Pratapgarh, the fort that started Shivaji Maharaj’s victory quest, located in Satara district, aroud 23 km west of Mahabaleshwar. Standing 1080 metres above sea level, on a narrow spur between the villages of Par and Kinesvar, the fort was constructed by Shivaji’s Prime Minister Moropant Pingle. The upper half of the fort, is roughly square, 180 m long on either side, and has a temple dedicated to Mahadev. The lower fort is around 320 m long, 110m wide, at southeast of the fort, defended by towers and bastions.
Shivaji’s growing influence in Maval region, made him a threat to the Adil Shahi ruler of Bijapur who sought to curb him. And the man who was given the responsibility of the mission, was their commander, Afzal Khan. Towering at 7 ft, the “Man Mountain” Afzal Khan, was a formidable warrior on battle field, who often struck terror in the hearts of the enemies, with his presence, and sheer ruthlessness. His strategy was to bring Shivaji out into the plains, where he held an advantage, compared to the rocky Deccan terrain. He had a mighty army, with around 12,000 cavalry, 10,000 infantry, around 80-90 cannons, and assistance from Siddi of Janjira. Afzal Khan attacked the holy town of Pandharpur, and later demolished the temple of Bhavani at Tuljapur to bring Shivaji out.
Knowing that he could not defeat Afzal Khan in an open battle, Shivaj moved to Pratapgarh Fort, located on a rocky spur, and surrounded by the thick forests of Jawali. In a way this would set the pattern for future Maratha attacks, using guerrilla style warfare against the larger invading armies that rendered them ineffective in the harsh terrain. Afzal in the meantime tried courting the local Deshmukhs, and one Khandoji Khopde, supported him. However the most respected and influential deshmukh of the region, Kanhoji Jedhe, a trusted aide of Shahaji lent support to Shivaji. He not only supported Shivaji, but also convened a meeting of all the neighbouring Deshmukhs to his Wada, at Kari and swung their support. He was one of the masterminds behind the planning and execution of the Battle at Pratapgarh, and was honoured with talwarichya pahilya panache maankari (Sword of Honour) by Shivaji Maharaj.
The Adil Shahi forces had 20,000 cavalry, 15,000 infantry, 15,000 of Afzal Khan’s personal army( both cavalry and infantry) and 1500 musketeers. An artillery of 80-90 cannons, accompanied by 85 elephants and 1200 camels. Afzal Khan in turn was assisted by Bada Sayyad, Fazal Khan, Siddi Hilal, Rustum Zaman and some other Maratha commanders like Pilaji Mohite, Prataprao More. The Siddis were approaching from the Konkan, making it one formidable army.
Ranged against the mighty Adil Shahi army, was a much smaller Maratha army, with Shivaji assisted by Kanhoji Jedhe and other Deshmukhs of the Maval region. The cavalry was commanded by Netaji Palkar, who later became the Sarnaubat( Commander in Chief) under Shivaji. Moropant Pingle led the infantry, in a dense forest area, he would later introduce the revenue administration, and played a major role in resource planning, forts maintenance. In the meantime Shahaji was ready in Bangalore with a force of 17000, in the eventuality of Shivaji losing the battle. He had warned the Badi Begum, that if Shivaji were to be killed by deceit, not a brick would be left standing in Bijapur.
The face off
Shivaji sent an emissary to Afzal Khan stating he was ready for peace, and a meeting was arranged at the foothills of Pratapgarh. However both of them were accompanied by 10 bodyguards as an emergency measure. And both were prepared for an ambush attack, Afzal Khan hid a katyar( small dagger) in his coat, while Shivaji wore an armor under his dress that concealed the deadly Wagh Nakh, which he would use to disembowel Afzal.
As Shivaji entered the tent, the man mountain Afzal Khan, rushed to embrace him, as a friendly gesture apparently. However Afzal held him in a vice like grip, trying to strangle Shivaji, and plunged the dagger straight into his heart. The armour saved Shivaji, and he took out the Wagh Nakh concealed under his clothes, and plunged it straight into the Khan’s belly and pulled out his intestines. Afzal’s bodyguard Bada Sayyid, rushed to attack Shivaji, but he was struck down by Jiva Mahala, the latter’s bodyguard in one swift blow. There is a popular Marathi saying Hota Jiva Mhanun Vachala Shiva, which loosely translates, to “Due to Jiva, Shiva was saved”. Shrieking at the top of his voice, a bleeding Afzal Khan, clutching at entrails, blood dripping from his clothes, asked his palanquin bearers to carry him away. However another of Shivaji’s lieutenant Sambhaji Kondhalkar, chased down the fleeing Afzal, killed him, and cut his head off, that would later be shown to Jijabai as a trophy. It was sweet vengeance for Jijabai, who had lost her elder son Sambhaji to Afzal and whose husband Shahaji, had to endure mistreatment under captivity.
Shivaji rode up the hill and ordered the cannons to be fired, it was a signal to his cavalry headed by Kahnhoji Jedhe, who were waiting in the flanks to swoop down on the Adil Shahi army, and 1500 odd musketeers were routed.
Moropant Pingle led the infantry towards the left flank, of the Adil Shahi forces, catching them unawares in a ferocious attack. The artillery hardly had time to give cover, and the left flank was totally scattered, as the soldiers ran for cover. As the Adil Shahi forces wilted under the onslaught, another cavalry unit led by Ragho Atre, swooped down on their large cavalry, which was caught unprepared and were routed in no time. Netaji Palkar pursued the fleeing Adil Shahi forces, who were attempt to reach Wai, to catch up with the reserve forces there. But they were once again routed before they could reach Wai, by Palkar, while the rest now fled towards Bijapur.
Pratapgarh was a massive rout for the Adil Shahis, they lost their entire artillery, 65 elephants, 5000 soldiers (another 3000 taken as prisoners), 4000 horses, 1200 camels and lakhs worth of cash, jewellery, precious stones. The Marathas on the other hand lost around 1700 soldiers, the relatives of the killed soldiers were offered service in the army. While families that had no male support, were given pensions. Those who exhibited bravery in the war were presented with kada and horses. The sword of honour was presented to Kanhoji Jedhe for his invaluable support and heroism.
As per Shivaji’s policy, the defeated combatants too were treated with honour, none of them were taken as slaves, nor were the women molested. Wounded Adil Shahi commanders were treated, and sent back to Bijapur as per their rank. Afzal Khan’s son Fazal, and the soldiers around him were given a safe passage. And above all Afzal Khan himself was buried as per Islamic customs and a tomb was built in his honour at the foothills of Pratapgarh.
The battle would however be a death blow of sorts to the Adil Shahi kingdom, they not only lost their best general ever, and one-fifth of their army, they had to surrender a quarter of their territory and around 23 forts. It began Shivaji Maharaj’s ascent to power, as Kolhapur, Panhala fell next, and southern Konkan followed suit.