Shivaji Bhonsle also known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, was an Indian warrior king and a member of the Bhonsle Maratha clan. Shivaji carved out an enclave from the declining Adilshahi sultanate of Bijapur that formed the genesis of the Maratha Empire. In 1674, he was formally crowned as the Chhatrapati (Monarch) of his realm at Raigad.
Shivaji established a competent and progressive civil rule with the help of a disciplined military and well-structured administrative organisations. He innovated military tactics, pioneering the guerrilla warfare methods (Shiva sutra or ganimi kava), which leveraged strategic factors like geography, speed, and surprise and focused pinpoint attacks to defeat his larger and more powerful enemies. He revived ancient Hindu political traditions and court conventions and promoted the usage of Marathi and Sanskrit, rather than Persian, in court and administration.
Shivaji’s legacy was to vary by observer and time but began to take on increased importance with the emergence of the Indian independence movement, as many elevated him as a proto-nationalist and hero of the Hindus. Particularly in Maharashtra, debates over his history and role have engendered great passion and sometimes even violence as disparate groups have sought to characterise him and his legacy.
Shivaji was born in the hill-fort of Shivneri, near the city of Junnar in Pune district on 6 April 1627 or 19 Feb. 1630. The Government of Maharashtra accepts 19 February 1630 as his birthdate; other suggested dates include 6 April 1627 or other dates near this day. Per legend, his mother named him Shivaji in honour of the goddess Shivai, to whom she had prayed for a healthy child. Shivaji was named after this local deity. Shivaji’s father Shahaji Bhonsle was a Maratha general who served the Deccan Sultanates. His mother was Jijabai, the daughter of Lakhujirao Jadhav of Sindkhed (Sindkhed Raja). At the time of Shivaji’s birth, the power in Deccan was shared by three Islamic sultanates: Bijapur, Ahmednagar, and Golconda. Shahaji often changed his loyalty between the Nizamshahi of Ahmadnagar, the Adilshah of Bijapur and the Mughals, but always kept his jagir (fiefdom) at Pune and his small army with him.
Conflict with Adilshahi sultanate
In 1645, the 15-year-old Shivaji bribed or persuaded the Bijapuri commander of the Torna Fort, Inayat Khan, to hand over the possession of the fort to him. Firangoji Narsala, who held the Chakan fort professed his loyalty to Shivaji and the fort of Kondana was acquired by bribing the Adilshahi governor. On 25 July 1648, Shahaji was imprisoned by Baji Ghorpade under the orders of the current Adilshah, Mohammed Adil Shah, in a bid to contain Shivaji. Accounts vary, with some saying Shahaji was conditionally released in 1649 after Shivaji and Sambhaji surrendered the forts of Kondana, Bangalore and Kandarpi, others saying he was imprisoned until 1653 or 1655; during this period Shivaji maintained a low profile. After his release, Shahaji retired from public life, and died around 1664–1665 during a hunting accident. Following his father’s death, Shivaji resumed raiding, seizing the kingdom of Javali from a neighbouring Maratha chieftain in 1656.
Battle of Kolhapur
To counter the loss at Pratapgad and to defeat the newly emerging Maratha power, another army, this time numbering over 10,000, was sent against Shivaji, commanded by Bijapur’s Abyssinian general Rustam Zaman. With a cavalry force of 5,000 Marathas, Shivaji attacked them near Kolhapur on 28 December 1659. In a swift movement, Shivaji led a full frontal attack at the center of the enemy forces while two other portions of his cavalry attacked the flanks. This battle lasted for several hours and at the end Bijapuri forces were soundly defeated and Rustamjaman fled the battlefield. Adilshahi forces lost about 2,000 horses and 12 elephants to the Marathas. This victory alarmed Aurangazeb, who now derisively referred to Shivaji as the “Mountain Rat”, and prepared to address this rising Maratha threat.
Clash with the Mughals
Up until 1657, Shivaji maintained peaceful relations with the Mughal Empire. Shivaji offered his assistance to Aurangzeb in conquering Bijapur and in return, he was assured of the formal recognition of his right to the Bijapuri forts and villages under his possession. Shivaji’s confrontations with the Mughals began in March 1657, when two of Shivaji’s officers raided the Mughal territory near Ahmednagar.This was followed by raids in Junnar, with Shivaji carrying off 300,000 hun in cash and 200 horses. Aurangzeb responded to the raids by sending Nasiri Khan, who defeated the forces of Shivaji at Ahmednagar. However, Aurangzeb’s countermeasures against Shivaji were interrupted by the rainy season and his battle of succession with his brothers for the Mughal throne following the illness of Shah Jahan.
Attack on Shaista Khan
Upon the request of Badi Begum of Bijapur, Aurangzeb sent his maternal uncle Shaista Khan, with an army numbering over 150,000 along with a powerful artillery division in January 1660 to attack Shivaji in conjunction with Bijapur’s army led by Siddi Jauhar. Shaista Khan, with his better-equipped and -provisioned army of 300,000 seized Pune and the nearby fort of Chakan, besieging it for a month and a half until breaching the walls. Shaista Khan pressed his advantage of having a larger, better provisioned and heavily armed Mughal army and made inroads into some of the Maratha territory, seizing the city of Pune and establishing his residence at Shivaji’s palace of Lal Mahal.
Arrest in Agra and escape
In 1666, Aurangzeb invited Shivaji to Agra, along with his nine-year-old son Sambhaji. Aurangzeb’s plan was to send Shivaji to Kandahar, now in Afghanistan, to consolidate the Mughal empire’s northwestern frontier. However, in the court, on 12 May 1666, Aurangzeb made Shivaji stand behind mansabdārs (military commanders) of his court. Shivaji took offence and stormed out of court,:78 and was promptly placed under house arrest under the watch of Faulad Khan, Kotwal of Agra.
Battle of Nesari
In 1674, Prataprao Gujar, the then commander-in chief of the Maratha forces, was sent to push back the invading force led by the Adilshahi general, Bahlol Khan. Prataprao’s forces defeated and captured the opposing general in the battle, after cutting-off their water supply by encircling a strategic lake, which prompted Bahlol Khan to sue for peace. In spite of Shivaji’s specific warnings against doing so Prataprao released Bahlol Khan, who started preparing for a fresh invasion.
Shivaji had acquired extensive lands and wealth through his campaigns, but lacking a formal title he was still technically a Mughal zamindar or the son of an Adilshahi jagirdar, with no legal basis to rule his de facto domain. A kingly title could address this, and also prevent any challenges by other Maratha leaders, to whom he was technically equal; it would also provide the Hindu Marathas with a fellow Hindu sovereign in a region otherwise ruled by Muslims.
Conquest in Southern India
Beginning in 1674, the Marathas undertook an aggressive campaign, raiding Khandesh (October), capturing Bijapuri Ponda (April 1675),Karwar (mid-year), and Kolhapur (July). In November the Maratha navy skirmished with the Siddis of Janjira, and in early 1676 Peshwa Pingale, en route to Surat, engaged the Raja of Ramnagar in battle. Shivaji raided Athani in March 1676, and by year’s end besieged Belgaum and Vayem Rayim in modern-day northern Karnataka. At the end of 1676, Shivaji launched a wave of conquests in southern India, with a massive force of 30,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry.He captured the Adilshahi forts at Vellore and Gingee, in modern-day Tamil Nadu. In the run-up to this expedition Shivaji appealed to a sense of Deccani patriotism, that the “Deccan” or Southern India was a homeland that should be protected from outsiders.,His appeal was somewhat successful and he entered into a treaty with the Qutubshah of the Golconda sultanate that covered the eastern Deccan. Shivají’s conquests in the south proved quite crucial during future wars; Gingee served as Maratha capital for nine years during the Maratha War of Independence.
Death and succession
The question of Shivaji’s heir-apparent was complicated by the misbehaviour of his eldest son Sambhaji, who was irresponsible and “addicted to sensual pleasures.” Unable to curb this, Shivaji confined his son to Panhala in 1678, only to have the prince escape with his wife and defect to the Mughals for a year. Sambhaji then returned home, unrepentant, and was again confined to Panhala.
In late March 1680, Shivaji fell ill with fever and dysentery,83 dying around 3–5 April 1680 at the age of 52,8 on the eve of Hanuman Jayanti. Rumours followed his death, with Muslims opining he had died of a curse from Jan Muhammad of Jalna, and some Marathas whispering that his second wife, Soyarabai, had poisoned him so that his crown might pass to her 10-year-old son Rajaram.
The Marathas after Shivaji
Shivaji died in 1680, leaving behind a state always at odds with the Mughals. Soon after Shivaji’s death, the Mughals attempted to invade it, but could not subdue the Marathas and it resulted in a war of 27 years from 1681 to 1707 ending in the defeat for the Mughals.
Shahu, a grandson of Shivaji was kept prisoner by Aurangzeb during the War of 27 years. After the latter’s death, his successor released Shahu. After a brief power struggle over succession with his aunt Tarabai, Shahu ruled the Maratha Empire from 1707 to 1749. During this period, he appointed Balaji Vishwanath Bhat and later his descendants as the Peshwas or the prime ministers of the Maratha Empire. After the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the empire expanded greatly under the rule of the Peshwas. The empire at its peak stretched from Tamil Nadu in the south, to Peshawar (modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in the north, and Bengal and Andaman Islands in the east. In 1761, the Maratha army lost the Third Battle of Panipat to Ahmed Shah Abdali of the Afghan Durrani Empire which halted their imperial expansion in North western India. Ten years after Panipat, young Madhavrao Peshwa reinstated the Maratha authority over North India.
Promotion of Marathi and Sanskrit
Though Persian was a common courtly language in the region, Shivaji replaced it with Marathi in his own court, and emphasised Hindu political and courtly traditions The house of Shivaji was well acquainted with Sanskrit and promoted the language; his father Shahaji had supported scholars such as Jayram Pindye, who prepared Shivaji’s seal. Shivaji continued this Sanskrit promotion, giving his forts names such as Sindhudurg, Prachandgarh, and Suvarndurg. He named the Ashta Pradhan (council of ministers) as per Sanskrit nomenclature with terms such as nyayadhish, and senapat, and commissioned the political treatise Rajyavyavahar Kosh. His rajpurohit, Keshav Pandit, was himself a Sanskrit scholar and poet.
oday, Shivaji is considered as a national hero in India, especially in the state of Maharashtra, where he remains arguably the greatest figure in the state’s history. Stories of his life form an integral part of the upbringing and identity of the Marathi people. Further, he is also recognised as a warrior legend, who sowed the seeds of Indian independence.
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