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 and Kutubshah.
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 Maharaj
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
This is one of the most dramatic moments in
Shivaji's life, one that 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 the treachery of Afzal Khan in the early 1650s.
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 terror 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, although the precise circumstances are not
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 thereafter.
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.
One side of a Maratha coins which was 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.
Shown here is a scene from the coronation of Shivaji, clearly a
highly important and colourful affair for the Marathas
Shivaji escapes from Agra in baskets, one of his many daring
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 have 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 Ramayana and Mahabharata.
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 the Hindu 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 statement that a new age had begun.
Conquest of the south
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 days.
Shivaji oversees the building of his naval forts, as Maratha
power expanded from its relatively humble beginnings under this
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 is shown in this painting on campaign with
members of his personal guard, all of whom would
have been veteran warriors
He was known to be very vigilant in regard to
the honour of women; even Persian documents praise him for this
His 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.
The Bhakti 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 one 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 reigning
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
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 warrior.
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 the Maratha stronghold of Satara, in the western portion
of the Deccan plateau
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 army.
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 India.
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
Epilogue on coronation controversy
Shivaji is shown on campaign again, this time 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. This
author strongly opposes such mischief mongers, believing 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 this.
The controversy arose due to the following
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 is shown in this rather more idealistic picture at his
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, an elegiac portrait of this warrior king
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