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aurangzebTHE DECCAN SEEMS LIKE the last and most vexing frontier for the Mughals. If it had frustrated Shah Jahan in his time as Emperor, and his father before him, Aurangzeb is eager to make a point of his superiority and stops at nothing to succeed where his predecessors had failed.

He is up against a loose confederacy of Sultanates that includes the wealthy kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda, both of which are well-known for their diamond mines. The Bahamini structures here are distinctively Persian, with little vernacular influence, however the food is a blend of local Deccani and Persian – pilaus with nuts and dry fruits encounter tamarind, coconut and curry leaves. 

But in the last few decades, the Sultanates have been less of a concern for Aurangzeb that the growing challenge of the Marathas under the leadership of the redoubtable military leader Shivaji. Intrigued by him, Aurangzeb finally gets his chance to meet the leader face-to-face at the Mughal Court in Agra in 1644. However Shivaji is deliberately not granted an exclusive audience, instead he is received in the company of other army officers. Shivaji storms out at the affront and Aurangzeb orders his men to see that he is not allowed to leave the premises. 

Shivaji in Aurangzeb custody

Shivaji eventually finds a way out of his confines at Agra (Image: Painting by AH Muller)

Not one to give his game away, Shivaji pretends to settle into a routine. Feigning sickness, he sends out baskets of sweetmeats every evening to the holy men of the city, in return for their blessings for his health. Each basket is huge and is slung on a pole that is carried by two men. After weeks of getting the guards accustomed to this routine, one evening he manages to secret himself in a sweetmeat basket and is quietly carried out of the city. This masterstroke of deception is good example of his original on-field guerrilla tactics that will set Aurangzeb on edge.