Afzal Khan (general)

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Afzal Khan (died 10 November 1659) was a medieval Indian commander who served the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur, and fought against Shivaji. He was killed at a meeting with Shivaji 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]

Early life[edit]

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]

War against the Marathas[edit]

When the Maratha warriors led by Shivaji Maharaj challenged the Adilshahi supremacy, Afzal Khan volunteered to the task of defeating the Marathas. According to a Bijapuri legend, he sought a Sufi Pir's blessings before setting out on every military campaign. On such a visit before the campaign against Shivaji Maharaj, the elderly Pir prophesied that it would be Afzal Khan's last campaign.[citation needed]

In 1659, Afzal Khan led an army of about 10,000 elite troops and pursued Shivaji persistently, inflicting numerous casualties, which forced the Shivaji's forces to take refuge in the hill forts.[5][6]

Afzal Khan's original plan was to invade Pune, Shivaji Maharaj's original residence.[1] Shivaji Maharaj 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 Maharaj'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 Shivajimaharaj. The deshmukh of Bhor, Khandoji Khopde, an enemy of Kanhoji, became a supporter of Afzal Khan.[7]

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.[8] Afzal Khan had originally asked Shivaji Maharaj to meet him at Wai.

Shivaji Maharaj 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 killing 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, a distinguished military man.[9]

Shivaji, forewarned, wore armour under his clothes and a steel helmet under his turban. He carried a weapon called wagh 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 Bichawa (scorpion). 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 customs but then attempted to strangle Shivaji. Afzal Khan then produced a dagger he had secretly brought into the test and attempted to stab Shivaji in the back. But because Shivaji had worn armour under his clothes the strike failed. Seeing this deceit and an opportunity to finish the enemy Shivaji took out his weapon which was his tiger claws and struck Afzal Khan on his chest.[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 Sayeed Banda' s right arm in a quick combat before killing him. This event is remembered in a Marathi idiom: "Hota Jivha Mhanun Vachala Shiva" - 'Because of Jivha, Shiva lived.[1] 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 Raighad as an exhibit to Jijabai, Shivaji's mother.[13]

The story of the encounter between Afzal Khan and Shivaji is the subject of several films, plays, school textbooks and village ballads in Maharashtra.[8]


Afzal Khan was a powerful man of Afghan descent and was an experienced warrior. He was much taller and strongly-built than Shivaji.[14][15]

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.[15]


This entire event resulted in the historical Battle of Pratapgarh

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.[16]

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.[17]

His servicemen included: Fazal Khan (his son), Musa Khan, Manoji Jagdale, Sardar Pandhare, Ambar Khan, the Abyssinian Rustam-i-Zaman II

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Jadunath Sarkar (1992). Shivaji and his times. Orient Blackswan. pp. 47–52. ISBN 978-81-250-1347-1. 
  2. ^ J. Nazareth (2008). Creative Thinking in Warfare (illustrated ed.). Lancer. pp. 174–176. ISBN 978-81-7062-035-8. 
  3. ^ R. M. Betham (1908). Maráthas and Dekhani Musalmáns. Asian Educational Services. pp. 136–. ISBN 978-81-206-1204-4. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  4. ^ Sheikh Mohamad Ikram (1966). Muslim rule in India & Pakistan, 711-1858 A.C.: a political and cultural history. Star Book Depot. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  5. ^ Zahiruddin Faruki (1972). Aurangzeb & his times. Idarah-i Adabiyāt-i Delli. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Kalyani Devaki Menon (1 December 2010). Everyday Nationalism: Women of the Hindu Right in India. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 49–. ISBN 978-0-8122-4196-9. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Bhawan Singh Rana (1 January 2005). Chhatrapati Shivaji. Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd. p. 38. ISBN 978-81-288-0826-5. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Stewart Gordon (1993). The Marathas 1600-1818, Part 2, Volume 4. New Cambridge history of India (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-521-26883-7. 
  9. ^ Dosoo Framjee Karaka (1969). Shivaji: portrait of an early Indian. Times of India Press. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  10. ^ Murlidhar Balkrishna Deopujari (1973). Shivaji and the Maratha art of war. Vidarbha Samshodhan Mandal. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Setumadhava Rao Pagdi (1983). Shivaji. National Book Trust, India. p. 29. 
  12. ^ Vidya Dhar Mahajan (1967). India since 1526. S. Chand. p. 174. 
  13. ^ Priya Ghatwai (2002). Mata Jijabai. Ocean Books. pp. 1651–. ISBN 978-81-88322-07-7. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  14. ^ Stanley A. Wolpert (2006). Encyclopedia of India. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-684-31353-5. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  15. ^ a b V. B. Kulkarni (1963). Shivaji: the portrait of a patriot. Orient Longmans. p. 60. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  16. ^ Outlook. Hathway Investments Pvt Ltd. 2004. p. 86. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  17. ^ Bombay (India : State) (1904). Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency. Government Central Press. p. 595. Retrieved 24 June 2012.