The Scientific Portal of Behavior, Body Language and Nonverbal Communication#

Search for

September 21, 2013

King Shivaji: Superior in Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal Communication is not at all limited to body language, facial expressions, gestures, postures, vocal tones, para-language, cultural norms, etiquette, impressionism and attire only. It’s the unimaginably broader area that includes different entities, techniques, operations and methods to convey messages, indications, signals, hints and clues from source to destination without words.

Without any doubt, tactical rewards are assured after thoroughly studying, discovering potentials of and applying various elements of nonverbal communication in practical life. After successfully exchanging nonverbal messages and decoding them accurately in lesser amount of time, many stories of unbelievable successes and victories could be written. World's history of warfare and tactics is full of the same.

You might know that torches can be used to send messages or signals especially in darkness by waving or moving them in a pre-specified or a particular pattern. Perhaps, you’ve might seen people doing the same in movies only. What if a King utilizes smoke and cannons to convey encoded messages for achieving something incredible which his enemies cannot think about same in the first place? This is what was exactly happening during 17th century in Maratha Empire of medieval India.

The great Indian king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj intelligently studied and utilized different entities, tools and methods for spreading encoded messages or signals to the troops and allies scattered over a large geographical area and many miles away from the locations where the messages were initiated.

This was really one of the greatest technological or technical achievements at the time when a strategic or tactical exchanges taking place among officials located at different geographical locations were not safe, rapid, secured and efficient.

Human messengers who were capable of covering larger distances on their feet or by riding horses and other animals were employed to exchange written and oral messages. Messages were also used to be sent by employing pigeons, hawks or eagles. Still, it used to take hours, days and sometimes months for successful passage and exchange of a message from one point to another.

Along with same, there were many hurdles, hazards, time constraints, climatic challenges, and physical limitations for exchanging an ordinary message by the aforementioned methods. Nevertheless, it was not assured that the message makes to its destination and the person for which it is intended due to chances of interception, loss and theft. Also, impairment, murder or death of message carrier was highly likely.

Only way was to send some encoded visual or auditory (sounds) messages or signals from one location. Torches can be used to send encoded signals from one point to another but over a certain distance due to limitation of visibility. So what King Shivaji and his men did to convey messages that let them to excel in tactical communication? They might have used other entities, ways, methods, tools and techniques but any written evidences haven’t found yet. Let’s see how they used colored smoke and sounds generated by firing cannons for signaling.

Signals given by firing cannons: King Shivaji and his army fought many wars but the battle of Paawan Khind (Khind - a narrow passage way in the mountainous terrain) became legendary in the whole history of warfare for Maratha Empire. Also, it’s really interesting to know that how exactly Shivaji could send a crucial encoded message to his fighting men much quickly in that critical and demanding situation.

During the secret escape from Panhalgad (a mountainous fort situated near Kolhapur, Maharastra), he and some 600 soldiers headed towards Vishalgad (another mountainous fort, few kilometers away from Panhalgad) through the thick forest at a night with the full moon above in the sky. On their way, they eventually came of know that the enemy troops of Adil Shah has were pursuing them upon getting intelligence of Shivaji's escape and they were getting closer to Shivaji and his companions progressively.

King Shivaji had to reach on Vishalgad at any cost so Bajiprabhu Deshpande (a legendary warrior and one of his commanders) and few men decided stay at Paawan khind, fight with the approaching enemy and let Shivaji reach to the destination safely. He kindly requested Shivaji and other men to keep moving towards Vishalgad. With heavy heart, Shivaji had to keep moving on by leaving 300 committed men behind him to fight with some 3,000 enemy soldiers.

Unlike most of the other self-centered kings, Shivaji was deeply concerned about those men who had decided to create barrier between him and the approaching enemy troops. After reaching at the destination safely, Shivaji couldn’t waste time in attempt of saving lives of his gallantry warriors. Paawan Khind was located few kilometers away from Vishalgad so he could send messengers on horseback to convey the message.

A cannon: Fastest way to send sound across miles

He told them to keep on fighting until he doesn’t reach at Vishalgad and fires few rounds of cannon as signal of his successful and safe appearance at the destination. He asked his men to retreat and run away from enemy soldiers immediately after hearing the sound. Why did he choose only cannons to send them the signal?

Crisscrossing hills, thick forest and tight valleys of Western Ghats of Maharastra were the greatest barriers for sending visual signals. Hence only large and bustling noise could travel the larger distance efficiently and cross the terrain much quickly. That was a ingenuously, instantly and tactically delivered nonverbal message during highly tense time.

Even though they were fatally wounded, Shivaji's gallantry soldiers kept fighting with high spirit and great energy until they heard the roaring sound created by the cannons fired at Vishalgad upon Shivaji's order. Finally, all 300 men including Bajiprabhu Deshpande scarified themselves happily to safeguard the great Maratha Empire.

Signals given by colored smoke: King Shivaji conquered, built and repaired more than 300 forts as the guarding posts of his vast and growing empire that was constantly being spied, invaded and attacked by rivals, kings and emperors. As forts were separated from each other over miles, sending audio signals or messages quickly wasn’t possible. Hence, he came up with an excellent idea.

He ordered the men who were guarding the forts to use smoke for sending signals among different forts spread over a larger geographical are of his empire's heartland. Going further, he invented an encoded messaging system by generating colored smoke. His men discovered trees, bushes and shrubs that could generate smoke in different colors.

Colored smoke: Easily visible from a long distances

As it has been found in many historical documents, white colored smoke was used to convey positive messages e. g. victory, conquer, allying or expansion of the empire. On the other hand, black colored smoke was used to convey negative messages e.g. defeat, retreat, betrayal or death.

After watching colored smoke rising upward from a fort, guards at different forts used to generate smoke with same color to pass on the message to other forts. Just within few hours, a message initiated from one fort could reach to another which was located hundreds or thousands miles away from the first one.

Prescribed codes for bodily conduct: King Shivaji asked his delegates, representatives and messengers to adapt an upright seating posture in meetings. He also asked them to avoid doing uncontrolled and immature body movements, facial expressions, gestures and eye contacts. According to him, any message to the servants should be conveyed through subtle gestures, expressions or emblems only to accomplish the intended tasks.

This article is dedicated to the great King Shivaji Maharaj (Maharaj - a Sanskrit word synonymous to 'King'), his gallantry soldiers, close companions, secret agents and intelligence officers. Shivaji was not only a brave Indian warrior to carve a sovereign pan-Indian subcontinental empire out of the mighty and persecuting Mughal Empire but also a great visionary, engineer, entrepreneur and strategist to inspire millions in their daily lives. He is openly appreciated and accredited by many world famous leaders, historians, travelers, generals politicians, researchers, experts and academics.

Related Articles:
1) What is Nonverbal Communication?


  1. Thanks! This is good. Both the use of the cannon sounds and colored smoke were really clever. (Colored smoke is still used in Italy to send messages about the selection of a Pope - did you know?).

    Language itself seems to have arisen much the same way - except rather than to communicate right away, my thoughts are that language was a means to induce a missed experience in others who could not be there at the time (displaced sensation). Example: if a few members of a clan went on a journey and returned, how would they explain what they saw? First, nonverbally (gestures of mountains valleys, monsters, battles accompanied by rough sounds). Later, the sounds made by human speech became even more explanatory than gestures, so gestures have been partially forgotten as to importance. Like the coding of signals in this article -- they would still work today, just as NVB continues to be used, even if we don't notice it as much as speech anymore.

  2. अप्रतिम लेख , शिवरायांचे चरित्र भारतासहित जगभरात अनेकांनी वाचले आहे ... महाराजांच्या वैज्ञानिक दृष्टीकोनावर प्रकाश टाकणारा लेख

  3. Very nicely explained...use of simple and lucid language makes it more interesting.

  4. Awesome..good work!


Please post your valuable comment here.