INDIAN FESTIVALS : The Wonderful Escape
By J.N. Chaudhari
Aurangzeb felt extremely mortified at Shivaji’s escape and rued the event to the end of his days.

Aurangzeb, the emperor, proud of his victory over Shivaji, was to celebrate his accession at Agra on 12 May, 1666, taking his seat on the peacock throne, as his father Shah Jahan had died in the preceding January. Shivaji was to be received in a full durbar on that occasion. He arrived at Agra by slow marches in time. The Diwan-e-Aam of Agra presented that day a unique spectacle; all the Mughul splendour was displayed. Through some mistake Shivaji was rather late in arriving at the durbar and was led to the emperor’s presence when he had repaired to the Diwan-e-khaas. The Prime Minister, Asad Khan, led Shivaji with his son to the presence. Both made their obeisance and offered the customary nazar whereupon they were taken back and asked to stand in the third row of the nobles. Shivaji noticing this affront burst out in a sort of open defiance complaining of the breach of the terms that were agreed upon. The emperor noticed Shivaji’s demeanour and sent Ram Singh to pacify him. In the meantime, Shivaji left his place and moved to a corner, vehemently protesting and imprecating, a scene unprecedented in the imperial court. The emperor closed the durbar and asked Shivaji to be taken away. It was evident that Shivaji had committed a gross offence by defying the emperor so publicly. A strict guard was placed on his residence in Ram Singh’s garden, and his movements were restricted.

Both parties now began to exercise their ingenuity to end the deadlock and smoothen matters. What was possible for the emperor to do? One of these three alternatives—(1) to put Shivaji to death; (2) convert him to Islam and employ him in imperial service; or (3) to conciliate and send him back. The emperor asked for Jay Singh’s advice, and after long deliberation, decided upon the first course—how best to accomplish it without incurring public blame or the Rajput hostility being the only question that revolved in his mind. With this object, it was decided to remove Shivaji to a new residence, more secluded, where his end could be accomplished without a public scandal. During all this time Shivaji, too, exercised his brain to the utmost in finding some means of escape, fully gauging the emperor’s intentions. From 12 May to 18 August, Shivaji remained in confinement at Agra, devising ways for extricating himself and his son out of the situation. Ultimately, he hazarded a contrivance and succeeded in effecting his escape. After pretending illness for some time, he sent away most of his followers with instructions to shift for themselves. He and his son, on the afternoon of 19 August, squeezed themselves in two separate baskets of sweetmeats hanging from an elastic bamboo on the shoulders of porters, and were carried away without being detected by the guards on duty.

In the darkness of the evening Shivaji proceeded towards Mathura in the north, eluding the search parties that were set in motion after his escape had been detected about noon the next day, thus gaining a clear start of about 18 hours. “Instead of moving due south-west from Agra, through Malwa and Khandesh or Gujarat, he travelled northwards to Mathura, then eastwards to Allahabad, and finally south-westwards through Bundelkhand, Gondwana, and Golkonda, describing a curve east of the public highway to the Deccan, in returning to Raigarh,” and appeared before his mother at Raigarh in the garb of a wandering mendicant on 12 September, that is 25 days after he had left Agra. It was the most thrilling exploit of all his wonderful deeds, which has for ever added a super-natural glow to his unique personality. It immediately resounded throughout the country, making Shivaji an all-India figure, divinely endowed with extraordinary powers. The incident simultaneously exposed the emperor’s craft, still further adding to his evil repute for cunning and cruelty. Shivaji’s reputation, on the other hand, reached its zenith for having outwitted the cleverest and mightiest of the emperors.

Aurangzeb felt extremely mortified at Shivaji’s escape and rued the event to the end of his days. He cited this to his sons as an instance wherein a trifling negligence led to incalculable harm. He suspected Jay Singh and Ram Singh of being privy to Shivaji’s plans and disgraced them both. He appointed his son Mu’azzam, to the Government of the Deccan with Jaswant Singh to assist him. Jay Singh was recalled and he died at Burhanpur on his return journey.

For some time after his return Shivaji took no active or aggressive measures and spent a year or two in reorganizing his resources. The new governor, Mu’azzam, adopted a policy of conciliation and gave no provocation to Shivaji. A formal peace was arranged, the emperor conferred the title of ‘Raja’ on Shivaji, and on his behalf the young Shambhaji was sent to the Mughul camp at Aurangabad, serving there on behalf of his father in consonance with the treaty of Purandar. It seems Shambhaji at this time tasted the pleasures of luxury and vice, which later ruined his career.

Shivaji also effected a peaceful understanding with Bijapur and Golconda, both purchasing his goodwill by agreeing to pay him the stipulated annual amounts of chauth. Thus Shivaji was accepted as an independent ruler in Maharashtra.

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