An extract from the new translation of Ranjit Desai’s Marathi classic, Shriman Yogi, a literary rendition of the life of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Shivaji: The Great Maratha, Ranjit Desai, Vikrant Pande (Translator), Harperprennial, 592 Pages
Shivaji was stuck in Panhala with Siddi Johar having surrounded the fort for months. Shivaji was desperate to escape when finally one of his spies found a way which would be least guarded during the night when it was raining heavily. What follows is an example of men willing to lay down their lives and with a smile for the cause of swaraj.
Mahadev entered Shivaji’s chamber and saluted. Shivaji smiled looking at him. He was tall and lanky and Shivaji’s clothes didn’t fit Mahadev at all. The trouser bottoms were at his knees and the robe was at his waist. Shiva, the barber came in at that moment. Shiva looked at Mahadev and tried to suppress a smile. He said, caressing his beard, ‘After all, they are royal clothes. How can they fit anyone else?’
‘Why, if you were to wear them, no one will be able to make out whether it is you or me. Mahadev and I are built differently and that’s why you’re able to discern the difference.’
Baji Prabhu, Trayambakrao, Gangadharpant and the others arrived at that moment.
Shivaji said, ‘Tell me, Trayambakrao. How does one find a way out of this security ring?’
‘Raje, I am not able to think of a solution. Siddi Johar will not agree to anything less than your surrender.’
‘Then we have no other choice,’ Raje said, letting out a deep sigh.
‘Raje!’ Baji Prabhu did not know what to say and tears rolled down his face.
‘What is it, Baji?’
‘Raje, we have failed you.’
Shivaji’s heart ached at seeing a huge, strong man like Baji Prabhu shedding tears. He said, ‘Baji, our luck may not be on our side, but we have to find a way.’
He continued, ‘Mahadev mentioned a gap in the security towards the north. We can take advantage of the same during the night and escape.’
Trayambakrao said, ‘Then don’t wait. We can take care of the fort—your survival is of the utmost importance.’
‘I know. But we need to be careful. We cannot allow the enemy be alerted of our movements.’
‘We will kill anyone who comes in our way,’ Baji erupted.
‘That is fine but we cannot stop till we reach Vishalgad, a distance of approximately twenty-five kilometres. Will we be able to reach without being spotted?’
‘Raje,’ Baji said, ‘once you are out of the security ring, it is our job to ensure you reach Vishalgad.’
‘All right then. Let the Lord decide what he has in store for us.’
That night, one person left with Mahadev. They returned early the next morning, drenched to the bone. They had surveyed the area and ensured that the way out was safe. The day after, Gangadharpant went to meet Siddi Johar with a proposal for a ceasefire.
The news that Shivaji was to surrender spread across the cantonment, and it was a relief to the soldiers suffering in the heavy rains. There was a significant lax in security once the soldiers knew that Shivaji was to surrender the next day.
Fazal Khan was busy dreaming of the next day and Siddi Johar was busy imagining the huge reception he would get when he returned to Bijapur.
Through it, the rains continued to lash incessantly. Gangadharpant returned from Siddi Johar’s camp and told Shivaji what had happened.
Next day, by late afternoon, Baji had his men ready and Shivaji was pacing in his room. Gangadharpant and Trayambakrao were busy readying everything to accompany Raje. The rain continued to pour as before. Shivaji summoned Shiva the barber.
‘Shiva, when we leave the fort, one more palanquin must leave carrying another Shivaji.’
‘Maharaj, I do not understand,’ Shiva said.
Raje hesitated for a moment. ‘Shiva, after I leave, another palanquin will leave the fort. It will follow the royal path and will be received by Johar’s men. They will assume that they have caught Shivaji.
‘What exactly is the problem?’ Shiva asked.
‘We need one more Shivaji—someone who resembles me.’
Shiva beamed with joy and said, ‘I would be a fool to refuse such an offer!’
Shiva the barber had the same height and physique as Shivaji and Raje had often spoken of the similarity between the two. Shiva too had grown a beard like Raje’s, and his friends teased him saying ‘Welcome, Raje!’
Shivaji said, seeing Shiva’s eagerness, ‘Shiva, it is not easy to be Shivaji. I will escape, but what about you? That thought disturbs me.’
Shiva touched Shivaji’s feet and said, ‘Maharaj, I swear in Bhawani Mata’s name, please don’t have an iota of doubt. For only if you are alive can a million Shivas be born. My life would be blessed if I am able to carry out this assignment.’
‘Come, let us then see what this Shivaji looks like!’
Shivaji gave Shiva his own clothes to wear. The barber touched the clothes to his forehead before putting on an embroidered coat. Shivaji adjusted a rich turban on Shiva’s head and tied a stone-studded sword to his waist with a dagger on the other side of the waist. Shiva was becoming increasingly restless as he wore each garment and his heart was beating rapidly.
Raje took a piece of pearl jewellery and stuck it on to the turban. Taking off his jewel studded shoes he said, ‘Shiva, put these on.’
Shiva took a step back and holding the shoes close to his chest, he said, ‘Maharaj, I don’t deserve to even stand near them. How can I wear them?’
Shivaji said, his voice stern, ‘Shiva! Wear them. I can’t bear to see a crying Shivaji. If you cry, my reputation will be ruined!’
Shiva’s chest swelled. He had a smile in his eyes as he put Shivaji’s shoes on. He rested his hand on the sword’s hilt and said, ‘Who says I am crying?’
Shivaji laughed and he took off his pearl necklace and put it on Shiva. Bringing out a rudraksh necklace, he touched it to his forehead reverently before handing it over to Shiva saying, ‘Shiva, this is Bhawani’s prasad—our true wealth. It is a sign of the Devi’s kripa. Don’t think it is worthless. If nothing else works, this will help you to outwit Siddi.’
Shivaji stepped back to admire his new avatar. The guard came in to announce the arrival of Gangadharpant .
Shivaji quietly stepped into the other room as Gangadharpant and Baji Prabhu entered. Pant said, ‘Raje, everything is ready.’
Shiva turned around and said, ‘I am ready too.’
Baji Prabhu said, ‘Maharaj!’ and then, realizing his mistake, he exclaimed, ‘Oh, it’s you, Shiva!’
Shiva smiled. Raje stepped in from the other room and asked, ‘Baji, what do you think of this copy?’
‘Maharaj, anyone who has not seen you at close quarters would easily be fooled. But Shiva, Raje does not stand with such drooping shoulders.’
Shiva stood ramrod straight and everyone burst out laughing.
Shivaji said, ‘Shiva, I forgot one thing.’
He removed his earrings and put one of them on to Shiva’s ear. As he turned to put the other ring, he could not hold his emotions back and tears flowed down his cheeks. A sob escaped his lips as he handed the earring to Shiva.
Shiva exclaimed, ‘Maharaj!’
Raje hugged Shiva tightly and did not say a word. His tears drenched Shiva’s shoulders. Raje said, ‘Shiva, I hate what I must do. I have to sacrifice people like you at each step. You are willing to embrace death for me, and here I am, putting earrings on you! What will I get finally? What an irony!’
Shiva struggled out of Raje’s embrace and said, ‘Raje, there are many people who cry when someone dies. But very few who are willing to cry for a living person. Maharaj, you are shedding tears for someone like me. What more can I ask for? I am willing to give my life for each one of your tears. Don’t weep for me.’
Raje gathered his emotions and wiped his eyes. He asked, ‘Gangadharpant, have you sent the spies ahead?’
‘Yes, they left the moment it was dark. But Raje, there is a storm brewing outside.’
‘Mother Nature is here to protect me. It is a full moon tonight but she has ensured that the moon does not expose me.’
Everyone ate their meal and was ready to move. It was late that night when Shivaji came out of his quarters. The rains continued to lash, the wind blew hard and the palanquin was ready and waiting. Raje hugged Shiva and addressing Trayambakrao he said, ‘Close the doors the moment I leave. Send Shiva off on the other route. Keep fighting and protect the fort for as many days as you can.’
Pant replied, ‘Raje, don’t worry. Just take care of yourself.’
Raje said, ‘Baji is with me. I am not worried. I shall take your leave now.’
Shiva sat in the palanquin and the group moved out towards the exit. He was followed by six hundred foot soldiers and fifteen cavalry troops. The door closed the moment they left.
Shivaji and his palanquin began their descent from the other route.
Raje’s palanquin moved forward in the torrential rain. Baji and other soldiers ran alongside. In order to avoid noise, none of the bearers were wearing shoes. In any case, the shoes would not have lasted in the muddy, rocky and rough terrain.
Each moment was critical and they made as much speed as possible.
The enemy’s security ring could be seen now. Spies would go ahead and keep Raje informed every fifty steps. They slowed down a little seeing a post ahead. Swords were silently unsheathed as everyone waited with bated breath. They proceeded with utmost care not to make any noise. Their footsteps in the puddles sounded louder than the falling rain. They had crossed the post when they heard a loud voice asking, ‘Who’s there?’
Baji hissed, ‘Keep moving.’
The speed, which had slacked for a while, picked up again. The voice was heard again, ‘Who’s there?’
Raje’s palanquin had crossed the security ring by then. The palanquin bearers were running now. They heard voices, ‘Stop!’
Baji’s order to keep moving was louder than the order to stop. The enemy was now convinced, and Shivaji’s men heard one of the soldiers shouting, ‘The enemy has run away!’
‘How did he escape?’
Siddi Johar had been sitting on a royal seat, drunk and about to go to sleep, when the news of Shivaji’s escape reached him. Like a cobra enjoying the warm sun in a jungle, but which stands up, hissing, when a stone is thrown at it, Siddi Johar sat upright in a flash, his eyes red with anger. He pounded the messenger with blows and slaps. Fazal and Masood Khan came running in.
Fazal said, ‘I knew it! I warned you!’
‘Khamosh!’ Siddi Johar shouted angrily.
Fazal was about to say something but seeing Siddi Johar’s face, he swallowed his words.
Siddi Johar looked at Masood and said, ‘Masood, Shivaji ka peecha karo! Go! Don’t come back till you find him.’
Masood did not delay a single moment and gathered a thousand horsemen and foot soldiers. They covered a large distance but were not able to see Shivaji and his men anywhere. Suddenly they heard a scream, ‘Enemy!’
Masood’s hopes rose, and he spurred his horse on. A palanquin had been surrounded by his horsemen. He saw Raje sitting in the palanquin and Masood was overjoyed.
He had trapped the Maratha king Shivaji without much effort!
The palanquin reached the cantonment among tight security. Everyone was thrilled on hearing the news and a guard ran to inform Siddi of the capture.
‘Shivaji has been caught, Huzoor! Masood is coming back with him.’
Siddi stared at the messenger and a smile played on his lips, his white teeth shining in the darkness. He took a gold leaf from his turban and threw it at the messenger. Fazal Khan was watching the scene unfold when Siddi said, ‘Fazal, no one has escaped from the clutches of the Kurnool lion. And this Shivaji thought he can ... ha!’
They heard the soldiers at the door of the tent. Siddi and Fazal turned to look when Masood walked in.
He was followed by Shivaji Raje who walked in as if nothing had happened. Raje looked at everyone and stared at Siddi Johar, who was surprised at his temerity.
Siddi smiled and said, ‘Raje, it looks like you were trying to escape.’
‘Yes, that was the plan.’
‘What happened then?’
‘Well, I got caught!’
Siddi laughed. ‘Raje, you are a daredevil. Come, take a seat.’
Fazal was seething with anger on seeing Shivaji. This was the same Shivaji who had murdered his Abbajaan. And Siddi was treating him with such courtesies!
‘Johar,’ Fazal shouted, ‘why are you praising this enemy of the sultanate? Take your sword and ...’
‘Fazal, hold your tongue! Shivaji is not an ordinary sardar like you or me. He is a king. His fate will be decided by the Badshah. Raje is my guest. Raje, take a seat please.’
‘Rajasaab sharaab piyoge?’ Siddi asked, looking at his wet clothes.
Siddi handed over a tumbler to him and poured some amber liquid into it. Raje did not touch the tumbler but looked at Siddi and asked, ‘Aap nahin piyoge?’
Siddi smiled. Wanting to reassure Shivaji, he picked the same jar and poured himself a drink and sipped a little. Raje too followed suit, smiling as he did.
Siddi Johar was staring at Raje. He was amused and admired Raje’s courage. He asked, ‘Rajasaab, agar aap bhag jaate, toh kahan jaate?’ ‘Vishalgad. Had I reached there, you would not have been able to do anything.’
‘Bilkul sach, Rajasaab. I am sorry your kismet is not supporting you.’
Raje smiled and said, ‘But my Lord is with me.’
Siddi asked, ‘What if you had been killed in the battle?’
At that moment, a messenger entered the tent and whispered something in Siddi’s ear. Anger boiled over Siddi’s face and he asked, as he unsheathed his sword,
‘Who are you?’
‘Liar! The real Shivaji has escaped!’
‘Shivaji Raje is not so naive that he would be caught by you. By now, Raje has gone far away.’
‘Who are you then? Speak up!’
Shiva looked at Siddi and said, ‘I am called Shiva the barber.’
‘Treachery!’ screamed Fazal.
Siddi stood there, shivering with anger. He touched his sword to Shiva’s chest and said, ‘Do you know the consequences of this?’
Shiva pushed the sword away without flinching and said, ‘Had I not known, I would not have undertaken this enterprise. If I were worried for my life, I had this dagger to help me in the palanquin.’
‘Haramkhor!’ shouted Fazal.
Shiva laughed and said, ‘Fazal, there is no point in getting angry now. Raje has escaped long ago and I am fortunate to have worn Raje’s clothes for a brief while. Even to pretend to be Shivaji is a reward for me — this Shiva is blessed.’
‘Khamosh, kambhakt!’ Siddi screamed. He plunged his sword deep into Shiva’s chest and Shiva’s face contorted with pain.
He stumbled but managed to support himself on a pillar to steady himself. He said, ‘I may only be pretending to be Shivaji but I am not going to show my back to the enemy either. Raje, this is my final salute to you!’ And so saying, he collapsed on to the floor.