The coronation of Shivaji Maharaj was a watershed
event in the history of Maharashtra.
After a long hiatus during which foreigners had
ruled, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had
managed to carve out a Hindu kingdom in an Islamic India.
Those were troubled times. The foreign rulers had always displayed
religious arrogance towards their Hindu subjects. Justice was never
even and lawlessness was rampant. Even their royal courts produced
rival factions, with the Irani (Persian) / Turani (Central Asian)
stock gaining precedence over the indigenous Hindustani. Their Hindu
fief holders were more interested in retaining their estates and
they turned a blind eye to the fanaticism of their masters. Hence there
was a general feeling of discontent amongst the populace, albeit muted. However,
people secretly desired a liberator. That was when Chatrapati
Shivaji Maharaj arrived on the scene.
Such was the personal charisma and persuasiveness of the king, that
his every follower identified with his cause and joined him in large
numbers. He gave them hope to cling to and a dream to cherish.
He promised them a land that they could call their own, a land free of
oppression and religious bigotry, a land in which justice prevailed, a
land where people were heard and had their say. Of course it was to
be a monarchy, but it would be a very benevolent monarchy.
Eventually, it took Shivaji almost three decades to translate his
dream into reality. His kingdom was duly named 'swarajya' or self
rule. Though popularly known as Hindavi swarajya, it wasn't just a
swarajya for the Hindus but a swarajya for all those who considered
themselves to be the sons of the soil (sons of hind - Hindustan).
According to the historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Shivaji's greatness
lay not in his creation of a kingdom, but in the circumstances in
which he created it (...from the survey of the conditions amidst
which he rose to sovereignty). Shivaji's swarajya was accomplished
amidst extreme adversity. This was something nobody had envisaged.
After decades of enslavement, the most fierce of warriors had turned
benign and resigned to their fate of subservience. This remained
the case until the advent of Shivaji. He stirred them from their
slumber and ignited in them the spark of freedom. After almost three
and-a-half centuries of a foreign rule (by the Afghans, the Mughals,
or sultans of Persian descent), finally the people had a king
who had risen from their own stock.
Shivaji's coronation was a lavish, multi-day event with great
festivity and celebration
Shivaji was a charismatic and dynamic leader of the Marathas
To achieve his goal Shivaji had to tackle not one but two formidable
empires. The Adilshahi sultanate of the south and the mighty Mughals
of the north (not to mention irritations from the Europeans). It was
no mean achievement by Shivaji.
He was tremendously constrained in terms
of resources and manpower. But nevertheless he succeeded in his
quest by sheer grit, brilliant acumen, a daring approach, and an
endurance of spirit. As the adage goes, luck favours the brave, and
mother destiny too showered her gracious fortune on this
entrepreneurial son of hers. Shivaji's courage was rewarded with
some early successes and his ambitions soared new heights. But one
of Shivaji's great qualities was that, while his head always looked
towards the sky, his feet were always firmly set on the ground.
Shivaji was undoubtedly a very courageous person, but his courage
was never impaired by recklessness. Instead it was embellished by
caution. Like a seasoned general, he knew exactly when to attack and
when to retreat. He was extremely circumspect while fighting the
enemy. He did so with extreme cunning, a knowledge not just of his
own strengths and weaknesses but also those of his enemy, something
which he acquired through his resourceful spy network. Thanks to
this, more often than not the time and place of his battles were of
his own choosing, something which gave him a distinct edge over the enemy.
Shivaji always proved to be a step ahead of his rivals.
Starting as a teenaged leader of a band of young Mavales
(inhabitants of the Maval region around Pune), Shivaji was quick to
comprehend the geographical intricacies of Sahyadri terrain. He
used these mountains virtually as his armour while battling some
very daunting foes. Lightening in his movements, he swept down on his
unsuspecting enemy and before the latter could react, disappeared
into the darkness of the night or back into the thickly vegetated
camouflage of the hills. Despite the colossal size of their armies
and their great wealth, his enemies soon found themselves helpless
against the brilliance of Shivaji's stratagems.
Shivaji sowed the seeds of the Maratha empire
Shivaji practised the Kautilya neeti of Chanakya,
whereby the end was more important than the means. After all, his enemy was
powerful and manipulative, and it was more often necessary for Shivaji to match
deceit with cunning. He never made any pretensions towards chivalry or
magnanimity when it came to his enemies (which history repeatedly shows has
led many a great warrior to their fall), and crushed his enemies with
ruthlessness. Even veteran generals such as the Goliathic Afzal Khan and
powerful Shaista Khan found it difficult to match Shivaji in terms of guile
and they soon found themselves at their wit's end.
Shivaji was a born leader of men. He
inspired loyalty in his soldiers to such an extent that many a
gallant knight such as Tanaji Malusare, Baji Prabhu Deshpande, Prataprao Gujar,
and Baji Pasalkar, readily sacrificed themselves at the altar whenever the need so
arose. In fact no era ever witnessed such a regularity of martyrdom as
during Shivaji's time.
Though it is true that Shivaji was a devout Hindu who fought
enemies, many of whom were incidentally Islamic by faith, it will be factually
incorrect to label Shivaji as a Hindu zealot or anti-Muslim. On the contrary,
his secular credentials were always impeccable. He regularly prayed at Muslim
dargahs and sought blessings from Sufi peers such as Baba Yakut. Muslims
were free to practice their religion in his kingdom without any hindrance.
Shivaji was even magnanimous in allowing the tomb of his arch foe, Afzal Khan,
to be built at the site at which he was killed.
Shivaji ever raze a mosque in victory or allow anyone to
desecrate the Holy Koran during his raids. He disallowed the defilement
of womenfolk even from the enemy camp. He had issued strict warnings
to his men to refrain from such acts and meted out the strictest
punishment to those found guilty of breaking these cardinal rules.
This fact has been acknowledged even by the Mughal chronicler Khafi
Khan, one of Shivaji's severest critics.
Rajmudra, Shivaji's royal seal
Moreover, Shivaji freely
employed Muslims in his army in various positions. There are
examples of them reaching high positions, including Noor Beg, Haider Ali
Kohari, Daulat Khan, and Ibrahim Khan to name but a few. But at the
same time Shivaji never hesitated to take up cudgels for his Hindu
brethren. His bold letter chastising Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb for
the oppression of Hindus is quite well known. It wasn't a
war between Hindus and Muslims as such, but more a war
between the native inhabitants and the oppressive invader.
Shivaji began his quest with a small hereditary fief, but
increased it tenfold by capturing a large region that stretched from ghats
bordering Pune to the coastal plains of the Konkan. It became all
the more imperative that the Marathas declare their own king to rule
this vast land. Eventually a pandit from Kashi by the name of Gaga
Bhat suggested that the Rajyabhishek of Shivaji take place and Shivaji
be crowned the king of kings, the Chatrapati. The coronation ceremony
was therefore conducted on 6 June 1674, in Fort Raigad amidst great pomp
The English envoy, Henry Oxinden, who witnessed the ceremony
wrote, '...This day, the Raja, according to the Hindu custom, was weighed in
gold and poised about sixteen pagodas which money together with one
hundred thousand more, is to be distributed after his coronation
onto the Brahmins who in great number are flocked hither from all
the adjacent countries...'.
The Jedhe Chronicle mentions '...on 30 May 1674, Shivaji was
invested with the holy thread and he married again according to the
Records also mention the presence of the heir apparent, Sambhaji, with
Shivaji's queens, his mother Jijabai, and many royal
attendees, dignitaries and soldiers. There were several elephants
and horses present in the fort, as observed by Oxinden.
The coronation too place in Fort Raigad
Sabhasad mentions 'A golden throne weighing thirty
maunds was made and inlaid with the choicest and the most precious jewels
of nine kinds procured from the treasury... the total expenditure incurred in
the cost of the ceremony amounted to one crore and forty thousand
honas. The ashta pradhans (eight ministers) were honoured with a
lakh of hon each besides an elephant, a horse, clothes and
ornaments... thus the Raja ascended the throne'.
Shivaji struck his own coins and inaugurated a new era called
Rajyashaka. Also, Fort Raigad was declared the new capital of the
kingdom. A blueprint of the proposed administration of the kingdom
was drawn out. It was executed by Ranganath Pandit and was called
But tragedy struck Shivaji when he lost his mother, Jijabai,
hardly within a month of the coronation. Shivaji considered it a bad omen
and re-conducted the coronation ceremony, this time as per tantric traditions.
The ceremony was conducted by one Nischalpuri Gosavi. This ceremony was,
however, a very simple affair and lasted just for a day.
Shivaji didn't rest on his laurels and conducted several
successful incursions into enemy territory in the south (northern Karnataka,
and Ginjee in Tamil Nadu), which brought him more territory, wealth and glory.
Shivaji could have achieved much more if his eventful life
hadn't been cut unexpectedly short. He fell ill and breathed his last
on 3 April 1680, almost six years after his coronation. He was just
Shivaji left behind a legacy. A legacy which empowered the
future generations of Marathas, providing them with a self-belief that
propelled them to rise as major force in the political scene of a greater
A contemporary depiction of Shivaji
Duff, James Grant - History of the
Mahrattas, Associated Publishing House, New Delhi, 1971
Kincaid, C A - A History of the Maratha
People, Oxford University Press, London, 1918