This story is a retelling based on historical events
Jui was excited. It was her 11th birthday. Her parents were taking her to the fort.Jui lived with her parents in a village at the foot of a hill in the Sahyadri mountain range. The hill was called Rairi. There was an old fort on top of the hill. Shivaji Maharaj made it his capital and gave it a new name – Raigad.
“Are you sure, Jui, you can climb the hill?” asked her mother anxiously.
“Don’t you worry,” said Jui’s father, “If she feels tired, I can carry her on my shoulders, just like old times.”
“No Baba,” protested Jui. “I’m 11. I’m a strong girl. I’ll climb the fort myself.”
They left home early in the morning. They wanted to reach the fort before it got hotter. It was a long climb. They had to rest now and then.
“Why did Shivaji Maharaj choose this place as his capital?” Jui asked, “He could have built a fort in our village.”
“Jui, it is safer on the hill. No army can climb this hill, without being spotted by the brave Marathas soldiers,” said her father.
“Oh, yes. The hills protect our Maharaj,” said Jui.
By then they reached the Maha Darwaja, the main gate.
“Is this gate kept open all the time?” Jui asked.
“No Jui. It is closed at sunset and is opened only at dawn,” said her father.
Jui noticed that her mother shivered a bit. Her father put his arm round her.
By now Jui was hungry. They sat under a tree and opened the food packet. Mother served poha, batata-vada and alu-vadi.
“I’m full,” announced Jui.
The family decided to take a walk around the fort. It was a long and leisurely walk.
A dog ran towards them as they neared the fort’s back. Jui and her parents didn’t know how to react. Then they heard a shout, “Waghya!”
The dog slowed down. Jui patted the dog as it wagged its tail.
Then the dog’s master appeared. It was Shivaji Maharaj himself!
Waghya, which means tiger, was his pet dog.
Seeing Shivaji Maharaj, Jui’s parents bowed, touching the ground three times, with their hands. Jui did the same. Though she had not seen Shivaji Maharaj before, Jui rightly guessed this was the Great Maratha she adored.
Shivaji Maharaj smiled at them, “Hira tai. I’m seeing you after so many years!”
Jui was surprised that Shivaji Maharaj knew his mother.
Jui’s mother bowed to Maharaj and said. “Maharaj this is my husband. And this…”
“…is your daughter!” Maharaj said completing Hira’s sentence.
With a faraway look, Maharaj said softly, “How old is she? Let me guess, 11 years?”
Jui could not control her excitement. “Yes, today is my 11th birthday.”
Shivaji Maharaj took her hand. “What’s your name?”
Jui told Maharaj her name.
“Jui, since today’s your birthday, I want to give you a gift. Tell me, what do you like best?”
“Stories!” said Jui.
“Alright, I’ll tell you a story for your birthday. Come, let’s all sit down.”
They found a cozy place under a tree. Somebody brought a chair for Shivaji Maharaj. Maharaj waved it away and sat on a rock, with Jui seated next to him. Waghya wagged his tail, settling next to Jui. Others sat around Shivaji Maharaj.
Shivaji Maharaj tells Jui a story
“Long ago, a milkmaid used to come to our fort every morning to sell milk. She would return to her village before the Maha Darwaja was closed for the day in the evening.
One day, she got delayed in the fort. When she reached the Maha Darwaja, it was already closed. The milkmaid pleaded with our guards to open the gate. But the guards had strict orders to keep the gates closed in the evening. They could be thrown open only in the morning.
The guards advised the stranded milkmaid to spend the night in the fort and return to her village in the morning. She pleaded with them. Her baby was waiting for her back home. The baby would go hungry the whole night if she didn’t return. The baby wouldn’t sleep without hearing a lullaby.
The guards sympathised with the milkmaid, but they could not help her. They had to follow the order.
The milkmaid walked away. The guards thought she had found shelter somewhere in the fort.”
Jui noticed from the corner of her eyes that her mother’s head was bowed. Her eyes were fixed on the ground. Jui wanted to make sure she was feeling alright. But the story was so interesting, she turned her attention to it once more.
Shivaji Maharaj continued the story, “The next morning the guards opened the Maha Darwaja. To their shock, they found the milkmaid waiting outside. Last night, she had pleaded to be let out. And here she was standing outside the fort in the morning!
‘How did you get out of the fort in the night?’ the Chief of Guards asked the milkmaid.
‘I went down the hills,’ she replied.
The guards refused to believe her. ‘There’s only one way in and out of the fort – through the Maha Darwaja. There’s no other way to leave the fort without us knowing about it.’
Then one of the guards added slowly, ‘Unless you found a secret passage to get out of the fort. That’s it. You must have found a secret passage. Show it to us!’
The milkmaid said she didn’t know of any secret passage. The guards reported the matter to me. They also brought the milkmaid before me.”
Shivaji Maharaj paused. Jui hardly noticed that her mother’s eyes had welled up.
Shivaji Maharaj continued with the story:
“I realised the milkmaid was telling the truth. She was also frightened. At the same time, she had me worried. If someone had found a way out of the fort without being seen by our guards, someone could also enter the fort the same way. That meant Raigad was not as safe as I thought it was.”
Jui nodded her head in agreement. “So what did you do, Maharaj?” she asked.
“I asked the milkmaid to show me where she got out of the fort. She agreed and led me to this very spot where we are now sitting.”
There was a hushed silence.
Maharaj continued, “This is the steepest side of the hill. Nobody could climb up from this side to enter the fort. At least, that’s what we all thought. So, we had left this side without the protective wall.
The milkmaid told us she climbed down from this spot. She even showed the milk pots she had left behind in the bushes. I went close to the spot and looked down. It was so steep I could not believe anyone would dare to go down using that way.
I turned to the milkmaid and said to her. ‘Go down the hill in front of me. Then I’ll believe you.’
The milkmaid stepped forward. My heart leapt. ‘Would she really go down?’
She looked down and then she stepped back. I could see fear all over her face. ‘I cannot do it, Maharaj! I cannot!’ she shouted.
‘But you just said you climbed down last night!’ I pointed out.
‘I don’t know how I did it, Maharaj,’ she cried. ‘I had only one thought – my little girl is hungry. if I don’t get back to feed her milk, she will suffer the whole night. I had to reach home. So I went down. Now, I cannot.’”
Jui’s mother shed a drop of tear which, went unnoticed as everybody were looking at Shivaji Maharaj.
“I believed her. My heart told me a mother would not lie. I asked her to deliver all the milk at my home and go back to her child,” said Shivaji Maharaj. “Then I got this wall built here and also built a watch tower. Do you know what this watch tower is called, Jui?” asked Shivaji Maharaj.
As she shook her head to say ‘No,’ Shivaji Maharaj said, “It is named after that milkmaid. This is the Hira Kani Watch Tower.”
“Hira Kani!” Jui exclaimed. “That’s my mother!”
“Yes, Jui,” said Shivaji Maharaj.” That night, eleven years ago, this brave mother went down this steep hill so that she could be with her child – with you!”
“Aai!” Jui screamed as she turned to her mother, who gathered her in an embrace, tears running down her cheeks.
Shivaji Maharaj smiled.
Waghya waged his tail in joy.
NOTE: Hira Buruz stands to this day at the Raigadh fort. While the event leading to the construction of this watch tower is historical, the frame work of the story where Shivaji Maharaj narrates the story to Hira’s daughter is imagined by the author, to bring out how caring Shivaji Maharaj was.