On the history trail: Veer Baji Prabhu Deshpande and The Battle of Pavan Khind

The resounding victories of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at Pratapgarh and Panhala was very difficult for Ali Adil Shah II of Bijapur to stomach since he had been at the receiving end of many humiliating routs. He decided to join forces with the Mughals to either capture young Shivaji or if possible, even kill him in battle. The Mughals decided to send their most trusted general Shaista Khan to lead the attack from the North while Siddi Johar along with Fazal Khan were to head the Adil Shahi force.

 

In 1660, an impressive 10,000 strong army of Adil Shah II laid siege to the fort of Panhala trapping Shivaji Maharaj and his retinue. Shivaji Maharaj decided to stay put in Panhala and wait out the siege in the hope that the huge army waiting outside would run out of food grains and supplies giving him time to plan his escape.

 

A daring plan was hatched by Shivaji to escape to the fort of Vishalgad along with Baji Prabhu Deshpande and his men. Baji Prabhu Deshpande was one of the greatest lieutenants of the Marathas. He started his military career in the service of Chandra Rao More who was defeated by Shivaji Maharaj. Though he was opposed to Shivaji in the beginning either owing to the fact that he was 15 years his senior or because he was unable to comprehend how a young man could ever hope to unite the squabbling Hindu leaders to fight for the same cause, he soon began to see the need for national resurgence and became a loyal and staunch friend of Shivaji.

 

First, Shivaji sent a message to Siddi Johar that he was ready to sign a treaty. This news was a welcome respite for the weary army who had spent months waiting outside in the harsh conditions. On the night of July, 13, 1660, Shivaji and five to six thousand men quietly made their way from Panhala in the dark. Siddi Johar’s men alerted him about Shivaji’s movements and he quickly despatched Masaudkhan Berber after Shivaji.

 

With Siddi Aziz, son of Siddi Johar and Afzal Khan, son of Fazal Khan also on hot pursuit, it soon became clear to Shivaji that they would not be able to shake off their enemy easily. Shivaji decided to use the smaller force to engage and hold off the Adil Shahi army.

 

A brave Maratha, Shiva Kashid volunteered to dress like Shivaji to throw off the Adil Shahis while the others made their way through the dense forest. The Adil Shahi army soon caught up with ‘Shivaji Maharaj’ and arrested him. He was taken to camp with great pomp. It did not take long for Adil Shahis to realize that he was not Shivaji but an imposter. Needless to say, this loyal supporter was killed immediately but gave precious time to his beloved master to escape to safety.

 

The chase continued with renewed vigour and they caught sight of the fleeing Marathas near Ghod Khind. Ghod Khind also called Horse Pass is one of the most difficult passes to navigate and therefore, a strategic advantage to those controlling the entry to the pass. It allows for very few soldiers to pass through and so, Shivaji left his men behind with Baji Prabhu who chose to stay back to protect the pass and face the troops of Bijapur while he went towards Vishalgad. The Mavalis occupied the gorge in the glen of Pandhare Pani or the White Water.

 

Baji Prabhu rallied his forces and with his thundering roars instilled confidence and courage into the Marathas. An important task was given to him – to ensure the safety of the greatest king to have ruled this earth and Baji Prabhu, a master of Danda Patta would fight till his last breath.

 

There stood the gallant hero with five thousand Mavalis in the valley of death with no shelter to the right or left and no hedges of bramble and brushwood. The pursuing infantry charged on the Mavalis who were equal to the task. Two assaults were made to break ranks but the formation stood its ground every time.

 

The battle then became a hand-to-hand struggle and went on for three hours but the guardians of Shivaji had not yielded an inch of ground. Fazal Khan rallied his Carnatic infantry to make another charge supported by artillery. The Mavalis had been reduced to half their numbers but Baji Prabhu remain undaunted and advanced to meet the charge. While rallying his men, he was struck down by a cannon shot but still held his ground.

 

Baji Prabhu kept on fighting though he was grievously injured waiting in agony to hear the cannon fire from Vishalgad. The battle raged on for hours led by a man of unsurpassable courage. The rapidly depleting numbers of the Marathas did not deter Baji Prabhu who encouraged his men to hold their positions.

 

Five hours after the battle at Ghod Khind started, cannon fire announcing the safe entry of Shivaji Maharaj was heard. Baji Prabhu died soon after hearing the cannon fire with a prayer of thanks to Bhavani Devi.

 

The remaining Mavalis made their way to the fort following diverse paths carrying the mortal remains of their brave general on their shoulders. The Adil Shahis did not try to pursue them through the thick jungle. They occupied the gorge and made their way to the foot of Vishalgad.

 

Shivaji Maharaj was overcome with grief hearing the death of his noble leader. Maharaj renamed the Ghod Khind pass as Pavan Khind (Pavan meaning pure and sacred) in honour of Baji Prabhu. Shivaji Maharaj attacked the small contingent sent by Siddi Johar the following morning and Masaudkhan fled back to Panhala.

 

The Battle of Pavan Khind in Marathi means the Battle of the Sacred Pass. The defense, resolve, determination and sacrifice of Baji Prabhu is remembered through ballads and poems.

 

A majestic statue of Veer Baji Prabhu Deshpande stands tall at the fort of Panhala. A glorious statue of Shiva Kashid and samadhis of the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect their revered king is placed at the fort.

 

Written by Lakshmi Subramanian

 

* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)

* Information about the Battle of Pavan Khind is taken from archives

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