14 July 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, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
The ‘Engagement of Pavankhind’, a key rearguard battle that allowed Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to flee the Panhala fort, is linked to the legend of Baji Prabhu Deshpande. Deshpande, on the other hand, made the ultimate sacrifice and attained martyrdom by assisting his king in escaping.
The battle of Pawankhind
The Fight of Pavankhind, a rearguard pitched battle, took place on July 13, 1660, at a mountain pass near Vishalgadh Fort, close to present-day Kolhapur. The Marathas and the Adilshahi Sultanate engaged in combat. Masood was in charge of the Adilshahi Sultanate’s army, while the terrifying Baji Prabhu Deshpande led the Marathas.
Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his men kept pushing farther into Bijapuri land, buoyed by the victory over Afzal Khan and subsequent rout of the Bijapuri army at Pratapgad. A few days later, they took control of the Panhala fort, which is close to Kolhapur and is strategically important. Another Maratha platoon headed towards Bijapur in the meantime under the command of Netaji Palkar.
The oncoming Maratha forces were, however, ferociously repelled by Bijapur, complicating matters for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and seriously weakening the Maratha ranks. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his remaining forces were compelled to retreat to the Panhala fort after losing several of their leaders and soldiers to the assault.
A general from Ethiopia named Siddhi Johar commanded the Bijapuri army. He besieged the Panhala fort after learning the location of Shivaji and his men’s retreat. Netaji Palkar made numerous attempts to break the siege from outside but his efforts remained in vain.
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Baji Prabhu Deshpande makes supreme sacrifice so that his king Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj lives on
The astonishing bravery and valour exhibited by Maratha warriors during the rearguard struggle are described in tales and folklore. At Ghodkind, Baji Prabhu and his soldiers bravely resisted the numerically superior Bijapuri army for more than 18 hours.
The Maratha army faced overwhelming odds. Baji and his soldiers were severely outnumbered by the ferocious Bijapuri army that was baying for their blood, nearly one to one hundred. The Bijapur army attacked Baji’s forces unrelentingly in their pursuit of capturing Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
However, Baji Prabhu acted as a shield, deterring the enemy troops’ terrible attack. Baji used his body as a barrier to stop the Bijapur warriors from breaking through the defence by swinging extremely large swords in each hand and slashing them mercilessly at them.
And for this unfathomable daredevilry, he paid a high price. According to several versions, Baji Prabhu was severely hurt, yet he summoned his iron will and displayed an unbreakable fighting spirit, engaging the enemy soldiers continually until the three cannon volleys fired to herald Shivaji’s safe arrival at Vishalgadh. However, in the renowned conflict, Prabhu perished.
It is important to note that Shivaji’s voyage with 300 soldiers to Vishalgad wasn’t an easy one. Bijapur sardars Suryarao Surve and Jaswantrao Dalvi had already begun to attack the fort. To get to the fort, Shivaji Maharaj and his 300 men had to overcome them.
In Maratha history, Baji Prabhu Deshpande holds a significant place. He gave his life in order for his king to be secure and to carry on the battle against the roving Islamic armies that had taken over much of central India. Deshpande resisted the Bijapuri soldiers with unwavering courage and resolve, buying time for his men to enter the fort after fleeing the enemy siege at Panhala fort.
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