Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Baji Prabhu is remembered as a hero of India, especially in Maharashtra. He was a sub-leader serving under the Mores of Javli, in Maharashtra, until Javli was annexed to Shivaji’s territories in 1656. At first it was impossible for Baji Prabhu to appreciate Shivaji, but he soon realised that Shivaji stood for a cause larger than that of his disposed leader. He became an enthusiastic supporter of the Maratha Hindu movement. From then on he was a staunch friend and supporter of Shivaji.
In 1660, Shivaji was locked up in a fort, under siege by a big army from Bijapur. He made his escape on the dark night of July 13th, with a contingent of about 1500 Maratha troops. Baji Prabhu was 2nd in command of the contingent. Baji Prabhu would have perhaps won no place in history and ended his life in relative obscurity if Shivaji and his party had reached their destination in safety. But Fazl Khan, the son of Afzal Khan (a general of Bijapur who Shivaji had slain) was a sworn enemy of Shivaji and gave hot pursuit, with an army of 12,000. By day break, it was clear that there was no way to shake of the enemy except by giving fight. Shivaji decided that this was inevitable. He ordered Baji Prabhu to face the troops of Bijapur, for which undertaking he was given half of the contingent. Shivaji said that Baji Prabhu would hear the cannon fire from Vishalgadh (the destination fort), as a signal of Shivaji’s safety.
Baji Prabhu occupied the narrow pass of Ghodkhind, blocking the path of the pursuers, and made a determined stand against them. He knew the great importance of his task - he had to protect the safety of a man of destiny. This resolved him to stand until the last man. Fazl Khan repeatedly tried to break through the defences of the pass, to get to Shivaji, but was constantly repulsed. The unequal battle raged for hours, with the valiant defenders clinging to their positions, rapidly depleting in numbers.
At last, 5 hours after the battle started, the cannon fire announcing Shivaji’s return to Vishalgadh was heard. Seven hundred valiant Marathas had by then laid down their lives. Each one was a martyr of a great cause. Baji Prabhu was badly hurt. The dying hero was however jubilant. He had done his duty and saved his king, and saved the realm from chaos. He showed spirit of sacrifice few today could match. He asked for no greater reward in life and died a happy man. If Shivaji had fallen, the history of the suffering of our ancestors under the Moghul yoke would have been longer and more gruesome.
"The defence...," says historian Dennis Kincaid, "has become legendary in Western India. The action is remarkable as an example of the spirit which Shivaji’s leadership infused into his followers." Shivaji’s mother, Jijabai, wept at the news of Baji Prabhu’s death. Ballads and poems have been composed in his memory, some of which are still sung today. Sri Aurobindo, the great yogi, mystic and revolutionary of the 20th century wrote a splendid poem dedicated to Baji Prabhu, which was used as a symbol to capture the spirit of sacrifice that was required of the young men in India's freedom struggle which was then under way. Baji Prabhu and his men will be remembered as long as good and brave deeds are considered worthy of commemoration.