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

To curb Shivaji’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 out of the mountainous areas. Shivaji had encamped at Pratapgad. Unable to incite him, Afzal Khan moved his army to Pratapgad.  Shivaji 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 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, swiftly drew his hidden dagger and stabbed Shivaji in the back. The dagger was deflected by his armour, and Shivaji 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. Thereupon Afzal Khan’s bodyguard Sayyed Banda attacked Shivaji with swords but Jiva Mahala, Shivaji’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 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 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 had founded the nucleus of what would become the Maratha Empire.


This Day in History (24-Sep-1674) – Shivaji’s second coronation

Priests Gaga Bhatta and Nischal Puri had approached for Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation. Gaga Bhatta, was a follower of the Vedic system of Hindu theology and the patron of Brahmans belonging to that school, while Nishchal was the champion of the Tantrik school, and the two differed greatly. Gaga Bhatta was selected as a director of Shivaji’s coronation rites, so, the coronation was performed according to the Vedic ritual and only Vedic Brahman benefited from the golden shower of the Rajah’s bounty at the ceremony,-while the Tantrik mendicants sent by Nishchal to share the royal alms were driven away with abuse.

After the Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation was over on 6th June 1674, Jija Bai died on 18th June, in the fullness of years and happiness. According to Nischal Puri, Gaga Bhatta made a wrong astronomical calculation and thus performed the coronation on a day when the malignant stars were in the ascendant. He made, the king worship only the Vedic gods and scornfully ignored the spirits and goblins adored in the Tantra. A number of the most unaccountable mishaps thus took place the queen-consort Kashi Bai, the Queen-mother Jija Bai, the commander-in-chief Pratap Rao, all died within a short space of time. Immediately after the king had left the coronation-hall, a piece of timber hit Gaga Bhatta’s nose,-unquestionably an act of divine retribution for his having made Shivaji believe that Nishchal was not “worthy of being bowed to”-and, of getting a half share of the purse of 7,000 gold pieces presented by the king to Gaga! This favoured high priest’s sin had infected his assistant Balam Bhatta, on whose head the wooden lotus of a pillar in the hall tumbled down.

This unearthly evidence conclusively proved that the Vedic gods could not protect their votaries so much as the Tantrik devils could hurt. Shivaji maharaj, like a practical man that he was, decided to woo both of these supernatural hosts. Therefore he requested Nischal Puri to conduct a Tantrik coronation for him just after 3 months of his first coronation. This was done on 24th September. (the date is mentioned as 4th October in some articles.)



This Day in History (14-Sep-1893) – Celebration of ‘Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav’ (Festival of Lord Ganesha) started

Ganesh Chaturthi was being celebrated as a public event in Pune since the times of Shivaji in the 17th century, the founder of the Maratha Empire. The Peshwas, the de facto hereditary administrators of the Empire from 1749 till its end in 1818, encouraged the celebrations in their administrative seat Pune as Ganesha was their family deity (Kuladevata). With the fall of the Peshwas, Ganesh Chaturthi lost state patronage and became a private family celebration again till its revival by Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak.

As the unquestioned leader of the Hindus, Balwantrao Gangadhar Tilak had, by the last decade of the 19th century, accurately judged the need to give a more forceful interpretation to Indian nationalism. By reviving an old institution like the Ganapati festival and transforming it into a public celebration, Tilak sought to, and succeeded, in challenging the decade plus monopoly of the moderate-liberal leaders who had set the agenda for social and political reforms in the country. He recognised the need to form a national political movement circumventing the artificial barriers created by the moderate-liberal school of political thought.

He initiated the Ganesh festival with the intention to bring like-minded people together to share ideas and exchange thoughts on freeing India from the British regime. Tilak started celebrating the Ganesh festival from his own house at Kesari Wada. Others followed and started celebrating the Ganesh festival.

On this day, the offerings to the Lord, which till then was a private affair in every home, were brought out in the open and a common platform was created. Thus, came into being, the ‘Sarvajanik Ganpati’ in the year 1893. This brought the people together and people heard ‘kirtans’ (devotional songs) which resulted in mass education and helped bridge the gap between the different classes in society. It also created awareness among the people regarding the British regime. Solutions to common sufferings were also resolved at the gatherings. Tilak’s endeavor led to the formation of numerous clubs or mandals in India. This gave a new dimension to the Ganpati festival.