Most Indians know Shivaji as a great warrior king, but there is much more to Shivaji Maharaj. Shivaji’s story would make any Superhero proud! He was born in the year 1630. His mother practically raised him alone. When Shivaji was yet a toddler, his mother brought him to Pune, a village that formed the hereditory Jagir of the Bhonsle clan.
Jijabai fuelled Shivaji’s appetite for valour and glory by telling him stories from the Ramayan and Mahabharat. She made Shivaji aware of how the common people were being oppressed by the three Islamic Sultanates ruling the south, Adilshahi of Bijapur, Nizamshahi of Ahmednagar and Qutabshahi of Golconda. Shivaji was particularly incensed by the way women were abducted, raped and discarded like a disposable commodity. When he was barely 16, Shivaji ordered that the hands and feet of the Patil of Ranjha were to be cut off, because he had raped a woman and killed her! Throughout his rule, Shivaji made the safety and honour of women his priority. There is a legendary story, where the daughter-in-law of the Subhedar of Kalyan was presented to him as a part of the victory spoils, in keeping with the tradition of the Islamic Sultanates. He is said to have looked at her face and said, ‘If my mother were as beautiful, I would have been good-looking too’. He sent her back to her family after honouring her with gifts.
Shivaji established a progressive rule. He was the pioneer of Guerilla warfare tactics. Shivaji fortified the mighty mountains of the Sahyadris and built coastal forts. He even established a great navy. He revived ancient Hindu political traditions and encouraged the use of Marathi and Sanskrit in his court correspondence, rather than the unwieldy Persian, a relic of the Islamic rule.
Shivaji won his first fort in 1646, when he was barely 16 years old. His skills as an administrator were legendary. There are official letters from him that offer directives to his soldiers like, ‘never trouble the common people for food. Always pay for what you take, if you cut one tree for fuel, make sure you plant five more in its place. Do not forget to turn off the lamp when the soldiers go to sleep at night, because if you don’t, a rat might run away with a lit wick and can set the whole tent on fire’.
Shivaji was a devout Hindu, but he respected the right of his subjects to practise any religion they wanted. He never discriminated against anyone based on their religion. He opposed forced conversions. He also challenged Hindu orthodoxy by bringing forced converts like his ex- general Netaji Palkar and his brother-in-law Bajaji Nimbalkar back into the folds of Hinduism.
After Shivaji had reigned in the three Islamic Sultanates of the South, he turned his sight towards the Mughal empire. His officers raided the Mughal port of Surat and Shivaji himself defeated Shaista Khan, the maternal uncle of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. These attacks enraged Aurangzeb and he sent his biggest army contingent ever, led by his Rajput general Mirza Raja Jaisingh to take on Shivaji. The letter Shivaji wrote to Jai Singh when he descended upon the Deccan provides interesting insights into the mind of the great warrior king. He writes to Jaisingh, ‘If you had come to Deccan as a Hindu Rajput King wanting to extend your empire, I would have laid my tiny little kingdom voluntarily at your feet O General, and would have served you gladly as a vassal. But you come as the representative of an oppressive, foreign regime, therefore I am forced to fight with you.’
Jai Singh’s forces captured many Maratha forts, killing some of Shivaji’s most trusted generals like Murar Baji forcing Shivaji to surrender rather than lose more of his men. In the Treaty of Purandar signed between Shivaji and Jai Singh on 11 June 1665, Shivaji agreed to give up 23 of his forts. In 1666, Aurangzeb invited Shivaji to Agra and placed him under house arrest. Shivaji feigned an illness and and requested to offer sweets to religious places to ensure his recovery. Shivaji escaped from Agra disguised as a labourer carrying sweet boxes.
Shivaji returned to Deccan and reconquered his lost Kingdom, scaling even greater heights! He built a new fort, Raigad to be his capital city and announced the plans of his coronation as a Sovereign King. Shivaji was crowned king in a lavish Rajyabhishek ceremony in 1674. Representatives of the British, Dutch and Portuguese forces attended the ceremony as invited guests. He was the first sovereign Hindu King in the south since the annihilation of the Vijayanagar empire. Shivaji Maharaj now had an official title, Khashitryakulavatans, Gobrahmanpratipalak Chatrapati Shri Shivaji Maharaj!
Aurangzeb felt so threatened by this that he himself descended upon the Deccan with an army of over 300,000 people. Aurangzeb had taken a vow that he would return to Delhi only after the Marathas were fully vanquished. The battle between Aurangzeb and Shivaji was to have been the final battle for the supremacy of the whole of India. Unfortunately, Shivaji fell sick and died an untimely death in 1680. He was only 52 years old.
After Shivaji’s death, Aurangzeb captured his son Sambhaji by deceit and put him to death after subjecting him to inhuman tortures for over 40 days. However, undeterred by this tragic event, the brave Marathas continued to fight the Mughals.
Aurangzeb died a broken old man at 90 in Khuldabad in Maharashtra, miles away from Delhi, while Shivaji continues to inspire generations of Indians with the tales of his valour.
Kaviraj Bhushan, the Rajkavi at Shivaji’s court wrote this beautiful poem about Shivaji Maharaj,
इन्द्र जिमि जंभपर , वाडव सुअंभपर |
रावन सदंभपर , रघुकुल राज है
पौन बरिबाहपर , संभु रतिनाहपर |
ज्यो सहसबाहपर , राम द्विजराज है
दावा द्रुमदंडपर , चीता मृगझुंडपर |
भूषण वितुण्डपर , जैसे मृगराज है
तेजतम अंसपर , कन्हजिमि कंसपर |
तो म्लेंच्छ बंसपर , शेर सिवराज है
© Shefali Vaidya