Where Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj defeated Afzal Khan: the Pratapgarh fort

Things that have to happen find a way to happen like our trip to Pratapgarh fort. When we went to Mahabaleshwar, I told my sister that we should go to Pratapgarh but she won’t listen. She wanted to go for star gazing & an early sunrise. Not only because my sister is as quirky as me. But also because of her love for nature. She loves to smell flowers, climb on trees & go on hiking trails. And she loves to walk on grass without a care in the world. Even if the grass is taller in some places where a nature-loving snake can show up and say peekaboo anytime.

Like I said, she loves nature. But like me, she is quirky too. So when our jungle guide tried to be extra smart and Anupriya caught his lies, stargazing took a backseat (luckily). And my wish came true because we were in Pratapgarh fort the next day.

The Gupta Kids!

The Fort of Valour:

When you arrive at Pratapgarh fort, they give you the option to take guide services at a nominal charge of INR 300. Book the guide because he not only shows you around but also tells you stories that are nowhere found on the internet or any of the books that you have read.

The suspicious voice inside us often questions, “But how do we know that the guide is not fibbing, and knows these stories for sure?”

It’s because the guide & his family live inside the fort. They have grown up hearing these stories from their grandparents, who in turn heard these from their grandparents, who in turn heard from theirs. You get the drift. Ours took stops even before entering the fort and gave us context like you do before starting your business presentations. He talked about why they felt the need to build this fort, how they built it & all the thought that went behind it. It makes an interesting story, for sure. Why? Because he shows you the hidden gates, hidden windows, the escape routes (should those be needed) & the routes for elephants/ horses.

Did you know that the path to the gate of the fort is twisted on purpose so that you can’t bring a log with force to break the gate open (which is apparently a thing)? Ingenious.

Built in 1656, three years before the Battle of Pratapgarh was fought, the fort had impregnable walls & provided a strategic location to Shivaji and his army. This was the time when Shivaji Maharaj was expanding his influence, making his mark & leading thousands to the path of glory. As an outcome of that, some kingdoms were losing out on real estate. One such kingdom was the Adilshahi court of the Bijapur Sultanate. To contain Shivaji & his pace (an impossible task of course), they sent their (impossible) general Afzal Khan to capture him.

Yeah, I know, I am posing unnecessarily

Afzal Khan, known for his brutality all over, started from Bijapur, destroyed Hindu temples & slaughtered cows on his way before camping at Wai, a town nearby Pratapgarh. It’s said that Afzal Khan destroyed the idol of Shivaji’s family goddess, Bhavani on his way to Pratapgarh & challenged the goddess to show a miracle. And a few months later, Chatrapati Shivaji killed the 7 ft tall, unbelievably strong Afzal Khan in a tent.

A Historic day for Maratha Empire:

Afzal Khan camped in Wai & probably waited for Shivaji to surrender. Meanwhile, Shivaji offered truce & invited Afzal Khan to meet him in a shamiyana (tent) at the foothills of Pratapgarh. And the rest is history. Some accounts suggest, that both of them were allowed to bring two bodyguards, but our guide told us that 10 bodyguards were allowed & then he took the names of all 10: Sambhaji Kondhalkar, Jiva Mahala, Siddi Ibrahim, Kataji Ingle, Kondaji Kank, Yesaji Kank, Krishnaji Gaikwad, Surji Katake, Visaji Murambak & Sambhaji Karvar.

While Afzal Khan hid a dagger inside his robes, Shivaji wore armour underneath his clothes and carried a  wagh nakha. As Shivaji met Afzal Khan inside the tent, the 7ft tall Khan hugged Shivaji & started crushing him. When that didn’t work, he attacked Shivaji with a dagger. The dagger couldn’t pierce Shivaji’s armour, but Shivaji ripped open Afzal Khan’s stomach with his wagh naka. Afzal Khan, as strong as he was, managed to run away in his palanquin, to be beheaded later by Sambhaji (Shivaji’s bodyguard). While that happened, one of Khan’s bodygaurds, upon seeing Afzal Khan with his guts out, attacked Shivaji with his sword – an attempt for which Shivaji wasn’t prepared. It was deadly & probably could have been fatal if not for Jiva Mahala, another soldier of Shivaji’s squad. Jiva warded off the sword blows & saved Shivaji’s life that day. And since that day, it’s a common saying in Maharasthra – The Jiva, Tabhi bach gaye Shiva.

“होता जिवा म्हणून वाचला शिवा”

The Jiva, Tabhi bach gaye Shiva

By the way, before the thought of religious differences in this story comes to your mind, I want to share something that’s worth thinking about.

Shivaji’s closest confidant was a Muslim called Nur Khan Beg; his line of defence began with Sidi Ibrahim; Afzal Khan’s most trusted aide, Krishnaji Bhaskar, was a Marathi Brahmin. Marathi Hindus fought from both the sides in the Battle of Pratapgarh. And Rulers chose the men of their court on merit, not on religion.

Standing Victorious & Determined | The Pratapgarh Fort

Inside the fort, there is a Hanuman temple (probably the only temple where Lord Hanuman is blessing you with his palms else you see Lord Hanuman with a mace in one hand & the mountain of herbs in another), a Shiva temple & a Bhavani temple. And as you bow your head before the dieties, you feel the magic of the place. And why wouldn’t you? Places or Forts with such courageous & brave stories often have a different energy that’s felt immediately as you enter the premises.

As he shows you around, he will do general guide-like things such as warding off some monkeys & showing you spots from where they used to throw (down the hill) prisoners or those who committed treason.

Like the fort of Chittaur, Pratapgarh is also a living fort with many families living in their homes, inside the fort. They have been here for decades or centuries, maybe.

There are a few dhabas too that sell yummy Maharastrian food. No, I am not talking about the vada pav, pav bhaji & misal pav. I am talking about thalipeeth, bhakri, kotambir vadi, pattode, bharli vangi, aamti, kadhi (their style of kadhi), shreekhand & pooranpoli. Try this. You would remember this fondly for years.

And as you climb down & leave the fort premises. Turn back and take a look at Pratapgarh fort. The fort will be there standing strong, tall, relentless – protecting its people. Centuries have passed & centuries will pass. Time has started to show its mark on the fort’s walls too.

But its spirit remains – strong, determined & proud.

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