SWEETBOX HYPE The more than 330-year-old belief that Shivaji escaped from the confinement at Agra by hiding inside a big sweetbox (called petara in Marathi), is just a hype! This story does not have any historical proof and also it does not seem possible. The impossiblity of this sweetbox escape has been stated by senior historical researchers like Mr. Setumadhavrao Pagadi.
The currently accepted (and accepted for the last more than 330 years!) story of Shivaji's escape from Agra is as follows:
After reaching Agra, Shivaji sent message of his arrival to Mirzaraja Jaisingh's elder son, Ramsingh. The next day, on 12 May 1666, Ramsingh took Shivaji, Sambhaji and his men to the darbar of Aurangzeb. In the emperor's audience, Shivaji was made to stand behind Jaswantsingh, a mansabdar of Aurangzeb, who had been defeated at the hands of Shivaji!. Due to this, Shivaji got angry and left the darbar without talking to Aurangzeb. Several events followed in the next few days and finally, Aurangzeb ordered Shivaji to be kept under house arrest on 29 May 1666! Shivaji became "ill", and consulted many doctors for medicines. He also started distributing sweets (Mithai in Marathi) to several holy men of Hindu as well as Islamic faith on Thursdays. Large quantities of many sweets were distributed through big wooden sweet boxes regularly. Two or four helpers used to carry the sweet boxes from Shivaji's residence to the recepients outside the residence and the Agra city.
As per the currently accepted story, on 17 August 1666, Shivaji made himself comfortable in one of the sweet boxes, put Sambhaji in another one, and ordered his men to carry them out of Agra city. The Moghul armymen guarding Shivaji's residence were used to the regular (weekly) sweet boxes traffic, and therefore, did not check these boxes thouroughly. Shivaji and Sambhaji were transported to the outskirts of Agra safely, where they mounted pre-arranged horses and quickly rode towards Mathura, a pilgrim destination north of Agra, along with selected trustworthy personnel. At Mathura, Shivaji kept young Sambhaji (nine-years old then) in the care of one known Brahmin family, who took Sambhaji to the Deccan several months later. Shivaji himself, along with 4-5 people, left Mathura in the costume of a Sadhu (Monk), went to Varanasi (Allahabad), then turned southward to the kingdom of Govalkonda and thence to his own kingdom and capital fort Rajgad. He reached Rajgad in September 1666, travelling more than 2000 kilometers in 25 days!
This is the currently accepted hypothesis!
There are several practical reasons for not using the sweetbox for escaping from the imprisonment at Agra. 1. Firstly, it is very inconvenient to sit inside a sweetbox for a grown-up person. He cannot carry a weapon like sword inside the box. Hence, it is very dangerous for a person like Shivaji. He is totally at the mercy of the outside people. 2. Shivaji was residing in one of the big buildings (mansion, haveli) owned by Mirzaraja Jaisingh. Since he was under house arrest, many people (as many as 1000 on the mansion premises as per historical records!), were guarding the house. The sweetbox had to cross at least 5 to 6 check points to go out of the building premises. The probability of one sweetbox being checked is very high. Any given sweet box will surely be checked at least once before leaving the premises. 3. It is impractical and highly risky for both Shivaji and Sambhaji to leave the house using a single mode, methodology, and also together at the same time. They are more likely to be identified and caught if they travel together. Shivaji has not taken such high risks in his life. He always ensured safety in all his adventures. Even today, a lot of rich personalities travel separately from their family members. Sayajirao Gaikwad, the great monarch of Baroda (Vadodara), Gujarat, used to do this. 4. In various original sources on the historical event, there is discord in the recorded date of Shivaji's escape. However, from the Akhabars (daily news bulletin) of Aurangzeb's darbar, it is very clear that the absence of Shivaji was discovered on 18th August 1666 morning (and hence the Mughal conclusion that Shivaji escaped on the day before, 17 August 1666!). 5. It is noted that the sweets were distributed on Thursdays. But, 17th August 1666 was a Friday! Therefore, Shivaji should move out on 16th August, a Thursday. Thus, the hypothesis that he escaped on 17th August does not hold. 6. After his escape he has to travel a long distance. If it is assumed that he travelled via Varanashi, etc., he must travel very fast, at least a hundred kilometers a day! According to the reports about Shivaji's health, it seems that he was not very healthy. Long expeditions on horseback have made him ill several times. Therefore, he is not likely to travel very fast. 7. Also, for the long journey Shivaji must make some arrangements - horses at various points, people to take care of his lodgings, etc. Many of his men were reportedly arrested from various cities located on the direct route to the Deccan! If Shivaji had made all these arrangements on this direct route (which he used while going to Agra), he is more likely to take the direct route only! Also, with these arrangements in place, he need not have to wait till 17th August! 8. The route Shivaji took to reach his kingdom cannot be too long. He must have anticipated that the Moghul army will be on his back almost any time. Therefore, it is wise to reach his own kingdom as early as possible, i.e., by the shortest route. This indicates the straight route which he had taken while going to the north. Also, he is conversant with route. 9. Shivaji reached Agra in about two months, discounting for a week's stay at Aurangabad. While going there he had eight elephants and also palkhis (palanquins) for himself and his officers. While coming back at a fast pace he may take about one and a half month to complete the journey. "Delhi is two months away" has been noted in one of the Marathi bakhars! 10. Some historians say that Shivaji escaped in the guise of a bhoi (carrier of the sweet box or palanquin). But, the sudden appearence of a new bhoi, who did not come from outside, will be noticed by the guards. And also, the personality of Shivaji was a grand one - "When one looks at him, one immediately knows that he must be a king" - this is noted in one of the Rajasthani letters written by Jaisingh's men! So, a bhoi's costume will not match Shivaji's personality!
Thus, the currently accepted sweetbox escape story is just a hype!!
It is now appropriate to ask how did Shivaji escape from the clutches of Aurangzeb? He did escape. That is a fact! Shivaji made new history after returning to the Deccan!! The answer is in the following pages....
Meghadambari - Gallery over Main Entry Gate of a Palace