Subscribe to Updates & Daily Quiz

Maratha Empire

Shivaji was born during an unsettling period of India. His birth was in independent country, as proclaimed by his father, Shahaji. Perhaps, that was the main contributing reason for his life long desire for independence.

The actual date of Shivaji’s birth has been settled as 19 February 1627. He was born at Shivneri Fort in Junnar, 60 kilometres north of Pune and about 100 kilometres east of Mumbai. He was named Shiva, after the local Goddess Shivai, to whom his mother Jijabai had prayed for a son, she had several other sons before Shivaji who did not survive.

Shahaji, Shivaji’s father, attempted to build on the ruins of the Nizamshahi kingdom of Ahmednagar, but was defeated by a large combined force of the Mughals and Adilshah in 1636. He was forced to leave the region around Pune.

He was inducted by Adilshah of Bijapur and was offered a distant jagir, but he was allowed to keep his old land tenures and holdings in Pune.

Shivaji started his rise to power in what is now the coastal Deccan or central western regions, close to the power centres of South-Central India.

Shahaji appointed the young Shivaji under the care of his mother Jijabai to manage the Pune holdings. A small council of ministers was appointed to assist and train Shivaji in the administration which included Shamrao Nilkanth as the Peshwa (Prime Minister), Balkrishna Pant as the Muzumdar, Raghunath Ballal  as the  Sabnis, Sonopant as the Dabir and Dadoji Konddeo as the teacher.

Apart from these ministers, military commanders Kanhoji Jedhe and Baji Pasalkar were appointed to train Shivaji in martial arts. In 1644, Shahaji had Lal Mahal built in Pune for his son Shivaji.

And thus Shivaji started his career as an independent young prince of a small kingdom on a mission. He used the title of Raja (king) only after Shahaji’s death.

Shivaji learned much from his father’s failed attempts at political independence: his exceptional military capabilities and achievements, his knowledge of Sanskrit, Hindu ethos, patronage of the arts, his war strategies and peacetime diplomacy. He was inspired and informed by his family’s vision of independence and freedom.

His mother, having lost her father and three brothers to a treacherous plot hatched by the regional king Nizamshah, was opposed to those who she considered alien rulers, due to their derision and callousness toward the local population. And thus she instilled in Shivaji a natural love for self-determination and an aversion to external political domination. Her piety and commitment to indigenous culture and her recounting of tales from the great Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana moulded Shivaji’s character and helped him to be peerless, especially in his tolerant attitude towards other religions as well as in his fair and kind treatment of women and non-combatants.

Shahaji‘s vision, Jijabai‘s and Dadoji Konddeo‘s teachings and motivation, and the able training by military commanders such as Gomaji Naik Pansambal and Baji Pasalkar were the main influences which groomed Shivaji into a brave and fearless military leader as well as a responsible administrator. Shivaji took a blood oath to fight against the Mughal empire at Rohideshwara temple. The young Shivaji wasted no time in setting off on a path of freedom and glory.

At the age of 17, Shivaji carried out his first military action by attacking and capturing the Torna Fort of the Bijapur kingdom. By 1647 he had captured Kondana and Rajgad forts and had complete control of the Pune region.

By 1654, Shivaji had captured forts in the Western Ghats and along the Konkan coast. In a bid to sabotage this move of the Marathas under Shivaji’s able leadership, Adilshah had his father – Shahaji arrested by deceitful means, and he sent one army against Sambhaji, Shivaji’s elder brother at Bangalore, lead by Farradkhan; and another against Shivaji at Purandhar ,lead by Fattekhan. However both the Bhonsle brothers defeated the invading armies and secured the release of their father.

Thereafter, Afzal Khan, a seasoned commander and an accomplished warrior, was then sent to destroy Shivaji, in an effort to put down what was seen by Bijapur as a regional revolt. Afzal Khan, after leaving Bijapur to confront Shivaji, first desecrated the temples of goddess Bhavani in Tuljapur and Pandharpur. The intent was to get a roiled, disturbed, and shaken Shivaji out in the open to face him in a pitched battle. Instead, Shivaji sent a letter saying he was not eager to face Afzal Khan and sought some type of understanding.

Shivaji upon carefully weighing his options, strategically decided to confront and surprise Afzal Khan under the guise of diplomatic negotiations. A meeting was arranged between Afzal Khan and Shivaji at the foothills of Fort Pratapgad. Shivaji got word that Afzal Khan planned to slay him during the meeting. Shivaji armed himself with a weapons prior to the meeting. Afzal Khan attempted to stab Shivaji in the back with a dagger as they embraced at the onset of their meeting. Shivaji was unscath due to the armour he wore under his clothes, and he counter attacked Afzal Khan, spilling his blood and entrails on the ground. Thereupon Afzal Khan’s deputy, Krishnaji Bhaskar Kulkarni and his bodyguard Sayyed Banda attacked Shivaji with swords but Jiva Mahala, Shivaji’s personal bodyguard fatally struck them down. Afzal Khan managed to stumble out of the tent to get help but was immediately slain by Shivaji’s associate Sambhaji Kavji, before he could alert his commanders or raise an alarm.

Immediately after slaying Afzal Khan, Shivaji galloped up the slope towards the fortress with his lieutenants and ordered cannons to be fired. This was a signal to his infantry, which had been strategically placed under the cover of the densely covered valley, to immediately attack the enemy forces. Maratha troops commanded by Shivaji’s captain Kanhoji Jedhe, swept down on Afzal Khan’s 1,500 musketeers; resulting in a complete rout of the musketeers at the foothills of the fort. Then in a rapid march, a section of Adilshahi forces commanded by Musekhan was attacked, who was wounded and subsequently fled the field.

Meanwhile, Moropant led the Maratha infantry toward the left flank of the main portion of Adilshahi troops. The suddenness of this attack on Afzal Khan’s artillery at close quarters made them ineffective in providing artillery cover for the main portion of their troops. And as a result of this the rest of their troops rapidly succumbed to an all out Maratha attack. Simultaneously Shivaji’s Sardar (captain), Ragho Atre’s cavalry units swooped down and attacked the large but unprepared Adilshahi cavalry before they were able to be fully geared up for battle and succeeded in completely routing them in short order.

The Maratha cavalry under Netaji Palkar pursued the retreating Adilshahi forces, who were attempting to join up with the part of their reserve forces stationed in the nearby village of Wai. They were engaged in battle before they could regroup and were defeated prior to reaching Wai.

This great and complete victory made Shivaji a hero of Maratha folklore and a legendary figure among his people. The large quantities of captured weapons, horses, armour and other materials helped to strengthen the nascent and emerging Maratha army.

Subsequently, the Sultan of Bijapur sent an elite Pashtun army comprised mainly of Afghani mercenaries to subdue and defeat Shivaji before he could substantially expand his army.

In the resulting war of Panhalgadh, Bijapur‘s Pashtun army was decimated by the Maratha troops. The intense and bloody battle ended in the unconditional surrender of Bijapuri forces to Shivaji. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb now identified Shivaji as a major threat to the mighty Mughal Empire.

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 renowned general Rustemjaman. With a cavalry of 5000 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 other two portions of his cavalry attacked the flanks. This battle last for several hours and at the end Bijapuri forces were soundly defeated and Rustemjaman ignominiously fled the battlefield. This victory alarmed the mighty Mughal empire who now derisively called Shivaji “Mountain Rat”. Aurangzeb was now actively preparing to bring the full might and resources of the Mughal Empire to bear down on the potential Maratha threat.

In 1660, Adil Shah, sent Siddi Johar to put down Shivaji once again. He ordered his large army north to Kolhapur, Maharashtra to confront and defeat Shivaji once and for all. At that time Shivaji was camped at the fort Panhala with a small part of his army, near present day Kolhapur, on the borders of his dominion. Siddi Johar’s army camped near Panhala, cutting off supply routes to the fort. Shivaji, decided to escape to a nearby fort Vishaalgad, where he could regroup his soldiers to fight a decisive battle.

Shivaji sent misleading messages to Siddi Johar indicating that he was willing to negotiate and was looking for accommodation, understanding and mercy. With this news Adilshahi soldiers relaxed and Shivaji escaped under the cover of a very stormy night. Johar’s soldiers captured a small group of the Marathas apparently including Shivaji, only to realize he was a look-alike dressed like Shivaji, sent out to create a diversion and facilitate the real king’s escape. Siddi Johar’s soldiers realized that the imposter was Shivaji’s barber and that Shivaji and his army were headed to Vishaalgad.

Baji Prabhu Deshpande, a brave Sardar along with 300 soldiers, volunteered to fight to the death to hold back the enemy at Ghod Khind to give Shivaji and the rest of the army a chance to reach the safety of Vishaal Gad. In the ensuing battle of Pavan Khind, Baji Prabhu Deshpande was almost fatally wounded but he held on until he heard the sound of cannon fire from Vishaal Gad, signalling that Shivaji had reached safety of the fort. The result was the death of 300 Marathas and 1286 of Adilshah’s troops. Thereafter a truce was made between Shivaji and Adilshahi through Shahaji, acknowledging and formally recognizing the independence of Shivaji’s Kingdom. Also, as the terms of peace, the fort at Panhalawas awarded to Siddi Johar.

This remained the situation until the death of Shahaji.

In 1660, Aurangzeb sent his maternal uncle Shaista Khan, with a large army to defeat Shivaji. He was an experienced commander who had defeated Shahaji in the same region in 1636.

Within three years Shivaji had lost most of his conquests to a relentless attack by Shaista Khan and his army numbering over 100,000. Shaista Khan seized Pune and the nearby fort of Chakan. Although he held Pune for almost a year, he had little further success. He had set up his residence at Lal Mahal, Shivaji’s palace in the city of Pune.

Shaista Khan kept the security in Pune very tight. In April 1663, a wedding party had obtained special permission for a procession; Shivaji planned an attack using the wedding party as cover. The Marathas disguised themselves as the bridegroom’s procession and entered Pune. Shivaji, having spent much of his youth in Pune, knew his way around the city and his own palace of Lal Mahal. After overpowering and slaying the palace guards, the Marathas broke into the mansion by breaking through a wall. Shivaji confronted Shaista Khan and severed three of Shaista Khan’s fingers with his sword as he fled through an open window. Shaista Khan narrowly escaped death; lost his son, many of his guards and soldiers in the raid.

Within twenty-four hours of this daring attack, Shaista Khan left Pune and headed North towards Agra. An angered Aurangzeb transferred him to distant Bengal as a punishment for bringing embarrassment to the Mughals with his very personal and ignoble defeat in Pune.

In 1664 Shivaji invaded Surat, an important and wealthy Mughal trading city, and looted it to replenish his now depleted treasury and also as a revenge for the capture and looting of Maratha territory by Shaista Khan. Aurangzeb was enraged and sent Mirza Raja Jai Singh I, with an army numbering well over 100,000 to defeat Shivaji.

The Mughal forces proved to be unstoppable in the early battles and Shivaji decided to come to terms with Aurangzeb. In the treaty of Purander, signed between Shivaji and Jai Singh, Shivaji agreed to give up all of his 23 forts and 400,000 rupees to the Mughals. He also agreed to let his son Sambhaji become a Mughal Sardar and serve the Mughal court of Aurangzeb. Shivaji’s clandestine intentions in coming to terms with the Mughals were to defeat his enemies, the Bijapur and GolcondaKingdoms using Aurangzeb’s army and then to take on the mighty Mughals.

In 1666, Aurangzeb summond Shivaji to Agra, along with his six year old son Sambhaji, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday.

Aurangzeb’s plan was to send Shivaji to Khandahar, modern day Afghanistan to consolidate the Mughal empire’s north-western frontier. However in the court, on 12 May 1666, Aurangzeb made Shivaji stand behind the mansabdars (military commanders) of his court. Shivaji took offense to this seeming insult and stormed out of court and was promptly placed under house arrest, under the watch of Fulad Khan, Kotwal of Agra.

From his spies, Shivaji learned that Aurangzeb planned to shift him to Raja Vitthaldas’s Haveli and then possibly kill him or send him to fight in the Afghan frontier. As a result Shivaji planned his escapeHe feigned almost fatal sickness and requested to send most of his contingent back to Deccan. Thereafter, on his request, he was allowed to send daily shipments of sweets and gifts to saints, fakirs, and temples in Agra as offerings for getting well.

After several days and weeks of sending out boxes containing sweets, Shivaji hid himself in one of the boxes and managed to escape. Sambhaji, his six year old son had been smuggled out a couple of days earlier. Shivaji and his son fled to the Deccan disguised as sadhus. Some accounts claim that after the escape, rumours of Sambhaji’s death were intentionally spread by Shivaji himself in order to deceive the Mughals and to protect him.

In the years 1667-69, Shivaji adopted a low profile and began to aggressively build up his army. His army now contained about 40,000 cavalry, backed by 60,000 infantry, strong navy and potent artillery. The Mughals had the impression that he was now a spent force and would not cause them any more trouble.

In January 1670 Shivaji launched a major, multi-pronged assault on the Mughal garrisons in Maharashtra. Within six months he had regained most of his old territory and more. From 1670 to 1674, Shivaji expanded his kingdom to include major portions of Maharashtra and far in to the south including parts of modern-day Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

Kondana fort, on the outskirts of Pune, was still under Mughal control. Uday Bhan Rathod, the fort keeper, led an army of about 1500 Rajputs and Mughals for the protection of the fort. On February 4, 1670 Shivaji deputed one of his most senior and trusted generals, Tanaji Malusare, to head a mission to capture Kondana.

Tanaji and Uday Bhan came face to face and a fierce fight ensued. Tanaji was severely wounded but managed to kill Uday Bhan before succumbing to his injuries. Seeing their leader mortally wounded, the Maratha soldiers started to back-up and retreat. Suryaji, then stepped in front and center to rally them and to get them back on the offensive. The Marathas now re-commenced their attack on the Mughal defenders and captured the fort.

Shivaji was formally crowned Chhatrapati (Chief, or King of Kshatriyas), on June 6, 1674 at Raigad fort, and given the title Kshatriya Kulavantas Sinhasanadheeshwar Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Pandit Gaga Bhatt, a renowned Brahmin from Varanasi, officially presided over the ceremony declaring that Shivaji’s lineage was bonafide and recognized Kshatriya. He was bestowed with the Zaanva, (in Hindi the Janeu the sacred thread), with the Vedas and was bathed in an abisheka. Shivaji had insisted on an Indrabhishek ritual, which had fallen into disuse since the 9th century. Shivaji then was conferred with the title of “shakkarta”. He started his own calendar. A few days later a second ceremony was carried out, this time according to the Bengal school of Tantricism and presided over by Nischal Puri.

Toward the end of 1676, Shivaji launched a wave of conquests in southern India with a massive force of 50,000 (30,000 cavalry & 20,000 infantry). The first major alliance made by the monarch was with Abul Hasan, the Qutb Shahi Sultan of Golconda. They began a campaign against the Bijapur Karnataka, including the Shivaji’s own half-brother, Vyankoji Bhonsla. He defeated and captured the forts at Vellore and Gingee in modern-day Tamilnadu. These victories proved quite crucial during future wars. Jinjee served as Maratha capital for 9 years during 27 years of war.

Shivaji died at 12 noon, 3rd April, in 1680 at Raigad, after running a fever for three weeks. It is said that he died due to contracting Intestinal anthrox.

The funeral ceremony was arranged in Raigad in presence of his son Rajaram, and Soyarabai. After Shivaji’s death, his elder son Sambhajiand Soyrabai , fought for control of the kingdom. After a brief struggle Sambhaji was crowned king.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *