13 July, 1660.
It must have been an important day for Siddi Jauhar, as he would have watched Shivaji make his way back to Panhala Fort. Shivaji had descended the fort to seek terms of surrender, and it was now, only a matter of hours before Siddi’s siege would be successful.
Shivaji had captured Panhala on 28 November 1659, just 18 days after the death of Afzal Khan at Pratapgad. Two of Bijapur’s great commanders had failed in the task to capture Shivaji. First, Afzal Khan, who was killed and his army defeated at Pratapgad, then Rustam-e-Zaman, with Fazal Khan and other commanders, who were squarely defeated and made to flee, just a month after Shivaji’s capture of Panhala.
Bijapur was going out of options, at this growing influence of Shivaji, which had reached their capital city, and it was upon Siddi Jauhar to finish this task, once and for all. Siddi Jauhar having taking upon himself to lead this important campaign, would finally find favour at the Bijapur court and the Kurnool district would be restored to him. Shivaji had succumbed, offered surrender; it was time for respite from the arduous siege that had lasted five months. His men could now take it easy. Everything was going his way.
He could not have been more wrong.
After the utter rout of the Bijapur army at the Battle of Pratapgad on 10 November 1659, Shivaji and the Maratha forces kept up the momentum and captured several forts that were under Bijapur control. Of these, the taking of Panhala fort was most significant. Panhala is an impregnable and a massive fort, with the means to withstand a long siege. Geographically, it is strategically located; the master of this fort controls the passes between the Deccan plateau and seaports of the Konkan region. Shivaji had already captured the twin forts of Chandan-Vandan. Soon after, the Maratha Armies captured Vasantgad, Rangna, and Khelna (which Shivaji renamed to Vishalgad), and other minor forts. Of these, Pavangad was a key acquisition, which lies on the spur of Panhala, east of the main fort.
Exactly a month after the capture of Panhala, 28 December, 1659, Bijapur ordered Rustam-e-Zaman to attack Shivaji and recapture Panhala. He was joined by Fazal Khan, son of the slain Afzal Khan, who was desperately seeking revenge for his father’s death. Some records mention that Rustom-e-Zaman, probably fought this battle half-heartedly.
A quick note about Rustam-e-Zaman may not be out-of-place here. He was the son of Randaullah khan, a famous noble at the Bijapur court, the viceroy of the southwest Bijapur kingdom, holding fiefs of South Konkan and Karawar districts. Randaullah Khan was considered to be a mentor of Shahaji, father of Shivaji, and they had friendly relationship, often working together on campaigns in the south. Rustam-e-Zaman was a hereditary title conferred on Randaullah Khan by Bijapur, and it passed to his son. It won’t be too far-fetched to imagine that the son of Randaullah Khan and the son of Shahaji also had cordial relationships. In fact, English Factory Records, refer to them as “friends” and cite instances of collusion. During Shivaji’s Konkan campaigns, Rajapur—a dominion of Rustam-e-Zaman—was spared, while nearby territories were overrun.
Afzal Khan was killed and defeated at Pratapgad. Rustam-e-Zaman and Fazal Khan had to flee and retreat at the Battle of Kolhapur. Ali Adil Shah, eventually decided to launch an attack on Shivaji, himself, with all the might of the Bijapur army. At this time, Siddi Jauhar presented himself as a contender for this campaign.
Siddi Jauhar was an African slave of a Bijapuri noble, Malik Abdur Wahah. After the death of this noble, Siddi Jauhar, proclaimed himself the master of Kurnool and independent of Bijapur. Seeking favour and reconciliation, Siddi Jauhar offered to lead the campaign against Shivaji, if only Bijapur would recognise his fiefs and grant royal pardon for dissension. Ali Adil Shah granted this pardon on the condition that there would be a “complete overthrow” of the Maratha leader, and as added incentive, lent legitimacy to the campaign by assigning Siddi Jauhar the title of Salabat Jung.
The confident Siddi Jauhar, marched towards Panhala with a large army [a]. Shivaji was campaigning in Konkan, when he heard of the movements of Siddi’s army. He turned towards Panahala and himself took command at the fort. It was not, however, a matter of a single large army marching towards Panhala. Bijapur, relentless and seeking victory at any cost, sought to surround Shivaji. Shivaji’s troubles were three-fold: One, they reached out to the Mughals, (who, incidentally had recently besieged Bijapur) to attack Shivaji from the north, Two, Fateh Khan was asked to charge from Janjira and retake Konkan, and Three, the Sawants of Sawantwadi moved towards the south-west frontiers of Shivaji’s lands.
Shivaji, aware of these oncoming onslaughts charged his commanders thus: Raghunathpant Korde was to fight Fateh Khan in Konkan. Abaji Sondev was to defend Kalyan and Bhivandi districts. Baji Pasalkar was to repulse the attack of the Sawants. The plateau region of the Sahyadri mountain range, that consisted of the forts of Purandhar, Sinhagad, Pratapgad and nearby areas was commanded by Moropant Pingle. Shivaji took residence in the fort on 2 March 1660, and Kadtoji Bargujar[*] conducted the defence of Panhala from within. Shivaji sent a message to Sarnobat (Commander-in-Chief) Netaji Palkar, who was campaigning close to Bijapur, to attack the army of Siddi Jauhar from outside.
Fazal Khan and Rustam-e-Zaman, earlier defeated by Shivaji’s armies joined Siddi Jauhar and marched their armies towards Panhala. This already large army was then joined by Baji Ghorpade, Pid Nayak – the Bedar chief of Shorapur, Sadat Khan, Siddi Masood, Bhai Khan, and Bade Khan.
In early March 1660, Panhala was under siege.
Shivaji expected that the onset of the rains would slacken the siege and the harassment by the light cavalry of his Commander-in-Chief – Netaji Palkar, would further weaken the besiegers. This was not to be.
Siddi Jauhar did not relent even as it rained, instead he continued the siege with renewed vigour, as he saw his position strengthen. Netaji Palkar could not reach Panhala in time with the necessary force that could have changed the outcome of the siege[b]. As if this was not enough, Siddi Jauhar added a crucial factor to this event by procuring heavy artillery from the English at Rajapur. The chief of the factory, Henry Revington, along with two others (probably gunners) William Mingham and Philip Gyffard, came to Panhala with the guns and ammunition, and publicly supported Siddi Jauhar, though at the time, the East India Company was strictly neutral. Needless to say, this enraged Shivaji, who had till now maintained cordial relationships with the English.
In the north, Shaista Khan, who had been appointed the Viceroy of the Deccan by Aurangzeb, was creating havoc in Shivaji’s lands. By May 1660, Shaista Khan had occupied Pune and taken residence in Lal Mahal, Shivaji’s palace. Shivaji’s position was altogether untenable. While Panhala had the resources to withstand the siege for a while, the shelling from the English artillery and the closing in of the Mughals required that he change tact. It was now the fifth month of the siege.
He made pretence of submission, and sent message to Siddi Jauhar that he would like to discuss terms of surrender.
13 July 1660
In the cover of the night, Siddi Jauhar and Shivaji met outside the fort, and began their talks. Agreeing to meet again the next day, and finalise terms, Shivaji made his way back to the fort, leaving Siddi Jauhar in a false sense of security and closure.
While Siddi Jauhar relaxed and his armies took a much sought break, Shivaji escaped from Panhala.
Two teams left Panhala that night. In one was Shivaji, along with the Baji Prabhu Deshpande and few hundred soldiers. In the other was a barber – Shiva Kashid who resembled Shivaji, with a few other soldiers. The imposter’s team made way through the main road that led to Vishalgad, while Shivaji’s team made way through a side route, across the Masai plateau – a trek of about 60 kilometres. However, the news of the escape reached Siddi Jauhar’s camp and they pursued the fugitives. Fortunately, they caught up with the imposter’s team, which was taken back to Panhala. The imposter was soon discovered, and probably beheaded[c]. Yet the purpose was achieved and Shivaji’s team got the vital lead. Siddi Masud and Fazal Khan went again in pursuit and nearly caught up with the rear of Shivaji’s small army, just at daybreak.
In what is now regarded as classic rearguard action, Baji Prabhu Deshpande, along with his brother Fulaji, and a few hundred soldiers, defended a narrow pass -— Ghodkhind, while Shivaji and the remaining soldiers hastened to Vishalgad, which was still seven to nine kilometres away. The very large Bijapuri army led three major assaults on this rearguard, but was repulsed each time. Baji Prabhu Deshpande’s rearguard held for almost four hours, determined not to open that narrow pass till they got the signal that Shivaji was safe : three cannon shots from Vishalgad. The third assault, from the Karnatic infantry of Fazal Khan, proved to be fatal and half of the defending Maratha army was lost. The battle now turned to a hand-to-hand combat, and Baji Prabhu Deshpande, wielding two dand-pattas[d] continued the struggle in spite of being severely wounded. Finally he heard the three cannon shots, and succumbed to his injuries. His loyal soldiers carried the mortal remains of their valiant captain back to Vishalgad. Shivaji renamed this gorge to Paawankhind and offered the “first honour of the court” to his family.
The armies of Siddi Jauhar then, camped at Gajapur, at the base of Vishalgad and considered laying siege to Vishalgad. However, it cannot be invested from the west — it’s a straight drop of 2000 ft, into Konkan and there isn’t a way depriving supplies to the fort. The siege at Panhala continued. By this time, Ali Adil Shah who had received news of Shivaji’s escape, had reached Miraj, and by most accounts, relieved Siddi Jauhar of his responsibility. He suspected collusion on Siddi’s part, for how else could Shivaji escape from such a tight siege.
Panhala was surrendered to Bijapur on 22 September 1660, following a truce, between Shivaji and Ali Adil Shah, along with Pawangad and nearby forts. However, Rangna and Vishalgad remained with Shivaji.
Shivaji recaptured it in 1673.
[a] The number of soldiers and the composition varies in almost every source. The range that we see in different sources varies from 20,000 to 60,000. It’s possible that certain sources refer to the army that belonged to Siddi Jauhar, whereas other sources add up the armies of the various commanders. The most common occurrence across sources is approximately 40,000
[b] There are two versions of the role of Netaji Palkar for this event. Shiv Charitra says that he never made it to Panhala, for which he was stripped of his rank (Sarnaubat) and it was invested in Kadtoji Bargujar (later entitled Prataprao Gujar). Most other versions mention his arrival, even if late, but definitely ineffective.
[c] There is no definitive entry in any sources we have seen. This is a popular, folklore version, derived of oral history.
[d] Some sources refer to these as flexible swords. The general usage in most text refer to the flexible sword as patta and to the gauntlet sword (long straight blade) as the dand-patta
[*] Only Sen, S. N. mentions Kudtoji Gujar as the one assigned to the defence of the fort. Shiv Bharat Ch. 25 (1-24) mentions Trymbak Bhaskar.
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