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Great escape

A portrait of Shivaji in Aurangzeb's court in Agra 1666. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Shivaji Bhonsle, better known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, was an Indian warrior king and a member of the Maratha clan. He established a competent and progressive civil rule with the help of disciplined military and well-structured administrative organisations. He also introduced new military tactics, pioneering guerrilla warfare methods, which used geography, speed, and surprise and focused pinpoint attacks to defeat enemies.

Shivaji was on a spree, annexing empires, and had taken over most of India. The Mughals on the other hand were threatened, as he was proving to be invincible. They were constantly devising methods to defeat and capture him. In 1666, Shivaji received a letter from Emperor Aurangzeb inviting him to come to the royal court at Agra. Shivaji had a hunch about the Emperor’s intentions, but accepted the invitation as he did not want it to appear that he was afraid of Aurangzeb.

Shivaji arrived in Agra with his eldest son, Shambhuji, and a small contingent of soldiers on May 12, Aurangzeb’s 50th birthday.

Birthday celebrations

As Shivaji entered the hall, he placed his offering before Aurangzeb. The Emperor said nothing, not even a word of welcome. Shivaji was led to the back of the hall. By now, it was clear that it was a trap and Shivaji and his son were captives.

They were imprisoned for many months but, Shivaji did not despair. Aurangzeb schemed to send Shivaji to Kandahar (Afghanistan) to consolidate the Mughal Empire’s north-western frontier and Shivaji planned his escape.

Shivaji’s was allocated spacious quarters in one of the big houses and his personal servants stayed in the interior of the haveli. He was always under guard with at least 1,000 men on duty. Shivaji used his time to gather information. He befriended the postmaster and a few subordinates of the emperor and collected information about the happenings around the kingdom.

Shivaji feigned illness and requested that his men be released so they go back home. Aurangzeb granted this wish. His men went to several towns and settled there, after which Shivaji was ready to execute his plan.

Aurangzeb was busy making arrangements to suppress the rising in the northwest and this helped Shivaji greatly. When he received the news that Aurangzeb was leaving Agra for Shikar on July 22, 1666, matters came to a head.

Shivaji held a ceremony honouring Pandit Kavindra Paramananda who had come to meet him. He also gave away his elephants and horses after announcing that he had decided to become a fakir. He then dressed up as a fakir. His close associate and trustee, Niraji Raoji, dressed himself as Shivaji and emerged from his house, mingled with the other pandits and then escaped from Agra.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 12:09:40 PM |

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