Chhatrapati Shivaji: The Legendary Maratha King

Chhatrapati Shivaji: The Legendary Maratha King

The Rise of Marathas

The Marathas played a prominent part in the politics of the later medieval period of India. They were greatly responsible for the fall of the Mughal Power. Before Shivaji organized them for a mighty role, the Maratha people were passing through an era of self-awakening and unity. Several factors worked to bring about that awakening.

Chhatrapati ShivajiThe land of Maharashtra, which was the homeland of the Marathas, provided these sons of the soils a climate of freedom. It was protected by the mountain ranges of Sahtyadri, Satputra and the Vindhyas, and by the Narmada and the Tripti rivers. The land was full of hills with hill-forts for defense. It was difficult for enemies from outside to invade the Maratha country. This geographical advantage made the people freedom loving.

The geography of the land also made its people active and hardy. The soil of Maharashtra was not fertile. Rainfall was scanty. The people worked throughout the year and had to do hard labor in order to survive. They had neither the leisure nor the wealth for pleasures. Simple life and hard habits made them fearless of pain. For the rise of the race their hard life was a stepping-stone.

The Marathas developed a kind of social equality which was not seen elsewhere in those days. There was no rigidity of caste system. The people were conscious of their individual dignity. Economic hardship and social equality developed a sense of unity among them.

The Maratha country passed through a religious awakening over a long period. Sants like Eknath, Tukaram, Ramdas, and Vaman Pandit taught people the values of human equality. All men were the children of God, they preached. As the wave of devotion spread, people forgot their differences. A strong bond of unity was felt by the mass. This religious revival prepared ground for a wider political awakening.

Language and the literature of Marathas rapidly developed because of religious preaching. Devotional sayings and songs were carried to masses of people through their literature. As the Marathi literature assumed a powerful character, the linguistic unity of the people became stronger.

While a general awakening was thus going on among the Maratha people, history saw the birth of a great hero among them. He was Shivaji. To the growing vigor of social, religious and linguistic unity, he added a political purpose. A united Martha people marched under his leadership to establish a powerful State. Side by side, they stepped into the role as the destroyers of the Mughal Empire.

Chhatrapati Shivaji

Birth and Early Life:

Shivaji was the son of the Shahji Bhonsle, an ambitious Maratha leader. His mother was Jija Bai, a wise woman of pious and noble character. Shahji was at first employed by the Sultan of Ahmadnagar in his army. He possessed the Jagir of Poona for his services.

Shivaji was born in a hill-fort named Shivneri near Junnar on February 19th, 1627. When his father went away to serve under the Sultan of Bijapur, Shivaji spent his childhood under the care of his mother Jija Bai who paid utmost attention to build up the character of her son. She inspired him with the stories of the great heroes of the epics. She wanted her son to be a real hero as well as a man of spiritual faiths. To a large extent, the foundation of Shivaji’s future career was laid by his mother in his childhood.

Chhatrapati ShivajiIn the words of historian Ranade, “If ever great men owed their greatness those the inspiration of mothers, the influence of Jija Bai was a factor of prime importance in the making of Shivaji’s career.”

Shivaji’s teacher, Dadaji, also played a part in building the child’s character. He taught his pupil the lessons in courage, noble deeds and higher ambitions.

From his childhood, Shivaji felt inspired for adventures. He developed a sense of pride as well. He believed that from his father’s side he was a descendant of the brave Sisodia Rajputs of Mewar, and from his mother’s side, of the Yadav Kings of Devagiri.

As Shivaji grew up, he came into close association with the hill people of the nearby Maval territory. Living in the wilds of the Western Ghats, these Mavalis were a brave people. In course of time, Shivaji trained them in warfare, and turned them into excellent fighters.

From his early youth, Shivaji led bold expeditions into neighboring countries. He became determined to free his land from the rule of invaders.

Conflict with Bijapur:

Shivaji wanted to establish a Maratha State in the Deccan. In order to achieve this, he began his conflict with the Sultan of Bijapur. He captured the fort of Torna and built the strong fort of Raigarh near it. He conquered territories of Bijapur and many of its hill-forts in daring raids.

As Shivaji’s father was in the service of Bijapur Sultan,  the sultan arrested him for his son’s political activities. Shivaji stopped his hostilities for a few years in order to get his father’s released. Meanwhile, he consolidated his conquests and made his army stronger.

In 1657, Shivaji began his conflict with the Mughals. Aurangzeb was then the Viceroy of the Mughal Deccan. When he proceeded to attack Bijapur, Shivaji attacked the Mughal territories. Here was the beginning of the hostility between Aurangzeb and Shivaji whom history aimed to see as the greatest rivals of their time. Soon after their first conflict, Aurangzeb left the Deccan to fight in the war of Succession. Shivaji once again began his struggle with Bijapur.

Saved from the fear of Mughal, Sultan of Bijapur prepared to crush Shivaji once and for all. In 1659, he sent his ablest general Afzal Khan with a large army to capture Shivaji dead or alive. But Afzal could not venture to attack Shivaji who was inside the fort of Pratapgarh. He, therefore proposed to meet Shivaji for negotiations.  

When they finally met and embraced each other, Afzal tried to kill Shivaji with a dagger while Shivaji attacked him with hidden steel claws in hand known as the Baghanakh.  Afzal died in the ordeal and his army was easily defeated by the hidden Marathas forces.

This victory made Shivaji much bolder. He invaded South Konkan and Kolhapur to extend his territories. But his real conflicts with the Mughals began which prepared a path for his rise to powers.

Conflict with the Mughals:

When Aurangzeb became the Emperor in 1658, Shivaji was busy in South to establish his power. Each of these men regarded each other as the enemy. They were destined, in fact, to be remembered as the most historic rivals of the late medieval India.

Aurangzeb sent his maternal uncle Shaista Khan as the Viceroy of the Deccan. He was ordered to do everything to destroy Shivaji. Shaista captured the stronghold of Poona and drove out the Marathas from several places. By virtue of their number, the Mughals felt hopeful of defeating the Marathas.

But Shivaji was cunning and courageous. One night, in 1663, he entered into Poona with a few men and suddenly attacked Chhatrapati ShivajiShaista Khan in his private chambers. Shaista narrowly escaped death after losing his thumb but his bodyguards, slaves and a son were killed.  It was a terrible blow to the Mughal prestige that the Viceroy of the Deccan could be attacked inside his own bedroom. Aurangzeb’s anger and shame knew no bound at the disgrace of his uncle.

Shivaji’s prestige rose high and so did his courage. The following year, he suddenly attacked Surat, the most prosperous seaport of the Mughal Empire in Western India. The fearful Mughal Governer fled. Shivaji returned with booties worth more than a crore of rupees, after plundering that commercial center. This was yet another blow to Aurangzeb’s prestige.

The Emperor now thought of the strongest action against Shivaji. Rajput Raja Jay Singh was a top general of the Mughal army at the time and was reputed for his courage, fighting ability and tact. Aurangzeb sent him in 1665 to suppress Shivaji.

Raja Jay Singh worked with vigor. He applied both force and diplomacy. Shivaji suffered military reverses with loss of troops. At last, he agreed for peace and by the Treaty of Purandar, he surrendered a number of forts to Jay Singh. The Raja applied his diplomacy to win over Shivaji as a friend of the Mughals. He made high promises to lure Shivaji to visit Aurangzeb in Agra as a guest of honour. He guaranteed safety of the Maratha leader in the name of Rajput honors. Shivaji finally agreed to go to the imperial court of Aurangzeb.

It is surprising that Shivaji agreed to visit the Mughal court knowing fully well how dangerous Aurangzeb was as an enemy. But this also shows how brave he was. His motive perhaps was to see Aurangzeb in person and assess his ability. He was, however, running a grave risk to his own life.

With his son Sambhaji, Shivaji reached Agra in May 1666. As he appeared in the open court with high hopes, Aurangzeb did not receive him with the honors he deserved. Angry and agitated, Shivaji lost his temper, and his senses for a time. He was removed from the court to his residence where he blamed the emperor for faithlessness. Being a man of ruthless nature, Aurangzeb placed Shivaji under house arrest. Heavy forces guarded the prisoner’s residence, and all movements of Shivaji inside the house were closely watched.

However, Shivaji was not the man to lose heart. He thought of escape and prepared his plan. He first pretended illness. Next by pretending recovery from illness, he began to celebrate that recovery. Every evening, huge baskets containing sweet meats were sent out for distribution among the nobles, courtiers, monks and priests. At first, the guards used to check the basket at gate. But after some time, they did not suspect any foul play and allowed the baskets to pass.

Thus, one day, hiding inside the empty basket Shivaji and his son escaped through the ring of guards. They quickly passed out of Agra. Aurangzeb becomes furious when he heard about Shivaji’s escape and sent his horsemen in different directions to catch him. However, disguised as a monk and by taking a longer route, Shivaji at last reached his capital safe, towards the end of 1666.

On arrival, he strengthened his administration during the next three years and with greater vigor and larger forces, renewed his war with the Mughals. The forts and territories which were lost to the Mughals in the Treaty of Purandar were soon recovered. The port of Surat was plundered for the second time. The Maratha troops entered deeper into the Mughal territories. Aurangzeb’s generals were defeated over and over again. It appeared that Shivaji was invincible.

So, at last, in the wake of victory, Shivaji crowned himself as King at Raigarh in June are 1674. He proclaimed himself as the Chhatrapati, or the Great King, the Lord of the Umbrella. His rise to power as an independent monarch was now complete. A hopeful future opened up for the independent Maratha people in all-India politics.

Shivaji’s career had come to its logical culmination.

~ Nivedita Mukherjee 



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