Shivaji’s Escape from Agra
SHIVAJI, the leader of the Marathas, was at war with the Moghuls. Enraged by the many defeats, which the Maratha chieftain had inflicted on his forces, the Emperor Aurangzeb decided to crush once for all his growing power in the Deccan. He sent against him a large army under two his ablest commanders, Jai Singh, the Rajah of Jaipur and Dilere Khan, a Moghul nobleman.
The emperor’s soldiers met with immediate successes in this campaign. They captured fort after fort and laid siege to Purandhar, where the Maratha garrison put up a long and gallant resistance. At last, Shivaji thought it wise to agree to the terms of peace. He was forced to surrender most of his forts and was allowed to retain only a few for himself on condition of service and loyalty to the empire. It was also proposed that he should visit the imperial court at Agra. Shivaji hesitated in the beginning, but finally yielded to the persuasion of jai Singh, who gave him solemn promises about his personal safety in the court of Aurangzeb. He proceeded to Agra with his son Sambhaji and a band of some 4,000 followers.
At Agra a grand durbar was being held in the magnificent Diwan-i-Am in honor of Aurangzeb’s birthday. Shivaji and Sambhaji attended the durbar to pay their respects to the Emperor. But Aurangzeb treated Shivaji with marked coldness and placed him in the rank of the commanders of 5,000 horsemen. The Maratha hero, who had so often humbled the pride of the Moghuls, took this insult to heart. He complained bitterly in open durbar about Aurangzeb’s breach of faith. The next day a strong guard of Moghul soldiers was placed round his house, and Shivaji became the Emperor’s prisoner.
An ordinary man would have given way to despair in such a situation. But Shivaji’s wonderful resourcefulness came to his rescue. He feigned sickness and began to send regular presents of fruits and sweetmeats to Brahmins and other holy men in large wicker baskets, each of which was covered with flowers and was carried on a pole by two men. The soldiers guarding the house got used to seeing these baskets pass in and out of shivaji’s house. They examined the baskets very carefully for some days; Shivaji and Sambhaji concealed themselves in two of the baskets and slipped out of the gates of the house and out of the walls of Agra. Then, at a selected spot, they mounted swift horses that had been kept ready saddled for their escape.
For many hours after the flight, Shivaji’s disappearance was not noticed by anybody. One of his faithful flowers had taken his place on the sick bed, covering himself with a blanket but showing on his finger the diamond ring that the Maratha chieftain always wore. The guards naturally thought that Shivaji was still slipping. They discovered their mistake when it was too late.
Meanwhile, Shivaji and sambhaji had galloped away to Mathura. There Sivaji shaved off his head and whiskers, rubbed his face with ashes, and looking like a wandering gosavi journeyed by secret Paths to the Deccan. He travelled right round the country, through Bihar, and then to the east coast, and thence across central India to Raigarh. Many, many months later, he went in this disguise to his mother Jijabai and threw himself at her feet. She could not recognize her own son. But when he placed his head on her lap, and took off his cap, she burst into tears of joy. Her son, whom she had believed dead, had returned to her safe and sound after a miraculous escape from his enemies.