The Marathas: Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj - An Analysis
by Ambareesh Phadanvis, 4 April 2010
The character of Shivaji is one of the most
enigmatic characters in the history of India. There are people who
deify him and put him on the pedestal of a god. A few of them are on
the way towards declaring him an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Many
myths are now associated with him.
Many others take the view that he was a mere local
Maratha chieftain who was rebelling against the Mughal empire and
completely overlook the role he played in the Hindu revival in
Many others, who cannot comprehend the pragmatic
approach of Shivaji, which was most practical given his humble
beginnings, brand him as a mere plunderer and looter and equate him
with ordinary dacoits. Between these two poles of emotions, Shivaji,
the man, is on the verge of extinction. This is an attempt to
In the process of understanding Shivaji, a few
events need to be understood. In the long list of those events, the
first is about his grandfather, Maloji Bhonsale, and his
great-grandfather Babaji Bhonsale. Documents suggest that Maloji was
a Jagirdar of Pande-Pedgaon. He inherited a substantial part of his
jahagir. Shahaji was born in 1602, and Maloji died in 1607 at the
Battle of Indapur. Shahaji was five years old when this tragedy
struck. At the time, Maloji was a Bargir serving Lakhuji Jadhav of
Sindkhed Raja, a place in central Maharashtra.
Jijabai gave birth to six children. The first four
did not survive. The fifth and sixth were Sambhaji and Shivaji
respectively. Shivaji's own marital life was not very different from
his father's. He never gave any importance to any of his queens and
rarely entertained their interference in politics. He performed all
the duties as a husband and kept his wives in as much comfort as
possible, but not in any position of importance.
To study Shivaji, we need to view him as part of a
chain of three men constituting his father Shahaji, he himself, and
his son, Sambhaji. Without understanding the other two, one cannot
hope to comprehend Shivaji.
Sambhaji, his son
Did Sambhaji consume alcohol? Was he
charged for the rape of a woman? Was he involved in orgies with
women? Can his behaviour with Soyarabai, Moropanta, and Annaji Datto,
be justified? All these questions are difficult to answer and are
muddled in dubious and mutually contradictory claims. Anyway,
personal qualities are not of any use when determining the greatness
of an individual in politics.
Shivaji arrived at the conclusion that
the Maratha state would have to fight a decisive war with Mughals,
somewhere in 1660-1664. He knew that the Shaista Khan campaign was
just a beginning. The Mughals had been deploying their armies along
the frontiers of the Maratha kingdom in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and
Madhya-Pradesh since 1679. The news that Aurangzeb himself was
coming to invade the Deccan reached Maharashtra in January 1680,
just two or three months before the death of Shivaji. By that time,
the Mughals had already deployed 150,000 to 200,000 men. The clashes
began in the very week that Shivaji died. Moropant Pingle (the
Peshwa), Hambirrao Mohite (the chief of armed forces), and Annaji
Datto (head of the finance department) were preparing to face this
impending invasion. Since 1678, Shivaji had been continuously
purchasing weapons and firearms, and was upgrading his armies, his
forts and his navy in anticipation of this final showdown.
Young Shivaji with his mother, Jijabai, in this statue at
This much-anticipated invasion started in
1681 with 250,000 men, a new king, and the opponent, Aurangzeb
himself, with all the might of the Mughal empire behind him. In
spite of this, continuous warfare from 1681 to 1685 resulted in the
retreat of the Mughals from Maratha territory and a redeployment of
troops against Adilshah and Kutubshah. All the capabilities of
Sambhaji in his territorial administration, his strategic
understanding, his ability to boost the morale of troops, and his
ability to make the right moves were at stake and were thoroughly
tested and sharpened. Shivaji never had to face such an enemy in his
entire lifetime like Sambhaji. This feat demands immense patience
and will power. Therefore, given the fight that Sambhaji put up,
should we give weight to adjectives such as frivolous, incapable,
impatient, and all the other jargon used by Marathi chroniclers, or
should we instead give weight to the adjectives used by the Dutch
and English, who describe him as a patient and stubborn warrior? The
decision is an individual choice.
The personal character of Sambhaji was
not that bad either, as compared to that portrayed by some Bakhars.
Many a Maratha sardar was mildly addicted to alcohol, hemp, opium,
etc. Rajaram, the second son of Shivaji, was highly addicted to
Aurangzeb himself was addicted to alcohol until his
death. However, that never interfered with politics. Aurangzeb
captured and brutally murdered Sambhaji in 1689. By that time, the
result of warfare was as follows: Sambhaji had conquered three
quarters of the Portuguese colonial possessions in Goa and
assimilated them into the Maratha state. The area of territory in
Karnataka that was under Maratha rule doubled. The Maratha
army itself doubled in number and became better equipped. Five or
six forts in Maharashtra were lost, but three or four new ones were
gained; and Aurangabad, Burhanpur, and Goa were plundered. Dhanaji
Jadhav illusively kept the Mughal army, 75,000 strong, away from
Maharashtra, confining it to Gujarat. Therefore, we can see
Shivaji's understanding of politics inherited in Sambhaji.
Shahaji, his father
Shahaji was a sardar in the Nizamshah's court at
Ahmednagar. Nizamshah willingly sacrificed Lakhuji Jadhav for
Shahaji. Yet, Shahaji went to the Adilshah in 1624. Despite
valiantly fighting for Adilshah for two years, he returned to
Nizamshah in 1626. He again changed loyalties and became a Mughal
sardar in 1630. Yet again,
after valiantly fighting for the Mughals, he returned to Nizamshah
in 1632. Throughout all these transitions, he maintained his Jagir
in Pune at his discretion. He maintained an army that was loyal to
him and him alone, irrespective of the power he was serving. He
initiated the policy of uniting the Deccan against the North Indian
Mughals. Many notable people like Khavaskhan, Kutubshah, Madanna and
Akanna of Golconda, and Murar Jagdev supported this united Deccan
policy that Shahaji initiated. Shivaji had repeatedly pronounced
this policy. Sambhaji considered himself to be a patron of Adilshah
Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji, at the height of his powers
Shahaji appointed Dadoji Kondadev as his chief
administrator of the Pune Jagir. He himself was administrating his
Jagir in Bangalore, Karnataka. It was part of his vision that he
distributed his property between two sons in 1636. The Karnataka
Jagir was for the elder son, Sambhaji, and the Pune Jagir for his
younger son, Shivaji. He made the Adilshah appoint Dadoji Kondadev
as subhedar of Pune and gave him control of some army units (about
5,000 strong), fifteen to twenty forts, and an entire administrative
personnel in the form of a Peshwa, an accountant and others. Shivaji
took his oath on Rohireshwar to establish a Hindavi Swarajya in the
presence of Dadoji. The first letter bearing the official seal of
Shivaji is dated 28 January 1646. It is difficult to comprehend that
the young Shivaji, who was a teenager of fifteen years, had this
great blueprint for establishing a Hindu Swaraj along with seals and
official letterheads in his mind. One has to accept the vision and
power of Shahaji that was guiding him, correcting him and shaping
Shahaji was carving a kingdom of his own in
Karnataka. He was doing exactly the same thing through Shivaji in
Maharashtra as well. At both places, the administrators, Shahaji in
Bangalore and Shivaji in Pune, were calling themselves raja, were
holding courts, and issuing letters bearing official seals in
Sanskrit. The Adilshah was weary of this and in 1648 two independent
projects were undertaken by him in order to eliminate these two
growing kingdoms in his territory.
Shivaji defeated Adilshah's general, Fateh Khan, in
Pune, Maharashtra. At the same time, his elder brother Sambhaji
defeated Adilshah's other general Farhad Khan in Bangalore. The
modus operandi of Maratha troops on both the frontiers is similar,
again reinstating the guiding vision of Shahaji. The subsequent
treaty that was signed between two Bhonsale brothers and Adilshah to
rescue Shahaji, who was held captive by Adilshah, marks the first
Mughal-Maratha contact. In 1648-1649, Adilshah captured Shahaji in
order to blackmail his two sons into ceding the territory conquered
by them and accept Adilshah's supremacy. Shivaji wrote a series of
letters to Dara Shikoh (subhedar of the Deccan), pledging to be
subservient to the Mughals. The Mughals recognised Shivaji as a
Mughal sardar and pressurised Adilshah to release Shahaji. In
return, Shivaji ceded Simhagad, while Sambhaji ceded Bangalore city
and Fort Kandarpi in Karnataka.
We can see the coherency in the actions
of Shivaji and Sambhaji. The men assisting both the brothers were
loyal to Shahaji and were trained under him. Even though Shivaji was
the administrative head of the Pune Jagir, many people appealed to
Shahaji against Shivaji's decisions up to 1655. Up to this point, Shahaji's word was considered final in all important matters. Until
this point, Shivaji was not at all free to make his own decisions.
There was a higher power that was controlling his activities.
Gradually, after 1655, this interference steadily diminished, and
Shivaji started emerging as a more and more independent person.
Therefore, if we see these three men as
part of a single link, Shahaji, Shivaji and his son Sambhaji, all
the actions of Shivaji start making sense. In this way, we are
better able to grasp the greatness of the man, Shivaji.
Shahaji raje Bhosale, father of
Shivaji had himself crowned as a Kshatriya
(warrior) king in 1674. Shahaji initiated this policy. The Ghorpade
clan of Marathas considered themselves to be descendents of the
Sisodiya Rajputs. Shahaji attested his claim on the share in
Ghorpade's property from Adilshah long before 1640. In reality,
there is no connection whatsoever between the Sisodiya Rajputs and
the Bhonsale clan. Nevertheless, Maloji started calling himself
Srimant Maloji Raje after becoming a bargir. Shahaji legalised this
claim of being a Rajput from Adilshah. This was of great help to
Shivaji at the time of his coronation in 1674. It is interesting to
see that even after crowning himself as a Hindu emperor, Shivaji
continued writing letters to Aurangzeb, referring him as emperor of
India, and stating that he was a mere servant of the Great
Aurangzeb. We can see the basic pragmatic mindset of Shivaji which
was fuelled by the great dream of establishing a Hindu self-ruling
Jaavli - a turning point
Jaavli's conquest is of prime importance in order
to be able to grasp Shivaji's vision. This region was so difficult
to conquer that Malik Kafur, who defeated the Seuna Yadav dynasty of
Devgiri in the thirteenth century, lost 3,000 men in the attempt. Mahmud Gavan too was defeated while
attempting to conquer this region. It was
one of the most isolated regions in all of India, and it remained aloof
from Muslim dominance throughout history.
Shivaji maintained an
amicable relationship with Chandrarao More of Jaavli. 'Chandra Rao'
was a title given to the ruler of Jaavli. The real name was Daulat
Rao More. After death of Daulat Rao, Shivaji made Yashwantrao the ruler of Jaavli. These events are
from 1647, when Shivaji was seventeen. Here
again we see the vision of his father at work. Later, in 1649, Afzal
Khan was appointed subhedar of the Vai region, in order to mitigate the growing
influence of Shivaji in Jaavli. Mohammad Adilshah was ill; Afzal
Khan was busy in the Karnataka expedition. Taking advantage of this
situation, Shivaji attacked Jaavli in 1656 and conquered it in one
stroke. Yashwantrao fled to Raigad, which Shivaji subsequently
captured after three months. Yashwantrao was captured and sentenced
to death for his activities against the Maratha state and Shivaji
proclaimed the assimilation of Jaavli into his kingdom. Strategically,
this valley is of immense importance as it oversees the routes into Konkan and Goa.
This is one of the most dramatic moments in Shivaji's life,
gave him pan-Indian fame. Shivaji began his work in 1645. He
defeated Adilshah in 1648 and after the treaty, Afzal Khan was appointed subhedar of Vai in 1649. Shivaji conquered Jaavli in 1656
nevertheless. Given this background, Afzal was marching to destroy
Shivaji. There is an added perspective to this relation as well.
Fort Raigad, to which Yashwantrao fled in 1656
Shivaji's elder brother, Sambhaji, was killed in battle due to
treachery of Afzal Khan in the early 1650's. Shivaji had pledged to kill Afzal Khan in vengeance. Therefore, there was a personal touch to
this struggle as well.
Afzal Khan was aware of Shivaji's valour and courage; his record
of deceit, his pledge to kill him for settling the score. Afzal
himself was valiant and master of all deceitful tactics. He had a
record of being ever alert. Yet, it is an enigmatic choice to make
on his part to leave his army behind and meet Shivaji alone. Certain
Persian documents suggest an explanation, stating that it was Jijabai,
Shivaji's mother, who guaranteed the safety of Afzal Khan. It was a
notion that his mother heavily influenced Shivaji.
No one knows
exactly what happened in that meeting. Shivaji had planned this
strike for almost four or five months. Afzal was just an opening move in his
campaign. It was Shivaji's plan to kill Afzal and establish
in the mind of Adilshah. Many Marathi records state that it was
Afzal who struck first. However, this is not definitive, looking at the
depth of planning by Shivaji that preceded it. It was in his plans
to finish off Afzal Khan. Therefore, who struck first is a
matter of speculation, given Afzal's infamous and felonious record of
deceit. Shivaji had planned his entire expedition taking death of
Afzal for granted.
Afzal wanted to avoid Jaavli, but Shivaji's moves forced him to
enter the difficult terrain. In May-June 1659, Adilshah issued
orders to all the local zamindars to help Afzal. However, most of the
deshmukhs in the region backed Shivaji. The main collaborator of
this alliance was Kanhoji Jedhe, a special man of Shahaji's. Therefore, here
again we see the influence of Shahaji working in favour of Shivaji.
That the local Zamindars preferred to fight for Shivaji and refused to
cooperate with Adilshah is itself testimony to this fact. Shivaji's
stature had not grown so much yet that he was able to influence the decision of
the masses. The basic outline of Shivaji's strategy was:
To Kill Afzal Khan at Pratapgarh in the meeting OR in the
battle that would follow.
Achieve the destruction of his army
stationed at the base of Pratapgarh by means of the armies of Silibkar and Bandal.
The destruction of Afzal's troops on the
Jaavli-Vai road by Netaji Palkar.
The destruction of Afzal's armies in the
Ghats by Moropanta Pingle.
Subsequent hot pursuit of the fleeing
To capture Panhalgadh and Kolhapur and
Konkan, and invade the territory in Karnataka up to Bijapur as soon
Shivaji slays Afzal Khan
This entire strategy was planned for three-four
months. This was a huge campaign. Shivaji was not a fool to waste
all this planning. As discussed, Shivaji had planned the killing of
Afzal. Who struck first in that meeting is speculative.
Nevertheless, looking at this holistic planning, I think it did not
matter to Shivaji whether Afzal struck first or not. Afzal was
infamous for many such deceitful killings in his life. Therefore,
given his past record, it is not saying too much to assume that
Afzal struck first. However, nothing definitive is known about it.
The weapon used by Shivaji, according to Marathi resources, was the
tiger claw and a curved dagger, the bichwa. It is possible that even
a sword was used.
Dutch reports state that while Shivaji
was advancing towards Bijapur after Afzal's defeat, his father
Shahaji also was simultaneously approaching Bijapur with a huge
army. Therefore, we can see the plan on a grand scale. However,
somewhere, something went wrong. Shivaji's forces came as close as
sixteen miles to Bijapur and waited for three days. Shahaji's forces
from Karnataka reached there five days late and returned from a
distance of twenty miles. [It is said that] certain Persian
documents support this Dutch claim. So it seems that one of the most
delicately planned campaigns was not completed to its fullest. This
is last reference of Shahaji in Shivaji's political life. Hereafter,
Shivaji grew without the support of or in the shadow of his father.
Adilshah sent Rustum-e-jaman to destroy Shivaji. However, for the
first time, Shivaji entered into a classical head-on cavalry charge,
and completely out manoeuvred and defeated the Adilshahi forces
which were 10,000 strong. Shivaji had 5,000 horses at his command.
The escape from Panhala
Shivaji is one of the most enigmatic
persons and kings in Hindu history. His friends could not understand
him. His enemies also could not understand him. The only person in
those times who could understand Shivaji was Aurangzeb. It was the
vision of Aurangzeb when he predicted the danger that Shivaji could
present as early as 1646, when he was governor of the Deccan in his
During his second term as governor of the
Deccan, Shivaji plundered Mughal territory of Junnar and Bhivandi in
the early 1650s. These forays of Shivaji coincided with Shahjahan's
ill-health. So Aurangzeb had to return to the north to participate
in the battle of succession with his brother, Dara. Nevertheless, he
warned Adilshah and Kutubshah about the looming danger that
Shivaji posed. Shivaji again entered into a treaty with the Mughals
in June 1659, in order to take care of the impending invasion by
Afzal. At the same time, Shaista Khan, maternal uncle of Aurangzeb,
was appointed governor of the Deccan. By that time, in late 1659,
Siddhi Jauhar, the commander of Adilshah's last attempt to control
Shivaji, had cornered Shivaji in Panhalgadh. Taking advantage of
this, Shaista Khan invaded the Maratha state, occupied Pune, and
besieged the ground fort of Chakan.
Shivaji's forces came as close as sixteen miles to Bijapur
However, Shivaji escaped from Panhalgadh
to Vishalgadh in July 1660, due to the valiant efforts of his 600
men, most of whom died in order to keep Shivaji safe. The hero of
the battle was Bajiprabhu Deshpande, who is immortalised for his
sacrifice in the pass of Pavan Khind. Figuratively, the Battle of
Pavan Khind can be compared with the Battle of Thermopylae which was
fought in 480 BC. Three hundred Spartans and 900 assorted Greeks
under the command of the Spartan king, Leonidas, defended the pass
for three days against a large Persian army under Xerxes.
Coincidently, Bajiprabhu also had 300 men
to defend the pass against 10,000 of the Adilshahi forces. The
Battle of Pavan Khind is an excellent example of the superior use of
terrain to benefit a small but disciplined army. They held on until
the signal that Shivaji was safe had arrived. All of them were slain
This is yet another example of Shivaji's
cunningness. Shivaji had defeated a few of Shaista Khan's generals,
namely, Kartalab Khan and Namdar Khan. However, the pinnacle was the
surprise attack on Shaista Khan in the Mughal stronghold, in his
bedroom! Shivaji chose the month of Ramadan to attack Shaista Khan.
Shaista Khan was staying at Lal Mahal, which was childhood home of
Shivaji. Therefore, he knew everything there was to know about the
place. Less than a hundred men, led by Shivaji, attacked this
palace, which was surrounded by a Mughal army as strong as 150,000
men in pitch darkness on the seventh night of Ramadan.
It was a total frenzy. In the darkness, Shivaji and
his men were killing anybody who came in their way. About fifty
Mughal soldiers, six elite women, six common women, many eunuchs,
Shaista Khan's son, his son-in-law, some of his wives, and
daughters-in-laws were killed in this attack. Shaista Khan was
attacked in his bedroom and lost three of his fingers. He escaped,
Shaista Khan was attacked again in April 1663. He
stayed in Pune for six months and tried to whitewash his failure but
to no avail. In December, Aurangzeb transferred Shaista Khan to
Dhaka as governor of Bengal.
Shaistekhan and Surat
It is possible to astound the world around you by
doing something extraordinary. All magicians do this. However, that
was not the business of Shivaji. In the period in which the world
was astounded by Shivaji, he retained his poise and did something
extraordinary which was used to gave him lasting success. After the
defeat of Afzal Khan, he went on to conquer the Konkan, South
Maharashtra and forayed northwards as far as Bijapur. After
attacking Shaista Khan, he retook the lost Konkan.
Maratha coins issued by the new state
It was his political understanding that he used to
attain lasting success by a swift campaign followed by a stunner.
Shaista Khan tried to contain Shivaji for six months, but to no
avail. Aurangzeb had no issue with surprises, but what next? This
was his realistic question. Shaista Khan left for Bengal in December
1663, and in January 1664, Shivaji plundered Surat. If the Afzal
episode gave Shivaji a pan-Indian popularity, this task of looting
Surat made him an international celebrity who was discussed in all
the Muslim world and a substantial part of the Christian world too.
With this act he formally declared war on Aurangzeb.
Mirza Raja Jaisingh
Most of the contemporary chroniclers have taken for
granted the soft corner for Shivaji in Mirza Jaisingh's heart. There
are about 26 letters available which suggest that Jaisingh was one
of the most trusted generals of Aurangzeb. After defeating Shivaji,
it was Jaisingh's suggestion that Shivaji be called to Delhi.
Aurangzeb accepted it. It was Jaisingh's suggestion that Shivaji be
kept under house arrest. Aurangzeb accepted it. It was Jaisingh's
suggestion again that he must not be harmed, for any injury to his
health may end up with a rebellion by the recently subdued Marathas.
It was Jaisingh's reasoning that Shivaji be kept captive in Delhi in
order to blackmail the Marathas, but must not be harmed. Aurangzeb
accepted this suggestion too. Later, he has publicly admitted the
folly of accepting this particular suggestion of Jaisingh's.
Aurangzeb was in favour of killing off Shivaji.
Jaisingh shows a complex mixture of emotions when it comes to
Shivaji and Sambhaji. He was seeing a Hindu state coming into
existence in spite of all the odds. Nevertheless, he was a faithful
servant of Aurangzeb. It was not very sensitive of Jaisingh to keep
the nine-year-old Sambhaji as a captive in his camp until all the
terms of the Maratha-Mughal treaty were implemented. As a
politician, Jaisingh was brutal and ruthless. However, he had an
emotional side as well.
It is documented that both Shivaji and Mirza
Jaisingh had deployed mercenary assassins to finish off each other.
However, both failed. The clauses of the treaty were also quite
harsh on the part of Marathas. Shivaji had to cede 23 forts and
region giving revenue of 400,000 rupees to the Mughals. Shivaji was
left with twelve forts and a region of 100,000 rupees. Shivaji had
to accept the supremacy of Aurangzeb and forced to serve Aurangzeb
as an ordinary jagirdar. Shivaji and the Marathas were practically
finished, thanks to the shrewd politics of Jaisingh and Aurangzeb.
Shivaji rather graphically severs the fingers of the fleeing Shaista
Shivaji laid low for three years after his escape
from Agra. Meanwhile, he implemented various land reforms in his
territories. Shivaji and his minister, Annaji Datto, were the main
pioneers of the land reforms that were introduced. He started the
practice of giving regular wages to soldiers. From 1669 onwards, he
unleashed himself on Mughal and Adilshahi territory in Maharashtra.
His revival was further instigated by the growing fanaticism of
Aurangzeb which was evidenced in his destruction of Hindu temples
such as Kashi Vishweshwar and Mathura, and countless, others along
with the imposition of the Jiziya Tax on non-Muslims.
Shivaji not only regained his lost territory but
also conquered new lands.
The expansion of the Maratha state was
the same at sea as it was on land. The entirety of western
Maharashtra, parts of southern Gujarat, and all of northern
Karnataka were brought under Maratha domination. Land reforms were
introduced which immensely increased Shivaji's popularity amongst
the masses. At the time of his coronation in 1674, his influence was
substantial enough for others in India to recognise him as a
formidable power. Most especially, his rebellion against Aurangzeb
made him a hero amongst the new generation of Hindus.
In 1674, Shivaji successfully proved his
Kshatriya descent using the documents that his father had already
attested through the Adilshahi government. He performed all sorts of
rituals, the thread ceremony, and marrying his own wives again. This
was a time in which religion was very much a powerful influence.
According to Hindu theology, a coronation or
rajya-abhishek is a holy ceremony of immense socio-political
importance. With the king being an incarnation of Vishnu, his land
was his wife, and all his subjects were his children. An authorised
or crowned king was an incarnation of Vishnu himself.
By Shivaji's time, the mentality of a
common Hindu in India was that the ruler was always a Muslim. In
addition, the ruler of Delhi was considered to be the emperor of
India. At its zenith, the rulers of the Bahamani kingdom considered
themselves to be the viziers of the Delhi sultanate, which ruler in turn considered
himself to be the subordinate of the caliph. Since the rulers were Muslims,
Indian Muslim emperors usually portrayed India as a part of the Islamic
caliphate. Allah-ud-din Khilji had his rule attested by the ruler
of Iran. Aurangzeb had his rule over India attested by the caliph of
the Ottoman empire in Turkey. Even Adilshahi, Kutubshahi, considered
the ruler of Delhi to be the emperor of India.
A scene from the coronation of Shivaji
Shivaji escapes from Agra in baskets
There were many Rajput Hindu kings
before Shivaji. However, none had himself crowned according to
Vedic tradition. Even the mighty Hindu Vijaynagar empire did not
a king who was crowned according to Vedic Tradition. This very
ancient ritual of rajya-abhishek had disappeared from India after AD
1000. People knew of this ritual only from stories in the
Gagabhat resurrected this ritual again after studying Vedic
literature and it was he who crowned Shivaji. This was a revolutionary event,
considering the rigid religious society that existed at the time. On one
hand, Shivaji was relating himself with Rama, Yudhishthira and
Vikramaditya. On other hand, he was appealing to the emotions of all
Hindus in India, stating that they had a formal Hindu empire in the
country, one that was fighting for the cause of all Hindus. According to
Puranas, the lineage of Kshatriya kings was lost in Kaliyuga. By
performing this ritual, Shivaji was symbolically stating that
Kaliyuga was over and Satya Yuga had begun. He was making a
that a new age had begun.
He undertook the conquest of
the south in 1677 and carved out a Maratha empire in Southern
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This was the pinnacle of his tactical,
strategic, diplomatic and military achievements.
In doing so, he entered into a strategic alliance with Kutubshah. He
also persuaded Adilshah of the importance of a united Deccan front
against the impending Mughal invasion, a vision that was long
propounded by his father, Shahaji.
Shivaji's last days were marred by
internal conflicts between his council of ministers and his son. The
head of the army, Hambir Rao Mohite, backed Sambhaji, while the
other ministers backed his wife Soyarabai's claim that Rajaram be
named as Shivaji's successor. Moreover, at this very time, Shivaji
was not well, suffering from 'bloody flukes', and Mughal armies were
gathering on the borders. He died on 3 April 1680.
His cremation was not carried out on all its proper decorum because
the Maratha-Mughal clashes began that very week. Later, Sambhaji
performed all the rituals with funeral games lasting for twelve
Shivaji oversees the building of his naval forts
Shivaji and his navy
Shivaji started building his own naval forces from 1656, well before
he killed Afzal Khan. This explains the canvas of his vision.
Maratha-Portuguese relations were always strained, and the decision
to build a navy was essentially to contain European forces. The
Portuguese authorities issued orders to be wary of the Maratha navy
from 1659. After the great Ramraja Chola of the eleventh century, no
Indian dynasty gave importance to a navy. As a result, the
Vijaynagar empire, the Adilshah, the Kutubshah, the Nizamshah, and
the Mughals all saw a steady increase in Portuguese influence.
Despite this, none of them treated the navy as essential component
of their armed forces.
The construction of naval
forts such as Sindhu-durga in 1664, Vijay-durag, and Khanderi-Underi,
and Shivaji's naval conquest of Basnoor and Gokarna in 1665 are of
immense importance while trying to grasp the personality of this
man. The Portuguese had issued the Inquisition in Goa and were
forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity, well before Shivaji's
birth. He defeated the Portuguese for the first time in 1667, and
Sambhaji and later the Peshwas continuously furthered his anti-
Portuguese policy. The reasons for this policy were not only
political, but theological too.
Elsewhere in India,
the English were not a considerable force at this time.
Attempt of an analysis
It can be observed
that among his contemporaries, hardly anyone could grasp his vision.
Shivaji always tried to befriend the Hindu sardars. However, he
could not garner support from the people of his contemporary
generation. All his contemporary Hindu big shots were serving
Islamic empires and fighting against his kingdom. They were seeing a
Hindu kingdom coming into existence. However, they had nothing to
offer except jealousy.
The new generation,
however, was heavily influenced by his work and his ideology. The
proof for this statement is that Aurangzeb could not defeat the
Marathas in spite of twenty-seven long years of warfare. Repeatedly,
he entered into treaties with the Mughals, the Adilshah, the
Kutubshah, and the Portuguese. However, he was never the first to
breach the treaty with either Adilshah or Kutubshah. His policy
towards the Mughals and Portuguese was always that of an adversary.
He did not harm the English and French and remained neutral towards
His policy towards Adilshah and
Kutubshah was that of potential strategic partners. Adilshah never
accepted an alliance of Marathas completely and chose a suicidal
path. Kutubshah did and put up a united front against the Mughal
onslaught. Chhatrasaal Bundela was one of the many young men who
were inspired by Shivaji. He went on to liberate his own homeland,
Bundelkhand from the Mughals. The Sikhs were influenced by the
Maratha upheaval. Guru Gobindsinghji came to the Deccan in order to
try and establish contact with the Marathas but Aurangzeb gruesomely
killed him in Nanded. It is unfortunate that a Maratha-Sikh
relationship could not develop.
Shivaji on campaign with members of his personal guard
He was known to be
very vigilant in regard to the honour of women; even Persian
documents praise him for this quality.
personal character was very clean, quite anomalous with respect to
his contemporaries. It is a well-documented fact that he was
tolerant towards the practitioners of all religions and never
indulged himself in any of the heinous deeds that the marauding
Muslim and Christian forces had inflicted upon India. It is proven
by Shejvalkar that although Shivaji was courageous, he did not use
the horse as his frequent mode of transportation. Usually, he used a
palanquin. Seven-eighths of his life he spent on forts. The modus
operandi of Shivaji and subsequent Marathas involved the thorough
initial planning of the campaign, accepting no more risks than were
necessary, and as far as possible, rarely indulging in personal
It is important to understand the
limitations of Shivaji and to certain extent, subsequent Marathas.
In the seventeenth century, European rulers had the Renaissance as
their ideological backbone. Shivaji did not have such an ideological
pool from which to derive inspiration.
movement was one of the probable sources that might have influenced
Shivaji in his formative years. This differentiates Shivaji from
Cromwell and Napoleon. He was not a hedonist, nor a socialist. He
never thought of educating the downtrodden castes and reforming
Hindu society, eliminating the caste system. He never indulged in a
literacy campaign and neither did he establish the printing press.
He always purchased firearms from the English or the Dutch. It does
not seem that Shivaji cared for the whereabouts of white Europeans.
Before his birth, Galileo had invented the telescope, Columbus had
discovered America, Magellan had circumnavigated the globe, Isaac
Newton was his contemporary. Like all great men, Shivaji was a
product of his own time. His greatness lies in his understanding his
contemporary period with all its subtle undercurrents.
How small Shivaji was
The first fact to
strike is that he created a kingdom. There must have been over five
hundred dynasties in Indian history. Each had a founder. One among
them was Shivaji. The rest had an opportunity to do so because of
Vassals of a weak king
would declare independence with the central power helpless to
prevent it. A powerful general used to dethrone a weak king and
raise his own kingdom. This had been the usual way of establishing a
new dynasty. The new king inherited the existing army and the
bureaucratic structure automatically. In Shivaji's case, however, we
find that he had to raise everything from scratch. He did not have
the benefit of a ready-made strong army, and upon trying to
establish himself, had to face the might of great powers, with the
neighbouring Bijapur and Golconda powers still on the rise and the
Mughal empire at its zenith. Shivaji was carving a niche out of the
Bijapur empire that had assimilated more than half of the Nijamshahi
and was on its way to conquering the entirety of Karnataka. Here is
somebody who, from the start, never had the might to defeat his
rivals in a face-to-face battle, who saw the efforts of twenty years
go down the drain in a matter of four months; but still fought on to
create an empire with twenty-nine years of constant struggle and
It would be easy to see how
small he was once we find which founder to compare him to on this
issue in the annals of Indian history. A typical Hindu power had
certain distinguishing traits. It is not that they did not emerge
victorious in war. Of victories there have been many. However, such
victories did not defeat the adversary completely. The latter's
territory did not diminish, nor his might atrophy. The victory
rarely resulted in the expansion of Hindu territory. Even though
victorious in the past, Hindus would become weaker and remain so. In
short, it is plain that they faced total destruction in the case of
a defeat and high attrition in the case of a Pyrrhic victory.
A new chapter in Hindu history begins with Shivaji wherein battles
are won to expand the borders while strength and will power is
preserved in a defeat. Secondly, the Hindu rulers used to be
astonishingly ignorant of the happenings in neighbouring kingdoms.
Their enemy would catch them unawares, often intruding considerably
into their territory and only then would they wake up to face the
situation. Whatever the outcome of the battle, it was their land
which was defiled. The arrival of Shivaji radically changes this
scenario and heralds the beginning of an era of staying alert before
a war and unexpected raids against the enemy.
Thirdly, the Hindu kings habitually placed blind faith in their
adversaries. This saga terminates with Shivaji performing his
treacherous tricks. It was the turn of the opponents to be stunned.
In the ranks of Hindu kings, the search is still going on to find
somebody to compare to Shivaji on this point. His lifestyle was not
simple. Having adopted a choice, rich lifestyle, he was not lavish.
He was gracious to other religions. On that account, he may be
compared with Ashoka, Harsha, Vikramaditya, and Akbar. However, all
of these possessed great harems. Akbar had the Meenabazaar, Ashoka
had the Tishyarakshita. Shivaji had not given free reign to his
lust. Kings, both Hindu and Muslim, had an overflowing, ever
youthful desire for women. That was lacking in Shivaji. He had
neither the money to spend on sculptures, paintings, music, poetry
or monuments nor the inclination. He did not possess the classical
appreciation needed to spend over twenty crores (one crore equals
ten million) to build a Taj Mahal as famine was claiming hundreds of
thousands of lives; nor was he pious enough to erect temple after
temple while the British were systematically consuming India.
A portrait of Shivaji Maharaj by a Dutch artist
He was a sinner; he was a practical man like the rest of us. Khafi
Khan says he went to Hell. He would not have enjoyed the company of
the brave warriors who preferred gallant death to the preservation
of their land. It would have ill suited him to live with the noble
kings who would rather indulge in rituals such as Yadnya than expand
the army. For Heaven is full of such personalities.
Akbar adopted a generous attitude towards Hindus and has been
praised for that. However, it is an elementary rule that a stable
government is impossible without having a contented majority. Akbar
was courteous to them who, as a community, were raising his kingdom
and stabilising it for him. The Hindus he treated well formed the
majority in his empire and were enriching his treasury through their
taxes. The Hindus had no history of invasions. They had not
destroyed mosques. They never indulged in genocides against Muslims.
They had not defiled Muslim women nor were they proselytes, as
compared to Abrahmic fanatics found in both Muslim and Christian
faiths. These were the people Akbar was generous to.
On the contrary; Muslims were a minority community in Shivaji's
empire. They were not the mainstay of his taxes. They were not
chalking out a kingdom for him. Besides, there was the danger of an
invasion and Aurangzeb was imposing Jiziya Tax on Hindus. Yet, he
treated Muslims well. That was not out of fear but because of his
inborn generosity. Shivaji's expertise as a general is, of course,
undisputed. However, besides that, he was also an excellent
governor. He believed that the welfare of subjects was the
responsibility of a ruler. Even though he fought so many battles, he
never burdened his subjects with extra taxes. Even the expenditure
for his coronation was covered by a tax on the collectors.
In a letter he challenges, "It is true that I've deceived many of my
enemies. Can you show an instance where I deceived a friend?" This
challenge remains unanswered.
He funded establishment of new villages, set up tax systems on the
farms, used the forts to store the farm produce, gave loans to
farmers for the purchase of seeds, oxen, etc, built new forts, had
the language standardised to facilitate intra-government
communication, had astrology revived and revised, and encouraged the
conversion of people from Islam to Hinduism. He was not a mere
Moreover, he believed that charity begins at home. His
brother-in-law, Bajaji Nimbalkar, was forcibly converted to Islam.
He called for a religious council and had him reconverted to
Hinduism. He reconverted many people who had been forcibly converted
to Islam or Christianity. Even after conversion, when nobody was
ready to make a marital alliance with Bajaji's son, Mahadaji,
Shivaji gave his own daughter to Bajaji's son in marriage, and set
an example in society.
Secondly, and most important of all, to protect his kingdom, his
subjects fought for over 27 years. After Shivaji's demise, they
fought under Sambhaji. After Aurangzeb killed Sambhaji, they still
fought for over nineteen years. In this continued struggle, a
minimum of 500,000 Mughals died (Jadunath Sarkar's estimate). Over
200,000 Marathas died. Still in 1707, over 100,000 Marathas were
fighting. They did not have a distinguished leader to look to for
inspiration. There was no guarantee of regular payment. Still, they
kept on fighting.
Shivaji at Satara
In these 27 years, Aurangzeb did not suffer a defeat. That was
because the Marathas simply lacked the force necessary to defeat so
vast an army. Jadunath says, "Alamgir won battle after battle.
Nevertheless, after spending tens of millions of rupees, he
accomplished nothing, apart from weakening his 'All India Empire'
and hurrying on his own death. He could not defeat the Marathas".
When the Peshawai ended (in 1818), there was an air of satisfaction
that a government of law would replace a disorderly government.
Sweets were distributed when the British won Bengal at the Battle of
Plassey (in 1757). Where ordinary man fights, armies can do nothing.
In the long history of India, Kalinga fought against Ashoka. After
Kalinga, Maharashtra fought with Mughals from a grass-roots level.
The greatness of Shivaji lies here in his ability to influence
generations to fight for a cause. Why was Shivaji successful in
making the common man identify with his kingdom? The first reason is
his invention of new hit and run tactics. He showed people that they
could fight the Mughals and win. The insistence was always on
survival and the maximum attrition of the enemy in his territory,
along with a successful retreat. He gave his men the confidence to
believe that if they fight this way, they would not only outlast the
Mughals, but also defeat them.
He moved aside traditional notions of chivalry and valour on the
battlefield, for which the Rajputs were famous. Instead, he focused
on perseverance, attrition, survival at all costs, a series of
tactical retreats and then finishing off the foe. His land reforms
were revolutionary which further brought his subjects emotionally
closer to him. He took care of their material needs, which is of the
utmost importance. He also started the system of paying wages in his
The third reason is the Hindu ethos and hatred towards Muslim
supremacy which was prevalent in the masses. In this light, the
above facts demonstrate the excellence of Shivaji as the founder of
a dynasty, one which ended the political supremacy of Islam in
Shivaji fits in all the criteria of Chanakya's ideal king.
Considering the prevalent socio-political scenario, it is fallacious
to try and fit Shivaji into classical Kshatriya values of chivalry
and nobility. Shivaji was religious; but he was not a fanatic.
Although ruthless and stubborn, he was neither cruel nor a sadist.
He was courageous, yet not impulsive. He was practical; but was not
without ambition. He was a dreamer who dreamt lofty aims and had the
firm capacity to convert them into reality.
Epilogue on coronation controversy
Shivaji on campaign by Dhurandar
Controversy unfortunately exists regarding the coronation of
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
The controversy has been fuelled and used to create the famous
Brahmin-Maratha dispute in Maharashtra. I strongly oppose such
mischief mongers and believe that both these communities are pillars
of Maharashtrian society and need to move ahead hand in hand.
While criticising any historical personality, I think, we must think
from the reference frame existing during that time. Trying to apply
present values and understanding of ethics to the people of the past
is a great fallacy and nothing is more misleading and specious than
The controversy arose due to following reasons:
Firstly, according to Hindu theology, in kali-yuga, there are only
two varnas; Brahmins and Shudras. There are no Kshtriyas and
Vaishyas. The opposition of Brahmins in recognising Shivaji as a
Kshatriya has its roots in this deep-rooted belief. Shivaji proved
his descent by tracing his lineage to the Sisodiya Rajputs of
Rajasthan. In fact, this was done by Shahaji himself in the 1630s.
The second issue was that many Brahmins in the past, such as
Krishnaji Bhaskar, emissary of Afzal Khan, were killed by Shivaji
himself. It is a well known fact that Brahma-Hatya (the act of
murdering a Brahmin) is one of the biggest of the sins that are
described in Hindu theology. No one was supposed to kill a Brahmin.
Since Shivaji had killed Brahmins, according to theology, it was a
crime with no Prayashchitta (repentance ritual). But Gaga Bhat,
being an authority on Vedic literature, argued that there were some
repentance rituals which were described in scriptures which could
wash away the sin of a man who had to kill a Brahmin in extreme
situations. Also, he reasoned that since those Brahmins who were
killed by Shivaji were not practicing Brahmins, but were just
Brahmins by birth, it is possible to hold a repentance ritual for
the killings of Brahmins in such cases.
Thirdly, for being a Kshatriya or Brahmin or Vaishya, one has to be
a Dwija (twice born). According to Hindu theology, man comes to
birth on the second instance when he has performed the thread
ceremony or Upanayan Sanskar. After that ceremony, man enters
Brahmacharya-Ashram. After this stage, he can marry and enter
Grihastha-Ashram. Shivaji was already married to eight ladies. So he
entered Grihastha-Ashram without going through Brahmacharya-Ashram
and this was an immoral act according to the scriptures. This was a
technical fault. So the thread ceremony was performed on Shivaji and
he formally became a Brahmachāri. Then he remarried his wives again
and formally became a Grihastha. Now he was eligible to be crowned
king. After he became a crowned (or anointed) king, he was conferred
the authority or the Raja-Danda to punish Brahmin culprits to death
as well. No sin whatsoever, as an anointed king is considered to be
an incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself. Shivaji performed all these
ceremonies and rituals of repentance and others elaborately. There
were too many rituals to perform, with the result that it was a bit
of a costly affair. He recovered the money by looting the Mughal
treasury soon after the coronation.
Shivaji at his prime
He also levied a surcharge on the feudal lords. He did not levy a
single penny of extra tax on the common man. Today, we may laugh at
this ritualistic society. But at that time, it was the norm of
society. Shivaji himself abided by it. Hindu society had become too
rigid and ritualistic. And don't forget, this was a revolutionary
thing happening. It was something that was unheard of in real life.
It was heard of only in myths and tales. It takes time for a rigid
society to accept this kind of change. But the work of Shivaji and
the authority of Gaga Bhat were in favour of this very aberrant
ceremony. Hence it was materialised. We should not forget the
ritualistic society that existed then, and was at its lowest ebb due
to Islamic supremacy.
The Maratha movement was a part of the overall Hindu revival.
Everybody in this world is motivated by selfish reasons. But, along
with the ambition to establish an empire, their ambition was also to
end the socio-political Islamic supremacy in India. Although they
lasted for just 170 years, from 1645-1818, they succeeded in
loosening and throwing off the shackles of Islamic supremacy to a
very large extent. Sikhs, Ahoms, Jats, later Rajputs, Bundelas and
many others were also an important part of this overall Hindu
People from different states refuse to acknowledge this fact. It is
a pity that many people from other states feel that the Mughals were
much closer to them than the Marathas. This is partly because of
certain ill deeds by the Marathas themselves. The contribution of
the Marathas towards a nationalistic Hindu revival was rarely
understood in medieval days. And it is misunderstood in this era by
many people of other states. I think that we need to polish and
present our image in history with vehemence so that we can give our
ancestors due credit.
Shivaji the hero
I wish to thank Shri Ambareesh Phadnavis, who
painstakingly translated and compiled this article, originally
written by Shri Narahar Kurundkar, as a preface for Shriman Yogi.
Desai, Ranjit - Shriman Yogi (the
article itself is crudely based on the preface of the novel
Shriman Yogi by Shri Ranjit Desai. This preface is written by
Shri Narahar Kurundkar).
Duff, Grant - History of India
Purandare, B M - Raja Shiva Chhatrapati
Rajwade, V K - Selected works
Sardesai - Riyasat
Sarkar, Jadunath - Shivaji and his Times
Savarkar, V D - Hindu Pad Paatshahi
Savarkar, V D - Six Glorious Epochs of