Power is desirable only when its graph is on the rise, when life is truly full of prosperity and good fortune. Sultan Ibrahim Saheb stood at the pinnacle of Adilshahi history. The enthusiasm and honour with which he invited Shahaji to occupy the post of the commander-in-chief of his army was unprecedented – never before had a non-Muslim, more particularly a Hindu chieftain, graced the seat of the chief of the army in a Muslim administration. Through his courageous leadership during the Sultanate’s wars, Shahaji too measured up to the trust that the Sultan had placed in him. Under the leadership of Commander-in-chief Shahaji, the cavalry and infantry were raised to peak efficiency.

On the one side, Shahaji, with his valour, loyalty and strength of arms, had left a deep impression on Ibrahim Adilshah; on the other, a sensitive, wise, and popular ruler like Adilshah had responded in equal measure by offering unstinting support and patronage to Shahaji. The result was the elevation and strengthening of the seat of the commander-in-chief of the Bijapur army. Within two years, Shahaji had raided innumerable cities and fiefdoms of the Karnataka–Tamil regions, bringing in loot that required to be transported on camel and elephant backs to fill up the Bijapur treasury.

The enmity between Bijapur and Malik Ambar continued as before; the Nizamshahi forces were relentless in their raids into Bijapur lands. Shahaji took personal charge of the army posted in that region and let the enemy taste the wrath of his flashing sword every now and then. It wasn’t that he was always successful. Once he was badly cornered in Salpe Ghat when the Nizamshahi forces had attacked from the direction of Phaltan and caused Shahaji to retreat.

That battle had brought Shahaji very close to Sardaar Sambhaji Mohite, who had shown exemplary bravery in the conflict there. Shahaji would often visit the Mohite waada in Bijapur where he made the acquaintance of Sambhaji’s sister Tukabai and decided to marry her. He invited Jijau to be present on the auspicious occasion, to which Jijau responded, “Good, that you have found a person who shall fill your heart and your palace with happiness. I am much too occupied here with the upbringing of our son Sambhaji. I have with me here your memories and the principalities of Pune and Supe.”

The agony of being so far away from his motherland and from his clan was a source of constant pain to Shahaji. The regret of not being present to celebrate the arrival of his son would stay with him for a lifetime. Meanwhile, an interesting piece of information fell on his ears: Burhan Nizamshah was so delighted with the arrival of the son and heir of Shahaji that he had dispatched a load of gifts to Jijabai as she lay convalescing in her mother’s house. The people of the royal household had been as surprised as the population of Sindkhed when a beautifully decorated elephant had arrived at the palace gates. The selection of clothes and jewellery stacked in trunks and baskets suggested to Jijabai that the Begum Saheb herself had played an important role here.

On September 12, 1627, as Shahaji was finishing his third year of service to Bijapur, the wise Ibrahim Adilshah II passed away and the winds blowing in the kingdom began turning rapidly noxious. When a public-spirited king disappears from the scene, meaner elements suddenly find the space they had been denied for long. Power loses all sense of shame. It abandons public weal and dances naked in the service of charlatans and crooks. Narrow sectarian politics and religious bigotry find their teeth and talons turning sharper.

There had been other disruptions in other parts of Hindustan within a span of barely 15 months. Malik Ambar had shed his corporeal frame on May 14, 1626 at the ripe age of eighty; this was followed by the death of the Mughal emperor Jahangir and the ascension of Prince Khurram to the
throne under the title of Shah Jahan.

The demise of Ibrahim Adilshah had created turmoil in the capital city of Bijapur. Political power by its very nature recognises neither morality nor compassion. An important ritual needs to be performed even before the dead monarch is lowered into his coffin, which is the placing of the crown on the head of his successor. A heartless, hard-nosed world demands this observance before the hearse leaves for consigning the royal remains to the elements. As the funeral procession moved through the royal streets of Bijapur, one of the main pall-bearers in the front row was Daulat Khan.

While he wore all outward signs of extreme mourning, he was finding it difficult to proclaim openly to the world that the blood that ran through his veins was the same as Ibrahim’s. His mother was a highly talented person and the Sultan’s closest friend. One of Daulat Khan’s deepest regrets was that his mother had not used the wiles that other attractive women employed, of tying the man to her apron strings. If only she had used those skills to good effect, he would have been wearing the crown of Bijapur on his head! Such were the thoughts storming through his head as he led the mourners down the streets towards the graveyard.

Excerpted with permission from Shivaji Mahasamrat: The Whirlwind, Vishwas Patil, translated from the Marathi by Nadeem Khan, Westland.