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Afzal Khan (general)

Afzal Khan (general)

Afzal Khan (died 10 November 1659) was a 17th-century general who served the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur in present-day Karnataka, and fought against Shivaji. He was killed at a meeting with Shivaji by Shivaji's lieutenant Sambhaji Kavji, and his army was defeated in the Battle of Pratapgad.[1][2]

His name is also transliterated as "Afzul Khan" in the historical records.[3]

Afzal Khan
Died10 November 1659
OccupationMilitary general
Children2 sons

Early life

Ali Adil Shah II, the ruler who appointed Afzal Khan as the general of Bijapur

Ali Adil Shah II, the ruler who appointed Afzal Khan as the general of Bijapur

Afzal Khan was a leading court figure during the reign of Ali Adil Shah II of the Bijapur Sultanate. His steadfast skills and commanding ability led to his popularity and emergence in the ranks of hierarchy. According to legend he was awarded a famous sword known as the Adili, the sword was studded with diamonds. Afzal Khan was also given a popular elephant Howdah named Dhal-Gaj. He headed a personal force of 10,000 soldiers.[4]

Maratha conflicts

In 1659, Afzal Khan led an army of about 10,000 elite troops and pursued Shivaji Maharaj persistently, inflicting numerous casualties, which forced Shivaji Maharaj's forces to take refuge in the hill forts.[5] In a bid to force Shivaji to come out in open, he detoured to desecrate Hindu sacred places, including Pandharpur, the most important pilgrimage site in the Marathi-speaking region at the time. Such behavior was unprecedented for the Bijapuri forces, and alienated the local deshmukhs (revenue collectors).[6] He also captured Tuljapur, where his Adilshahi forces razed the statue of the Hindu Goddess Bhavani.[7]

Afzal Khan's initial plan was to invade Pune, Shivaji Maharaj 's original residence.[1] Shivaji knew that he would not be able to defeat Afzal Khan in the plains, and moved to Pratapgad Fort, which was surrounded by the dense forest valley area of Jawali. Shivaji's army excelled in this type of terrain, which made the Adilshahi army's cannons, muskets, elephants, horses and camels ineffective. At the same time, Shivaji Maharaj had limited stores inside the fort and Afzal Khan's raids had caused terror among his followers.[1] Afzal Khan also attempted to garner support from local militarily independent landlords, who nominally acknowledged the suzerainty of the Adil Shahi. The powerful nobleman Kanhoji Jedhe, who was the most respected deshmukh of the area, supported Shivaji Maharaj. The deshmukh of Bhor, Khandoji Khopde, an enemy of Kanhoji, became a supporter of Afzal Khan.[8]

Afzal Khan felt that the ensuing battle would cause massive casualties to both sides and eventually lead to a deadly stalemate. He, therefore, sent out emissaries to Shivaji Maharaj, to lure him down the fort and negotiate peace. Shivaji Maharaj 's council also urged him to make peace with Afzal Khan to avoid unnecessary losses. The two leaders, therefore, agreed to meet for negotiations.[6]

In 1639, Afzal Khan had murdered Raja Kasturi Ranga after inviting him for a meeting where he could safely make a submission.[1] Therefore, Shivaji was wary of Afzal Khan's real intentions. When Afzal Khan sent his envoy Krishnaji Bhaskar Kulkarni to Shivaji, Shivaji solemnly appealed to him as a Hindu priest to tell him if Afzal Khan was making any treacherous plans. According to the Maratha chronicles, Krishnaji hinted that Afzal Khan harbored mischief. Shivaji then sent his own envoy Pantaji Gopinath Bokil to Afzal, agreeing to a meeting; Pantaji's real mission was to find out the strength of Afzal's forces. Pantaji bribed some officials of Afzal Khan to learn that he was planning an attack on Shivaji.[1]

Afzal Khan had originally asked Shivaji to meet him at Wai. Warned by Pantaji, Shivaji insisted that the meeting should take place closer to Pratapgad. Afzal Khan agreed, on the condition that the meeting would be arranged with two personal bodyguards on each side. His forces marched to Par, a village lying one mile south of Pratapgad. A crest below Pratapgad was chosen as the meeting place.[1]

Shivaji set up tents with a richly decorated canopy at the place, but also placed his soldiers in ambush at various intervals on the path leading to the meeting place.[1]


A painting from the 1920s depicts Shivaji mortally wounding Afzal Khan

A painting from the 1920s depicts Shivaji mortally wounding Afzal Khan

It was agreed that the leaders would be unarmed, and each man would bring an envoy and two armed bodyguards: one would be a swordsman and another an archer. Afzal Khan's companions included Sayyid Banda (Bada Sayyid), a distinguished military man.[9]

Shivaji, forewarned, wore armour under his clothes and a steel helmet under his turban. He carried a weapon called bagh nakh ("tiger claws"), consisting of an iron finger-grip with four razor claws, which he concealed within his clenched fist. He also carried a stiletto-like thin dagger called the bichu or bichuwa (scorpion knife). He was accompanied by his bodyguards Jiva Mahala and Sambhaji Kavji.[10]

At the start of the meeting Afzal Khan graciously embraced Shivaji as per custom.[2] According to the Maratha chronicles, he then suddenly tightened his clasp, gripped Shivaji's neck in his left arm and struck him with a katar. Shivaji was saved by his armor, recovered and counter-attacked Afzal Khan with wagh nakh, disemboweling him. He then stabbed Khan with his bichawa, and ran out of the tent towards his men.[1] The Persian language chronicle by Khafi Khan attributes the treachery to Shivaji instead.[11][12]

Afzal Khan cried out and Sayyid Banda rushed to the scene and attacked Shivaji with his patta, cutting his turban. Shivaji's bodyguard Jiva Mahala intervened, chopping off Sayyid Banda' s right arm in a quick combat before killing him.[1] This event is remembered in a Marathi language idiom Hōtā Jivā Mhaṇun Vāchlā Shivā ("Because of Jiva, Shiva lived").[13] Meanwhile, Afzal Khan's bearers placed their wounded leader in his palki (litter vehicle), but they were attacked by Sambhaji Kavji. Sambhaji eventually killed Afzal Khan by decapitating him.[1]

Shivaji then reached the Pratapgad Fort, and signaled his waiting forces hiding in surrounding forest, to launch a surprise attack. Afzal Khan's army was routed in subsequent Battle of Pratapgad, though his son managed to escape. Later, the severed head of Afzal Khan was sent to Rajgad as exhibit to Jijabai, Shivaji's mother.[14]

The story of the encounter between Afzal Khan and Shivaji is the subject of several films, plays, school textbooks and village ballads in Maharashtra.[6]


Afzal Khan was a powerful man of Afghan descent and was an experienced warrior. He was much taller and stronger than Shivaji.[15][16]

Afzal Khan was known for his physical strength. During his campaign against Shivaji, one of his cannons fell into a narrow ditch near Wai. Eight of his soldiers could not get it out (lack of manoeuvrable space was one of the causes). It is said that Afzal Khan got the cannon out single-handed. Another instance of Afzal Khan's strength is when he held Shivaji's head in his grip while trying to stab him. Shivaji almost lost consciousness because of the power of the grip.[16]


Afzal Khan's death resulted in the Battle of Pratapgarh, in which the Marathas defeated the rest of his army. Shivaji had Afzal Khan buried with full military honors, as befitting his stature and reputation at the foot of the Pratapgad fort. An annual urs is held at Afzal Khan's mausoleum.[17]

Afzal Khan was succeeded by the inexperienced Rustam Zaman and Siddi Masud. The Bijapuri forces had been completely weakened, and eventually sought the assistance of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The Adilshahi dynasty of Bijapur did not last long after the killing of Afzal Khan and was eventually annexed during the Siege of Bijapur in 1686.[18]

His servicemen included: Fazal Khan (his son), Musa Khan, Manoji Jagdale, Sardar Pandhare, Ambar Khan, the Abyssinian Rustami-Zaman II and Krishna bhaskar Kulkarni.

See also

  • Battle of Pratapgad

  • Shaista Khan


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