave men led by Baji Prabhu Deshpande held back the Siddi's army at the pass and sacrificed their lives in order to ensure the safe passage of their master. Shivaji reached Vishalgad and fired the cannon which was a signal to his men that he had reached his destination unharmed. The ballads passed down from generations sing that Baji Prabhu, though fatally wounded, continued fighting like a man possessed, valorously, with a swirling 'dandapatta' (a long snake-like malleable sword), with a spear, and later with swords in both his hands, warding off the attackers, and fell to the ground only when he heard the cannon signal from Vishalgad and breathed his last, demonstrating an example of supreme sacrifice. [13]

The mountain pass, 'Ghod Khind', at which Baji Prabhu Deshpande and his men laid down their lives was renamed 'Pawan Khind' or the 'Purified Valley', purified by the blood shed by the 'martyrs'. [14]

Meanwhile, Shivaji received the news that the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, had sent his maternal uncle and the governor of the Deccan, Shaista Khan, to assist Bijapur in capturing Shivaji.

This is when Shivaji realised that he may not be able to fight both his enemies simultaneously. So, tactically, he decided to make peace with Bijapur. Rustam e Zaman mediated between the two and Bijapur agreed to accept Shivaji as an independent king. In return he agreed to hand back Fort Panhala to Bijapur. [15]

Now Shivaji was free to turn his sights towards the Mughal forces of Shaista Khan, who, by now virtually unchecked, had entrenched themselves in Shivaji's territories.

[13] Firstly, Shivaji covered the distance from Fort Vishalgad to Fort Rajgad during his escape. Secondly, Siddi Jauhar was secretly assisted by the English factory officials at Rajapur in his seizure of Panhala in the form of supplies of arms and ammunition.

[14] This encounter between the Siddi's men and Baji Prabhu Deshpande has been compared to the famous Battle of Thermopylae between the Greeks and the Persians.

[15] During this time Siddi Jauhar had also rebelled against Ali Adilshah, perhaps after an altercation over the issue of Shivaji. Also approaching were the Mughals. Ali Adilshah too was distracted, and was therefore quick to make peace with Shivaji. Earlier Shivaji himself had circulated rumours in the Adilshahi camp that Siddi had intentions of assuming power in Bijapur, and had cleverly sowed the seeds of dissention between Bijapur and Siddi.


Text copyright © Abhijit Rajadhyaksha. An original feature for the History Files.