Shahu was the son of Chatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj
and his queen, Yesubai. As such, he was the grandson of the great Chatrapati
He was born in 1682. After the execution of his father at the hands
of the Mughals, Shahu and his mother were taken away as
prisoners by them (after the fall of Fort Raigad). Shahu was
therefore raised in Mughal captivity. 
Aurangzeb had wanted to convert Shahu to Islam, but
on the request of his daughter, Zinatunnisa, he instead agreed to
accept Khanderao Gujar, a son of Prataprao Gujar, as a convert.
It is said that it was Aurangzeb who named the child Sahu, 'the
good one'. It later changed to Shahu and was taken on permanently by
Release from captivity
After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, Shahu was released (18 May
1707) by his son, Prince Azam, at the advice of his commander, Zulfikar
Khan. Prince Azam gave Shahu the royal insignia, Maratha
guards and an entourage (which notably included Mahadji Krishna Joshi and Gadadhar
Pralhad Nasikkar), and also sardeshmukhi (revenue collection) rights
over six Deccan subahs along with Gujrat, Gondwana and Tanjore.
Shahu collected a small army on the way and arms from a chieftain at Bijagad, Mohan
Singh Rawal. The idea was that it should prove to be a
goodwill gesture towards the Marathas and perhaps also create a
succession war in the Maratha camp.
Predictably the dowager queen, Tarabai, rejected Shahu's
claim to the throne . It is to be noted that Tarabai's deceased husband
Rajaram had earlier claimed that he was ruling only as an representative
of Shahu while the rightful king was being held in Mughal
Despite Tarabai's rejection of
his claim, a few Marathas joined Shahu, including
Amritrao Kadam Bande, Sujan Singh Rawal, Nemaji Shinde, Bokil, and
Meanwhile Bahadur Shah, otherwise known
as Muazzam, was crowned emperor of Delhi
after superseding his brothers, Azam who was based at Ahmednagar and Kam Baksh
who was at Hyderabad. Bahadur Shah (Shah Alam) maintained his
distance from both Tarabai and Shahu and was noncommittal about Prince Azam's
promise of sardeshmukhi to Shahu.
A bitter battle for succession ensued between Shahu and
Tarabai. Another contender was Sambhaji II, the other son of
Rajaram from his queen, Rajasabai.
Yesubai, remained imprisoned as insurance against Shahu's continued
good behaviour until 1719 (Shahu's wife, Savitribai, and half-brother,
Madansingh, also remained as hostages with the Mughals), until Maratha
power strengthened, forcing the Mughals to release the
queen mother unconditionally.
Shahu the chattrapati
Shahu succeeded to the Maratha throne (with Satara as his capital,
in 1708) at the age of twenty six with the help of his aide, Balaji
Vishwanath, who was an astute diplomat.
Balaji Vishwanath managed to bring over many of Tarabai's aides
to Shahu's side, including Dhanaji Jadhav (after the Battle of Khed in
November 1707), forcing Tarabai to agree to a compromise. She accepted
Shahu as the king of the Marathas and in return she was allowed
to withdraw to a minor state of her own at Kolhapur from which she created an
In 1713, Kanhoji Angre, an ally of Tarabai,
launched a swift attack on Satara, and was able to make Shahu's peshwa, Bahiroji Pingale, a prisoner.
Shahu then made Balaji Vishwanath his peshwa.
Balaji Vishwanth, then himself pursued Kanhoji Angre
as far as Lohagad, his headquarters, and placed him in a precarious position.
Balaji understood the importance of having a man such as Kanhoji Angre on
his good side, so to this end, instead of demolishing his enemy, Balaji
preferred to use diplomacy instead. In return for Angre accepting Shahu as
his overlord, Angre was allowed to keep his territories and was also
named the Maratha sarkhel (admiral).