Afzal Khan, great general of the Adil Shahi dynasty, was a larger than life figure. A powerful and feared leader, his life would form the stuff of legends as he caused havoc across India before meeting his tragic end by Shivaji.
He had the reputation of an unconquerable goliath because of his commanding ability and steadfast prowess and skills. According to legend, he was gifted a sword that was studded with diamonds, and it was called “Adili”.
A Loyal Servant
Afzal Khan was a high-respected commander who served the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur during the 17th century. He was Afghan by descent and his martial prowess was almost surpassed, his skills ensuring he excelled on the battlefield.
The powerful warrior was known not only for his military reputation but also for his massive physical stature. It is believed that Afzal Khan was over seven feet (2.1 m) tall.
He played an instrumental role while serving the Adil Shahi dynasty as he helped it to expand further south, into the Indian heartland. He used his military capabilities and fighting skills to control the chiefs that had previously taken control of the territories.
As he had immense capabilities as a general, he had been given the responsibility to carry out several military campaigns at once by his serving dynasty. This led to many sweeping decisions and it is true that many considered him to be a tyrant, but his far-reaching arm ensured his enemies also feared him immensely.
Throughout his military career, Afzal Khan took part in numerous battles, where he was almost always successful due to his fighting ability and commanding battlefield presence, combined with his shrewd strategic sense.
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His victory over the Nayakas, military governors turned local despots, is remembered as one of the main historical events that captured the immense potential of Afzal Khan and his troops. The brutality of Khan has been depicted on several occasions.
For instance, when the commander of Sira, a Nayaka stronghold, showed interest in negotiating with Afzal Khan, the latter brutally killed him. The Nayakas had no choice but to bow down to Bijapur as Afzal Khan was extremely brutal and fierce in the military domain.
Afzal Khan mostly campaigned from diverse parts of South India. The main objective of his military campaigns was to help Bijapur expand its territories by dominating the Maratha power in the regions. His campaigns helped his serving dynasty taste victory by expanding its boundaries and taking control of the area that was previously known as Vijayanagara.
A Final Defeat
Although Afzal Khan enjoyed the reputation of being an undisputed general who always won, he was ultimately defeated by Shivaji. A rival leader of the Bhonsle Maratha clan. In 1659, Afzal Khan, along with his 10,000 soldiers, started the journey in pursuit of Shivaji.
He and his army caused immense casualties and disrespected the Hindu religion and culture throughout their journey, capturing the key city of Tuljapur and causing destruction wherever he went. As a result of his inhumane actions and this scorched earth policy, Shivaji had no choice but to take shelter in the hill forts.
Shivaji devised a strategy in response in a calm and composed manner so that he could defeat Afzal Khan. He was aware that it would be a daunting task to defeat the tyrant in the plains, and hence he decided to shift to the Pratapgad fort, which was enveloped by dense forests.
In order to avoid massive casualties fighting on such terrain could cause, both Khan and Shivaji decided to address the issue in an amicable manner. However, Afzal Khan had ulterior intentions, as he intended to attack Shivaji when he was vulnerable and unarmed.
But Shivaji being an intuitive and intelligent individual had anticipated such a cowardly move, and he had come prepared to tackle the situation if events unfolded against him. When Afzal Khan embraced Shivaji with the intention to stab him using a hidden dagger, the latter had worn chainmail under his clothes and was protected from the attack.
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Afzal Khan, realizing his attack had been foiled, rushed from the tent where they were meeting in fear for his own life. Outside he was accosted by Shivaji and his companions, and the great general was cut down.
A Legacy of Violence
While serving in the military, Afzal Khan succeeded in creating a sense of dread and fear in the minds of his opponents. He was known to be someone who could easily betray his opponents and never stick to his words.
In the year 1639, this reputation was fixed he mercilessly killed Raja Kasturi Ranga after he had invited him for a meeting. It was this reputation which ensured Shivaji was aware of such actions, and he had prepared himself so that he would be cautious while meeting Afzal Khan.
The presence of the mind of Shivaji and the overconfidence of Afzal Khan ultimately led to his defeat. The end of Afzal Khan was a major victory for the Marathas. It also changed the trajectory of Shivaji as an Indian ruler.
Afzal Khan was beheaded for his treachery. His head was presented to Shivaji’s mother Jijabai and then, once also presented to the goddess Bhavani, it was buried at Pratapgad fort. His body was taken to small village of Javli, where it was buried.
Afzal Khan was known as the most capable and influential commander who dedicated his life to the Adil Shahi dynasty. Although he was killed by Shivaji, his capabilities and strengths as a sultanate are still considered to be a source of inspiration by many. He was fearless on the battlefield, which helped him to taste victory on numerous occasions.
Although he was identified as the unconquerable goliath of the Marathi, his terrorizing reign came to an end in the hands of Shivaji. Even though his actions and inhumane tactics raise a series of questions in one’s mind, his military tactics continue to inspire people.
The end that Afzal Khan ultimately met was extremely tragic for a barbaric fighter like him. Regardless of the fateful way in which he met his death, he is believed to be one of the most inspiring figures who played a key role in Indian history.
Top Image: The Death of Afzal Khan: tradition has it that Shivaji used tiger claws, an Indian weapon with concealed blades, to kill the great general. Source: Chitrashala Press / Public Domain.
By Bipin Dimri