This Day in History (10-Nov-1659) – Chattarapati Shivaji Maharaj Begins the Maratha Empire at the Battle of Pratapgad

To curb Shivaji Maharaj’s activities in Maval, Adilshahi court sent Afzal Khan, general of Bijapur. On the way Afzal Khan damaged Tuljapur and Pandharpur temples, trying to entice Shivaji Maharaj out of the mountainous areas. Shivaji Maharaj had encamped at Pratapgad. Unable to incite him, Afzal Khan moved his army to Pratapgad.  Shivaji Maharaj sent an emissary to Afzal Khan, stating that he did not want to fight and was ready for peace. A meeting was arranged between Shivaji Maharaj and Afzal Khan at a shamiyana at the foothills of Pratapgad. It was agreed that the two would meet unarmed, but would bring ten personal bodyguards each. Nine of these guards would remain ‘one arrow-shot’ away from the pair, while a single bodyguard would wait outside the tent.

As the two men entered the tent, the 7′ tall Khan embraced Shivaji Maharaj, swiftly drew his hidden dagger and stabbed Shivaji Maharaj in the back. The dagger was deflected by his armour, and Shivaji Maharaj responded by disembowelling the Khan with a single stroke of his wagh nakhi. Khan rushed outside shouting for help, and was defended by Krishanaji Bhaskar Kulkarni, his emissary, who was himself then killed by Shivaji Maharaj. Thereupon Afzal Khan’s bodyguard Sayyed Banda attacked Shivaji Maharaj with swords but Jiva Mahala, Shivaji Maharaj’s personal bodyguard fatally struck him down, cutting off one of Sayyed Banda’s hands with a Dandpatta. This event is remembered in a Marathi idiom: Hota Jiva Mhanun Vachala Shiva – ‘Because there was Jiva, Shiva lived’. Shivaji Maharaj sped up the slope towards the fortress and his lieutenants ordered cannons to be fired. It was a signal to his infantry, hidden in the densely forested valley, to raid the Adilshahi forces. In the war,  Adilshahi forces lost their artillery, 65 Elephants, 4000 Horses, 1200 Camels, jewels worth 300,000 Rupees, 1,000,000 Rupees, heaps of precious cloths, tents to the Marathas. The Marathas lost 1,734 soldiers, while 420 soldiers were wounded.

Khan’s death dealt the Adilshah’s rule a severe blow. A quarter of his territory, forts and a fifth of his army were captured or destroyed, while Shivaji Maharaj doubled his territory, losing a tenth of his army. Having established military dominance and successfully beaten back a major attack by a powerful empire, Shivaji Maharaj had founded the nucleus of what would become the Maratha Empire.