Indian Warrior Śivajī Śivajī (1627-1680) was the leader of a seventeenth-century independent Hindu nation in the region of Mahārāshtra. By successfully repelling the forces of the invading Mughal empire, often through the use of guerilla warfare, he insured the civil and religious freedom of the Marāthā people.

The warrior Śivajī was the leader of an independent Hindu nation in western India in the 1600s. Although that part of India was primarily controlled by Muslim Mughal forces at the time, Śivajī and his Marāthā people were able to successfully resist the invaders and maintain control of much of the area known as Mahārāshtra, the homeland of the Marāthā people. While his armies could not compare in size with those of the Mughal emperor, Śivajī was able to win many victories by relying more on cunning tactics than strength; he was one of the first military figures to make use of the strategies of guerilla warfare. In his legendary struggle to secure independence and religious freedom for his people, Śivajī became not only a symbol of Hindu strength and pride but also served as an inspiration for the Indian nationalism movement that developed in the twentieth century.

Although he came to be known just by his given name of Śivajī, the future soldier and leader was born Śivajī Bhonsle on April 6, 1627, in Poona, India. Both his mother, Jija Bai, and his father, Shanji Bhonsle, were from prominent families of the Marāthā people, a race originating in the hill region of Mahārāshtra in west central India, but which had spread to neighboring regions in the Deccan plateau of central India as well. The Marāthā had a long tradition of resistance to invaders, and Śivajī was encouraged to develop a strong and aggressive spirit by his mother, who passed on a pride of her family's position in the Hindu warrior caste. The young man's father abandoned his family soon after the birth of his son, so Śivajī was primarily influenced by his mother and a guardian, Dadaji Kondadev. From his mother, he gained not only a warrior's attitude, but also a great love of the Hindu religion. His education was based on great Hindu writings such as the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata and he also developed an appreciation for the devotional music of his faith. Dadaji, who had been an official for the Mughal government of the nearby state of Bijapur, helped to instill in his charge a hatred of the Muslim rulers and a love of the common people of Mahārāshtra. He was also a skilled politician and strategist who demonstrated a strong sense of justice as well as discipline; all of these traits were absorbed by Śivajī and later helped make him an effective and respected leader.


Secured MarāthāNation

For the first few years of his life Śivajī and his mother moved from place to place in an attempt to avoid capture by Mughal armies. When he was nine, they settled in Poona for ten years before moving to the mountain fort of Rajgarh, a newly-built structure that would become the central post for Śivajī's campaigns and later served as his capital. In his youth in Poona, he spent a great deal of time wandering the territory west of town, becoming familiar with the land and the peasants who lived there. He taught himself how to survive in the wilderness with few provisions and developed the skills of guerilla warfare. Before he had even reached the age of twenty, he began to gain control of a number of districts in the area and had started forming an army of his own. In the districts he ruled, he undertook a number of improvements to strengthen his defenses, rebuilding old forts and organizing local administration. He quickly became a popular leader known for his fairness and intelligence.

After learning of Śivajī's defeat of Afzal Khan, the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, grew alarmed. He decided to put an end to the defiant Marāthā, sending a huge force of S under Shaista Khan to attack Śivajī in January of 1660. The army captured Poona and for the next three years Śivajī was forced to hide in the hills and use guerilla tactics to defend his position and resist capture. He and his army survived by waiting for Mughal forces to enter the hills and then attacking them in a quick, hit-and-run fashion, making the most of their superior knowledge of the local terrain. Śivajī's troops would then return to their forts in the mountains with supplies and weapons plundered from the enemy. The Marāthā resistance efforts switched from a defensive to an offensive tactic in April of 1663, when Śivajī led a daring sneak attack on the personal quarters of Shaista Khan in the Mughal command center, wounding the general and killing dozens of his people. With the khan's forces in confusion after the assault on their leader, Śivajī made use of their immobility and attacked the wealthy port city of Surat, one of the great sources of pride of the Mughal empire. Cursing the "mountain rats" who had the nerve to attack his empire, Aurangzeb redoubled his efforts, sending a new army under Rajput Jai Singh to subdue the Marāthā and their warrior leader.


Forced to Surrender to Mughals

Unaware of the approach of the Mughal army, Śivajī had turned his attention to campaigns in the south of his domain. Jai Singh took control of Poona in March of 1665, and upon hearing the news, Śivajī rushed back to his fortress, Rajgarh. When he arrived, however, the Mughals had already gained a strong foothold in the north, forcing Śivajī to admit he could not defeat their superior power. On June 12, 1665, the Marāthā leader signed a treaty with Jai Singh in which Śivajī agreed to hand over his major strongholds, keeping only a dozen smaller forts for himself. While independence for the Marāthā was beyond hope, Śivajī assumed that he would become a valuable ally of the Mughal emperor, now that they were at peace. In the spring of 1666 he paid his respects to Aurangzeb on the occasion of his formal assumption of the Mughal throne. But rather than reward Śivajī's new loyalty with a top military post, the emperor presented him with only a third-class officer position. Śivajī was infuriated with Aurangzeb's actions and went into a tirade at the imperial court, eventually collapsing from his emotional outburst. Placed under house arrest, Śivajī quickly reevaluated his situation. No longer harboring any hopes for a position of power with the Mughals, he devised a plot to avenge the insult and regain the authority and lands he had lost.

While the Mughal emperor no longer presented a threat to the Marāthā nation, the neighboring Muslim states of Bijapur and Golconda continued to challenge Śivajī's control in the area. For this reason, not all the Marāthā in the Deccan were brought into Śivajī's empire. But his nation, while relatively small, remained stable. After his death of a fever on April 3, 1680, at Rajgarh, Śivajī's sons and subjects carried on his fight. His legacy of resistance insured that the Mughals never gained full control of the Deccan; in fact, even the later invasion by British colonial forces was repelled by the Marāthā. In the centuries since Śivajī's death, the colorful hero who fought for the freedom of the Marāthā people has come to stand as a symbol of Hindu strength and pride. His life is also considered to have been a source of inspiration for the twentieth-century Indian people as they fought their own battles for independence.


Further Reading on Sivaji

Majumdar, R. C., An Advanced History of India, 2nd ed., Macmillan, 1961.

Sardesai, G. S., "Shivaji," in The Mughal Empire, edited by R. C. Majumdar, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Bombay, India), 1974.

Wolpert, Stanley, A New History of India, Oxford University Press, 1982.