Shivaji

The Indian military leader Shivaji (1627-1680) fought the Mogul Empire to establish a Maratha kingdom free from Mogul domination.

Shivaji was the son of Shahji Bonsale, a kingmaker in the Moslem kingdoms of Ahmagnagar and Bijapur in the Deccan. He was born on April 10, 1627 (March 19, 1630, according to some sources), in the Shivneri fort north of Poona in the state of Maharashtra, India. He was brought up by his mother, Jijabai, and tutor, Dadaji Kondadeva, who instilled in him a love for independence and Hinduism and basic skills in military and administrative leadership.

Shivaji began his career by gathering round him bands of the hardy peasantry called the Mavales and waging guerrilla wars against the kingdom of Bijapur. Between 1646 and 1658 he captured a number of Bijapuri strong-holds and in 1659 killed Afzal Khan, a renowned Bijapur general sent against him with a strong army. In the course of his wars against Bijapur, Shivaji also attacked Mogul territories in the Deccan, and this brought him into direct conflict with Aurangzeb, last of the great Moguls.

In 1664 Shivaji sacked the preeminent port city of Surat on the western coast, which brought retaliation from Aurangzeb in the form of a vast army led by the Rajput general Jai Singh. Shivaji could not withstand this offensive and signed the Treaty of Purandar in 1665, by which he surrendered 23 forts and agreed to enroll in the Mogul imperial service as a faithful retainer. In 1666 he visited Aurangzeb's court in Agra, where he was virtually kept in confinement, but escaped through a clever stratagem.

During 1667-1669 Shivaji kept his peace but renewed his wars with a second sack of Surat, in 1670. During the next 4 years he expanded his power in the western coastal lands and the south and on June 6, 1674, climaxed his career with his formal coronation in the fort of Raigarh, heralding the birth of the new and sovereign state of the Marathas. The last years of his life were spent in extending the territories under the control of his new state. Shivaji died on April 4, 1680.

Shivaji was no mere warrior or "freebooter," as his adversaries described him. He was a man with a grand vision for the liberation of the Hindus from Mogul rule and the creation of a government inspired by principles of unity, independence, and justice. His charisma united the caste-ridden people of Maharashtra, and in his administrative arrangements he displayed an uncommon wisdom. He also appreciated the growing importance of naval power in the politics of 17th-century India and began to create a navy of his own, one of the few rulers of India to do so. In his personal appearance he was of medium stature but well built, quick and piercing of eye, ready to smile and chivalrous in his dealings with all, including his erstwhile foes. Shivaji's significance in Indian history lies in the hammerblows he struck against the Mogul Empire and the dynamism he imparted to the Marathas, which helped them go on to stake imperial claims during 1720-1760.

Further Reading on Shivaji

The best and most authoritative single work on Shivaji is Jadunath Sarkar, Shivaji and His Times (1919; 5th ed. rev. 1952). G. S. Sardesai, New History of the Marathas, vol. 1 (1946), contains a comprehensive account of Shivaji's career based on original Marathi documents. Mahadev Govind Ranade, Rise of Maratha Power (Delhi, 1961), offers perceptive views of the background to the Maratha revolution. For general background consult W. H. Moreland and Atul Chandra Chatterjee, A Short History of India (1936; 3d ed. 1953).

Additional Biography Sources

Daud, Tafazzul, The real Sevaji, Karachi: Indus Publications, 1980.

Kincaid, Dennis, Shivaji, the founder of Maratha empire: The grand rebel, Delhi: Discovery Pub. House; New Delhi: Distributors, Uppal Pub. House, 1984.

Lajpat Rai, Lala, Shivaji, the great patriot, New Delhi: Metropolitan, 1980.

Pagdi, Setumadhava Rao, Shivaji, New Delhi: National Book Trust, India, 1983.

Studies in Shivaji and his times, Kolhapur: Shivaji University, 1982.

Takakhav, N. S. (Nilkant Sadashiv), Life of Shivaji, founder of the Maratha Empire, Delhi, India: Sunita Publications, 1985.

Verma, Virendra, Shivaji, a captain of war with a mission, Poona:Youth Education Publications: distributors, Youth Book Agencies, 1976.

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