Sunday, September 30, 2007

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


Karmasura said...

Beautiful is all that I can say.. very nicely done.. I almost had tears in my eyes at the end of it all.

Chiron said...

Thank you, Karmasura..