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 fairly distributed 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 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.
After his impressive conquests, Shivaji's coronation was
a lavish, multi-day event with a great deal of festivity
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.
Never did 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
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 and splendour.
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 Vedic mantras'.
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 the Rajyavyavaharkosh.
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 fifty-three.
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 India.
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