Baji Prabhu Deshpande – brave commander of Marathas

The land of Maharashtra has provided many heroes from times of early history. Be it the Satvahana kings who started off in this region or local soldiers who gave up their lives for their land. One such story is of a brave commander in the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

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Around 2nd of March 1660, the Siddhi Johar of Janjira captured the fort of Panhalgad. Panhalagad (the home of serpents) is located 20kms from Kolhapur, Maharashtra. The fort overlooks the trade route from Bijapur to that of the interior of Maharashtra right till the coast.

Shivaji was trapped in the fort, for the Siddhi kept him under house-arrest. It started raining heavily and Shivaji could not escape. One of the soldiers Shiva Kashid disguised himself as Shivaji and engaged in talks with the Siddhi regarding the release. Shivaji used this time to escape from the for to Vishalgad. Vishalgad is 76 km North-West of Kolhapur, 60 km northwest of Panhala fort and 21 kilometers south of Kolhapur-Ratnagiri road. It is situated on the hills that divide the region into two parts viz Amba Ghat and Anaskura ghat, making it accessible and important. When the Siddhi found out about this treachery, he killed Shiva Kashid and started searching for Shivaji. They caught hold of him in Ghodkind.

This is when the able general- Baji Prabhu Deshpande offered Shivaji to flee with a handful of soldiers while he dealt with the Siddhi’s army. Shivaji unwillingly agreed and promised to fire three cannon balls to indicate his safe arrival on Vishalagad. Baji Prabhu Deshpande was extremely skilled in dandpatta. Dandpatta is sharp as a sword. The form is more like a sheet (malleable) allows swift movement and thus injury. The Maratha warriors are said to have been experts in the use of a gauntlet-sword-as called in English. Traditionally, Maratha warriors were trained to fight with dual patta by bearing one in each hand. Created during the Mughal period, the patta’s use in warfare appears to be mostly restricted to the 17th century when the Marathas came into prominence. The Marathas were specifically trained well in use of dandpatta. It was like they had monopoly over it.

It is said that Baji Prabhu Deshpande was severely injured while defending his king’s escape but kept fighting till the news of Shivaji’s safe arrival at Vishalgad was known to him. Folklore states that his body continued to injure enemy even after his head was seprarated from the body. Such was the vigor and energy on battlefield!

The battle of Pawankhind may seem very similar to 300 Spartan fought against thousands of Persians. The war was a deadly one which is said to have lasted for around 15 hours. In this case too, a few determined soldiers had defeated a huge army.  The Mughals lost around 4000 of his men and 8000 were deadly injured. 300 of the Maratha soldiers died.
In a tribute to this warrior, Shivaji Maharaj renamed Ghodkhind as Pawankhind- the path that was purified by the blood of martyrs who laid the ground for future endeavors of Swarajya.

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