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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice one Atri ji.

The bakhars you mention - have you read them?