Shivaji was born on February 19, 1630 at Shivneri fort, Junnar, about 60 kilometers north of Pune. His mother Jijabai named him Shiva after the Goddess Shivai. At this time the major players in the Deccan were the Nizamshahs of Ahmednagar, Mughals of Delhi and the Adilshah of Bijapur. Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor attacked Nizamshah. Nizamshah was defeated and the war weakened the Ahmednagar kingdom. Shahaji tried to raise the banner of his independence but was crushed by the combined forces of Mughals and Adilshahi. After the defeat, he was inducted into the Adilshahi and was allowed to keep his old land tenures around Pune. Shivaji was born during these turbulent times. At the age of 17, Shivaji carried his first attack on Bijapur and captured the Torana fort in 1645. By 1647, he captured Rajgadh and Kondana forts and had complete control of Pune region. Of all his exploits my favorite has always been the Battle of Pratapgadh when he defeated and killed Afzal Khan.
The Adilshah’s of Bijapur considered Shivaji’s exploits at Torana, Kondana and Rajgadh as regional revolt. To crush this revolt, the kingdom of Bijapur sent the seasoned commander Afzal Khan to defeat Shivaji.
Battle of Pratapgadh
Shivaji had a small and nimble army which served him to a great advantage with the battles in the mountainous terrains of Wester Ghats or the Sahyadri Mountain Range. Afzal Khan knew this and wanted Shivaji to come out in the open and fight him in the plains where the large cavalry and the elephants in his armed forces gave him the advantage. So, first he desecrated the temples of Bhavani in Tuljapur and the temples of Pundharpur. Shivaji worshipped the Bhavani at Tuljapur and Afzal Khan expected Shivaji to attack him all roiled up. Instead Shivaji sent Afzal Khan a letter saying how he did not want to confront him and instead wanted some kind of understanding between the two. He decided to meet him in the foot hills of Fort Pratapgadh. Afzal Khan was delighted at this opportunity. He plotted to kill Shivaji during this meeting.
Having marched from Bijapur through Tuljapur and Pundharpur without any resistance, Afzal Khan’s army had become complacent. As they settled at the foothills of Pratapgadh waiting for a diplomatic solution, Shivaji and his maratha mavalas had other design. Etiquettes for the meeting were set. Both Afzal Khan and Shivaji would have no weapons on them when they met. Each could bring two bodyguards to the meeting. The bodyguards themselves would carry no weapons. The etiquettes for the meeting immediately aroused suspicion and Shivaji knew Afzal Khan would do some foul play. Afzal Khan was bringing in Krishnaji Bhaskar Kulkarni and Syed Banda as his body guards. Shivaji decided to take Jiva Mahal and Sambhaji Kavji.
The dense forests at Pratapgadh were the perfect cover for Shivaji’s surprise attack strategy he and his mavalas had mastered. In the cover of darkness, Maratha Mavale positioned them selves along the foot hill.
On the day of the fateful day of meeting on November 30, 1659, Shivaji Maharaj wore the chilkhat (chain-mail armor) under his clothes. Then he hid a dagger amongst the jewels he was wearing. Next he wore the wagh nakh(tiger claws) in his hands and wore 10 rings to cover them up. Jiva Mahal had his favorite weapon, the “danda-patta”.
The three Marathas arrived at the tent of Afzal Khan on horses. Jiva and Sambhaji Kavji stayed outside along with Syed Banda and Krishnaji Bhaskar Kulkarni. Shivaji entered the tent where Afzal Khan was waiting. Afzal Khan was a good foot to foot and half taller than Shivaji. “Shiva!” so saying Afzal Khan embraced Shivaji with the customary hug. He gripped Shivaji’s neck under his left arm and struck him in the back with the dagger Afzal Khan had hidden. The dagger stuck against the chilkhat tearing the upper cloth garment. In retaliation Shivaji cut open Afzal Khan’s stomach with his wagh nakh and the dagger. “Dagaa, Dagaa!” (Betrayed, Betrayed) screamed Afzal Khan and holding his falling intestines in his hand, he stumbled outside into a palanquin. Sayyed Banda and Krishnaji Bhaskar were taken by surprise by the sight of wounded Afzal Khan. They had expected Shivaji to be wounded or killed. Sayyed Banda attacked Shivaji with his sword. Jiva Mahal took the blow on himself and cut off Sayyed Banda’s arm with his danda patta. Meanwhile Sambhaji Kavji killed Krishnaji Bhaskar and beaheaded Afzal Khan before he could raise any alarm.
Shivaji, Jiva and Sambhaji Kavji galloped towards the fort and ordered the cannon to be fired. This was the signal for the hidden mavalas to attack. Under the captainship of Kanhoji Jedhe handful of Marathas routed 1,500 strong army at the foothills of the fort. Then in rapid march Adilshahi forces under Musekhan was attacked. Musekhan was wounded and fled the battlefield. Adilshahi artillery was made ineffective by the sudden attack at close quarters. Moropant Pingle, Ragho Atre completely wiped out the enemy before they could even get ready for a battle. Some Adilshahi forces were stationed at Wai. Some of the fleeing army was trying to join them in Wai. Cavalary under Netaji Palkar galloped towards Wai in hot pursuit of these forces and completely routed them.
This battle strengthened the foundation of the Maratha Empire. After this victory, Shivaji Maharaj became a hero of the Maratha folklore. The cache of weapons, horses, armors and other battle materials strengthened the emerging Maratha army. Aurangzeb now considered Shivaji a major threat to the Mughal Empire.