Sunday 28 October 2012

The General who killed his 63 wives

Monuments generally inspire awe and wonder and monuments of India never cease to amaze. There are very few monuments that elicit the emotion of  disgust and revulsion.  One such monument is the Saath Kabar (meaning: sixty graves) in Bijapur.
Saath Kabar, as the name itself means, is the grave of 60 persons. The structure, which is in ruins, stands a mute spectator to the tragedy that unfolded at this very spot several hundred years ago.
Ali Adil Shah 2 was the ruling monarch of the Adil Shah dynasty and Bijapur was his capital. The Emperor was facing difficulties as he was facing attacks from the Mughals on the one hand and Shivaji from the other.
Try as he might, Ali Adil Shah 2 had not been able to reign in Shivaji. The astute Maratha strongman was slowly but surely chipping away at the foundations of  the Adil Shahi Empire.
Both the Adil Shah and the Queen Mother called Afzal Khan sometime in 1659.
Afzal Khan was one of the most decorated and brave generals of Bijapur. He had led the Bijou army to several victories. Both the Queen Mother and Ali Adil Shah 2 asked him to take on Shivaji. “If need be, kill Shivaji”,  they said.
Afzal Khan had 64 wives and concubines in his harem. All of them were residing in his palace in Bijapur city.
After his return from the royal court, Afzal Khan made preparations to take on Shivaji. His first task was to raise an army so that he could take on Shivaji militarily. He recruited people with experience, courage and knowledge of the Maratha terrain in his army.
His third task was to ensure that his army of 12,000 soldiers whom he had specifically recruited were paid. He then thought about an idea to pay his army. He would raid and demolish temples en route to Pratapgarh where Shivaji was stationed to pay for the Army.
His army included elephants, horses, camels and  several canons.
A great believer in astrology, Afzal Khan decided to consult his favourite astrologer before confronting Shivaji.
Afzal Khan spent hours with several astrologers. All the astrologers, including his favourite astrologer, told him indirectly that he would lose the war. Their refrain was “Your  wives will not outlive you.”
Afzal Khan also consulted a Sufi saint who was known for his prophecies. The saint point blank told him that this would be his last campaign.
Afzal Khan had come to believe in astrology as the predictions had always come true. His faith in astrology had increased every time he won a war. He became so superstitious that he would venture for war only after consulting astrologers.  
Though Afzal Khan remained undaunted by the prophecy and decided to go ahead with the war on Shivaji, he had one worry. That worry was not about him or the impending death that the astrologers had predicated to him.
Afzal Khan was a zealous Muslim and he had loved his wives and mistresses and he did not want them to fall into another man’s hands after his death. He then began wondering how he could safeguard the honour of his women.’
Had it been only a few women, Afzal had not doubt that he would have had them murdered. But he had 64 wives. He thought long and hard and finally came upon a solution.
Afzal Khan had seen a deep well near Navraspur which was five kms from Bijapur city. Navraspur was an abandoned city after the death of Ibrahim Adil Shah  2 and there were no people nearby. The village of Torvi was a little away and it was mostly Hindu in population.
Afzal Khan went to the area and surveyed the surroundings. He then hatched a brutal plan to murder all his wives. He called all of them on the pretext of holding a feats and had them drowned one by one in the well. Two of his wives fled after they came to know of the gruesome fate they would have to undergo.
Of the wives  was caught, while the other managed to flee. The woman, who was caught, was brought to the well, screaming for mercy. Alas, the brave General showed no mercy and threw her into the well. He removed the bodied with the help of a bamboo pole and built 63 graved for them near the well. One grave is empty as nobody could trace the runaway woman.
The grave of the 63 women came to be known as Saat Kabar. The well can be seen even today. There are no records to show what the Adil Shah Emperor or others thought of the murderous act.
What happened next is that Afzal Khan tried to kill Shivaji at Pratapgarh by deceit and was killed by the great Maratha on November 10, 1659. Shivaji was such a noble king that he built a memorial for Afzal Khan in Pratapgarh and also allowed Afzal Khan’s son to take away his father’s body.
The building surrounding the graves is nothing much to write about. It does not have any grace or artistry which is generally associated with the monuments of Bijapur. However, no monument in Bijapur or even India can match this one for the gruesome incident.              
There are only a few parallels in history about such similar incidents. The one that comes to the mind is the drowning of 280 women of his harem by the Ottoman Emperor Ibrahim the Mad. Ibrahim suspected that one of his women had an affair with somebody else. Instead of finding out who it was , he threw all of them into the Bosperous Sea.
Incidentally, Ibrahim the Mad was obsessed  with fat women and he even made a obsess woman, Sheker Pare of Georgia,  the probably he would loose his life.
Henry Cousens has written about the graves and also of  the killing of the 63 wives.  

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