Today marks the 363rd anniversary of the Battle of Pratapgarh, in which, Chhatrapati Shivaji slew Afzal Khan, the mighty general of the Adilshahi dynasty.
The elimination of Afzal Khan was one of the most significant events in the life of Chhatrapati Shivaji.
The Marathas began their quest for Hindavi Swarajya (Hindu self-rule) under the able leadership of Chhatrapati Shivaji in 1646 CE.
The establishment of a Hindu kingdom was a direct threat to the Mughal Empire as well as the Sultanates of Deccan, especially, the Adilshahi Sultanate as Shahajiraje, Shivaji’s father, held a high position at the Bijapur court.
Shahajiraje held the Jagirs of Pune and Bengaluru. The former was administered by his son, Shivaji. Parts of Shahaji’s territories around Pune were taken away from him in 1646-47 CE.
Shivaji, who had already started acting independently was furious over this and decided to retake them. He recaptured Kondhana (Fort Sinhgad) in 1648 CE.
Meanwhile, Shahaji’s influence and power was growing in the South. Chhatrapati Shivaji’s independent administration and capture of Kondhana was already being seen as a rebellion by Muhammad Adilshah.
In order to subdue them, Muhammad Adilshah ordered Shahaji’s arrest. Shahaji was arrested during the siege of Gingee and taken to Bijapur by Afzal Khan. Shahaji was released in May 1649, after his sons, Sambhaji and Shivaji relinquished Bengaluru and Kondhana respectively.
In 1655 CE, Sambhaji, the eldest son of Shahaji was killed by Afzal Khan. In May 1656 CE, Shivaji captured Jawali. He had a fort constructed in Jawali which he named Pratapgarh.
Little did he know that this fort would become his stronghold in the wars to come.
Muhammad Adilshah died on 4 November, 1656 after a prolonged illness. On the same day, Ali, his 18 year-old son was enthroned with the consent of Badi Sahiba, the chief consort of the deceased Sultan.
The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his son Aurangzeb, who was the then Subehdar of Deccan, were aware that Muhammad Adilshah’s death would lead to chaos in the Adilshahi Sultanate, and eventually invaded the Adilshahi territories.
Chhatrapati Shivaji took advantage of this tussle between the Mughals and the Adilshahi Sultanate. He started capturing Mughal as well as Adilshahi territories.
After the Mughal invasion of 1657 CE had rolled out, Aurangzeb marched away to northern India to usurp the Mughal throne.
Shivaji’s recapture of Kondhana in August 1657 CE and his campaign against the Siddi was frustrating for both Adilshah and the Mughals. In addition to this, Shivaji captured nearly thirty forts in the North Konkan region that had once been part of the Nizamshahi Sultanate. This area was actually ceded to the Adilshahi by the treaty of 1636 CE.
Shahajiraje was asked by the Bijapur court to punish his rebel son but he denied all responsibility for Shivaji’s actions.
Ali Adilshah had agreed not to hold Shahaji accountable for his son’s actions. Shahaji’s denial of his son’s actions was nothing but a silent support for the Hindu cause.
The Tarikh-i-Ali, the official history of Ali Adilshah’s reign, clearly states that both Ali Adilshah and Badi Sahiba, wanted Shivaji dead. This was, however, no easy task.
Afzal Khan accepted this challenge.
However, the resources of the Bijapur Sultanate had been crippled by the Mughal invasion of 1657 CE and other internal feuds. Only a force of 10,000 could be spared for the campaign against Shivaji.
On the other hand, Shivaji had a much larger force. Hence, Khan did not prefer an open contest of force with him. Instead, he chose to betray Shivaji by pretending to be his friend.
Afzal Khan was cruel and deceitful. His religious fanaticism and bigotry were well known.
A stone incription found in Afzalpur describes him as ‘one who slaughters the rebels and infidels (Kaafirs)’ and ‘one who smashes idols’. This is backed by numerous contemporaneous sources.
The Shivakavya and Shivbharat too say that Afzal Khan had demolished several Hindu temples.
According to a legend, when Afzal Khan set out on the campaign against Shivaji, he slaughtered his 63 consorts because he was apprehensive about not returning alive. Even this legend gives a fair idea of his cruelty.
Afzal Khan’s seal that contains the following couplet gives us an idea about his arrogance.
‘Gar Arz Kunada Sipahar A-Ala Fazal Fuzla Wa Fazal Afzal,
Azhar Mulki Bajaye Tasbih Awaaz Ayad Afzal Afzal’
In translation, it reads: “If heaven on high exhibits (for comparison), the excellence of learned men and the excellence of Afzal (khan), every Angel instead of singing praises to Allah, will only say Afzal is afzal i.e., more excellent!”
Khan left Bijapur for Wai in May 1659. While on his way to Wai, he visited the holy shrine at Pandharpur and demolished the idol of Lord Vitthal. This incident is mentioned in the Sabhasad Chronicle and Shivakavya. Even Cosme de Guarda writes that Khan had issued orders for demolishing several Hindu temples in order to humiliate Shivaji, who was a Hindu.
As per the Shivbharat, Shivaji went to Jawali after he learnt that Afzal had arrived in Wai. The Jedhe Chronology records that Shivaji arrived in Jawali on 12 July, 1659. Hence, Afzal reached Wai sometime before that date.
The initial negotiations between Afzal Khan and Shivajiraje took place through letters that were carried by their envoys. Krishnaji Bhaskar, the havaldar of Wai was Khan’s envoy. Shivajiraje was represented by Pantaji Gopinath.
Shivaji, pretending that he was afraid of the Khan, requested that the meeting take place in Jawali. Pantaji Gopinath convinced Afzal Khan and made him accept Shivaji’s request.
Khan’s advisors tried to persuade him away from this decision but he dismissed them. He was so arrogant that he even punished a few who tried to persuade him.
Khan reached Jawali along with his army. Shivaji had instructed his infantry to conceal themselves in the dense forests surrounding the area, close to Afzal Khan’s camp. Their clear instructions were to fall upon and annihilate the enemy, should the Khan refuse to make peace. (Shivbharat)
Khan did not have any notion of what Shivaji was planning. The terms of the meeting between Shivajiraje and Afzal Khan were finalised by their envoys. The meeting took place on 10 November, 1659.
The Shivbharat describes this meeting in depth.
“Oh! Son of Shahji! Child! Rid yourself of pride in your wisdom and let me take your hand in mine. Come, embrace me.” Saying this, the Khan pressed Shivaji’s neck under his left arm and struck a blow with his dagger in Shivaji’s side.
"The agile Shivaji worked himself free of the Khan’s grasp, parried the stroke of the dagger and drove his own sword into the Khan’s stomach. The Khan, stunned by the blow, tried to hold his entrails with his hands and cried out that he had been deceived.
"His servant suddenly rushed at Shivaji with the Khan’s sword poised for a stroke. The Khan had included this man in his entourage knowing well that Shivaji would never kill a Brahmin. Shivaji parried the stroke with his sword and, using his patta, cleft the Khan’s head into two…Thus, on Thursday noon, 10th November, 1659 Shivaji slew the enemy of the gods, Afzal Khan”.
Realising that Afzal Khan had been slain, his ten bodyguards - Abdul Sayyid, Bada Sayyid, Khan’s nephew Rahim Khan, Pahalwan Khan, four other Muslims and Pilaji and Shankaraji Mohite tried to attack Shivaji to kill him.
Shivaji defended himself with his sword and his patta. In no time, Shivaji’s ten bodyguards - Sambhaji Kawji, Kataji Ingale, Kondaji Kank, Yesaji Kank, Krishnaji Gaikwad, Suryaji Kakade, Jiva Mahala, Visaji Murumbak, Sambhaji Karwar and Siddi Ibrahim also rushed forward to protect Shivajiraje.
Jiva Mahala cut down Bada Sayyid before he could attack Shivaji. The others killed Khan’s guards.
After slaying the Khan and his bodyguards, the Marathas beat kettledrums from Pratapgarh fort as a signal. The Maratha infantry who had concealed themselves in the dense forests around Khan’s camp immediately attacked the Adilshahi army and defeated them.
Musa Khan Pathan, Hasan Khan, Fazil Khan (Afzal’s elder son) escaped with their lives and managed to reach Wai with Prataprao More as their guide through the forest. Mambaji Bhosale was killed.
Randaula Khan (the younger), Rajaji Ghatge, two other sons of Afzal Khan and several nobles were arrested. Shivaji reached Wai with a large force and started capturing as much Adilshahi territories as he could.
This entire campaign was a masterpiece of guerilla warfare. It was strategically planned and diplomatically executed. The success of this campaign made the Marathas a formidable force in the Deccan. Aurangzeb, who had become the Emperor, too realised the might of the Marathas.
The sources used for this article are:
Shivbharat, Kavindra Paramand (written on the orders of Chhatrapati Shivaji)
Muhammadnama, the official history of Muhammad Adilshah’s reign
Shivaji – His Life and Times, GB Mehendale
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