The valiant lieutenant who became a martyr in the struggle for Hindavi Swarajya
Bajiprabhu Deshpande was a Sardar from the Hirdas region in Maval area that is today a part of Bhor taluka in Pune district. He hailed from the family of DeshKulkarni. Baji was the secretary of the Badal family that fought against Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. He was a die-hard soldier – loyal, disciplinarian, willing to sacrifice and a man of resolve. Even at age fifty, Baji worked for 20-22 hours a day and was thus highly respected in the entire Maval region. Impressed by his courage and administrative skills, Shivaji Maharaj made this multi-dimensional personality a part of his troop. Baji dedicated his loyalties to Shivaji Maharaj for the independence struggle.
Bajiprabhu held Shivaji Maharaj in love and respect and yet worried about him like a father. When Siddhi Johar encircled Panhalgarh, Bajiprabhu accompanied Shivaji Maharaj in breaking free through the siege in order to reach Vishalgarh. A clever ploy, with a decoy of Shivaji Maharaj, distracted the Moguls, in their chase. Realising that the Mogul soldiers would soon catch up, Bajiprabhu instructed Shivaji Maharaj to continue towards Vishalgarh while stationing himself at the pass. Bajiprabhu, together with his brother Phulaji and only 300 Mavale manned the pass at Gajapur, also known as GhodKhind, and held back thousands of the Moguls. Even after the exhausting 21-hour walk, Bajiprabhu and his Mavale held the pass for over 6-7 hours with great endurance and courage. The failing resistance of his soldiers, his slain brother, Phulaji and his own injured self did not deter Bajiprabhu from fighting and keeping the Moguls at bay until Shivaji Maharaj was safely ensconced at Vishalgarh. Through the entire battle, Bajiprabhu, even though grievously injured, continued fighting, inspiring his men to fight on until Shivaji's safe journey to Vishalgarh was signalled by the firing of three cannon volleys. The day was the 13th of July 1660.
The Pass was subsequently named Pavan Khind (Holy Pass) by Chhatrapati Shivaji, in honour of the sacrifice of Bajiprabhu and his troops. Shivaji also gave Bajiprabhu's family manache pahile pan (Honour of the Court). The mausoleums of Bajiprabhu and Phulaji are located at Vishalgarh. Similarly, a life-size statue of Bajiprabhu has been erected at Panhalgarh.
It was the valour of lieutenants like Bajiprabhu and Phulaji, who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the safety and security of their king that ably served the cause of the Maratha sovereign that Chhatrapati Shivaji set out to accomplish. All the same, losing these gems-among-men would undoubtedly be a cause of anguish even for the bold-hearted.
Ranachandiche janu pujari, PavanKhindiche gaji
Vishalshaili disati doghe, Baji aani Phulaji
[Devotees of the goddess of the battlefield, valorous gallants of PavanKhind
Imposing thy presence, Baji and Phulaji]
Inspired by this brave lieutenant, noted film director, Baburao Painter immortalized him in his film Bajiprabhu Deshpande, in the year 1929.