The Tragic Story of Afzal Khan’s 63 Wives
Bijapur, the famous capital of the medieval Adil Shah dynasty (1489 to 1686), is a small city in Souther Indian state of Karnataka, whose charm lies largely in the remarkable architectural legacy of those days. Amongst its numerous architectural monuments of the Islamic past is Satth Kabar (Sixty Graves) that bears the memory of a very tragic incident in history of Muslim women.
Afzal Khan was the most powerful General or Sardar (Lord) in the court of the Bijapur Sultanate. He was responsible for many victories for Adil Shah Dynasty. In 1658, Sultan Ali Adil Shah II of Bijapur was preparing to launch a military campaign against Shivaji, the indefatigable Maratha ruler. Being constantly under pressure from Auranzeb on one side and Shivaji from the other, Adil Shah depended on his generals to stall the enemies, and counted General Afzal Khan among his most trusted warriors.
Though Afzal Khan was a brave man, he had but one weakness: auguries and omens. Prior to the campaign, Khan contacted astrologers who predicted doom—his death at the hands of Maratha soldiers. At that time, Afzal Khan had 63 wives in his harem. Fearing that his wives would remarry after his death, the anxious general chose to kill all of them. Some say they were pushed into a deep well, while others say that all the 63 unfortunate wives were slain by Afzal. The astrologers proved correct; for, Khan indeed die at the hands of Shivaji at Pratapgarh.
However, his wives lie buried just 5 km from Bijapur-Satth Kabar. Ironically, the tomb built by the general for himself, who wanted to be close to his wives in life and in death, stands adjacent to the one-acre burial ground surrounded by jowar fields. The site has now been declared to be of national importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, and is under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Today, the tombstones are scarred by graffiti; people often come to the shady spot for rest.
“People need to hear the heartrending stories that cry out from these graves”, says the 65 year-old man who lives in a nearby house.
Ali Adil Shah II asked Afzal Khan to capture Shivaji who proves a constant military irritant to the kingdom. As Afzal Khan makes preparations for a war, he is warned by astrologers who predict that he will not survive the war. He, therefore, decides to do away with all his 64 wives, or so the legend goes, and starts building tombs for himself and his wives. He kills them by drowning them in a nearby well that still exists. One of them escaped only to be captured by his soldiers near Khatijapur, and she too was put to death. Although the truth of this legend has not been verified, the tombs do exist. In all, there are 64 tombs, including an opened one, that have been erected on a wide masonry platform. Though most of the graves are still intact, the rest have either crumbled or dug up by miscreants for possible hidden treasure.
How Afzal Khan died?
Afzal Khan was aware that Shivaji was on Pratapgarh, and planned to lure him out into the open plateau of Deccan, where he could destroy his forces. Khan’s strength was his giant force. At that time he took with him a force of 12,000 soldiers, many cannons, and troops mounted on elephants, horses, and camels etc. Which was more than enough to crush the force of Shivaji’s newly established ‘Swarajya’ (Self-rule). Shivaji’s men were very few in numbers and Afzal Khan was aware of this fact too. That’s why he tried to bring Shivaji out in the open plains, where they could be destroyed quickly in an open battle.
In contrast, Shivaji’s men were masters of what is known as ‘guerilla war’, where one surprises the enemy with a sudden attack causing heavy casualties and retreat quickly. So Shivaji tried his best to avoid a direct confrontation in an open field.
To compell Shivaji to come down to the plains, Afzal Khan started demolishing the temples, the prestigious temple of Bhavani Mata. His idea was that Shivaji, a pious Hindu, would not tolerate such insult of his gods and goddesses; and immediately, he would come down to fight in an open battle. But Shivaji did not bite the bait.
Failing to lure Shivaji out into the plains, Afzal agreed to meet him at Pratapgarh, a fort near the town of Satara, a location which was strategically advantageous for Shivaji’s infantry. For the meeting, a large tent was set up at the foothills of Pratapgarh. It was agreed that the meeting would be unarmed: each side was to bring ten personal bodyguards, who would stand one arrow-shot distance away.
Both parties were, however, prepared for treachery: Afzal hid a kataar, a small and sharp dagger, in his coat. Shivaji wore armour under his clothes, and 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.
As the two men entered the tent for meeting, Khan pretended to greet Shivaji with a hug, and stabbed Shivaji in the back with his hidden kataar. However Shivaji, due to the armour under his coat, was saved and opened his fist and disemboweled Khan with his bagh nakh. Afzal managed to hold his gushing entrails and hurtled outside, faint and bleeding, and threw himself into his palanquin. But Khan was decapitated by one of Shivaji’s bodyguards shortly down the slope.
Sambhaji Kawaji and Jiva Mahala, two of Shivaji’s bodyguards, were instrumental in protecting their king from Afzal’s bodyguards.
According to another version, on reaching the tent, Shivaji requested Afzal Khan to send his bodyguard Sayyad out of the place. As per the agreement, no one was to be present when Shivaji and Afzal Khan met. When Shivaji penetrated the tiger claws into Afzal Khan’s abdomen, injuring him fatally, Sayyad Khan entered the tent, running to his mater’s rescue. Just when Sayyad Khan was about to kill Shivaji, Jiva Mahal, a body guard of Shivaji, slashed Sayyad Khan, saving the life of his master.
Shivaji sped towards the fortress as his lieutenants ordered a bugle to be sounded. It was a pre-determined signal to his infantry, which had been strategically placed in the densely covered valley. All of Shivaji’s generals, including his Army Chief, Netaji Palkar, launched a surprise attack and routed Afzal Khan’s army. Afzal Khan’s son managed to escape with help from Maratha generals including Khandaji Khopade, another of many blunders committed by the Hindus against their struggle against Muslim invaders.
The severed head of Khan was sent to Rajgarh to be shown to Jijabai, Shivaji’s mother. She wanted vengeance for the murder of Shahaji, Shivaji’s father, in the captivity of Afzal Khan, and also for the death of her elder son, Sambhaji, also killed by Afzal Khan.
“Qabrain Hi Jaanti Hain Ke Is Shehre-e-Jabar Mein Log,
Mar Kar Hue Dafan Hain Ya Zinda Gadein Hain Log…”