Shivaji and his son hid themselves in baskets containing sweets and escaped. The question is how come sweets were served to prisoners in such huge baskets?
We read in history books about the imprisonment of Shivaji and his son Sambaji by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. History books also tell us that Shivaji and his son hid themselves in baskets containing sweets and escaped. The question is how come sweets were served to prisoners in such huge baskets?
The Mughals had a well-organized administration. How come the prison guards, the police force and the army failed to apprehend the fugitives? Herein lies a saga of intrigue and adventure. Shivaji’s was indeed a great escape.
Shivaji, with his own brand of guerrilla warfare, occupied Juveli area in 1646, with only a small force at his command. He was a lad of 16 then! By carrying out lightning attacks on the enemy forces, he occupied several other forts. After Shivaji defeated Shaista Khan, enraged Mughal emperor Aurangzeb sent another huge force of 10,000 soldiers under the command of Maharaja Jai Singh in the year 1664.
Jai Singh’s army encircled the fort of Purandar where Shivaji was camping. This time Shivaji had to agree to a truce. A peace treaty was signed under which Shivaji agreed to hand over control of 23 out of the 35 forts held by him. He also agreed to be an ally of the Mughal forces in their battles against the Sultan of Bijapur.
Jai Singh advised Shivaji to proceed to Agra and meet the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to ratify the treaty. Jai Singh assured Shivaji that he would not be harmed during his journey to and stay at Agra. Shivaji saw the truce as an opportunity for respite and to consolidate his strength.
Despite misgivings about the Agra trip, his astrologers assured him he would return alive. Further, Aurangzeb sent a letter to Shivaji on 5.4.1666 with an assurance that he would be accorded a reception and treatment befitting his royal status.
Accompanied by his son Sambaji and a small contingent of his forces Shivaji reached Agra on 11th June, 1666. Though he was received cordially by Jai Singh’s son, Ram Singh, when he was taken to the Mughal durbar, Aurangzeb did not even look at him. He was made to stand in the third row of the courtiers. Angered by this humiliation, Shivaji left the durbar in a huff.
A point worth noting is that Shivaji was never in an actual prison but was residing in a royal guesthouse. He soon realized that he was heavily guarded and was effectively under house arrest. Neither did Aurangzeb grant him an interview, nor was he allowed to leave Agra. After three months of this impasse, in August, Shivaji planned his great escape.
Shivaji claimed to have an acute stomach ache, which was treated by a procession of doctors for three days. Once he pronounced himself fit, he requested Ram Singh for sweets and money to pay obeisance to the goddess Bhavani, and to distribute them to his doctors, Brahmins and poor Muslims.
Sweets were prepared in huge quantities and carried out of the guesthouse in two large bamboo baskets, each carried on a pole by two persons. For the first three or four days, the sentries checked the sweet baskets leaving the guesthouse. Afterwards they let the baskets pass without checking.
Shivaji, realizing his moment had arrived, escaped with his son Sambaji in the sweet baskets on August 19. A horse was waiting for them. Instead of proceeding south east towards Maharashtra, he moved north towards Mathura. Within a few hours of Shivaji’s escape, an informer reported to the kotwal that he saw Shivaji and his son escaping on a horse.
When the kotwal sent a messenger to the guesthouse to check, he was told no such escape had taken place! That is because Shivaji had dressed up two of his courtiers like himself and his son.
Within a few hours a second informer came and reported to the kotwal that he saw Shivaji and his son riding a horse in the city. Again the kotwal could not believe the news. Yet he sent a messenger to the guesthouse who brought the news that Shivaji and Sambaji were taking rest in the guesthouse.
Meanwhile, Shivaji and his son reached Mathura where he shaved off his famous beard and mustache, applied ash to his body and darkened his face. From Mathura, he and his followers, dressed like mendicants, proceeded towards Prayag (modern Allahabad) in the south east direction. From there he turned south and traveled towards Bundelkhand (in modern Madhya Pradesh) and Golconda (modern Andhra Pradesh). He reached his safe fortress of Raigarh after a journey of 60 days.
In the meanwhile the Mughal army and police and its informers searched for Shivaji in Agra and all over the empire. According to some historians, Ram Singh might have helped him in his escapade. Aurangzeb also suspected Ram Singh of his complicity and demoted his position in the royal court. Aurangzeb never got over Shivaji’s escape.
Shivaji, who reached Raigarh in October 1666, resumed his adventures. Eight years later, on June 6, 1674, Shivaji was coronated with the title, Chhatrapati (holder of an umbrella) in Raigarh fort. Shivaji, who did not inherit his kingdom from his father or forefathers, created his Maratha Empire by his own effort. And will always be respected and remembered for it.
This teen story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002). Meghdutam.com is the erstwhile online magazine of Learning and Creativity.
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