A Heroic Death that Changed the Course of Indian History

Posted November 26, 2012 by admin in Analysis

After the death of the great king Shivaji in 1680 the nascent Maratha kingdom faced a great challenge. The Moghul Emperor Aurungzeb had been confounded and defeated by the repeated battles with the Marathas and the high spirit of Shivaji. With the forces of fanaticism released throughout South Asia and to sustain himself the aged emperor leaned ever heavier on the clerics and upon religious exclusivism. The king of the Marathas with his slaying of the Afghan war leader, Afzal Khan, the daring attack on Shaista Khan and the escape from the very depths of the Mughal Empire in Delhi were the stuff of legend in the lifetime of Shivaji himself. The deaths of the great Rajput Chiefs, Jai Singh and Jaswant Singh around the same time seemed to open the floodgates of repression and extremism even further. Orders were issued to demolish the Hindu temples and impose the hated poll tax on non-Muslims – the jaziya.

As the empire groaned in its agony resistance began to multiply and grow leading to further repressions. The Bundelas in central India began fighting; the Jats of the Mathura region and the Rajput clans of the Rathores and Sisodiyas in Rajasthan even leading to a son of Aurangzeb named Akbar  to join the Rajput’s. In fury the enraged Emperor led the main imperial army to crush his son and his erstwhile rebellion.

Further south the Mughals believed that the Marathas would be unable to repeat their exploits under the son of Shivaji, Shambaji thinking that the sustenance of this new Hindu kingdom rested on one able man alone. Like so many other rebellions in that period, he thought the Maratha movement too must have received its death blow with the passing of its able leader, and by the fact that Shivaji had been succeeded by his brave but incapable son, Sambhaji. Sambhaji had courage, which he indeed demonstrated on various occasions, but also indulged in excesses leading his father on occasion forced to consider a severe punishment for his own son. Sambhaji in his rage left and joined the Moghuls! This was an intensely painful time in Shivaji’s life. Sambhaji left the Moghuls and begged for forgiveness when he witnessed first-hand the atrocities against Hindus.

Shambaji offered refuge to Akbar and in 1682 the lost son of Aurangzeb escorted by the Rajput’s arrived in safety in Maharashtra. Close behind the Emperor entered the Maratha Kingdom in the same year. Few would have guessed that he would never return to the north spending the last 27 years of his life in a futile and eventually failed war with the Hindus.

The war was engaged and raged from this period onwards in a steady ebb and flow in the hills of western India with neither side able to emerge over the other. The steady courage of Shambaji was only matched by his impetuous and rash nature. Only his minister Kavi Kalash was able to exercise any control over the headstrong king. An equal measure of the rage of shamabji was directed towards any perceived rivals or dissenters in his kingdom and he dealt with the same with extreme severity and with all the rage for which he was justly famous.

Blood flowed over the mountains and the land was ruined but the people fought on. The full force of the empire was now borne down on the barren hills and the prime generals and troops of the Mughals now all entered into the fray. For seven years more that war continued with its monotonous tale of attack and counter attack – of determined sieges and equally determined sieges. Of forts falling to the Mughals only to be retaken months later and for the cycle of destruction to continue.

In 1689 however the situation changed. The Maratha king was at Sangameshwar unaware of the nearness of his enemies and with a scant force around him. After a sudden raid under Muqarrab Khan a Mughal force reached the place and after a bitter fight succeeded in capturing Shamabaji and Kavi Kalash.

The next chapter is best described in the words of the : Masir I Alambiri, the official history of Aurangzeb’s reign:

Shamba was brought before the court. The Emperor out of his devotion to Islam ordered that from four miles before the camp Shambha should be made an object of ridicule …..so that the Muslims might be encouraged and the Hindus discouraged by the sight. The night in the morning after which he was brought to the Court …in the joyous expectation of seeing the spectacle, and the day was like the day of Eid because all men, old and young went out to see such a scene of joy and happiness.

The Emperor ordered that man to be removed to the prisons and in that moment Aurangzeb descended from the throne and kneeling down on the carpet of prayer bowed his head to the ground in thanksgiving and raised his hands in prayer to Allah….and drops of marvel(lit tears) fell from his far reaching eyes As the destruction of this wicked infidel in consideration of the harshness and disgrace that he had inflicted by slaying and imprisoning Muslims and plundering Muslims — and by the decision of the Doctors of the Law all were in favour of killing Shamba and thus he was killed with Kavi Kalash.

After two days the Emperor ordered Ruhullah Khan to ask Shamba where he had kept his treasure . In these circumstances that haughty man opened his mouth in defiant and vain words about the Emperor (Aurangzeb) – So the Emperor ordered him to be blinded by driving nails into his two eyes -So it was done. But that proud man from his high spirit gave up taking food from that day onwards and continued to shout defiance to The emperor and the tenents of Islam.

Maratha sources report:

When they were brought face to face with Aurangzeb, the latter offered to let Sambhaji live if he surrendered all the Maratha forts, turned over all his hidden treasures and disclosed the names of all the Mughal officers who had helped him. Sambhaji refused, and instead sang the praises of Mahadev (Lord Shiva). Aurangzeb ordered him and Kavi Kalash to be tortured to death. Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash were brutally tortured for over a fortnight. The torture involved plucking out their eyes and tongue and pulling out their nails. The later part involved removing their skin. On March 11, 1689, Sambhaji was finally killed, reportedly by tearing him apart from the front and back with ‘Wagh Nakhe’ (‘Tiger claws’, a kind of weapon), and was beheaded with an axe. This grievous death was given to him at Vadhu on the banks of the Bhima river, near Pune.

From the Persian history (Fatuhat I Alamgiri) :

“At last the case was reported to the Emperor and by his order Shambaji was taken to the place of execution and his limbs were hacked of one after the other- his severed head was publicly exposed across the Empire and taken to Delhi and hung on the gate of that city”

All accounts refer to days of horrific torture and agony which were borne with astonishing firmness and stoicism by Shambaji and his Brahmin minister Kavi Kalash. Even the purported offers of clemency on the public display of submission and/or an escape from the horror by conversion to Islam had little effect on the unfortunate Maratha king. After being blinded and his tongue cut from his mouth he surprisingly with great difficulty was still able to communicate and to continue to offer defiance to his oppressors.The memory of his inspirational father must have been close to Shambaji in the last days – given just sufficient time to rest between the tortures and removal of limbs after nearly two weeks of horrendous and unthinkable pain the broken and limbless king was executed – His head was cut off and placed in public display around the cities and towns of Maharashtra as a warning. But it did not have the desired effect.

The news of the execution of the son of the much revered and loved king Shivaji send a wave of horror and revulsion throughout the land. His brother Rajaram took the crown and retreated to the great fortress of Jinji to endure a 10 year long siege by the Mughals. The excesses of Shamabji were forgotten – news of the method of his death and more importantly the accounts of the dead king spread like wildfire amongst the Marathas. For his adherence to the Hindu Dharma the people named him ‘Dharamveer’ the warrior of Dharma

In the moment of his apparent triumph Aurangzeb was beset by an even greater tide of enemies. The Marathas under their war bands and leaders took to fight all over the western and southern parts of India from coast to coast. Their soldiers everywhere continually harried and fought the Mughals in an even greater tidal wave of resistance. The harried and worn emperor continued to fight in the face of ever increasing odds. The peoples of the north of India began to rise in rebellions and struggles eventually leading to the destruction of the Mughals. For 27 long years Aurangzeb continued with his fight against the Marathas only to die in despair in 1707.

The son of Shivaji had redeemed the pledge of his father of Hindu Padshahi – His heroic death led to the eventual victory over the forces The Maratha Hindu empire rose on the ruins of the Mughals and a hundred years after the execution of Shambaji a defeated and blinded Mughal Padshah, Shah Alam fell at the feet and mercy of the Maratha warrior and kingmaker Mahadji Sindhia.

The dreams and inspirations of the great Hindu Monarch Shivaji echo through history as a lesson against the forces of fanaticism and prejudice.



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