The day India’s destiny changed forever – The killing of Afzal Khan

10 Nov 1659

This was the day that India’s history changed for all time to come.

Here is my small write up about the importance of the killing of Afzal Khan and the events leading to it.

The killing of Afzal Khan was a culmination of many many carefully thought out steps. Any of those had gone wrong , Afzal would have escaped for certain. Perhaps even Chhatrapati Shivaji would have been captured / killed if the chain had been broken at any point.

That knowledge of the Pratapgad campaign is more or less absent among people is a big failing of how history is seen in Maharashtra . ( forget about India) . There are lessons in it which are evergreen in nature – – of patriotism , leadership etc etc .

Another point, the campaign’s only logical conclusion is in killing of Afzal Khan. Doing all that just to meet and talk has no meaning. Even as a solely defensive measure, it does not hold up in view of how well prepared Shivaji was for the attack on Kolhapur that followed.

When we agree that it was Chhatrapati Shivaji’s advent which turned India’s destiny , (remove him from India’s history and decide for yourself) it is this event that one must regard as the turning point . For this was the first real challenge to what in 1659 was still only an idea being built – ” Hindavi Swarajya ” . Any misstep and it would be the end. Quiet frankly the end of India as we know it today .

So I will summarise the campaign –

1. The importance of Kanhoji Jedhe

Afzal Khan arrived and started giving away inaams and jagirs to various Maratha sardars. Shivaji had nothing to give – except a dream of ” swarajya” . Large scale defections stared him in the face. It was at this point that Kanhoji Jedhe , much senior to Shivaji in age and experience (and fully aware of what Afzal Khan was capable of ) gave up his own lands to Chhatrapati Shivaji and proudly declared that he would not join Afzal Khan. All deserting stopped.

2. The choice of Pratapgad –

Located on boundary of whatever was held by Chhatrapati Shivaji at the time. Natural defenses very strong , including the jungles of Javli and steep precipices.

3. Choice of particular spot on Pratapgad —

I sometimes marvel at the deep knowledge Shivaji had of the forts. That particular spot was chosen because it was visible from the citadel but citadel was not visible from there. This became crucial in post – killing scenario.

4. Deep knowledge of topography of the region –

Every pass , ravine and river was guarded with troops. Which area to employ cavalry , which area to employ infantry. For example ,the detail is such that soldier’s waiting to ambush Afzal Khan’s camp at short notice were deliberately infantry heavy (to avoid any unwanted alerting of enemy troops)

5. Mental fortitude –

This was a man who caused the death of Shivaji’s own brother not so long ago. Shivaji’s own queen – Saibai – had died just two months prior to the meeting. The mental stress just on personal front must have been immense. Not giving knee jerk reactions to Afzal Khan’s clear instigation of destroying temples, breaking idols also points to same.

6. Diplomacy –

Another key contribution is that of Gopinath Pant Bokil and his skills of diplomacy. It was he who convinced Afzal Khan that Shivaji was scared to death, and would meet him only on pre designated spot on Pratapgad. Another important cog of the grand campaign to kill Afzal.

7. Espionage –

A key component of guerilla warfare is “intelligence” . Chhatrapati Shivaji’s intelligence department played a very crucial role in ensuring victory. Point 4 success as also events post killing owe much to success of espionage.

8. Chhatrapati Shivaji knew Hindu religion and epics perhaps better than anyone else in the country. He knew about upholding dharma, but was not blind adherent to classic dharma yuddha at any and all cost . Afzal Khan had a track record of calling people for talks and killing them. There was nothing adharmic about giving him a dose of own medicine (Mahabharat also agrees) .

And the end result of all this was a dagger tearing into Afzal Khan.

And it is only in killing of Afzal that the campaign finds its true purpose and meaning. Everyone else who fought , injured , died in the shamiana was part of collateral damage, bound to happen no matter who accompanied who at that point in time.

© Aneesh Gokhale

References –

1. Pratapgad Campaign – Maj Mukund Joshi
2. Shivrayanchi Yuddhaniti – Dr Satchidanand Shevde
3. Shivaji Souvenir – Sardesai


3 thoughts on “The day India’s destiny changed forever – The killing of Afzal Khan

  1. Wonderful Aneesh!A well researched article where logic & historical details seamlessly merge with each other (This is a rare occurrence though)The killing of Afzal Khan was the start of the Indian sovereign republic.


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