On the history trail: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s night raid on Shaista Khan

The sacrifice of Veer Baji Prabhu Despande is gratefully remembered to this day by all Indians and is typical of the way in which Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was served throughout his illustrious military career. His daring escape from Panhala foiled the plans of the Adil Shahis of capturing him alive.


On 22 September, 1660, Maharaj gave up the fort of Panhala formally to the Bijapur kingdom to gain valuable time to attend to the impending onslaught by Shaista Khan. After the defeat of Kartalab Khan in The Battle of Umberkhind, Shaista Khan sent another large army to north Konkan and wrested Kalyan and territories up to Pen from Maharaj.


After the rainy season, Shaista Khan conducted covert operations designed to slowly tighten the noose around Maharaj. Maharaj was feeling the heat of Khan who had the full backing and resources of the Mughals while his own people were overrun and harassed by these invaders.


Shaista Khan taunted Maharaj by occupying his famed palace, Lal Mahal in Pune and through a Brahmin sent a scathing letter in Sanskrit to Shivaji. Khan called Maharaj a wild ape of the mountains who used elusive tactics of cunning and cowardice to challenge the Mughals while hiding out in the mountains. Shivaji was quick to respond saying that if Khan were to address him as a monkey, then the abomination that he is will see the same fate that was handed to Ravana by Lord Hanuman.


Khan despatched his soldiers and spies to hunt out Shivaji. This cat and mouse game went on for three long years during which time Shivaji never gave up or swerved from his ambitious goal of Hindavi Swarajya. Maharaj had a lengthy consultation with his trusted advisors at Raigad and arrived at the conclusion that Khan was not to be trusted and any proposal for peace is unlikely to be accepted and so, the only recourse was to fight unto death.


Shivaji Maharaj turned to Bhavani Devi and fervently appealed to her for guidance. Bhavani Devi spoke to Maharaj that night and said, “My child! Do not be anxious on account of the arrival of Shaista Khan. I will beat him away like I killed Afzal Khan. You should enter Shaista Khan’s camp and fight him like you did Afzal Khan. He will be defeated by me.”


Hearing the benevolent words of Bhavani Devi, Maharaj began to form an army. He sent two Brahmin spies to gather information about the Mughal camp. One thousand men were set aside and another one to two thousand infantry were asked to be ready should the need arise.


Maharaj descended from Raigad with Babaji Bapuji and Chimnaji Bapuji and Deskulkarnis of Tarf Khed and came to stay at Sinhgad which was closer to Lal Mahal. Maharaj formed two detachments under Netaji Palkar and Moropant Peshwa.


Both detachments were stationed on all the four sides where Khan’s men had encamped. Maharaj took a shield and a sword with him and marched silently towards Khan’s camp accompanied by a thousand Mavalis with Babaji and Chimanji leading them. About four hundred dressed like Mughal soldiers descended from Sinhgad on the afternoon of 5 April, 1663.


When they arrived at the main gate at midnight, the sentry merely questioned who they were to which they replied that they belonged to the Mughal army and had been on sentry duty. They were admitted without suspicion as the Mughal armies were full of new recruits.


It was the month of Ramzan and the household had retired before midnight after breaking their day’s fast. Very few people were stationed at different points of the camp.


The thousand men force was divided and slowly made their way through the camp to Khan’s sleeping quarters. Shivaji led about fifty men straight into the mansion and effected an entrance through the kitchen window, which he knew to exist in the rear of the mansion though Khan had closed it up with brick and mud.


The Marathas began to take out the bricks and make an opening. The noise of their pickaxes and cries of the dying Mughal soldiers woke up some of the servants, who reported the suspicious sounds to Khan who simply rebuked them for disturbing his sleep over nothing.


The opening on the wall was large enough for a man to crawl through and Chimanji Bapuji was the first to enter the harem followed by two hundred of his men. The whole place was a maze of screen walls. The Marathas made their way stealthily unperceived by the sleeping guards.


Hacking a way through them with his sword, Shivaji finally reached the tent of Khan which had seven enclosures and female attendants. The women screamed out in fear seeing the intruders. Apprised of this, Khan panicked and rushed from his seat and concealed himself among the women. Sometime during this chaos, all the candles and brass lamps were put out.


People began to run helter-skelter. Soldiers were slaughtered and women fled in the darkness. Shivaji waited patiently for Khan to reveal himself. Two ghatikas (each ghatika is twenty-four minutes) passed. Khan stepped out slowly from the women to get his sword and raised his sword to strike Maharaj.


Maharaj anticipated this and struck at him immediately. Khan, in his attempt to avoid the blow had three of fingers cut off. He screamed in agony drawing the attention of the Mughals. Maharaj took advantage of the confusion and escaped.


Babaji Bapuji with his force of two hundred men had been left outside the harem. Hearing the commotion, they stormed inside slaying the sleeping guards and entered the band room and ordered the bandsmen to play the kettledrums.


The loud noise of the drums largely drowned all the cries and yells of the grievously injured Mughals but some quickly picked up their arms. Those who were killed in this anarchy were Abul Fath, son of Shaista Khan who was the first to run to his father’s aid, a captain who tried to enter into the harem by means of a rope ladder and six women. Two of his sons and eight maidservants were wounded.


Shivaji called his men together and withdrew from the camp by the direct route to Sinhgad while the Mughals searched for them all over their camp. This successful night attack took place on 5 April, 1663 and the news reached Aurangzeb on 8 May, 1663. Aurangzeb could scarcely digest the cunning and daring of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and peremptorily transferred Shaista Khan to Bengal.


Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj with the blessings of Bhavani Devi avenged himself upon Shaista Khan for invading his lands and wreaking havoc on his people. Shivaji who had withstood the aggression of two invaders with consummate stratagem set himself firmly on the path to eternal glory.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


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

* Information about the Night raid on Shaista Khan is taken from archives

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