Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shivaji part 1


The Character of Shivaji is one of the most enigmatic characters in history of India. There are people who deify him and put him on pedestal of god. Few of them are on the way of declaring him as incarnation of Shiva. Many myths are now associated with him. Many others view that he was a mere local Maratha chieftain who was rebelling against Mughal Empire and completely overlook the role he played in Hindu revival in India. Many others, who cannot comprehend the pragmatic approach of Shivaji, which was most practical given his humble beginnings, brand him as 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 resurrect him.

In the process of understanding Shivaji, few events need to be understood. In the long list of those events, first one about his grandfather of Shivaji, Maloji Bhonsale and his great grand father Babaji Bhonsale. Documents suggest that Maloji was Jagirdar of Pande-Pedgaon. He inherited substantial part of his jagir. Shahaji was born in 1602 and Maloji died in 1607 in battle of Indapur. Shahaji was 5 years old when this tragedy struck. Maloji, at that time, was a Bargir serving Lakhuji Jadhav of Sindkhed Raja, a place in central Maharashtra.

Jijabai gave birth to six children. First four did not survive. Fifth and sixth were Sambhaji and Shivaji respectively.

Shivaji’s own marital life was not very different from his father. He never gave importance to any of his queen 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 no importance.

To study Shivaji, we need to view him as a part of a chain of three men constituting his father, Shahaji, he himself, and his son, Sambhaji. Without the understanding of other two, one cannot comprehend Shivaji completely.


Whether Sambhaji consumed alcohol? Was he was charged for rape of a woman? Was he involved in orgies with women? Can his behavior with Soyarabai, Moropanta, Annaji Datto, be justified? All these questions are difficult to answer and are muddled in mutually contradictory dubious claims. The personal qualities are anyways not of any use while determining the greatness of an individual in politics.

Shivaji arrived at conclusion that Maratha state will have to fight a decisive war with Mughals, somewhere in 1660-1664. He knew that the Shaistekhan campaign was just a beginning. Mughals had started deploying their armies on frontiers of Maratha kingdom in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya-Pradesh since 1679. The news that Aurangjeb himself is coming to invade Deccan reached Maharashtra in January 1680, just 2-3 months before death of Shivaji. By that time, Mughals already deployed 150,000 to 200,000 men. The clashes began in the very week Shivaji died. Moropant Pingle (the Peshwa), Hambirrao Mohite (chief of armed forces), Annaji Datto (head of finance department) were preparing to face this impending invasion. Since 1678, Shivaji was continuously purchasing weapons, firearms, and was upgrading his armies, his forts and his navy in anticipation of this final showdown.

This much-anticipated invasion started in 1681 with 250,000 men, new king, and opponent Aurangjeb himself with all the might of Mughal Empire behind him. In spite of this, the continuous warfare from 1681 to 1685 resulted in retreat of Mughals from Maratha territory and redeployment of troops against Adilshah and Kutubshah. All capabilities of Sambhaji in his territorial administration, his strategic understanding, his ability to boost the morale of troops, his ability to make 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 forth, should we give weight age to adjectives like frivolous, incapable, impatient, and all other jargons used by Marathi chroniclers OR the adjectives used by Dutch and English as patient, and stubborn warrior is an individual choice.

The personal character of Sambhaji was not that bad either, as against that portrayed by some Bakhars. Many a Maratha Sardar was mildly addicted to alcohol, hemp, opium etc. Rajaram, second son of Shivaji, was highly addicted to opium. Aurangjeb himself was addicted to alcohol until his death. However, that never interfered with politics. Aurangjeb captured and brutally murdered Sambhaji in 1689. By that time, the result of warfare was as follows- Sambhaji had conquered three fourth of Portuguese Empire in Goa and assimilated it into Maratha state. The region in Karnataka under Maratha rule doubled. The Maratha army doubled itself in numbers and became better equipped. Five-six forts in Maharashtra were lost. Gained three-four new ones; Aurangabad, Burhanpur, Goa, plundered. Dhanaji Jadhav illusively kept the Mughal army, 75,000 strong, away from Maharashtra in Gujarat. Thus, we can see Shivaji’s understanding of politics inherited in Sambhaji.

Shahaji, his father

Shahaji was a Sardar in Nizamshah’s court at Ahmednagar. Nizamshah willingly sacrificed Lakhuji Jadhav for Shahaji. Yet, Shahaji went to Adilshah in 1624. Despite of valiantly fighting for Adilshah for two years, he returned to Nizamshah in 1626. He again changed his loyalties and became Mughal Sardar in 1630. Yet again, after valiantly fighting for Mughals, he returned to Nizamshah in 1632. In 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 Deccan against North Indian Mughals. Many notable people like Khavaskhan, Kutubshah, Madanna and Akanna of Golconda, Murar Jagdev supported this united Deccan policy that Shahaji initiated. Shivaji, repeatedly, pronounced this policy. Sambhaji considered himself as patron of Adilshah and Kutubshah.

Shahaji appointed Dadoji Kondadev, as his chief administrator of Pune Jagir. He himself was administrating his Jagir in Bangalore, Karnataka. It was his vision that he distributed his property between two sons in 1636. The Karnataka Jagir was for elder son Sambhaji and Pune Jagir for younger son Shivaji. He made Adilshah to appoint Dadoji Kondadev as Subhedar of Pune and gave him control of some army (about 5000 strong) 15-20 forts, and entire administrative personnel in form of a Peshwa, an accountant and others. Shivaji took his oath on Rohireshwar of establishing a Hindavi Swarajya in presence of Dadoji. The first letter bearing the official seal of Shivaji is dated 28th January 1646. It is difficult to comprehend that young Shivaji who was a teenager of 15 years, had all this blueprint of 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 him.

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 as Raja, were holding courts, and issuing letters bearing official seals in Sanskrit. Adilshah was weary of this and in 1648; two independent projects were undertaken by Adilshah to eliminate these two growing kingdoms in its 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 1648-49, Adilshah captured Shahaji in order to blackmail his two sons to cede the territory conquered by them and accept Adilshah’s supremacy. Shivaji wrote series of letters to Dara Shikoh, pledging to be subservient to Mughals. Mughals recognized Shivaji as a Mughal Sardar and pressurized Adilshah to release Shahaji. In return, Shivaji ceded Simhagad, and Sambhaji ceded Bangalore city and kandarpi fort in Karnataka. We can see the coherency in actions of Shivaji and Sambhaji. The men assisting both the brothers were loyal to Shahaji and were trained under him. Even though Shivaji was administrative head of 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 of the important matters. Until this point, Shivaji was not at all free to take all the decisions on his will. There was a higher power that was controlling his activities. Gradually after 1655, this interference went on diminishing, and Shivaji started emerging more and more independent.

Thus, when we see these three men in a link, Shahaji, Shivaji and his son Sambhaji, the all the actions of Shivaji start making sense. In this way, we are better able to grasp the greatness of the man, Shivaji.

Shivaji had himself coronated as a Kshatriya king in 1674. Shahaji initiated this policy. The Ghorpade clan of Marathas considered themselves as descendents of 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 Sisodiya Rajputs and Bhonsale clan. Nevertheless, Maloji started calling himself as Srimant Maloji raje after becoming bargir. Shahaji legalized 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 coronating himself as a Hindu Emperor, Shivaji continued writing letters to Aurangjeb, referring him as emperor of India, and stating that he was a mere servant of Great Aurangjeb. We can see the basic pragmatic mindset of Shivaji which was fueled by great dream of establishing Hindu Self ruling state.

Jaavli, a turning point

This chapter of Jaavli’s conquest by Shivaji is of prime importance to grasp the vision of Shivaji. This region is so difficult to conquer that Malik kafur, man who defeated Seuna Yadav Dynasty of Devgiri in 13th century, lost 3000 men while attempting to conquer this region. Mahmud Gavan too was defeated while conquering this region. It was one of the isolated regions in entire India that remained aloof from Muslim dominance throughout the history. Hence, Shivaji maintained an amicable relationship with Chandrarao More of Jaavli. Chandra rao was a title of Ruler of Jaavli. The real name was Daulat Rao More. After death of Daulat rao, Shivaji made Yashwantrao as ruler of Jaavli. These events are of 1647, when Shivaji was 17. Here again we see the vision of his father working. Later, in 1649, Afzal Khan was appointed Subhedar of Vai region, to mitigate the growing influence of Shivaji in Jaavli.

Mohammad Adilshah was ill; Afzal Khan was busy in Karnataka expedition. Taking advantage of this situation, Shivaji attacked Jaavli in 1656 and conquered it in first stroke. Yashwantrao fled to Raigad, which Shivaji subsequently captured after three months. Yashwantrao was captured and sentenced to death for his activities against Maratha state and Shivaji proclaimed assimilation of Jaavli in his kingdom. Strategically, this valley is of immense importance as it oversees the routes into Konkan and Goa.

Afzal Khan

Shivaji began his work in 1645. He defeated Adilshah in 1648 and after the treaty, Afzal Khan was appointed as 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. Shivaji’s elder brother, Sambhaji, was killed in battle due to treachery of Afzal Khan in early 1650’s. Shivaji had pledged to kill Afzal Khan as a vengeance. Therefore, there was a personal touch to this struggle as well.

Afzal was aware of Shivaji’s valor 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 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 4-5 months. Afzal was just an opening move in his campaign. It was in mind of Shivaji to kill Afzal and establish terror in minds 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 plans of Shivaji to finish 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 deshmukhs in the region sided Shivaji. The main collaborator of this alliance was Kanhoji Jedhe, a special man of Shahaji. Thus, here again we see the influence of Shahaji working in favor of Shivaji. 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 to influence the decision of masses.

The basic outline of Shivaji’s strategy was- To Kill Afzal at Pratapgadh in the meeting OR in battle that will follow; Destruction of his army by stationed at the base of Pratapgarh by Armies of Silibkar and Bandal; Destruction of Afzal’s troops on Jaavli-vai road by Netaji; Destruction of Afzal’s armies in Ghats by Moropanta Pingle; Subsequent hot pursuit of fleeing Adilshahi forces; To capture Panhalgadh and kolhapur and Konkan, and invade the territory in Karnataka up to Bijapur as soon as possible. This entire strategy was planned for 3-4 months. This was a huge campaign. Shivaji was not a fool to waste all this planning. 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 garrulous to assume that Afzal struck first. However, nothing definitive is known about it. The weapon used by Shivaji, according to marathi resources, was Tiger-Claw and a curved Dagger, Bichwa. It is possible that even Sword was used.

Dutch reports state that while Shivaji was advancing towards Bijapur after Afzal’s defeat, even his father Shahaji was approaching Bijapur with huge army simultaneously. Thus, we can see the plan on a grand scale. However, somewhere, something went wrong. Shivaji’s forces came as close as 16 miles from Bijapur and waited for three days. Shahaji’s forces from Karnataka reached 5 days late and returned from 20 miles. (It is said that) Certain Persian documents buttress this Dutch claim. Thus, one of the delicately planned campaign was not completed to its fullest. This is last reference of Shahaji in Shivaji’s political life. Hereafter, Shivaji grew without support OR 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 maneuvered and defeated Adilshahi forces 10,000 strong. Shivaji had 5000 horses at his command.

The escape

Shivaji is one of the most enigmatic person and king in Hindu history. His friends could not understand him. His enemies could not understand him too. The only person in those times, who could understand Shivaji, was Aurangjeb. It was the vision of Aurangjeb when he predicted the danger that Shivaji can be as early as 1646, when he was governor of Deccan in his first term. During his second term of governor of Deccan, Shivaji plundered Mughal territory of Junnar and Bhivandi in early 1650’s. These forays of Shivaji coincided with Shahjahan’s ill- health. Hence, Aurangjeb had to return to North to participate in battle of succession with his brother Dara. Nevertheless, he warned Adilshah and Kutubshah about this upcoming danger of Shivaji. Shivaji again entered a treaty with Mughals in June 1659, to deal with impending Afzal invasion. At same time, Shaista Khan, maternal uncle of Aurangjeb, was appointed as governor of Deccan.

By that time, in late 1659, Siddi Jauhar, as 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.

However, Shivaji escaped from Panhalgadh to Vishalgadh, due to valiant effort of his 600 men, most of which died in order to keep Shivaji safe. The hero of the battle was Bajiprabhu Deshpande, who is immortalized for his sacrifice in the pass of Pavan khind. Figuratively, the battle of Pavankhind can be compared with Battle of Thermopylae fought in 480 BC. 300 Greeks and 900 others under Spartan king Leonidas defended the pass for 3 days against large Persian army under Xerxes. Coincidently, even Bajiprabhu had 300 men to defend the pass against 10,000 Adilshahi forces. The battle of Pavankhind is excellent example of superior use of terrain to the benefit of a small but disciplined army. They held on until signal of Shivaji’s safety arrived. All of them were slain thereafter.


This is yet another example of Shivaji’s cunningness. Shivaji had defeated few of generals, namely, Kartalab Khan, and Namdar Khan. However, the pinnacle was surprise attack on Shaista khan in Mughal stronghold and in his own bedroom!

Shivaji chose month of Ramadan to attack Shaistakhan. Shaistakhan was staying in Lal mahal, which was childhood home of Shivaji. Therefore, he knew everything there was to know about that place. Less than 100 men, led by Shivaji, attacked this palace, which was surrounded by Mughal army as strong as 150,000 in pitch darkness of 7th night of Ramadan. It was a total Frenzy. In the darkness, Shivaji and his men were killing anybody who was coming in their way. About 50 Mughal soldiers, 6 elite women, 6 common women, many eunuchs, Shaistekhan’s son, his son in law, some of his wives, and daughter in laws were killed in that attack. Shaistekhan was attacked in his bedroom and lost his three fingers. He escaped, however.

Shaistekhan was attacked in April 1663. He stayed in Pune for 6 months and tried to whitewash his failure. But, to no avail. In December, Aurangjeb transferred Shaistekhan to Dhaka as governor of Bengal

It is possible to stun the world around you by doing something extraordinary. All the magicians do that. However, that was not the business of Shivaji. The period, for which the world has been stunned, Shivaji retained his poise and did something extraordinary which used to gave him a lasting success. After defeat of Afzal, he went on to conquer Konkan, South Maharashtra and forayed up to region as deep as Bijapur. After defeat of Shaistekhan, he retook the lost Konkan. It was his political understanding that he used to attain lasting success by a swift campaign followed by a stunner. Shaistekhan tried to contain Shivaji for 6 months, but no avail. Aurangjeb had no issues with surprises, but what next? This was his realistic question.

Shaistekhan left for Bengal in december1663, and in January 1664, Shivaji plundered Surat. If Afzal episode gave Shivaji a pan-Indian popularity, this task of looting Surat made him international celebrity where he was discussed in all Muslim and substantial Christian world. He formally declared war on Aurangjeb.

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 Aurangjeb. After defeating Shivaji, it was Jaisingh’s suggestion that Shivaji be called to Delhi. Aurangjeb accepted it. It was Jaisingh’s suggestion that Shivaji be kept in house arrest. Aurangjeb accepted it. It was Jaisingh’s suggestion again that he must not be harmed, for any injury to his health may culminate into a rebellion amongst recently subdued Marathas. It was Jaisingh’s reasoning that Shivaji be kept as captive in Delhi to blackmail Marathas, but must not be harmed. Aurangjeb accepted this suggestion too. Later, he has publicly admitted the folly of his of accepting this particular suggestion of Jaisingh. Aurangjeb was in favor of killing Shivaji off. 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 odds. Nevertheless, he was a faithful servant of Aurangjeb.

It was not very sensitive of Jaisingh to keep nine-year-old Sambhaji as captive in his camp until all the terms of 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 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 four lakh rupees to Mughals. Shivaji was left with 12 forts and region of 1-lakh rupees. Shivaji had to accept supremacy of Aurangjeb and forced to serve Aurangjeb as an ordinary Jagirdar. Shivaji and Marathas were practically finished, thanks to shrewd politics of Jaisingh and Aurangjeb. He was quiet a complicated character, overall keeping in mind his ruthlessness towards Shivaji’s empire, but his empathy towards Shivaji as a human being and his love for his son Sambhaji.

The Agra Episode

This is an epitome of Shivaji’s vision and his shrewd understanding of politics. It must be understood that although Shivaji was kept under house arrest, this was not particularly the case. Several Persian documents state that he was allowed to travel in Agra, but was not allowed to leave the city without permit from emperor himself. Exactly how he escaped is still an enigma, and hence extremely speculative. The most common theory that is prevalent in contemporary documents is that he escaped by hiding in large boxes which were originally intended to deliver sweets. Like his escape, his route is equally speculative. One thing is sure that he crossed the Narvir Ghati, which is 116 miles to the south of Agra on 20th august 1666, by showing the transit permit issued by Aurangjeb himself, along with 300 men! This means that he crossed that checkpoint openly declaring that he was Shivaji and was crossing with permission of Aurangjeb himself. This implies that he forged certain Mughal documents and acquired fake passports for him and his 300 men to have a head start. He left Sambhaji at Mathura, at the place of relatives of his Peshwa, continued his journey alone assuming various aliases He went to Benaras as a Sanyasi, then again came to Mathura, Vrindavan, and then MP and Maharashtra. It is said that he reached Rajgadh on 12th September 1666, alone. After reaching, he declared that Sambhaji was killed in the travel. Subsequently, the hunt for Shivaji in Mughal territory stopped and Sambhaji returned to Rajgadh around 20th November 1666 safely.

The Revival

Shivaji laid low for 3 years after his escape. Meanwhile, he implemented various land reforms in his lands. Shivaji and his minister Annaji Datto were the main pioneers of the land reforms 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 growing fanaticism of Aurangjeb shown by his destruction of Hindu temples like Kashi Vishweshwar and Mathura and countless others along with imposition of Jiziya Tax on Non-Muslims. He not only regained the lost territory but also conquered new one. The expansion of Maratha state was alike in land and sea. Entire western Maharashtra, parts of southern Gujarat and Northern Karnataka were brought under Maratha dominion. Land reforms were introduced which increased his popularity amongst the masses immensely.

At the time of his coronation in 1674, his influence was substantial enough for others in India to recognize him as a formidable power. Especially, his rebellion against Aurangjeb made him a hero among new generation of Hindus.

Shivaji part 2

The Coronation

In 1674, Shivaji successfully proved his Kshatriya descent using the documents that his father had already attested through Adilshahi government. He performed all sorts of rituals, thread ceremony, marrying his own wives again. That was the time when religion was very much influential.

According to Hindu theology, Coronation OR Rajya-Abhishek is a holy ceremony of immense socio-political importance. King being incarnation of Vishnu, his land was his wife, and all his subjects were his children. An authorized OR coronated king was incarnation of Vishnu himself.

By that time, the mentality of common Hindu in India was that ruler is always a Muslim. In addition, ruler of Delhi was considered as Emperor of India. The Bahamani kingdom, at its zenith, considered themselves as Vazirs of Delhi Sultanate, who in turn considered himself as subordinate of Caliph. Since the rulers were Muslims, Indian Muslim Emperors usually portrayed India as a part of Islamic Caliphate. Allah-ud-din Khilji had his rule attested from ruler of Iran. Aurangjeb had his rule on India attested from Caliph of Ottoman Empire in Turkey. Even Adilshahi, Kutubshahi considered ruler of Delhi as Emperor of India.

There were many Rajput Hindu kings before Shivaji. However, no one had himself coronated according to Vedic tradition. Even mighty Hindu Vijaynagar Empire did not have a king that was coroneted according to Vedic Tradition. This very ancient ritual of Rajya-Abhishek had disappeared from India after 1000 AD. People knew of this ritual only from stories in Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Gagabhat resurrected this ritual again after studying Vedic literature and coronated Shivaji. This was a revolutionary event, considering the rigid religious society existing at that time. On one had, Shivaji was relating himself with Rama, Yudhishthira and Vikramaditya. On other hand, he was appealing to emotions of all Hindus in India stating that they have a Formal Hindu Empire in India, which was fighting for cause of Hindus. According to Hindu Puranas, 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 new age had begun.

Conquest of South

He undertook the conquest of south in 1677 and carved a Maratha empire in Southern Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This was pinnacle of his tactical, strategic, diplomatic and military achievements. In doing so, he entered into a strategic alliance with Kutubshah. He also persuaded Adilshah the importance of United Deccan Front against impending Mughal invasion, a vision that was long propounded by his father, Shahaji.


Shivaji’s last days were marred with few internal conflicts between his council of ministers and his son. The army sided Sambhaji, while the minister council sided his wife Soyarabai’s claim that Rajaram be named as successor of Shivaji. Moreover, at this very time, Shivaji was a patient suffering from Bloody flukes, and Mughal armies were gathering on the Frontiers. His cremation was not carried out on all its decorum, because, the Maratha-Mughal clashes began in that very week. Later, Sambhaji performed all the rituals with funeral games lasting for 12 days. He died on 3rd April 1680.

Shivaji and his Navy

Shivaji started building his own naval forces since 1656, well before he killed Afzal. This explains the canvass of his vision. Maratha-Portuguese relations were always strained. The decision of Shivaji to build a navy was essentially for containing European forces. Portuguese authorities issued orders to be wary of Maratha Navy from 1659. After the great Ramraaj Chola of 11th century, no one Indian dynasty gave importance to Navy. Vijaynagar, Adilshah, Kutubshah, Nizamshah, Mughals were seeing the increasing Portuguese influence. However, no one treated Navy as essential component of their armed forces. The Construction of Naval forts like Sindhu-durga in 1664, Vijay-durag, Khanderi-Underi, his naval conquest of Basnoor and Gokarna in 1665 are immense importance while trying to grasp the personality of this man.

Portuguese had issued Inquisition in Goa and were forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity, well before Shivaji’s birth. He defeated Portuguese for the first time in 1667, and Sambhaji and later Peshwas continuously perpetuated his anti-Portugal policy. The reasons of this policy were not only political, but theological too. English were not a considerable force at that time.

Shivaji, an attempt of analysis

It is 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 Aurangjeb could not defeat Marathas in spite of 27-year long warfare.

The Pragmatist Shivaji

Repeatedly he entered into treaty with Mughals, Adilshah, Kutubshah, and Portuguese. However, he was never the first to breach the treaty with Adilshah OR Kutubshah. His policy towards Mughals and Portuguese was always that of adversary. He did not harm English and French and was neutral towards them. His policy towards Adilshah and Kutubshah was that of potential strategic partners. Adilshah never accepted alliance of Marathas completely and chose suicidal path. Kutubshah did and put up a united front against Mughal onslaught.

Chhatrasaal Bundela was one of the many young men who were inspired from Shivaji. He went on to liberate his own homeland, Bundel Khand from Mughals. Sikhs were influenced by Maratha upheaval. Guru Gobindsinghji came to Deccan for establishing contact with Marathas but Aurangjeb in Nanded gruesomely killed him. It is unfortunate that Maratha-Sikh relation could not develop.

Personal traits of Shivaji

He was known to be very vigilant about honor of women; even Persian documents praise him for this quality. His personal character was very clean, quite anomalous with respect to his contemporaries. It is well-documented fact that his was tolerant towards masses 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, his did not use horse as his frequent mode of transportation. Usually, he used Palaquin. Seven-Eighth of his life, he spent on forts. The modus operandi of Shivaji and subsequent Marathas involved thorough initial planning of the campaign, accepting no more risks than are necessary, and as far as possible, rarely indulging in personal adventures.

It is important to understand limitations of Shivaji and to certain extent, subsequent Marathas. In 17th century, European rulers had renaissance as their ideological backbone. Shivaji did not have such ideological pool 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 the Hindu society, eliminating caste system. He never indulged in literacy campaign OR establish printing press. He always purchased firearms from English OR Dutch.

It does not seem that Shivaji cared for the whereabouts of white Europeans. Before his birth, Galileo had invented telescope, Columbus had discovered America, Magellan had circumnavigated the globe, Issac Newton was his contemporary. Like all great men, Shivaji was product of his own time. His greatness lies in his understanding of his contemporary time 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 500 Dynasties in India. Each had a founder. One among them was Shivaji. The rest had an opportunity to do so because of the reigning confusion. 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 out that he had to raise everything from nothing, who did not have the benefit of a ready strong army; who, on trying to establish himself, had to face the might of Great Powers; with neighboring Bijapur and Golkonda powers still on the rise and the Moghul Empire at its zenith. Shivaji was carving away a niche out of Bijapur Empire that had assimilated more than half of Nijamshahi and was on its way to conquer entire 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 20 years go down the drain in a matter of 4 months; but still fought on to create an empire with 29 years of constant struggle and enterprise. It would be easy to see how small he was once we find which founder to compare to in the annals of Indian history, on this issue.

A typical Hindu power had certain distinguishing traits. It is not that they did not emerge victorious in a war. Victories - there have been many. However, their victory did not defeat the adversary completely. The latter’s territory did not diminish, nor his might attrite. The victory rarely resulted in expansion of Hindu territory. Even though victorious, Hindus used to become weaker and stayed so. In short, it is plain that they faced total destruction in case of defeat and high attrition in case of 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 neighboring kingdoms. Their enemy would catch them unaware, often intruding considerably their territory and only then would they wake up to face the situation. Whatever be 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 on the enemy. Thirdly, the Hindu kings habitually placed blind faith in their adversaries. This saga terminates with Shivaji performing the treacherous tricks. It was the turn of the opponents to get stunned. In the ranks of Hindu kings, the search still going on for somebody to compare with 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, Akbar. However, all of these possessed great harems. Akbar had the Meenabazar, 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 20 crores to build a Taj Mahal as famine was claiming over hundreds of thousands of lives; nor was he pious enough to erect temple after temple while the British were systematically consuming India.

He was a sinner; a practical man like the rest of us. Khafi Khan sends him to Hell. He would not have enjoyed the company of the brave warriors who preferred gallant death to 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 the Heaven is full of such personalities. Akbar adopted a generous attitude towards Hindus and had 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 stabilizing it for him. The Hindus he treated well were a 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 were never indulged in genocides against Muslims. They had not defiled Muslim women nor were they proselytes, as compared to Abrahmic fanatics found in Muslims and Christians. These were the people Akbar was generous 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 a danger of an invasion and Aurangjeb 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 the subjects was a responsibility of the ruler. Even though he fought so many battles, he never laid extra taxes on his subjects. Even the expenditure for his coronation was covered by the taxes 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 standardized to facilitate the intra-government communication, had the astrology revived andrevised, encouraged 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 were forcibly converted to Abrahmic faiths, 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 19 years. In this continued struggle, a minimum of five lakh Moguls died (Jadunath Sarkar's estimate). Over two lakh Marathas died. Still in 1707, over one lakh Marathas were fighting with spears. They did not have a distinguished leader to look. There was no guarantee of a regular payment. Still, they kept on fighting. In these 27 years, Aurangzeb did not suffer a defeat. That was because Marathas simply lacked the force necessary to defeat so vast an army. Jadunath says, "Alamgir won battle after battle. Nevertheless, after spending crores of rupees, he accomplished nothing apart from weakening his All India Empire and his own death. He could not defeat Marathas". When the Peshawai ended (A.D.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 in Plassey (A.D.1757). Where ordinary man fights, armies can do nothing. In long history of India, Kalinga fought against Ashoka. After Kalinga, Maharashtra fought with Mughals from grass-root level. The greatness of Shivaji lies here in his ability to influence generations to fight for a cause.

Why was Shivaji successful in making common man identify with his kingdom. The first reason is his invention of new hit-and-run technique. He showed people that they can fight Mughals and win. The insistence was always on survival and maximum attrition of enemy in his territory and successful retreat. He gave his men confidence that if they fight this way, they will not only outlast Mughals, but also defeat them. He gave way to traditional notions of chivalry and valor on battlefield, for which Rajputs were famous. Instead, he focused on perseverance, attrition, survival at all costs, 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 utmost importance. He started the system of wages in his army. And third reason is Hindu Ethos and hatred towards Muslim supremacy prevalent in masses.

In this light, the above facts demonstrate the excellence of Shivaji as founder of dynasty, which ended political supremacy of Islam in India.


Shivaji fits in all the criteria that Chanakya’s ideal King. Considering the prevalent socio-political scenario, it is fallacious to try and fit Shivaji is classical Kshatriya values of chivalry and nobility. Shivaji was religious; but he was not a fanatic. Although ruthless and stubborn, he was not cruel and 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.


  • Raja Shivachhatrapati – B M Purandare
  • Selected works of V K Rajwade
  • Narahar Kurundkar
  • Shejvalkar
  • Shivaji and his times - Jadunath Sarkar
  • Riyasat -- Sardesai
  • Six glorious epochs of Indian History -- V D Savarkar
  • Hindu Pad paatshahi -- V D Savarkar
  • Sabhasad Bakhar
  • History of India - Grant Duff
  • Works of Vincent Smith
  • Shriman Yogi - Ranjit Desai

The article is crudely based on Preface of the novel Shriman Yogi by Ranjit Desai. The preface written by Narhar Kurundkar