An Etymological Question

In the book, Genghis Khan: Life Death and Resurrection, by John Man, I stumbled upon the word – Subedei. This is the name of one of the four generals of Genghis Khan – known as the “four hounds.” The variants of that name include, Subotai, Subedei, Tsubotai, and the preferred spelling Sübeetei (Chinese). Something about this name and some further clicking from one link to another was a path to a thought – a theory.Here I go, with the theory (yes, yet another).

I believe this is another example of a person who became a word. Like Louis Pasteur. A small background, before I begin: Subedei is a Mongol word. According to the Wikipedia article on Subedei, he is also know as “Subedei Baatar (meaning Subedei Warrior/Hero in Mongolian history books)” Baatar, seems to be a common word in Mongolian – Starting from the capital – Ulan Baatar (spelling variants to this exists too, Ulan Bator, for example). I’ll stick with Baatar for this article. Ulan Baatar translates to Red Hero, named in the honour of Damdin Sükhbaatar.

And coming back to the theory, I believe that the word Subedar in Hindi (Hindustani, to be more precise), is a derivative of Subedei. Apart from his other conquests, he fought significant wars in Central Asia – I’d assume that given his fame – he lived in the history books of that time – for some time. So the word must have remained in memory for some time – let’s assume a couple of hundred years – for the sake of my theory – and that the word eventually became a more generic one – to mean a lead – in an army. Subedei died in 1248. A little more than hundred years later, Timur-e Lang was born (1336) and ruled most of Central Asia until 1405. Along comes Babur in 1526 – after the First Battle of Panipat – and establishes the Mughal Empire. Mughal, being the Turkish word for Mongol. Pretty long winded, but I’ll now get to the point.

This is how I think the word Subedar, though a title now, came as a variant of Subedei via Mongolia. The reason, by the way, about the background of Ulan Baatar earlier, is that I noticed a word, in the book, Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan’s Greatest General by Richard A. Gabrielbagatur. It gives the same meaning to this word as baatar – brave, valiant, hero. Bagatur – again – closely resembles Bahadur – the Hindi word for brave, valiant, hero. Richard Gabrial further works on this word and mentions that the Russian word – bogatyr – is a derivative of bagatur.

This theory has been confirmed.

The Subedar theory however is suspect, a bit fanciful even. (Just this indulgence, however, has helped me stumble on a few things of note.) The reason why my theory may fall to pieces, is that it’s likely that the word is an extension of the word suba, meaning district, collection of villages etc. and anyone who was responsible for such a suba, would aptly be called Subedar.

But if bahadur travelled from the steppes of Mongolia via Uzbekistan to India, there may be a glimmer of hope for subedar.

PS: If you do have ideas about the root of Subedar, I’d love to hear from you – help my theory – either ways.


Panhala Fort

A new page on Panhala Fort is up, it is still being edited, please keep watching.


  1. Added image of Baji Prabhu Deshpande (24.10.2006)

Fort Panhala

Go northwest of a city ripe with Maratha history; sprinkle a few stories of valour and intrigue, and you have a taste of Panhala.

Into the Light


While the fort has witnessed many events, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s escape from Panhala and the ensuing Battle of Paavan Khind is what Panhala is most famous for. And you wouldn’t ever miss this story — if you went to Panhala, because a towering statue, all 52 kilograms of bronze, stands in the middle of the fort to honour the one person who ensured that Shivaji survived his escape to Vishalgad.


The Seige of Panhala

The origins of this battle were laid a little over six months before, when Shivaji killed Afzal Khan at Pratapgad on the 10th of November in 1659. This was then followed by a very short battle a month later between Shivaji and Rustom-e-Jaman at Kolhapur on December 28, 1659. Shivaji, after this victory took over Panhala from Ali Adil Shah II, the fifth king of the Adil Shahi sultanate of Bijapur (Bijapur was one of the five Deccan sultanates including Ahmednagar, Bidar, Berar, and Golconda). Shivaji then continued spreading his influence over the region. This obviously caused distress to Ali Adil Shah II who was all set to march to Panhala. However, Siddi Johar who had defied the Shah and taken over the jagir Kurnool, offered a deal to Ali Adil Shah II to recognise his control over Kurnool in return for laying the siege at Panhala. The Shah agreed, and also gave him the title of Salabat Jung. Siddi Johar was assisted by Siddi Masud and Fazal Khan (Afzal Khan’s son). The seige was laid on March 2, 1660 with a force of fifteen thousand men.

The siege continued for six months into the month of July in 1660. The Adilshahi army cut of all supplies to the fort and made it increasingly difficult for Shivaji to continue resisting the siege. Sensing the trap, Shivaji clandestinely communicated with Siddi Johar and requested an alliance with him and a safe passage. Siddi, saw this as an opportunity to carve out a separate empire of his own with Shivaji and agreed to meet him. They met at at midnight and agreed to cooperate. Shivaji returned to the fort and the seige continued as before.

Fazal Khan, however, was adamant on taking revenge for the death of his father, Afzal Khan, at Pratapgad. He maintained a close watch on the movements of Shivaji and continued the seige in all seriousness. However, Panhala is one of the largest forst in the Sahydri Mountain Range. Fifteen thousand men were too less to take on a fort of that size. Fazal Khan, instead, chose to atatck Pavangad, a nearby fort and avoided a frontal attack. He used British guns and began shelling Pavangad. The commander of Pavangad requested for relief from Panhala. Shivaji know knew that if Pavangad fell, supplies to Panhala would be cut and would be starved.

Two teams left Panhala on the night of July 13, 1660. Shivaji and his commanders took a side road to Vishalgad, about 70 kilometres away from Panhala, while Shiva Kashid, a barber who had a strong resemblence to Shivaji, led the other team on the main road to Vishalgad, impersonating Shivaji. When news reached Fazal Khan’s camp, they captured the second team and brought them back to base. The imposter was however recognised and beheaded and Fazal Khan chased Shivaji through the night to Vishalgad.

Shiva Kashid
Statue of Shiva Kashid, Entrance of Panhala

As they were nearing Vishalgad, at Gajapur, 12 kilometres away from their destination, Baji Praphu Deshpande, one of Shivaji’s commander stayed back at a narrow pass named Ghodkhind with seven hundred other maratha warriors. This is a classic rear-guard defence tactic, during an escape. Interestingly a similar situation was faced by the Greeks against the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae

Baji Prabhu Deshpande
Statue of Baji Prabhu Deshpande at Panhala

Baji Prabhu’s instructions were to hold guard till he heard cannons fired from Vishalgad, which would signal the safe passage of Shivaji into Vishalgad. Baji Prabhu fought valiantly in that pass for five hours, supposedly with two swords weighing 15 kilograms each. (Shivaji later renamed that pass as Paavan Khind (Sacred Pass) in the memory of Baji Praphu Deshpande). The remaining soldiers carried his wounded body into the hills and left the pass open.

The chasing army pushed on to Vishalgad, however chose not to attack in that terrible region (If you have been there, you will know what it means.); they returned to Panhala, and eventually to Bijapur. Johar’s treason was now known to Ali Adil Shah II and he moved to Miraj to ‘punish’ him. Johar saw his position and finally made the Marathas give up Panhala on September 22, 1660 and handed over the fort to Adil Shah II. (January 1661, according to Grant Duff)

Sambhaji Imprisoned in Sajja Kothi

(Coming Soon)

Fort Chronology

  • Built by King Bhoja (Shilahara dynasty) between 1178-1209
  • Passed on to Singhana (Yadav Dynasty) during 1209-10 CE
  • Under Adil Shai rule, 1489
  • First captured by Shivaji on 28 November 1659.
  • Laid seige by Siddi Masud and Fazal Khan (Afzal Khan’s son) on March 2, 1660
  • Shivaji escapes the seige on July 13, 1660.
  • Fort recaptured by Ali Adil Shah II in January 1661.
  • Annaji Pant, led by Kondaji Farzand regains Panhala, 6 March 1673.

Inside the Fort & Architecture

Starting from the early build by by Raja Bhoja II, Panhala has seen itself further decorated and fortified by its various owners over time. The primary architectural stamp on the fort, however, is in the Indo-Islamic style, popularised by the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur.

Panhala has various examples of this architectural identity: peacock motifs, arches, domes, and vaults. Lime mortar has also been used extensively as also lead.

The room over Andhar Bau (Dark Well)

Where have all the horses gone...
The Horse Stables

Peacock Motif
Peacock Motif, Bahamani Sultanate

Lotus Motif
Shilahara Dynasty, King Bhoja II

Groin Vault
A simple groin vault.

Lattice Work
Lattice Work outside the Main gate of Teen Darwaza (Three Gates)

Lead as Mortar
Use of molten lead, mixed with mortar to strengthen the foundations of the fort. Panhala, Kolhapur.

General Information

At an altitude of 3177 feet above seal level, Panhala is a very scenic place, just 18 kilometers away from Kolhapur. It is one of the largest forts of the Deccan and has fortified walls for about 8 kilometres of its triangular structure.

You can have look at Panhala in Google Earth. Paste the text below in the search box of Google Earth.

16°48’43.75″N 74° 6’27.26″E

Or, you can see it in Google Maps here


  1. Panhala @ Wikipedia (
  2. Battle of Pavan Khind (
  3. Battle of Kolhapur (
  4. A Long Weekend in Kolhapur, a Rediff Article by V S Srinivasan (
  5. Maratha War History, Brig.(Retd) K G Pitre (AVSM), Continental Publishers, Pune (Marathi Publication)
  6. Shivaji and his Times, Jadunath Sarkar, Orient Longman, ISBN 8125013474
  7. ‘INDO – ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE’, Centre for Cultural Studies [accessed 3 July 2010].
  8. Michell, George, and Mark Zebrowski. “Chapter 2: Forts and Palaces.” Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates (The New Cambridge History of India). New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 23. Print.


  1. Sources on Shiva Kashid are sketchy and not verifiable. It is not known whether he was beheded by the Adilshahi army or not. Interestingly, the Shiva Kashid incident doesnt find mention in major history references, however – it is his statue that greets you as you enter Panhala.
  2. All photographs, unless otherwise stated, (c) Atul Sabnis. All rights reserved.

Fort Pratapgad

(Page under Construction)

Afzal Buruj

Afzal Buruj (Bastion), at Pratapgad


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(Under Construction)
Pratapgad was built after the annexation of Javli (15 January 1956). Shivaji built this fort after the conquest of Javli from the Moré (मोरे) family — who had received the State of Javli from the Sultan of Bijapur. in the early 16th century.

The conquest of Pratpgad was spearheaded by Raghunath Ballal Korde who launched a sudden attack on Chandra Rao and Surya Rao (Moré brothers) and killed them. As soon as news of this stabbing reached Shivaji, he attacked Javli. After six hours of defence, Javli was overcome and captured by Shivaji.

Fort Chronology

Come to Pratapgad

(Under Construction)

  • Built in 1656 by Moropant Trimbak Pingale

Inside the Fort & Architecture

(Under Construction)

General Information

(Under Construction)
Height: 1,080 metres above Sea Level

Getting There

(Under Construction)


(Under Construction)
24km from Mahabaleshwar
15km from Poladpur


Location: 17° 55′, N, 73° 35′ E

View Pratapgad Map in Google Maps


(Under Construction)

  • The Gazetteers Department, Satara, Maharashtra Government
  • Sarkar, Jadunath. Shivaji and His Times. 1952. Reprint. Mumbai: Orient Longman, 1997. Print.