|Statue of Bajiprabhu- The warrior who made Death wait|
History taught to school children today is devoid of qualities such as vigour, bravery, sacrifice, fight and strategy. The governing officers often forget that Histrory is an exceptional tool to instill in young minds the very concept of patriotism and nationalism. History is more than a chronology and timeline. It is a mixture of intrigue, politics of the time, geography, terrain study, diplomacy and strategy. However in textbooks it is diluted to such an extent that people take it for granted, without understanding the implications certain events had long term. Children read history as story, and have no clue how the event unfolded since it is devoid of context from a geography point of view. No supporting maps. I am making an attempt to trace through Google earth both the topography and geography of the events I am coviering to aid understanding history. Hope this attempt succeeds.
Shivaji Maharaj had laid the foundation of Hindavi Swarajya and had fought off a major demon in form of Afzhalkhan. Following Afzhalkhans "vadh" - (there is no equivalent word for it in English- a major shortcoming of the language.) Hindavi Swarjya increased fourfold, and Shivaji Maharaj captured region as far as Kolhapur and Panhala. The details of this counter offensive have already been covered in my earlier blog.(click here to read). It was expected that Adilshah would retaliate- and he did. He sent Rustume Zaman along with Fazhalkhan, and in a brilliant military maneuver, Shivaji Maharaj routed this 10000 strong force near Kolhapur.
The death of Afzhalkhan and now this defeat at Kolhapur were hammer blows to the Adilshah. He then got hold of Siddi Johar- the Jewel to tackle Shivaji. Johar, as his name suggests was a jewel when it came to warcraft. He marched with a 50000 strong army against Shivaji Maharaj. Shivaji Maharaj, in order to keep this large marauding force away the heart of Swarajya decided to fight from Panhala. The battleground was readied, and as expected, Siddi marched to Panhala and besieged the fort. Panhala is no ordinary fort. It is huge, and its Ghera is almost 5 miles. But the Siddi a war veteran himself completely besieged the fort. There was no way in, there was no way out. Strict discipline was followed. Kavindra Paramanand in Shivabharat says that the siege was so tight, that an ant wouldnt be able to enter, forget a man.
The siege which started in April went on all the way till August, when Shaistakhan- the Mughal general attacked the northern boundry of Swarajya. Shivaji Maharaj now had to get out of Panhala. Scouts and spies were sent to find a suitable path, and guess what, a way out was found! Immediately, Shivaji Maharaj sent his Vakil - lawyer to Siddi saying he is ready to surrender and will come and meet Siddi the following morning. That was enough for a sense of relief to spread through the camp. The siege slackened only for one night just for a few hours, but that was enough for Maharaj to escape.
On Gurupaurnima night, Shivaji Maharaj along with 600 Bandal Mavalas escaped from Panhala. A decoy Shivaji- Shiva Nhavi was sent to a different route. The siege was bypassed and the Marathas literally ran for their lives. However, Siddi got to know of this and immediately dispatched 15000 cavalry after this band of 600. Instead they came across the decoy Shivaji, who was taken to the camp with much joy. Only later, when people who had actually seen Shivaji saw Shiva Nhavi did they realize that he was a look alike. Shiva was immediately murdered and attained martyrdom for the sake of Swarajya. Countless such lion hearts have sacrificed themselves in this game lasting 200 years- for the greater good.
In the meantime, Shivaji Maharaj had covered considerable distance towards Vishalgad, a fort 46 km on foot from Panhala. The troops had been running for more than 8 hours. They had to cross difficult terrain, streams, brroks, and to make matters worse, the whole area was thickly forested, and it was raining buckets. It was when they had reached the pass of Gajapur, known as Gajapur chi Khinda or Ghodkhinda that the Adilshahi troops reached within shouting distance. A new strategy was rehashed wherein Shivaji Maharaj with 300 men will go to Vishalgad, and Bajiprabhu with 300 men would defend the Gajapur chi Khinda. However, unknown to them, Vishalgad had also been besieged.
Baji and his 300 stayed back in the narrow Gajapur Khinda- so narrow it was that barely 4 people could go through it at one time(see photo below)- Similar to what you see in the movie 300. These 300 made a desperate and valiant stand against an overwhelming enemy who numbered 15000, not for a couple of hours, but 10 hours. Bajiprabhu had swords in both hands and was fighting with such ferocity that anybody who was getting into his reach was being slaughtered. Enemy were hurling distance weapons- spears and arrows at Bajis direction. Bajis description from the battle is gruesome. It says that he had so many wounds, on his forehead, head arms, and legs, that there was no space for any more wounds! And despite this, he was fighting with the same ferocity. Only Shiv Shankar knows how these people got so much strength!
History says, that the enemy got a gunman, put him up on a wooden platform and was ordered to shoot at Baji. He asked who is Baji Prabhu, to which the reply was - the person who is most covered in red- shoot him. Thats the description in history. A bullet was fired at Baji, and it struck him in the chest. He fell, was taken away, but was reluctant to die! It is said that he uttered the words, "Tell Death- that Baji wont die till he hears canon fire from Vishalgad!" (5 shots of cannon fire was a preplanned signal that Maharaj had reached Vishalgad.). People wont believe it, but Bajiprabhu fought for four hours after he had been struck by the bullet!
Shivaji Maharaj before going to Vishalgad had to break through the siege laid by Suryarao Surve and Jaswantrao Dalvi. He and his 300 hammered their way in, reached the fort, ordered the Killedar to go below and destroy the siege, and in the meantime fired the 5 shots of cannon as planned. Bajiprabhu heard the fire, and died with a smile on his face. His body was cut to pieces by the onrushing cavalry. When the battle ended, the intact dead body of Baji was never found. Only parts were found. His fists were clutching to his dandpatta even then! What to say of such warriors? I dont have any authority to say anything about this! Instead I shall request Swatantryaveer Savarkar and Charudatta Aphale Buwa to tell you the whole story. Savarkar in his Powada- Ballad of the Brave, and Aphale Buwa in his Keertan. Both I'll give at the end of the post. Both are in Marathi, and non Marathi readers and listeners will have to do with it, for it is sacrosanct as it is.
What is worth noting is that 300 soldiers along with the geography of the pass held at bay an enemy fifty times its own size for more than 12 hours- without eating, drinking, while the enemy had the luxury of doing that, along with fighting in shifts! There was absolutely no rest for these people. On top of it all, the battle was fought after the Marathas had run more than 40 kilometers under 6 hours in complete darkness. Panhala is 2700 feet high, Vishalgad is 3600 feet. One can assume the energy needed to get down from Panhala and climb Vishalgad, and run a distance of 46 kilometers in between! This battle was epic as it combines the Battle of Thermopylae and the run of Marathon over an extremely difficult terrain and the risk of flash flooding of streams which had swelled due to the excessive rain on that night. Shivaji Maharaj usually played strategic games with his opponents and surprized them with brilliant maneuvers and diplomacy. These took a back seat and were replaced by a desperate defense of a very narrow pass. The Marathas fought for each and every inch of this pass. More than 250 died- but killed 5000 of the enemy- 20 enemy killed per Maratha! Diplomacy played its part in form of the initial letter of surrender which led to slackening of the siege and opening up a possible escape route, but what followed was true heroism and bravery. Nothing in the whole world, for me, compares to the determination, bravery and resilience shown by the Marathas.
A possible route taken by Shivaji Maharaj and Bajiprabhu- taken from a page of Trekshitiz, and an attempt to trace the route on Google Earth, followed by some photographs of Gajapurchi Khinda eventually renamed as Pavan Khinda- or Holy pass, and lastly the powada by Veer Savarkar on this chapter, and links to Keertan by Aphale Buwa.
Powada by Savarkar:
Aphale Buwa Sings