‘What’s the difference between my ancestor Afzal Khan and Shivaji?’ asked my schoolmate. For privacy reasons, I cannot disclose his name. But let me tell you a fact; he was a descendant of the gargantuan Bijapuri commander Afzal Khan.
“At least my great grandfather (Afzal Khan) did not stab someone in the back. Shivaji was no better than him!” my schoolmate declared. Since he was 13 years old such an immature statement should have been ignored. However, being 13 years old, even my maturity level was the same. Hence, I was furious. My anger rose so much that I was about to catch a tiff with him in the classroom.
Today, in retrospect, I might laugh off my childishness(and probably he might as well). But, can my 13-year-old classmate’s questions go unanswered? Now, if I were in touch with him, we could have had a healthy discussion on this. However, nothing stops me from pondering upon those questions objectively. For the past 4 centuries, Maharashtrians have worshipped Chhatrapati Shivaji, while millions across the world have rendered him the position of an icon. Yet, he has detractors. Let us analyze his greatness for them.
His victory over Afzal Khan
First, let us go through the story of Shivaji and Afzal khan briefly. In his younger years, Shivaji was growing into a towering figure with his rebellious conquests of Adil Shahi forts. Hence, in order to ward off this new threat, Ali Adil Shah, the sultan of Bijapur, dispatched his commander Afzal Khan, who was known for his sheer size and brutality. In fact, in one instance, he defeated Aurangzeb himself.
Nonetheless, Afzal khan set out to capture Shivaji. On the way, he destroyed multiple villages in a brutal manner to draw Shivaji onto the plains. However, Shivaji’s tolerance reached a tipping point when he brutalised the famous temple of Pandharpur. Thus, he hatched a plan to get rid of Afzal Khan. Accordingly, Shivaji sent an emissary to khan for a peace talk at the foothill of Pratpgadh. In that meeting on the pretext of hugging Shivaji, Afzal Khan stabbed him in his back. Fortunately, being a man with foresight, Shivaji had anticipated this and had guarded himself with strong armour. Additionally, as a countermeasure, he leveraged his hidden tiger claw and tore apart Afzal khan back. Further, he drew a hidden dagger and ripped apart Khan’s intestines.
With khan mortally wounded, the Maratha army finished the task of their king. They dispatched khan’s army and captured his two sons. However, instead of killing his sons, Shivaji left them alive and released them with full honour. Furthermore, he asked his officers to bury Afzal Khan with respect and create a tomb for him. This tomb standstill date at the foothills of Pratapgad. Wasn’t it Shivaji’s greatness to display such magnanimity for his enemy? If this isn’t enough, let’s go ahead in time.
Shivaji and his respect for women
The first casualty of war is humanity; especially women face the brunt of the animal nature of men. However, Shivaji rose above this tendency of capturing women after the war. A very beautiful incident elucidates this loftiness of character in him.
In October 1667 the Marathas raided the city of Kalyan (near Mumbai) which was ruled by Adilshah’s Governor Mulla Ahmed. He had an extremely beautiful daughter-in-law who fell into the hands of Maratha officer Abaji Sondev. Abaji sent the lady with a suitable escort to Pune thinking that she would be an acceptable present for his young master, Shivaji.
At her arrival, Shivaji inquired, “Who’s the lady?”
A soldier answered, “She’s the daughter-in-law of the rascal Mulla Ahmed. Hence, she is a gift for you from Abaji Sondev.”
Shivaji rose from his seat, walked up to the woman and bowed down to her and said, “If my mother would be as beautiful as you are, I too would have been handsome,” said Shivaji.
After this incident, he issued a stern warning that in future expeditions, women on no account should be made to suffer or treated as booty. This benevolent act was a sigh of relief to all Marathas that their future King did not succumb to such dastardly temptations.
Today, we live in an age where political enmity turns into personal battles while women’s security is compromised at every step. It is high time we learn from his magnanimity. Last, greatness is not in following rules and loyalties blindly, but in making a conscious choice based on the need of the hour.
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