Two men walked out of a bungalow carrying huge baskets. Guards stopped the men and ordered them to open the basket covers. Inside, were a variety of sweets.
“Who is this for?” barked a guard.
“Don’t we answer this question every day?” one of the men answered.
The soldier glared at him.
“Don’t mind him, Saheb. He is just tired,” the other man said hurriedly, “We are taking these sweets to distribute them to holy men in the city.”
The soldier grunted and let them go. This was becoming a daily ritual. Two large baskets filled with sweets would leave the house every day. All because Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha leader, had taken ill, and holy men across the city were praying for his speedy recovery.
It had been a few months since Shivaji arrived in Agra. The Marathas and the Mughals who were constantly battling had signed a treaty. This put an end to conflict between the two sides — at least for the time being. Mirza Raja Jai Singh, the Mughal Commander, had asked Shivaji to pay a visit to the Mughal Badshah Aurangzeb in Agra.
Shivaji’s advisers were worried, “Maharaj, this is a trap. We can’t trust Aurangzeb!”
“You have our word. You will be honoured like a King in the Mughal court,” Jai Singh assured Shivaji.
So Shivaji left for Agra with his young son Sambhaji. When they reached the durbar, Shivaji greeted the Badshah. He was then led to his assigned place in the durbar hall. This was in the third row of nobles.
In those days, people were assigned places in the court based on their rank. Shivaji was furious. He had been assured that he would be treated like a King. And here he was being made to stand behind lesser nobles!
Shivaji stormed out of the court in rage. Everyone in the durbar hall was shocked. No one dared to defy the Badshah the way the valiant Maratha had done! Aurangzeb ordered that Shivaji be detained in Agra. Guards were stationed outside the house where Shivaji was put up. No one was allowed in or out without thorough checks.
Shivaji had come to Agra with a small group of people. He was in the hostile territory and he was outnumbered. He was prepared to fight his way out, but he wanted to keep his son, Sambhaji, safe. Also, he had to take care of the small band of men from Raigad who had accompanied him.
He requested the Mughals to let his men leave Agra. The Mughals agreed to his request. With his escorts gone, they could keep a close watch on Shivaji.
Then Shivaji spread news that he had fallen ill. He wanted prayers to be held by Brahmins in Agra for his recovery. He started sending out large baskets of sweets to Brahmins in the city. It was these baskets that the guards were checking outside the house.
A few weeks passed. Eventually the guards got so used to baskets of sweets leaving Shivaji’s place they would simply wave them out.
This was the moment Shivaji was waiting for. One day, Sambhaji and he climbed into the baskets, which were then and covered with sweets. As the men came to the door carrying the two baskets, the guards waved them out and the men hurried out with the baskets. Once they had gone some distance, Shivaji and Sambhaji climbed out of the baskets. Instead of taking the direct road to Raigad, they headed in the opposite direction towards the city of Mathura.
Meanwhile, the Mughals realized that Shivaji and Sambhaji had escaped. Soldiers were sent after them. Alerts were sent along the road to Shivaji’s capital to nab the two. But they couldn’t find Shivaji on the road to Raighad.
On reaching Mathura, Sambhaji left his son with some of his supporters in Mathura. He then dressed as a holy man and set out.
A few weeks later two holy men appeared in the Maratha court asking to see Jijabai, Shivaji’s mother. Jijabai was shocked when one of the holy men fell at her feet, removed his cap and put his head on her lap. Jijabai immediately realized that the holy man was none other than her son Shivaji in disguise.
Shivaji sent a message to Mathura. Soon, Sambhaji joined them at Raigad, and Shivaji and his family were free at last.
Shivaji’s escape made the Mughal emperor furious. Shivaji stepped up his effort to regain the lost territories and declared himself as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Emperor!