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‘Wagh Nakh’, the weapon used by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja to kill tyrant Afzal Khan, to be brought back home from London museum

The weapon, which was in the possession of Shivaji Maharaja's descendants in the Satara court, was given to an East India Company officer James Grant Duff.

Praises have been sung about the great display of Shivaji’s military might when on 10th November 1659 the Maratha king thrust his tiger claws into the body of Bijapur sultan Afzal Khan killing the tyrant once and for all. The ‘Wagh Nakh’, meaning tiger claws, is set to return to its homeland in Maharashtra from the United Kingdom.

Maharashtra Cultural Affairs Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar is set to visit London this month to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Victoria and Albert Museum for the return of the heritage weapon. The ‘Wagh Nakh’ is on display in the same museum.’

The weapon, which was in the possession of Shivaji Maharaja’s descendants in the Satara court, was given to an East India Company officer James Grant Duff. After his service, Duff took the tiger claws to Britain, and the weapon was further donated by his descendants to the museum.

Mungantiwar said that it is likely that the Wagh Nakh might be back in time to celebrate the anniversary of the day when Shivaki killed Afzal Khan.

“We have got a letter from the UK authorities saying they have agreed to give us back Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja’s Wagh Nakh. We might get it back for the anniversary of the day when Shivaji killed Afzal Khan, based on the Hindu calendar. Some other dates are also being considered and the modalities of transporting the Wagh Nakh back are also being worked out,” the Maharashtra minister said.

He added that besides signing the MoU, the possibility of the return of legacy objects like Shivaji’s Jagadamba sword will also be looked at. “The fact that the tiger claws are on the way back is a big step for Maharashtra and its people. The date of Afzal Khan’s killing is November 10 based on the Gregorian calendar but we are working out dates based on the Hindu tithi calendar,” Mungantiwar said.

According to the government resolution issued by the cultural affairs department, Mungantiwar, principal secretary of culture Dr. Vikas Kharge, and Dr. Tejas Garge, director of Maharashtra directorate of archeology and museums will visit V&A and other museums in London.

Maharashtra will reportedly spend around Rs 50 lakh for the three-member team’s six-day visit from 29th September to 4th October.

What is the ‘Wagh Nakh’ or tiger claws?

The story of the origins of Wagh Nakh can be traced to the Dhanur Veda, a vast subject dedicated to the field of weaponry, combat, and military science at large. Wagh Nakh is an ‘Amukt Shastra’ (अमुक्त शस्त्र) according to the Agni Purana, an ancient guide text referred to forging weapons in the Maratha empire.

‘Amukt Shastra’ literally means a weapon that can be worn as a part of the body. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj chose this particular weapon because the meeting with Afzal Khan was a close meeting with several strategic restrictions agreed upon by both sides. The Wagh Nakh was also the most effective weapon from the point of view of Afzal Khan’s tall built.

However, Shivaji Maharaj knew his adversary Afzal Khan too well and knew that Khan might betray and violate the terms of the meeting, which he ultimately did. Hence Shivaji Maharaj, as per folklore, designed the Wagh Nakh himself so as to be armed with a hidden weapon for when Afzal Khan attacks.

The Wagh Nakh serves as a remarkable testament to ancient India’s military might. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Maratha king revered across India, is believed to have personally conceived and designed this concealed weapon for a specific mission, harnessing the knowledge and techniques preserved in the Agni Purana. It remains a testament to India’s rich heritage of weapon craftsmanship and strategy.

The Wagh Nakh is made of steel and has four claws mounted on a bar with two rings for the first and fourth fingers. State officials define the weapon as a first-loading, claw-like dagger designed to fit on the knuckles. It can be concealed under and against the palm and has 4 sharp curved blades fixed on a crowbar or glove. The weapon is designed to perforate the skin, muscle, and even the bone.

Moreover, like many pointed weapons, the tips of the tiger claws were usually laced with poison so that in case the injury caused by the weapon wasn’t enough, the poison would spread in the body and kill the enemy. This also ensured to reduce the kill time and early death of the enemy.

It is believed that Shivaji Maharaj revived the Wagh Nakh from the ancient text Agni Purana. This was a turning point in the history of Hindu civilisation as the Chhatrapati enabled the restoration of such warfare technology which was hidden in the annals of time.

How did Shivaji kill Afzal Khan using the tiger claws?

The glories of Shivaji’s victory in this one-on-one battle are sung to this day all across India but more particularly in Maharashtra, MP, and Karnataka.

Afzal Khan was taller and had a bigger built than Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The Maratha king was clear that a backup was needed should Afzal Khan betray him in the guise of the peace meeting and needed a potent weapon that would ensure Khan’s death.

For this purpose, the Chhatrapati studied human physiology. He identified such parts of Khan’s body which were well within his reach for attack. He identified two such areas – the abdominal area and the liver. He chose to arm himself with an Amukta Shastra, the Wagh Nakh, to tear his abdomen, followed by an attack with a sharp knife to draw his intestine out. Wagh Nakh when worn by a fighter looks like a set of rings in the fingers.

Afzal Khan had made it his life’s mission to defeat and kill Shivaji, the Maratha king who through his excellent strategic thinking and combat skills always managed to defeat and escape Afzal Khan. A perplexed and desperate Khan, commander of the Adilshahi dynasty in the Bijapur Sultanate, had treacherously killed Shivaji Maharaj’s elder brother when he was 13. Afzal Khan is also responsible for the destruction of several Hindu temples.

Khan’s strategy was to bring Shivaji into the open in the Deccan plains against the rocky plateau where Shivaji had an advantage and overpower him since they outnumbered the Marathas. Armed with over 20,000 Adilshahi cavalry and 15,000 infantry over 6,000 light cavalry and 3,000 light infantry of Marathas, Khan and Shivaji met on the foothills of Pratapgarh.

Shivaji sent out an emissary to Khan that he did not want to fight and wanted peace. The Maratha king knew his adversary too well and had come prepared. They decided to meet unarmed with just 10 bodyguards each, who would stay within an arrow’s distance from the two men. A towering figure, Khan hugged Shivaji, but in a treacherous move, tried to kill him with a sword, as Shivaji had expected.

But the Chhatrapati’s armor saved him from harm. Shivaji armed with the Wagh Nakh (tiger claws) disemboweled Khan. A hand-to-hand combat ensued where the Marathas, though having been outnumbered by Adilshahi forces, emerged victorious. An apt visual representation of how Shivaji Maharaj killed Afzal Khan has been made in the Marathi movie “Sher Shivraj”.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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