Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s dramatic return to Raigad on 20 November 1666 was followed by widespread rejoicings among his family, citizens and the Maratha army. Each fort fired its feu de joie unceasingly and though the celebrations were appreciated by Maharaj, he decided to issue standing orders on the exact number of gunfire for specified occasions later.
Maharaj, known for his magnanimity to Brahmins honoured them accordingly and gave them gifts. Alms and raiment were given to the poor. Ceremonial celebrations in accordance with the prescribed rites and rituals as a special thanks to Bhavani Devi was performed. Glittering pearls were showered on her and Maharaj laid his head at her feet thanking her over and over again for protecting him and ensuring his safe return.
Sugar was distributed to one and all from panniered elephants. Noblemen and garrison officers, learned men and ascetics were received with respect and etiquette appropriate to their status. Maharaj rewarded Niraji Raoji, Balaji Avji, Hiroji Farzand, Raghunathpant Korde, Trimbak Sondev and others. Maharaj was happy to find that the administration had been handled well in his absence.
Meanwhile, Aurangzeb was most aggrieved on hearing Maharaj’s return to Raigad and the consequent celebrations. However, his curiosity was piqued when he was informed that Sambhaji had not returned with his father. Aurangzeb immediately asked his men to be on high alert suspecting that the young boy had been hidden somewhere safe and would most likely be asked to return shortly.
Maharaj now in tune with the workings of Aurangzeb instead spread a false rumour of Sambhaji’s sudden demise after his escape from captivity. He even went into mourning and lamented over the loss of his dear son. The Mughals were surprised on hearing the death of Sambhaji and gradually lowered their guard.
According to the arrangements made in Mathura, Sambhaji was staying in the house of Krishnajipant, Kashipant and Visajipant, the brothers-in-law of Moropant Peshwa in the guise of a Brahmin. Some months elapsed, Maharaj wrote to the brothers requesting them to make the journey to Raigad with Sambhaji and to take all the necessary precautions.
The three brothers decided to escort the young prince from Mathura. As the party made their way back to the kingdom, a Mughal commander struck by the regal manner and handsome features of young Sambhaji halted their progress.
Though it was widely believed that Sambhaji had died in the flight from Agra, the commander had his own suspicions. When questioned, Kashipant and his brother replied that they were Brahmins living in Mathura and the young boy was the son of the family. The commander decided to put this to the test and bade him to partake food from the same plate with Sambhaji.
As per norms followed in that period, a Brahmin would not eat from the same plate as a kshatriya or any other caste for that matter. However, Kashipant was bound to his promise made to Maharaj to safeguard the prince.
A dish of curds and poha was quickly prepared and served on a plantain leaf to Kashipant and Sambhaji. Both of them ate a portion of the meal offered. The commander became convinced that the young boy was indeed from their caste and let them off.
The party reached Raigad without any further interference from the Mughals. Sambhaji’s arrival was greeted with great jubilation. The three brothers were awarded the title of Vishwas Rao and given a lakh of gold coins and an annual income for their services to the ambitious cause of Hindavi Swarajya.
Shivaji’s escape from Aurangzeb’s custody nullified all the work of conquest that Mirza Raja, Jai Singh had effected in the Deccan increasing the invader’s anxieties. Aurangzeb understood that Shivaji’s visit to Agra had benefited him immensely as he was now in possession of the weaknesses and strengths of the Mughal court, the army and the political intrigue that was prevalent.
Aurangzeb decided to bring Netaji Palkar who had recently joined the Mughal service as a prisoner to his court. He wrote to Jai Singh to arrest him and send him forthwith hoping to create trouble for Maharaj.
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