Sambhaji Bhonsle was the once estranged elder son of Shivaji who ascended to the Maratha throne after his death, in Jul 1680. This was in the middle of the Mughal – Maratha war. Sambhaji carried on his father’s war with renewed vigour. and zeal. In the process, Sambhaji inflicted serious defeats on Aurangzeb’s army in a cycle of death and destruction. In 1689, however, his fortunes took a turn for the worse. Sambhaji was at Sangameshwar, unaware of the nearness of his enemies & with a scant force around him. After a sudden raid under Muqarrab Khan, Mughals reached the place & after a bitter fight succeeded in capturing him and his Prime Minister, Kavi Kalash.
Sambhaji was brought to Aurangzeb’s court on a donkey, with the local population mocking him. When they were brought face to face with Aurangzeb, the latter offered to let Sambhaji live if he surrendered all the Maratha forts, turned over all his hidden treasures and disclosed the names of all the Mughal officers who had helped him. Sambhaji refused, and instead sang the praises of Mahadev (Lord Shiva).
Aurangzeb ordered Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash to be tortured to death.
What followed was two weeks of inhuman torture of the Maratha King, Sambhaji and his Prime Minister, Kavi Kalash. Offers of conversion to Islam too were refused by both. The brutal torture continued. It involved plucking out their eyes and tongue and pulling out their nails. The later part involved removing their skin. On March 11, 1689, Sambhaji was finally killed, reportedly by tearing him apart from the front and back with “Wagh Nakhe” (Tiger Claws, a kind of weapon), and was beheaded with an axe.
This brought an end to the two weeks of torture which included gouging of eyes and cutting of tongues of both, Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash. They were put to death at Tulapur on the banks of Bhima River. An arch has been constructed at the site as a memorial.
After the killing, Sambhaji’s severed head was paraded throughout the empire, taken to Delhi and hung on a gate there. All accounts referring to days of horrific torture and agony tell that they borne with astonishing firmness and stoicism by Sambhaji and his Brahmin minister Kavi Kalash. Even the purported offers of clemency on the public display of submission and/or an escape from the horror by conversion to Islam had little effect on the proud Maratha king.
After being blinded & his tongue cut from his mouth, he surprisingly with great difficulty was still able to communicate and to continue to offer defiance to his oppressors. The memory of his inspirational father must have been close to Sambhaji in the last days – given just sufficient time to rest between the tortures and removal of limbs. After two weeks of horrendous and unthinkable pain the still defiant King was executed. His head was cut off and placed in public display around the cities and towns of Maharashtra as a warning. But it didn’t have the desired effect. Far from it, in fact.
The news of the execution of the son of the much revered and loved King Shivaji send a wave of horror and revulsion throughout the land. His brother Rajaram took the crown and continued the struggle against the Mughals. For his stout defence of Hindu Dharm and refusal to convert to Islam, even at the cost of his life, Sambhaji was named by his people, Dharmveer.
Ironically, some 310 years later, a tale of similar, brutal torture would be re-written by Aurangzeb’s ‘self styled’ descendants, the Pakistanis, when their army captured and killed Lt Saurabh Kalia & five of his men in similar fashion.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
God Bless the souls of the countless who fell to this fanaticism in our lands.