Today, 14 July 2021, marks the 361st punyathiti(death anniversary) of Baji Prabhu Deshpande, one of the most gallant and courageous Maratha warriors of all times, who laid down his life in the service of his king, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
The legend of Baji Prabhu Deshpande is associated with a crucial rearguard battle, known as the ‘Battle of Pavankhind’ that enabled Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s escape from the Panhala fort. However, in helping his king escape, Deshpande made the supreme sacrifice and attained martyrdom.
The battle of Pawankhind
Battle of Pavankhind was a rearguard pitched battle that took place on 13 July 1660 at a mountain pass in close proximity to the fort of Vishalgadh, near the modern day Kolhapur. It was fought between Marathas and Adilshahi Sultanate. The Marathas were led by fearsome Baji Prabhu Deshpande while the forces of Adilshahi Sultanate were spearheaded by Masood.
Upbeat by the defeat of Afzal Khan and the subsequent rout of the Bijapuri army at Pratapgad, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj continued marching deep into the Bijapuri territory with his troops. A few days later, they captured the strategically located Panhala fort, near the city of Kolhapur. In the mean time, another platoon of Maratha forces, under the leadership of Netaji Palkar, proceeded towards Bijapur.
However, Bijapur fiercely pushed back the advancing Maratha forces, throwing spanners in the work for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and causing grave damages in the Maratha ranks. Having lost some of his commanders and men to the attack, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his remaining forces were forced to retreat to the Panhala fort.
The Bijapuri forces were led by Siddhi Johar, an Abyssinian general. When he discovered the location where Shivaji and his men had taken retreat, he laid siege to the Panhala fort. Netaji Palkar made repeated attempts to break the siege from outside but his efforts went in vain.
The audacious plan to help Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj break the siege
Realising that they will have to fend for themselves and an external help is unlikely for the foreseeable future, a very audacious and high-risk plan was hatched and set into motion. According to the plan, Shivaji, Baji Prabhu Deshpande, along with a select band of troops would make an attempt to escape the siege in the dead of the night and make for Vishalgad.
The critical part of the plan entailed deceiving the Bijapuri forces so that they don’t give a chase to Shivaji after he had broken the siege. For this, Shiva Nhavi, one of the Maratha troopers, who had uncanny resemblance to Shivaji volunteered to dress himself like the king and let himself be captured.
On the night of Guru Pournima, a contingent of 600 select men, led by Maratha commander Baji Prabhu and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, broke through the siege. As expected, they were hotly pursued by the Bijapuri forces. As per plan, Shiva Nhavi allowed himself to be captured and taken back to the Bijapuri camp. This charade allowed the fleeing Maratha forces some time to escape.
However, as soon as the Bijapuri forces realised they have gotten a lookalike of Shivaji and not the real Chhatrapati, they again went on chasing the Maratha forces, led by Siddhi Masood, the son-in-law of Siddhi Johar. The Marathas made their final stand at Ghodkind(Horse’s Pass). Shivaji and half of the 600 Maratha forces proceeded towards Vishalgadh, while Baji Prabhu, his brother Phulaji and the remaining band of men stood their ground to block the advancing Bijapuri army.
Baji Prabhu Deshpande makes supreme sacrifice so that his king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj lives on
The legends and folklores describe the breathtaking valour and courage displayed by Maratha forces during the rearguard battle. Baji Prabhu and his men fought valiantly against the numerically superior Bijapuri army and blocked them for over 18 hours at Ghodkind.
The odds were stacked against the Maratha forces. Baji and his men were vastly outnumbered, almost 1:100 ratio by the hysterical Bijapuri army baying for their blood. With the single-minded zeal of capturing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Bijapur army was relentless in their attack against Baji’s men. But Baji Prabhu stood as a shield, fending off the murderous assault of the enemy troops. Baji wielded very heavy swords in each hand and slashed them with abandon at the Bijapur soldiers, using his body as a wall to prevent the enemy soldiers from breaching the blockade.
And he paid a heavy price for this otherworldly daredevilry. According to various accounts, Baji Prabhu was grievously injured, but he summoned his iron will and showed indomitable fighting spirit, continuously combating with the enemy soldiers until Shivaji’s safe journey to Vishalgadh was signalled by firing of three canon volleys. However, Prabhu lost his life in the famous battle.
It is worth mentioning that Shivaji’s journey to Vishalgad with 300 men was no cakewalk. The fort was already under siege by Bijapur sardars named Suryarao Surve and Jaswantrao Dalvi. Shivaji Maharaj, with his 300 men had to defeat them to reach the fort.
Baji Prabhu Deshpande has a special place in Maratha history. He sacrificed his life so that his king reaches safety and continues his campaign against the marauding Islamic forces that had captured much of central India. Deshpande, with his pure grit and determination, held on against the Bijapuri forces, to provide enough time to reach the fort after escaping from enemy siege at Panhala fort.