Following a hurried meeting with Ram Singh at his residence, Shivaji’s half-brother Hiroji Farzand and his trusty page Madari Mehtar quickly made their way out of Agra. The guards had been instructed not to disturb ‘Shivaji’ as he had fallen asleep after a restless night. However, the suspicion of the guards was aroused as the house seemed to be deserted and the usual flow of visitors was strangely absent. There were no crowds outside the residence and not a sound was heard from within.
The guards soon discovered that Shivaji and his men were no longer in the house. Faulad Khan rushed to the house and examined it thoroughly to realize that the bird had indeed flown away. It would mean that Maharaj was not missed till about midday of 18th August 1666 giving him a full day advantage over Aurangzeb.
Terrified at what Aurangzeb would do to him, Faulad Khan instead informed him that Maharaj had used supernatural means to leave the house undetected. Aurangzeb was not impressed with this answer and was himself baffled how Maharaj had managed to get past the guards who were watching him round the clock. After much contemplation, Aurangzeb came to the conclusion that either the guards had been bribed or residents of Agra who were favourably disposed to Shivaji had come to his aid and helped him escape.
Aurangzeb in his true tyrannical form ordered all the governors and local officials to use any means to apprehend the runaways. Search parties were despatched in all directions especially on the road that led to the Deccan. Traffic was halted and all travellers and their belongings were searched. Cavalry scoured the plains, hills and valleys. Sentinels were placed on every important road leading from the capital. Each subedhar and talukdar were told to conduct stringent searches and to arrest Shivaji and his men if found within their jurisdiction.
Aurangzeb was of the opinion that Ram Singh who was a Hindu had probably played a role in helping Shivaji escape. He was commanded to go personally and catch him. Ram Singh went in search towards Dholpur but returned empty-handed. Jai Singh also sent his detectives in disguise to ferret out Shivaji.
Faulad Khan in an outburst blamed Ram Singh declaring that Maharaj had escaped through his patrols. Even Aurangzeb had his own doubts over Ram Singh’s loyalty and held him solely responsible. After a few days, Ram Singh was stripped off his pay and rank and forbidden from attending the darbar. A detailed investigation ensued where it was ascertained that Maharaj had hidden himself in the basket of sweets and slipped right past the slack guards.
Those on duty were severely reprimanded for their negligence. The inquiry went on for days and the property left behind by Maharaj was confiscated. This included jewels, elephants, horses etc. Two or four days after Maharaj had left Agra, Trimbak Sondev and Raghunathpant Korde were arrested. They had taken a different route and were brought back to Agra. They were subjected to severe torture by Faulad Khan and ultimately released on 3 April 1667, six months after Maharaj reached home.
Meanwhile, Maharaj along with Sambhaji and Niraji Raoji, Datta Trimbak and Raghumitra and his loyal servants decided to take a circuitous route to Raigad. They decided to head south-west of Agra to Malwa, Khandesh, travel eastwards to Mathura, Allahabad, Benares, Gaya and Puri and then head south-westwards through Gondwana and Golkonda before returning to Raigad. Shivaji had crammed precious stones and gold coins in his staff with more money concealed in his shoes, a diamond and several rubies coated with wax sewed to the robes of his servants or hidden in their mouths.
They crossed the Yamuna river and proceeded northwards recrossing the river several times before they arrived at Mathura to join thousands of pilgrims who had gathered on the auspicious occasion of Krishna Janmashtami. Young Sambhaji was extremely fatigued after the journey and Shivaji did not think it wise to take his young son with him. Krishnajipant, Kashipant and Visajipant, the brothers-in-law of Moropant Peshwa were living in the holy city. Niraji confided in them and revealed the whole story of his imprisonment and subsequent escape.
The three responded to the call of the nation and agreed to keep Sambhaji safe till Shivaji wrote to bring him home. Krishnajipant joyfully decided to join Shivaji and guide them till Benares. Shivaji shaved off his trademark moustache and beard, smeared himself with ashes and wore the guise of an ascetic. Niraji who was conversant in many languages led the group that had now shaved their heads, beards and moustaches and were in the garb of a gosavi singing bhajans.
Shivaji and his men used to perform their morning ablutions in the Yamuna at Mathura. On one occasion, they almost betrayed themselves to a priest. Maharaj was most distressed on seeing the condition of the bathing ghats and spoke authoritatively on the proper arrangement of river embankments in a holy city. One of the priests of the city heard him and exclaimed in astonishment that he was no ordinary sannyasi but some scholar in disguise. Krishnajipant quickly intervened and silenced him with a heavy bribe and made him join their party. Shivaji granted that priest a state pension on his return to Raigad.
They headed to Prayag and thence to Benares and thence to Gaya. Shivaji traversed the country visiting important shrines moving quickly to avoid suspicion. The autumnal monsoon had begun and the rivers were flooded. At many times, Shivaji and his men had to swim from one bank to the other. They had to cut across dense forests on foot sustaining themselves with whatever was available. Though there were many inconveniences and vexations, Shivaji and his men zealously overcame them all.
They were arrested on suspicion at a certain village by a faujdar by the name of Ali Quli who had learnt of Shivaji’s flight. A close examination of the prisoners was conducted. But at midnight, Shivaji met the faujdar alone and revealed his identity and offered him a diamond and a ruby worth a lakh of rupees as the price for his release. The faujdar was taken aback at his honesty and looked at him in silent admiration. He then apologised for any discourtesy and decided to let him go. Shivaji true to his word gave him the jewels he promised and requested the faujdar not to reveal his whereabouts to the Mughals.
In another place, while Shivaji was performing his ablutions, he overheard one priest telling the other that Shivaji, Raja of the South was wandering about in the guise of an ascetic and orders had been issued for his immediate arrest. Shivaji finished his ablutions and left the place in a hurry. Shivaji went to Benares and finished his ceremonial rites and slipped out of town just as a courtier from Agra arrived there with a proclamation for his arrest.
Shivaji visited the sacred shrine of Gaya and was joined by two of his men whom he had sent there beforehand. They then started for the temple town of Puri to offer prayers at Jagannath Temple. Somewhere during this part of the journey either at Puri or Cuttack, Shivaji overcome with fatigue and travelling long distances on foot decided to purchase a horse. A horse was selected and Shivaji realized that he did not have sufficient money on him to pay for it. He inadvertently opened his purse in the presence of the horse dealer who was astonished to see it full of gold coins. The horse dealer exclaimed, “You must be none other than Raja Shivaji to offer gold coins for this common little pony!”. Shivaji flung the money at him and beat a hasty retreat.
After worshipping Lord Jagannath at Puri, Shivaji turned westwards and returned home by way of Gondwana, Bhaganagar and Bijapur territories before heading to Panhala and then to Raigad. He continued to wear the garb of a gosavi and having previously sent word, arrived incognito in his own dominions.
Shivaji and his men presented themselves at the gate of Raigad and requested for an interview with Jijabai. The sentinel conveyed the message to Jijabai that a strange gosavi wished to see her. When they were asked to enter the court, Niraji played the part of a gosavi in earnest and invoked blessings on her. Shivaji could not sustain his part in this drama and fell at her feet. Jijabai was surprised and stared at the gosavi. She was amazed at his conduct and her amazement changed to joy as Shivaji doffed the garb and placed his head on her knees. She recognized him on seeing the mark on his head and embraced him.
Shivaji reached Raigad on 20 November 1666. The trials and tribulations that Shivaji faced during his three months dressed as a gosavi and walking on foot had made him quite unrecognizable. But a mother knows her son and Jijabai thanked Bhavani Devi for keeping her word that her son would be returned to her safely.
Though Ram Singh was formally pardoned, he did not enjoy the old confidences. Shivaji’s own genius and charm won the hearts of those about him. The news of his dramatic return to Raigad resounded throughout the country. People praised Shivaji for standing tall and true to his word even when under extreme duress and harm. The thought that a small wiry man of the South who stood all alone in the grand darbar had brought a frightening invader seated on the famed Peacock Throne to his knees filled the hearts of the people with indescribable happiness and courage.
Shivaji’s reputation reached its zenith for having outwitted the wiliest invader India had ever seen. His arrival in the homeland was hailed and grand celebrations were held throughout the Deccan. The forts pealed out salvoes of artillery announcing the joyous event.
Shivaji rewarded all those who had served him in his time of need. Niraji Raoji, Balaji Avji, Hiroji Farzand, Raghunathpant Korde, Trimbak Sondev and others including those who had sheltered Sambhaji were given their due.
In retrospect, the hand of Bhavani Devi is seen in every part of his adventurous flight from Agra with many people offering to help the illustrious king of their own volition. It was evident that the citizens were unhappy about the treachery of the invader (Aurangzeb) and violation of his plighted word. The greatest gain that Shivaji derived from this adventure was that he came into direct contact with the men and their political intrigues in Aurangzeb’s court. He made a mental note of their strengths and weaknesses to be exploited in future missions.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj concluded that the Mughal show of strength was hollow, unjust, tyrannical and corrupt and could be easily overthrown. The decline of the Mughal power can be traced back to this significant event as Shivaji was forever on Aurangzeb’s mind till his last breath.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Shivaji’s escape from captivity and his adventures is taken from archives