Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A barber who impersonated an Emperor

This was truly an incident that perfectly illustrated the proverb of a David overcoming a Goliath. But in this case, the David was more shrewd, more brave, more intelligent than the Goliath who outnumbered him in thousands and had scores of generals and commanders who were battle hardy.
The David here was one of the greatest Indians of all times and the founder of a Hindu Empire after the fall of Vijayanagar. A man whose valour was known and appreciated even by his enemies, he was a perfect foil to two mighty dynasties, both Muslims.
If one of the dynasties ruled the whole of India, barring the Deccan, the other was an equally powerful dynasty that had a major say in the decimation of Vijayanagar and in the 17th century it was the foremost Kingdom in the south.
The David, however, was unperturbed by the two Muslim powers and he managed to carve out an independent Kingdom which threatened the very existence of the Muslim Kingdoms. The Emperors of both the Kingdoms tried every trick in the trade, every military and political tactic to overcome their common foe but to no avail.
If the Kingdom in the south attempted to assassinate the David, the Kingdom in the north even held David a prisoner for short while before he managed to escape. Emperors of both the Muslim Kingdoms spent huge amounts of money and manpower to capture the David but in vain.
Today, both the Kingdoms are history and most of their monarchs are forgotten. Only the ruins of their empire stand but the David is still revered today. He is ever present in the hearts of people and the his is the first name when one talks about patriotism. He is none other than Chatrapathi Shivaji, who founded the glorious Maratha Empire in the 17th century and the two Muslim Kingdoms which opposed him tooth and nail were the Adil Shahs of Bijapur and the Mughals.
Both the Adil Shahs and Mughals made numerous attempts to reign in Shivaji and his marauding forces but in vain. A Bijapur General, Afzal Khan, a physical giant (He was almost seven feet tall) and an outstanding commander tried to kill Shivaji by deceit but ended up dying. The Mughals Emperor, Aurangzeb, too by deceit, imprisoned Shivaji but he had not reckoned with the Maratha’s resourcefulness. Shivaji and his son escaped from prison, much to the Mughal’s humiliation.
Shivaji inspired his men to greater heights. Even a common man, inspired by the Maratha’s ideals of freedom, independence and patriotism, gave up his life for Shivaji and one of the most outstanding example of this is how a barber saved the Chatrapathi.
The barber is immortalised even today and his deeds are sung about in Maharashtra. The barber impersonated Shivaji, allowing him the much needed time to escape from the Adil Shahis.
This is how the story of Shivaji and his barber unfolded.
It was July 13, 1660 and Chatrapathi Shivaji was facing perhaps the toughest time of his illustrious career. Both the Mughals under Emperor Shahajan and the Adil Shahis under Ali Adil Shah had joined forces to take on Shivaji.
The Adil Shahis had a clutch of  formidable generals and they were led by the huge African, Siddi Jahaur and his son-in-law, Siddi Masud Khan. With them was Fazal Khan, son of Afzal Khan whom Shivaji had killed on November 10, 1659 near Pratapgadh fort.
The Adil Shahis were 15,000  strong and they had completely surrounded Panhala, leaving no room for Shivaji to escape. The siege by the Adil Shahis was so tight that it would not be wrong to describe it as an action in which even a fly could not escape.
Try as he might, Shivaji was unable to pierce through the Adil Shahi ranks. To add to Shivaji’s discomfiture, the Mughal General Shaistya or Shaista Khan was attacking the Maratha Empire from the northern side towards Pune.
Even the redoubtable Maratha commander and Shivaji’s Sanapathi Netaji Palkar could not break through the siege from outside. A desperate Shivaji then decided to give a final battle. However, he hit upon a plan and he opened negotiations with Siddi Jahaur.
Siddi Jahaur was so sure that Shivaji would have to surrender that he relaxed the siege and Shivaji soon took advantage and rode away from the fort. However, he realized that unless and until he reached the fort of Vishalgad, he was still in danger. He then asked his barber to impersonate him.
The plan worked and even as Shivaji and his faithful band galloped towards Vishalgadh, the barber-Shiva Khasid-deliberately drew attention to himself. An incensed Siddi Jahaur came after Shiva even as Shivaji and a band of 600 faithfuls led by Baji Prabhu Deshpande rode to safety.
Meanwhile, the Adil Shahi troops captured Shiva Kashid and a few remnants of  the Maratha army. When they were brought before Siddi Jahaur, he soon realised that the Shivaji in front of him was not the man he wanted. He immediately had Shiva Khasid killed and asked his Siddi Masud Khan to go after Shivaji.
Siddi Masud attacked the Marathas at Pavankhind and the incident  is popularly known as the Battle of Pavankhind. The battle was fought in the vicinity of  Vishalgadh near present day Kolhapur.
The Marathas were led by Baji Prabhu Deshpande, while Siddi Masud led the Adilshah forces. The Maratha forces, though heavily outnumbered held the Adilshahi forces till Shivaji reached the fort Vishalgad.
The Marathas managed to defeat Siddi Masud Khan and this was the last major battle between Adilshahi forces and Marathas. Hereafter, the  Marathas came to be recognised as an independent power.
The sacrifices of Baji Prabhu Deshpande and Shiva Kashid is remembered even today. The war and  the escape of Shivaji, the gallantry of the Marathas and the defeat of the numerically superior Bijapur forces are recreated even today when youths trek on the route taken by the Chatrapathi between the forts of Panhala and Vishalgadh. The distance between the two forts is around 70 km.
Both the forts are in Maharashtra. Panala is 18 kms north west of Kolhapur. Incidentally, the descendents of Shivaji ruled from Kolhapur which also happens to be the place where Goddess Padmavathi, the wife of Srinivasa, resides.   

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