Kanhoji Jedhe

By Madhukar Joshi
This is the story of a powerful Vatandar (feudal lord) who sacrificed his Vatan (hereditary title) to prove his loyalty.

In Shivaji's times, titles (Vatan) such as Deshmukh, Deshpande, Mirasdar, Inamdar, Jahagirdar and Patil were given to an individual for the “services rendered” to the then ruler. Once given, these vatans used to be transferred to his first son, then to his first son’s first son, and so on.  The title was transferred regardless of the inheritor’s qualifications, or lack thereof.  Shivaji was well aware that these feudal lords were more loyal to their titles than to their presumed rulers. When AfzulKhan of Vijapur Darbaar came to capture/kill Shivaji, he had sent letter (Khalita)to each one of these vatandars in Maharashtra threatening them with the loss of their titles unless they joined AfzulKhan against Shivaji. In response, a number of these Vatandars had joined AfzulKhan and many others were on the brink of doing so.

When Kanhoji Jedhe received his Khalita, he and his sons approached Shivaji instead of joining AfzulKhan. To appreciate the importance of this act, it is necessary to understand the military situation of that moment. Kanhoji Jedhe was one of the advisors that Shahaaji had sent to Shivaji and Jijabai to foster his vision of an independent nation. Kanhoji was a Deshmukh but he was distinctly different from other feudal lords. He was extremely loyal to Shahaaji and hence, to Shivaji.

AfzulKhan was a brave and powerful general of Vijapur – a super power at that time. Born to a waitress, he had been promoted through acts of bravery  and cunning.  AfzulKhan also hated Shahaaji, his presumed colleague in Vijapur Darbaar, and indeed had captured Shahaaji in a military camp when Shahaaji was less than alert. (Kanhoji had suffered in the jail along with Shahaaji and so, was well aware of Khan’s deceit and cruelty.) AfzulKhan had also betrayed Sambhaji, Shivaji’s elder brother, in a battle and thus had him killed. In short, AfzulKhan was powerful and not at all trustworthy. He had come prepared with a large army.  To support Shivaji against AfzulKhan was an act of supreme bravery (if successful) or foolhardiness (if unsuccessful).

Shivaji wanted to check true loyalties of Kanhoji and his sons. He told them that Kanhoji's neighbors had already joined the Khan. Maybe Kanhoji  and sons should think of retaining their “Deshmukhi” by joining their “friends”. Kanhoji protested that his loyalties could not be bought in that manner. To prove that, Kanhoji gave up his rights to Deshmukhi  rather than be judged disloyal. This act is formally done by pouring water on whatever it is that one wishes to give away.

Kanhoji did more than this. He campaigned on behalf of Shivaji’s cause amongst other Vatandars in Maharashtra. Since he was a Deshmukh with seniority and great influence among his peers, he united all of the vatandars who had not already deserted Shivaji and his cause. Together with their soldiers, they formed a united front against AfzulKhan and were key in the ensuing fight at PrataapGad. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to face AfzulKhan’s mighty army in the absence of such strong support.

When Shivaji succeeded in killing AfzulKhan, capturing all of his war chest (elephants, horses, cannons as well as jewelry),  and otherwise destroying AfzulKhan’s army, Shivaji recognized Kanhoji (with a Maanaache Paan – a special place of honor) and generously rewarded Kanhoji and his family.   Part 6

The unfortunate discriminatory practices in many societies all over the world – even today – can be traced to these type of traditions. Because of these, a son was considered to be more valuable than a daughter!

You can imagine the potential for mischief and internecine warfare in this practice of transferring the titles by hereditary rights. Shivaji has written in his AjnaPatre (the book of administrative policies) that most of these Vatandars are enemies of the kingdom (raajyaache daayaadach) and he worked to abolish this practice. Instead, he used to give cash prizes to recognize and reward acts of valor.

An example of AfzulKhan’s bravery and war skills: At one time, he had trapped AurangJeb (son of ShahJahan – the builder of TajMahal and the only other super power in India at that time) and his army in a battle and would have almost certainly captured him – but for the cowardice of AfzulKhan’s battle commander – who let Aurangzeb escape the siege.

An example of his cunning and utter lack of morals:  He had invited an enemy king for a truce and then had that king killed!

Despite this, he was somehow not sure of his success. So, before he began the campaign, he had killed each one of his many wives to prevent their temptation to seek other husbands in case of his death!

To relate to the immensity of this self-sacrifice, recall that even the baseball team coaches cannot be counted on staying with their specific teams!