That 356 year old surgical strike: story of Shivaji and Shaistakhan


अहिंसा परमो धर्मः धर्म हिंसा तथीव च ~Swami Chinmayanada

Indians have lived by the above quote for centuries, which says that although Non-Violence or peace is the highest duty, at times we have to resort to violence to achieve long-lasting peace. A similar argument is put forward by Krishna when Arjuna, out of despondency and fear of mass decimation, decides to withdraw from the battle of Mahabharata. Also, there are many references to the first part of the verse i.e. Non-violence being the highest virtue, by Yudhishthira in Mahabharata.

However, after a certain point, Yudhishthira stands resolutely on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Similarly, though Indians are peace-loving and have been so for centuries, there has been a history of retaliation as well; the latest being the Indian Air Force Surgical strike in Pakistan which followed the ghastly terrorist attack in Pulwama.

A surgical strike, as the name suggests is a pinpoint attack to remove a pain point, causing no or minimal collateral damage. This approach is suitable when you are seeking a specific target with minimal resources and more importantly, concealed movements! Back in 2016, India conducted a similar strike on Pakistan via the land route. The USA conducted a similar operation in Pakistan to eliminate Osama Bin Laden. However, these are quite contemporary. A much more foregone instance of the surgical strike was conducted sometime in 1663 by the great Maratha King Shivaji on Shaistakhan.

The two-pronged attack

After vanquishing the Goliathan Bijapuri commander Afzal Khan, Shivaji’s fame spread across the sub-continent. The Adil Shahi King, in an act of revenge, had launched a relentless offensive against Shivaji, under the command of Siddhi Jauhar. In the due course of this friction with Jauhar, Shivaji was stranded in a fort called Panhala near Kolhapur.

At the same time, the Mughals descended southwards with a huge army of 75000 under the command of Shaista Khan, the maternal uncle of the Aurangzeb. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb perceived the rise of Shivaji as a direct threat to his imperial status in the Deccan provinces and hence, he was eager to curtail the latter’s growing prominence.

Shaista Khan, along with the Rajput king Jaswant Singh camped in Ahmednagar after crossing the Narmada river coming down all the way from Agra. From Ahmednagar, he descended to Pune, while his army was split into many parts and went in different directions in Maharashtra. He captured Pune with the least resistance and in an act of defiance towards Shivaji, he set up his residence and his harem in Lal Mahal-Shivaji’s childhood home.

For 3 years Shivaji could not focus on ShaistaKhan owing to his difficulties towards the south. After a bitter struggle for 3 years from 1660-1663, along with some heroic and miraculous feats, he managed to hold back Adil Shah. Having earned his respite, he decided to turn Northwards. Although Shivaji had left Pune long ago-most of his kingdom was centred around his ‘forts’-retaining it back was a matter of prestige and more importantly, it was about sending a message to Aurangzeb.

The Surgical Strike on Shaistakhan

ShaistaKhan had banned entry to any Marathi in Pune. Hence, in order to avoid a full-fledged confrontation-which would have inevitably led to heavy losses-Shivaji entered Pune with a chosen platoon of 400 through the main gate, saying that they were a part of the Deccan regiment of the imperial army sent in order to replace a brigade of soldiers.

It was the 6th day of Ramzan, the month of fasting of Muslims. Before dawn, the Maratha platoon reached a wall of the fort which divided the outer kitchen and the harem which was nearby Shaista Khan’s bedroom. Shivaji had inspected the fort very well the previous day and found out that this wall was least guarded. With a swift attack, they dispatched the minimal resistance and caused a breach in the wall; big enough for a man to enter.

Almost 200 men passed through the breach and hacked their way into the harem, causing a ruckus. Through the harem, Shivaji directly entered Shaista Khan’s bedroom. When he was about to behead a sleeping Shaista Khan, the latter was woken up by a loud shout by one of the ladies of the harem. As a result, Shaista Khan’s neck escaped the sword, but his 3 fingers of the right hand were chopped down.

The assault and fightback of Shaistakhan

ShaistaKhan’s son Abul Fath along with some officers came in to help the former, hearing the commotion. They were all slain. A few half-asleep soldiers were hacked to death as well. However, as the Mughal troops were fully awakened by this time, Shivaji decided to retreat from the same breach in the wall. From thereon, Shivaji, who knew each nook and corner of his childhood city, easily escaped the chase offered by the enemy.

Later, it was revealed that while the Mughals lost nearly 40 soldiers along with some officers and the son of ShaistaKhan, Marathas lost on 6 of them. This attack on a city guarded by 10000 soldiers with only 400 men was a mighty blow to the Mughal prestige. Shaista Khan was dismissed from his position as viceroy of Deccan, while Shivaji’s stature grew taller.

Justice not Revenge

Revenge is about reacting, while Justice is about responding. India’s attack on Pakistan did not claim any civilian casualty. Shivaji’s troops did not kill any women in the harem. They say that an eye for an eye makes the world blind. Reacting brutally like the enemy brings us to the same plane as theirs. However, responding in a calculated manner elevates us since, they say that even if a thousand criminals go unharmed, not a single innocent should be killed.


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Prasad Kulkarni is a Data and Analytics professional. At work, he analyses historical data and ponders over historical events otherwise.

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