Bajiprabhu Deshpande: Led 300 Soldiers against 12000 Adilshahi Army, Defending Shivaji
So you have heard about the 300 brave Spartans led by King Leonidas who fought bravely in battlefield against thousands of Persians. A film was produced based on this historic battle titled 300. I have watched it. Many of you might have watched it too. But have you heard about the brave 300 Maratha army led by Bajiprabhu Deshpande who fought bravely in battlefield against a 12000 Adilshahi army led by Siddi Masood? The soldier ratio was 1:40! The rear guard battle which took place at a mountain pass in Pawankhind lasted for 15 hours until the last warrior of all of the 300 Marathas perished! Bajiprabhu Deshpande selflessly sacrificed his life to save the life of his king Chattrapati Shivaji and for the motherland. 4000 of the Muslim army were killed while the rest were heavily wounded. This deadly battle is not glorified in History textbooks!
Bajiprabhu Deshpande was born into a Marathi Chandrasainya Kayastha Prabhu family around 1615 AD. Though socially proximate to the Maharashtrian Brahmin community, Bajiprabhu, since his childhood was more attracted towards martial arts. The tyranny of the Mughals had been plaguing India culturally, socially, and economically and the young Kayastha Prabhu boy was more interested in serving the country and ridding the Mughals from India. Shivaji had meanwhile risen to power. Bajiprabhu Deshpande grabbed the opportunity to work under Shivaji.
Baji Prabhu had mastered the art of using the dandpatta, a sword weapon. The dandpatta, called a gauntlet-sword in English, is the pride of Maratha warriors. The patta has a long straight blade ranging in length from 10 to 44 inches with the gauntlet integrated in the sword as a hand guard. Maratha infantrymen, who were experts in using the dandpatta, used it in warfare against heavily armoured cavalry. Shivaji and Bajiprabhu Deshpande were renowned to be masters in the use of dandpatta.
By sheer dint of his skills in the art of warfare and his steadfast love for the motherland, Bajiprabhu rose to position in the Maratha army. Shivaji Maharaj appointed him as the military commander of South Maharashtra around the Kolhapur region.
During this time, Ali Adil Shah II was the Sultan of Bijapur. The Adilshahi Sultanate dynasty was started by Yusuf Adil Shah in 1489 with capital at Bijapur. Their territory included the Western area of the Deccan region of Southern India. Afzhal Khan was the ablest of commanders of the Adilshahi army. In 1659, Afzal Khan led a huge army against Shivaji’s forces. Shivaji and his army were experts in fighting battles in hill areas rather than the plains. Moreover, his army was no match to the huge Bijapuri forces. Hence, he restricted his base in the hill forts. He moved to Pratapgad Fort in Satara, which was surrounded by dense jungles. Meanwhile, Afzhal Khan, who knew about Shivaji’s strengths and was weak in fighting battles in hilly terrains, started plundering villages and razing temples to the ground besides destroying idols of the Hindu deities. The Muslim commander felt such actions would provoke Shivaji to come out in the open in the plains.
Meanwhile, leaders of both parties felt a battle between the two might lead to heavy casualties. Hence, Afzhal Khan offered for negotiations and a peace pact to which Shivaji agreed. Actually, it was the Muslim commander’s secret plan to kill Shivaji during the meeting and thereby subdue the Marathas without use of force. Afzhal Khan offered to meet Shivaji in person. The meeting place decided was Par, a village lying one mile south of Pratapgad Fort. A crest below Pratapgad Fort was chosen as the venue. The meeting was arranged with two personal bodyguards on each side.
There was a track record of Afzhal Khan deceiving negotiators during meetings. In 1639, he treacherously murdered Kasturi Ranga, the king of Sera, a small South Indian kingdom, during a meeting. Shivaji went to meet Afzhal Khan after equipping himself with weapons hidden from view – bichu, a stiletto-like thin dagger and the wagh nakh (tiger claws), consisting of an iron finger-grip with four razor claws, which he concealed within his clenched fist. He wore armour under his clothes and a steel helmet under his turban.
In the meeting, Afzhal Khan applied his treacherous tactics and secretly attacked Shivaji during an embrace. Shivaji immediately reciprocated, disemboweling him with the wagh nakh and stabbing him with the bichu. A combat followed. Sambhaji Kavji, Shivaji’s bodyguard killed the heavily injured Afzhal Khan.
After the death of Afzhal Khan, the Bijapuri army fled. Shivaji with his army pursued them and pushed into the Bijapuri territory. The Marathas captured Panhala fort located near the city of Kolhapur. This fort was under the Bijapuri Sultanate from the beginning of the 16th century. Another Maratha force under the commandment of Netaji Palkar attacked Bijapur. The Adilshahi army foiled their attempts. Shivaji with few of his commanders and soldiers retreated to Panhala fort. This was the fort where Shivaji spent the next 500 plus days till Bajiprabhu Deshpande facilitated his safe passage to another location.
The Adilshahi force led by Siddhi Johar, an Abyssinian general, laid siege of Panhala fort from all sides after they came to know about Shivaji’s whereabouts. Johar had come with a huge army and Shivaji’s puny force was no match to them. Hence Shivaji remained in the fort, strategizing to give a brave defense. Netaji Palkar made repeat attempts to break the Muslim army siege from outside, but in vain.
Meanwhile, at the Panhala fort, Bajiprabhu Deshpande chanced to come face to face with Shiva Nhavi, a barber of the Maratha forces. He had an uncanny resemblance with Shivaji. An idea clicked Deshpande. He discussed the plan with Shivaji to which the latter agreed. The planning was made. Bajiprabhu Deshpande called Shiva Nhavi and asked him if he would disguise as Shivaji and facilitated the king escape from the fort. The general also told him that as he was Shivaji’s lookalike and his changed attire further stamping his identity as the Maratha ruler, he might get caught by the Bijapuri forces. It might even lead to his execution by the Muslim forces. Shiva Nhavi readily agreed, offering himself to be martyred for the king and the motherland.
A plan was hatched at the Panhala fort. It was decided that Bajiprabhu Deshpande and Shivaji along with a select band of the Maratha army would attempt to break through the Adilshahi siege at night and make for Vishalgadh, a hill jagir of the Maratha Empire in Kolhapur. The Adilshahi forces might give a chase only when they could find out that Shivaji had fled, breaking the siege. To stop them from pursuing Shivaji, Shiva Nhavi would then let himself be captured. This would make the Adilshahi forces feel that they had captured the Maratha king!
July 13, 1660. It was Guru Poornima – Ashadh Poornima, a full moon night. The weather was stormy. A band of 600 select men, led by Bajiprabhu Deshpande and Shivaji broke through the siege. The Bijapuri forces were about to pursue the Maratha forces when Shiva Nhavi allowed himself to be captured. He was taken to the Adilshahi camp. Shiva Nhavi knew he might be put to death but he was bravely ready to meet the consequences. This gave safe passage for the Maratha army to escape.
The Muslim army soon realized their blunder. Immediately they set to action – 12000 well armed soldiers advanced fast towards the 600 Maratha army. The chase was led by Siddhi Masood, the son-in-law of Siddhi Johar. The march of fast approaching hoofs near the Ghodkhind Pass (Horse’s Pass) led Bajiprabhu Deshpande devise a plan immediately. Ghodkhind Pass was located seven to nine km ahead of Vishalgadh. Bajiprabhu Deshpande let Shivaji and half of the troops escape to Vishalgadh fast and himself offered to stay back with the remaining soldiers at the Ghodkhind Pass to give resistance to the Adilshahi army. His brother Phulaji also offered to stay back to defend. Shivaji agreed.
The 300 brave Maratha army blocked the pass. A fierce battled between the Maratha and Adilshahi army followed. This place was also called Pawankhind, hence the christening, ‘The Battle of Pawankhind’. The valour displayed by the Marathas during this rear-guard action is unmatched in military history. One by one the Maratha soldiers were martyred. But the puny force of 300 soldiers badly injured the enemy forces. At the end of 15 hours, all of the 300 Maratha soldiers perished. 4000 of the Muslim army were killed while the rest were heavily wounded. Though grievously injured, Bajiprabhu Deshpande fought with two swords, using his two hands until he breathed his last. But this 15 hours of blocking the pass facilitated Shivaji’s safe passage to Vishalgadh. The fort was laid siege by Bijapuri sardars. Shivaji and his 300 men defeated the Sardars and recaptured the fort.
Salute to the brave Bajiprabhu Deshpande and the valorous 299 Maratha soldiers. Salute to Shiva Nhavi. Jai Shivaji! Jai Hind!!
Featured image courtesy: Wikipedia and Google.