Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (1627 - 1680)

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Shivaji was amongst the very greatest of warriors, whose life has had a profound effect on history. Shivaji’s life is an emblem of courage, virtue and inspiration for all those who encounter it. Yet many Hindus, particularly in the West, will not have heard of Shivaji (though this is probably not so in India).
It is thought that Shivaji was born in 1627 in the hill-fort of Shivneri, near Junnar in Maharashtra. His parents were Jija Bai and Shahji. His mother, was a major influence in shaping Shivaji’s character. To her, we have devoted separate page in our collection of biographies. Shahji was a military commander of good reputation, who was under the pay of various competing Muslim Kingdoms. Shahji’s life and career was turbulent and he left Jijabai and Shivaji for much of Shivaji’s early years under the guardianship of Dadaji Kondev, who administered some of the lands that Shahji was allocated (in Poona).

During the span of life in which young men of today are studying at high school, Shivaji studied with close and minute observation the art of administration, examined the routes of communication, mastered every inch of the rugged land in which he lived. He spent his time winning over the affections of the poor masses, and was preparing himself to become hardy, fearless and tireless for the coming struggle. When Shivaji was only 12 years old, he had a seal prepared with the inscription. "Although the first moon is small, men see that it will grow gradually. This seal befits Shivaji, the son of Shahji." Shivaji, with his band of friends had been adventurous in their early years, searching the lands far and wide, observing and meeting all sorts of people, and building close friendships with many. This enabled him to recruit and utilise the latent power of the various Hindu peoples. Particularly, the Maval hillmen proved to be sturdy and loyal soldiers in Shivaji’s mission. They were won over by Shivaji’s style and charisma and his noble ideals. Three of the Mavals in particular rose to great fame and to whom songs are still sung. These are Tanaji Malusare, Yesaji Kunk and Baji Prabhu.

Under Dadaji Kondev’s tutelage, he expanded the area they controlled. That period of time in Poona was very chaotic, and lacked law and order. Criminals had a free hand in looting and harassing the people. Young Shivaji, still a teen, earnt the people’s love by dealing out strong and fair justice to all. As time progressed Shivaji gained an increasingly strong desire to free the Hindus from the tyrannical rule of the Muslim rulers, who were at liberty to persecute Hindus, suppress Hindu religious practices and impose special heavy taxes on Hindus (the Jiziya Islamic tax). Shivaji’s mother, Jijabai had given him an upbringing of high and inspiring ideals by reciting stories of heroism, spirituality and chivalry in past ages, and channelled his desire to the defence of religion and freedom. Jijabai’s family had long served Muslim rulers but she considered it shameful to serve under the persecutors of her people, no matter how good the pay. She and Shivaji had to remain separate from her husband, and were often on the move, escaping from the backlash of this or that political conspiracy. She felt that their miserable plight was due to their weak and servile attitude towards the Muslim domination, and wished her son, Shivaji to be the one to turn the fortunes of her people and faith.

Shivaji at the ages of 16 & 17 began to undertake risky enterprises, occupying lands that were under the control of Muslim rulers. Dadaji Kondev repeatedly tried to discourage him, for though he too felt pain at the plight of the Hindus, he didn’t feel that Shivaji should risk harm or damage to his father’s estate by open rebellion. But Shivaji’s mind was made up, by this early age. He wasn’t going to wait or pray for a champion to be born to renew the rule of dharma, he was going to strive to become that champion himself! In 1946, Shivaji discovered a weakness in the neighbouring Muslim kingdom of Bijapur . Through diplomacy and force, he captured a fort and named it Rajgad. This was a landmark in his career. It is said that in Shivaji’s meditations, the Goddess Bhavani (Shivaji’s family deity) advised him to dig at a certain spot in the fort. At this spot, he unearthed a large mass of treasure, which helped bolster his career. This also convinced many people that Shivaji’s cause was blessed. There are several times when Shivaji was said to have received a vision of Bhavani, during his meditations. Soon, Shivaji’s conquests were rapidly increasing. Although Dadaji had been disapproving of this, before his death he summoned Shivaji and blessed him for the accomplishment of his goal. Shivaji’s father was still under the pay of Muslim powers, and hence tried to rein in Shivaji, but it seems that Shahji was secretly proud of Shivaji’s cause and tried to influence matters in his favour, as any father naturally would.

Soon, Shivaji became powerful and confident enough to attack and annex Moghul territories (the Moghul dynasty was the most powerful force in India, which ruled at the capital, Delhi). At times the massive armies of the Moghuls forced Shivaji into peace treaties, and when that happened Shivaji would consolidate and fortify the gains he had made in other areas. He would not hesitate to break treaties or to use trickery. This is a very important thing that he learnt from history, and greatly contributed to his success. In the preceding centuries, Hindu kings had often won stunning victories against the invaders, but they insisted on absolute forgiveness and honourable conduct towards the defeated enemy, always honouring treaties ect. However, the defeated Muslim kings would without exception use the treaties to bide their time until they could crush the Hindu king (see the sad tale of Prithviraj Chauhan). It was in this manner, with every Hindu king acting very honourably and naively, and every Mussalman invader acting very tactically, shrewdly and treacherously that allowed the invaders to make gradual but massive inroads into Bharata over several centuries. These kings should have taken Shri Krishna’s advice to the Pandavas in the Mahabharata:
  • that you shouldn’t behave honourably and courteously to an enemy unless that enemy is reciprocating that behaviour. For example, Shri Krishna tells Arjuna to shoot Karna when he is off his chariot, because why should Arjuna abide by strict rules of conduct against someone who partook in the unfair massacre of his son, Abhimanyu, and who had on several occasions been part of a plot to kill the Pandavas.​
  • when dharma is at stake, a warrior should not be too choosy about the means of winning a war. It was better for Shivaji to use trickery against the enemies who were at liberty to molest women and children and destroy temples, than to abide by an honourable code of conduct towards his enemy and risk losing the great and urgent cause which he stood for. In the same way, Shri Krishna advised the Pandavas to use a degree of trickery to remove Dronacharya from the great battle, as it was more important for them to establish a righteous rule in the land, and dispose of the asuric rule of Duryodhana.​
But while Shivaji was brutal against the Muslim rulers and those men who harassed Hindus, he did not harass Muslim women or places of worship (which was the opposite policy of the Muslim rulers).His soldiers were under strict instructions not to harass women and mosques. Shivaji was a symbol of justice for all. He used might, to establish the rule of right, not as a tool of oppression. For example, when Shivaji was conquering Konkan, he had to fight a man named Mulana Ahmed. The general whom Shivaji dispatched for the battle, Abaji Sondev, succeeded in capturing Mulana and his family, including Mulana’s beautiful daughter. Shivaji asked for her to be introduced in court. She was introduced, dressed in her best raiment’s. Shivaji merely remarked with a laugh: "How I wish my mother had been as beautiful as you are; I would have been more handsome." The assembly was listening in rapt attention, Shivaji continued "it is written that he who hankers after victory should beware of love’s meshes and other people's women. It was this which brought low the proudest towers of strength like Ravana." He dispatched her to her relatives in Bijapur. Conversely, the policy of Muslim rulers was that the prisoners of war were either sold in slavery or put to death, and the women became the property of their captors.
 

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On the 16 June 1974, Shivaji held a vast ceremony, and formally crowned himself king of the region, taking the title "Chhatrapati" which means "Lord of the Umbrella." The title was symbolic of the protective umbrella of Shivaji’s dominion. It was a ceremony that was to have political reverberations in shaping India’s future, and it may have still more wider implications yet to come. It was attended by 50,000 holy men from all over India, and the spectators numbered even greater.
Shivaji died on April 4th 1680, from failing health, which was probably caused in part by his vigorous and strenuous career. His untimely death depressed his kingdom and is said to have elated his main enemy, the Moghul Emperor Aurungzeb. After Shivaji’s death, a turbulent time followed for the Maratha nation that he created. Shivaji’s sons (Sambhaji, and then Rajaram) took control of the kingdom, but while they were brave, they were not of Shivaji’s stature as leaders. Aurungzeb and the Moghul armies descended upon the Maratha kingdom, to crush it, thinking after Shivaji’s death that the Marathas could not function. However, the nation was imbued with a spirit too strong to break, and they employed Shivaji’s guerilla warfare to devastating effect, and weathered the storm. Within a few decades, a new leader, Peshwa Baji Rao, who was the Prime minister of the realm, acting on behalf of the king took effective control of the kingdom, and vastly expanded the Maratha confederacy. In the generations that followed, the Marathas exercised control over almost all of India, until that British beat them in the 3rd Anglo-Maratha war (1817-1818). The Marathas once even marched all the may to Delhi and forcing a treaty of submission on the Moghul emporer. Hence Shivaji’s greatness was not only in the achievements during his life time, but that he managed to create a nation infused with an indomitable spirit, that played a very important role in the future. Even after they were defeated by the British, it was in less than 40 years that they rose to make another stand, as major fighters in the 1857 Indian Mutiny (which is more accurate to call the 1st Indian War of Independence). Unlike some try to make out, the Marathas were the foremost power in the fall of the Moghul empire. The Sikhs and Rajputs only scored lasting victories after the Marathas had irreversible broken the back of the Moghul forces by the mid-18th century. Even Punjab was first succesfully liberated by the Marathas.This is not to denigrate the contribution of all factions involved in that very important and glorious part of our history, but to give the bulk of credit where it is due, to the Marathas.

Shivaji’s lifetime was preceded by and also simultaneous with many saints who caused a religious renewal in the Deccan. Religion once again became something for the homes of the average person rather than an elitist subject. Some of the major saints were Dnaneswar, Namadev, Ekanath, Tukaram and Samartha Ramdas. Particularly Samartha Ramdas was a strong supporter of Shivaji, exhorting the Hindus to join Shivaji and fight a dharamyudh. It is proposed that Shivaji’s movement was given strength by the religious revolution of the time, which prepared the seeds for a wider revolt in the cause of justice Hence, a leader like Shivaji could give the decisive spark, setting ablaze the long dormant Hindus of the Deccan.

Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji.
 
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