Chhatrapati Shivaji vs Afzal Khan: Pratapgad,1659
If there is a single episode that one can imagine and understand as to why Chhatrapati Shivaji is considered such a great persona, then it would be the killing of Afzal Khan. The Pratapgad campaign is much more than just Shivaji killing Ali Adil Shah’s general at a meeting. Shivaji’s leadership acumen and mental fortitude as a twenty nine year old comes to the fore. Intelligence, spies, disinformation campaigns and other weapons of guerilla warfare had been honed to perfection by Shivaji in his short career. Important details like – the proper fort to be selected for meeting Afzal Khan , the exact location/spot on that fort (near to the forest, escape routes etc.), the guard to be recruited at that time on the fort – each and every minute decision has a sound reasoning behind it. And Shivaji does not merely stop at evicting Afzal Khan – he ensures that Adil Shah has a net negative outcome. The days of status quo are finished by Chhatrapati Shivaji.
1659 – Lead up to the campaign
Shivaji Maharaj had been steadily gaining strength in the Sahyadris, away from the gaze of Bijapur’s Adil Shah. Sent to his father’s , Shahaji Raje’s, jagir of Pune; he gained possession of several strong hill forts in the vicinity – Rajgad and Torna among others. On being questioned by Adil Shah regarding his intentions, he replied that these forts are been taken under his control only to make Adil Shah’s rule stronger in those parts! Away at Bijapur, Shahaji dismissed his son’s activities as energetic escapades of a young boy but discreetly sent advisors and experienced warriors to help Shivaji!
The Bijapur court at the time was rife with internal problems , with the Deccani Muslims in it locked in quarrels with its Afghan – Turkic members. Then there was a Mughal invasion to bother about – all of which Shivaji Maharaj used to good effect to further his own influence.
Finally, the war with the Mughals ended in 1657 and Ali Adil Shah or rather his mother, the regent Begum Sahiba decided to crush Shivaji once and for all. For this , Afzal Khan was appointed – a battle hardened general who had led armies all over south India.
Afzal Khan starts from Bijapur
Afzal Khan started from Bijapur in late April and made his way to Wai near Pratapgad via Pandharpur, Malavadi and Rahimatpur. He desecrated the temple at Pandharpur on the way. From Pandharpur, a contingent of around three thousand troops made its way to Pune. On this journey he also had a large wooden cage made for Shivaji and extracted large amounts of tribute from Tuljapur and Ravalnath temples.
Afzal Khan reached Wai during or just after the summer of 1659. His troops deputed to Pune reached there earlier, and soon occupied the large tracts of land in the Pune – Shirval and Supe areas. Chhatrapati Shivaji at the time was at Rajgad.
Afzal Khan’s plan was to entice Shivaji out of the hills and onto the plains where his artillery and cavalry could wreak havoc on the latter. At the same time, Afzal Khan sent letters to various watandars enticing or threatening them into joining him.
A small map of the relevant region :
Shivaji doesn’t take the bait
Chhatrapati Shivaji’s intelligence network was fully aware of the situation including the fact that he had started off from Bijapur with a motive to kill him. The temple desecration at Pandharpur and other places must have affected him, but he did not let anger get the better of him into making a rash decision. Shivaji calmly retreated from the plains and stayed put in the hill fortress at Rajgad.
Netaji Palkar, leading a large contingent of Shivaji’s cavalry requested his permission to evict the three thousand odd soldiers roving around Pune. But Shivaji wanted to create an impression in Afzal Khan’s mind that he was weak and scared of the mighty general. He, thus, forbade any action against the soldiers occupying Pune and Supe areas. He further started a disinformation campaign, praising Afzal Khan to the skies and explaining how he (Shivaji) was mortally scared of him.
Afzal Khan aimed to draw out Shivaji for one quick battle near Pune in the month of May, which would end with Shivaji being captured or killed. But Shivaji’s sharp sense of the situation prevented this. The month of June started and Shivaji remained at Rajgad. A couple of weeks later, the torrential monsoons started, making any kind of large troop movements impossible. Now Afzal Khan would have to wait four months before starting anything new.
But Shivaji had staved off only one headache – that of facing Afzal Khan in the open. Another pressing problem remained – that of watandars and Maratha sardars in the region being lured by Afzal Khan’s carrot and stick policy.
Shivaji had little to offer other than the lofty dream of a Swarajya. He had no jagirs to confer or gold to distribute. His small kingdom had been built mainly out of assuming control of some Adil Shahi fortresses under the pretext he was doing this to look after them in a better way. He had faced a few tests militarily, but Afzal Khan was a different breed altogether. If probability was to be weighed in May 1659, Shivaji was far from a safe bet. It was a critical time. At this crucial juncture, in stepped Kanhoji Jedhe.
Kanhoji Jedhe had been deputed by Shahaji himself to see to it that no harm came to Shivaji. Now he was faced with a critical decision. He was a respected person and his accepting of Afzal Khan’s hand of friendship could well have tilted the balance against Shivaji. But Kanhoji Jedhe fully believed in the ideal that Shivaji was fighting for. It was a powerful ideal, one that none had spoken about in that land for three hundred years. A person convinced about the need to establish Swarajya could not be swayed with grants of land and money.
Kanhoji Jedhe went to Rajgad with the firmans received from Afzal Khan and publicly declared that he would relinquish his lands and his earnings to Shivaji but not join Afzal Khan. This simple act of bravery and farsightedness had an electrifying effect : that someone with the experience and seniority of Kanhoji Jedhe was supporting Shivaji meant that Swarajya was an idea they could and should fight for. All defections to Afzal Khan immediately stopped.
To me, this act of Jedhe is the most important thing to remember out of the whole campaign. More perhaps than the actual killing of Afzal Khan.
The Mughals wade in
One of the reasons that Afzal Khan opened this campaign in the sweltering heat of April was that Aurangzeb was busy fighting his brothers for the throne of Delhi. He expected a quick skirmish to finish Shivaji before Aurangzeb could turn his attention towards the Deccan. But by not taking the bait at Pune, Shivaji had completely foiled this plan.
By June, through the actions of Kanhoji Jedhe, Shivaji had scored his second victory – that of stemming defections. But the end of that month saw the settlement of the disputes in the north and the newly crowned Alamgir Aurangzeb turned his gaze towards the Deccan. He dispatched his own maternal uncle – Shaiste Khan, with a khillat meant for Shivaji Maharaj himself!
Both, Shivaji and Afzal Khan, came to know of the robe of honour headed for Pune. This totally piqued the situation. Aurangzeb was an astute and cunning politician. Plus, he had huge armies at his disposal. What was the khillat supposed to mean? An alliance with Aurangzeb against Adil Shah? What happens next? What if Adil Shah joined Aurangzeb instead? Against the two armies together, Shivaji would be in a very difficult spot. Both, Shivaji and Afzal Khan, were individually weak against Aurangzeb. The Mughal was the bull in the China shop that neither was willing to entertain. Only one thing was certain – the issue had to be settled before the third party i.e Mughals were involved. In the month of July, Chhatrapati Shivaji moved to Pratapgad – around thirty miles from Wai. There were other forts to move to in the vicinity , but there were sound reasons behind choosing Pratapgad as we shall see in due course.
Afzal Khan at Wai
Afzal Khan had received two setbacks, but was still holding a strong position. He had augmented his army by recruiting locally and forming alliances. He would have preferred Shivaji come to Wai itself , but now had to grapple with facing him at nearby Pratapgad. Afzal Khan’s forces moved to throw a large net around the fort such that Shivaji was hemmed in from all sides. Kate, Pandhare and Siddi Hilal commanded the 3000 odd troops which roamed the Pune area and kept many of Shivaji’s troops tied down in his hill forts. To the south, Sarvarkhan guarded the routes south at Vasota. On the west the seaboard, was in the hands of Afzal Khan’s ally, the Siddi of Janjira. This particular detail afforded Afzal Khan another luxury – that of receiving troops and stores via the sea and up the small rivers with led from the ghats to the Konkan. Indeed, it is believed that Afzal Khan did actually use the sea route to receive at least some of his soldiers and stores. In the event of his supply line from Bijapur being cut , he had an alternative. At Dabhol on the coastline , he held around five thousand troops.
His remaining troops were at Wai, positioned in the hills and ravines around Pratapgad.
All in all, Afzal Khan had around 40,000 soldiers with him, plus the advantage of better artillery and cavalry for an open field battle and of unbroken supply lines in case he had to play the waiting game.
Shivaji moves to Pratapgad :
In the monsoon of 1659, Chhatrapati Shivaji left Rajgad and arrived in the Javli region of Satara.
Shivaji, hence, left the safety of his well stocked and powerful forts – Sinhagad, Purandar, Rajgad and Torna and camped on the relatively new fort of Pratapgad. The forts near Pratapgad now assumed importance. Rohida , Makarandgad , Vasota and others. But selecting Pratapgad had its own advantages – its constructions were new – built by Moropant Pingale in 1656, so the chance of someone in Afzal Khan’s camp having knowledge of its layout from some previous visit was low. The fort was also situated on the border of his domains, so that if a battle was to happen then it would happen here or inside Adil Shah’s territories. Rajgad was much inside. It was also covered on all sides by forests. Shivaji was willing to forego the comfort of Rajgad in order to gain a strategic advantage.
Shivaji also had his troops well dispersed around Pratapgad. Netaji Palkar was at the Mahabaleshwar plateau with his cavalry contingent, Kanhoji Jedhe and others in the vicinity of Pratapgad and Moropant Pingale in the Konkan. But Shivaji did not enjoy support on the seaboard and the entire region of Pune – Supe had been occupied by Afzal Khan. There was a very real danger that Afzal Khan could cut off supply lines and isolate Shivaji’s forts. Of course, they could last the entire monsoons, but the stock of food and stores was not infinite! So now, the pressure on Chhatrapati Shivaji was double – that of Shaiste Khan moving south and the knowledge that a stalemate, beyond a point, would only delay the inevitable. On the other hand , Afzal Khan had come well prepared for the long haul.
Krishnaji Bhaskar and Pantaji Gopinath were the two envoys deputed from Afzal Khan and Chhatrapati Shivaji’s side, respectively, to carry out negotiations. Pantaji Gopinath was an ace diplomat and fully impressed on Afzal Khan how Chhatrapati Shivaji was mortally scared of him and was merely a servant of the Bijapur government. Krishnaji Bhaskar represented Afzal Khan and negotiated a time and date for the meet.In this passed the month of October 1659. The negotiations concluded with Krishna Bhaskar being shown the place of meeting and satisfying himself regarding the arrangements.
But this period of a stalemate saw a tragedy on the personal front for Chhatrapati Shivaji – his first wife Saibai died at Rajgad. Shivaji took this also in his stride and did not waver where a lesser person would have despaired.
The day of the meet
Chhatrapati Shivaji had done meticulous planning of and for the meet. Both, he and his, advisers had an excellent knowledge of the layout of Pratapgad. A shamiana was erected near the base of the fort , and even in this there was strategic sense and thought put in. The structure wasnt just erected on some random plain ground but at a location from where it could be observed from a nearby bastion. At the same time, the troops on the bastion would be hidden from the sights of Afzal Khan from the shamiana! Shivaji requested that bodyguards be placed some distance away from the meeting place, and contingents of soldiers even further away – further than an arrow shot to be precise. This immediately precluded the possibility of being hit by the sharp shooters of the day. Further more, only one narrow tract had been kept for reaching the shamiana and to further lull Afzal Khan into complacency, Shivaji allowed him to send men to check the arrangements for themselves a good two days before the meet!
The troop distribution around Pratapgad is another example of his brilliant mind at work. With the meet only a day away, Kanhoji Jedhe roved the ravines around Pratapgad with 3000 troops, directly opposing the 1800 Habshi soldiers of Afzal Khan who were most likely to gain custody of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the event of him being injured or captured alive. The Habshi soldiers were mainly musketeers. Moropant Pingale arrived at Par ghat with 5000 troops. Bandal and Shilimkar Deshmukhs built pickets of around 2000 troops at Boche ghali in the vicinity . The route south to Wai was via the Jor valley – Babaji Bhosale and Raghunath Ballal guarded this route with about 3000 troops between them. Trimbak Bhaskar was at a nearby village called Dudhoshi. Plus , Vishwasrao Nanaji Dighe had made visits to Afzal Khan’s camp as a wandering minstrel and gathered information about his troops for Shivaji !
At some distance on the Mahabaleshwar (Panchgani) plateau, Netaji Palkar waited for Shivaji’s signal to unleash his cavalry on Afzal Khan’s troops at Wai.
Why Netaji Palkar at the far away plateau and Moropant Pingale closer to Par ghat? Why the Bandal Deshmukhs at Boche ghali and Kanhoji Jedhe facing the Habshi troops at Pratapgad ? Each of these small details had sound logic going into it, not one contingent was out of place or arbitrarily placed.
Moropant Pingale was mainly leading infantry troops which were well suited for the deep ravines and forests at the base of Pratapgad. Plus, Moropant had taken an active lead in building Pratapgad itself and, thus, had an intimate knowledge of the fort and its surroundings. Netaji Palkar’s cavalry was well suited to rapidly progress on Wai and attack Afzal Khan’s base and artillery placed there. Moreover, as Capt Modak surmises in “Shivaji Souvenir” – placing the cavalry in the bushes close to Afzal Khan’s soldiers at Pratapgad may not have been such a good idea. The Marathas must have reckoned that the neighing of the horses would give the game away! The Bandal Deshmukhs were Deshmukhs of the Rohida area and, thus, well versed to guerilla warfare in narrow places like Bocheghali and Par ghat. The same Bandals would prove their mettle few months later at Pavankhind. Lastly, Kanhoji Jedhe was given the most critical task of facing the Habshi troops into whose custody Chhatrapati Shivaji was to land. His job required him to assess the events exactly as they happened in the shamiana and then take split second decisions based entirely on his own experience and judgement. Whether to outright attack the Habshi troops or trod carefully to rescue Chhatrapati Shivaji was the quick decision he had to make. He was as good as the second in charge and Chhatrapati Shivaji had chosen him wisely – as the most experienced and capable of all the warriors on the field that day.
The killing of Afzal Khan
The day of the famous meet – 10 Nov 1659, finally dawned. Afzal Khan came up the newly made road to the tent set up for the meet , Shivaji descended the fort to meet him. Sayad Banda and Jiva Mahala were the two renowned swordsmen accompanying Afzal Khan and Chhatrapati Shivaji respectively. The two Brahmin envoys – Afzal Khan’s Krishnaji Bhaskar and Shivaji’s Pantaji Gopinath were also in the tent. Afzal Khan already had a track record of calling people for a meet and killing them – for example Kasturi Ranga , Raja of Sera. Moreover , he was widely believed to have caused Shivaji’s elder brother , Sambhaji’s , death by not going to his aid when he required it the most at the seige of Kanakgiri (1658)
What happened next is well known. Afzal Khan was killed by Shivaji and Sayyad Banda by Jiva Mahala. Both the envoys, being envoys, were spared. After this, all hell broke loose. The ten bodyguards closest to the tent clashed first just as the guns sounded on the fort of Pratapgad signalling Chhatrapati Shivaji’s victory. Sambhaji Kavji, one of the ten bodyguards, beheaded Afzal Khan and carried away his head as a trophy.
Now ensued the Battle of Pratapgad!
“Annihilation in defeat and status quo in victory” is how Prof Narhar Kurundkar described Hindu powers of yore when contrasting them with Shivaji. Whether winning battles or losing, it would be the Hindu power whose territory was defiled.
Shivaji had staved off defeat in killing Afzal Khan. His rudderless army would have aborted the mission and retreated back to Bijapur and Shivaji’s dominions would have remained fixed at Pratapgad. In short, apart from the death of Afzal Khan, there would be no costs imposed on Bijapur.
But Chhatrapati Shivaji commenced a blistering attack on the Bijapur army instead!
First off, near the mandap, Kanhoji Jedhe fell upon the Habshi troops and slaughtered them or put them to flight. Below at the Par Ghat, Moropant Pingale’s 5000 soldiers, guided by one Tanaji Malusare among others, made short work of Afzal Khan’s retreating army. Troops retreating towards Wai found themselves cut off by Raghunath Ballal and Babaji Bhosale. In the mayhem that ensued, over 3000 of Afzal Khan’s soldiers were killed and an equal number injured or captured. For Shivaji, the numbers were roughly half. Unfortunately, Shivaji lost Babaji Bhosale in this battle.
Some of the troops managed to escape the debacle at Pratapgad and reached Wai. Afzal Khan’s artillery and remaining soldiers promptly evacuated the place, leaving the entire camp and all its stores and money in the hands of Chhatrapati Shivaji!
The three officers of Afzal Khan sent to Pune – Kate , Pandhare and Siddi Hilal, immediately joined Shivaji and, thus, the problem of evicting them from the Pune region solved itself. Khandoji Khopde , who had defected to Afzal Khan , was punished by chopping off one arm and one leg. Two sons of Afzal Khan were captured in the battle.
Netaji Palkar meanwhile reached Wai and galloped with his cavalry deep into Adil Shah’s territory. Adil Shah’s troops were evicted from the entire region, all the way to Panhala and Vishalgad. He then proceeded to Hubali , Dharwad and Gadag before nearly reaching Bijapur itself. From here to returned to Panhala.
Moropant Pingale returned from Par ghat to the Konkan and drove out the troops swarming Dabhol and other areas. The demoralised soldiers of Afzal Khan beat a hasty retreat via the sea.
On his part, Shivaji, too, moved south from Pratapgad, once again displaying his trait of being in the thick of battle irrespective of the risks involved. Kanhoji Jedhe was sent to besiege Vasota, then held by Sarvarkhan as mentioned earlier.
Shivaji himself proceeded towards Kolhapur and obtained possession of the forts of Khelna, Vasantgad and few other places before reaching Panhala.
By the middle of December 1659, Shivaji’s dominions touched the Krishna river! Just a month prior, it had been the Neera and the Bhima, now the borders were marked by the Bhima and the Krishna. Not only had Shivaji defeated Afzal Khan, but in its aftermath had doubled his own territory!
- Chhatrapati Shivaji stamped his authority on the Deccan as a power to be reckoned with.
- His territories doubled , with the gain of over twenty forts and thousands of soldiers to fight for Swarajya. Plus much needed money.
- It was a huge setback for Bijapur
- Pratapgad Campaign – Maj Mukund Joshi
- Shivaji Souvenir – Sardesai
- Shiv Bharat – Kavindra Parmananda
- Marathyancha Itihas – Kulkarni and Khare
Featured Image: Free Press Journal