. . .
It is observed that among his contemporaries, hardly anyone
could grasp his vision. Shivaji always tried to befriend the Hindu
Sardars. However, he could not garner support from the people of his
contemporary generation. All his Contemporary Hindu big shots were
serving Islamic empires and fighting against his Kingdom. They were
seeing a Hindu Kingdom coming into existence. However, they had
nothing to offer except jealousy. The New generation, however, was
heavily influenced by his work and his ideology. The proof for this
statement is that Aurangzeb could not defeat the Marathas in spite of
27-year long warfare.
Repeatedly he entered into treaty with Mughals, Adilshah,
Kutubshah, and Portuguese. However, he was never the first to breach
the treaty with Adilshah OR Kutubshah. His policy towards Mughals and
Portuguese was always that of adversary. He did not harm English and
French and was neutral towards them. His policy towards Adilshah and
Kutubshah was that of potential strategic partners. Adilshah never
accepted alliance of Marathas completely and chose suicidal path.
Kutubshah did and put up a united front against the Mughal onslaught.
Chhatrasaal Bundela was one of the many young men who were inspired
from Shivaji. He went on to liberate his own homeland, Bundel Khand
from Mughals. Sikhs were influenced by Maratha upheaval. Guru
Gobindsinghji came to Deccan for establishing contact with Marathas
but Aurangzeb gruesomely killed him in Nanded. It is unfortunate that
Maratha-Sikh relation could not develop.
Personal traits . . .
He was known to be very vigilant about honor of women; even
Persian documents praise him for this quality. His personal character
was very clean, quite anomalous with respect to his contemporaries.
It is a well-documented fact that he was tolerant towards masses of
all religions and never indulged himself in any of the heinous deeds
that the marauding Muslim and Christian forces had inflicted upon
India. It is proven by Shejvalkar, that although Shivaji was
courageous, he did not use horse as his frequent mode of
transportation. Usually, he used a Palaquin. Seven-Eighth of his
life, he spent on forts. The modus operandi of Shivaji and subsequent
Marathas involved thorough initial planning of the campaign,
accepting no more risks than are necessary, and as far as possible,
rarely indulging in personal adventures.
It is important to understand limitations of Shivaji and to
certain extent, subsequent Marathas. In 17th century, European rulers
had renaissance as their ideological backbone. Shivaji did not have
such ideological pool to derive inspiration. The Bhakti Movement was
one of the probable sources that might have influenced Shivaji in his
formative years. This differentiates Shivaji from Cromwell and
Napoleon. He was not a hedonist, nor a socialist. He never thought of
educating the downtrodden castes and reforming the Hindu society,
eliminating caste system. He never indulged in literacy campaign OR
establish printing press. He always purchased firearms from English
OR Dutch. It does not seem that Shivaji cared for the whereabouts of
white Europeans. Before his birth, Galileo had invented the
telescope, Columbus had discovered America, Magellan had
circumnavigated the globe, Issac Newton was his contemporary. Like
all great men, Shivaji was a product of his own time. His greatness
lies in his understanding of his contemporary time with all its
How Small Shivaji Was...
The first fact to strike is that he created a kingdom. There
must have been over 500 Dynasties in India. Each had a founder. One
among them was Shivaji. The rest had an opportunity to do so because
of the reigning confusion. Vassals of a weak King would declare
independence with the central power helpless to prevent it. A
powerful general used to dethrone a weak King and raise his own
Kingdom. This had been the usual way of establishing a new dynasty.
The new King inherited the existing Army and the bureaucratic
structure automatically. In Shivaji’s case however, we find out that
he had to raise everything from nothing, who did not have the benefit
of a ready strong army; who, on trying to establish himself, had to
face the might of Great Powers; with neighboring Bijapur and Golconda
powers still on the rise and the Moghul Empire at its zenith. Shivaji
was carving away a niche out of the Bijapur Empire that had
assimilated more than half of Nijamshahi and was on its way to
conquer entire Karnataka. Here is somebody who, from the start, never
had the might to defeat his rivals in a face-to-face battle, who saw
the efforts of 20 years go down the drain in a matter of 4 months;
but still fought on to create an Empire with 29 years of constant
struggle and enterprise. It would be easy to see how small he was
once we find which founder to compare him to in the annals of Indian
history, on this issue. A typical Hindu power had certain
distinguishing traits. It is not that they did not emerge victorious
in a war. Victories - there have been many. However, their victory
did not defeat the adversary completely. The latter’s territory did
not diminish, nor his might attrite. The victory rarely resulted in
expansion of Hindu territory. Even though victorious, Hindus used to
become weaker and stayed so. In short, it is plain that they faced
total destruction in case of defeat and high attrition in case of
A new chapter in Hindu history begins with Shivaji wherein
battles are won to expand the borders while strength and will power
is preserved in a defeat. Secondly, the Hindu Rulers used to be
astonishingly ignorant of the happenings in neighboring Kingdoms.
Their enemy would catch them unaware, often intruding considerably
into their territory and only then would they wake up to face the
situation. Whatever be the outcome of the battle, it was their land
which was defiled. The arrival of Shivaji radically changes this
scenario and heralds the beginning of an era of staying alert before
a war and unexpected raids on the enemy. Thirdly, the Hindu Kings
habitually placed blind faith in their adversaries. This saga
terminates with Shivaji performing the treacherous tricks. It was the
turn of the opponents to get stunned. In the ranks of Hindu Kings,
the search is still going on for somebody to compare with Shivaji on
this point. . His lifestyle was not simple. Having adopted a choice,
rich lifestyle, he was not lavish. He was gracious to other
religions. On that account, he may be compared with Ashoka, Harsha,
Vikramaditya, and Akbar. However, all of these possessed great
harems. Akbar had the Meenabazaar, Ashoka had the Tishyarakshita.
Shivaji had not given free reign to his lust. Kings, both Hindu and
Muslim, had an overflowing, ever youthful desire for women. That was
lacking in Shivaji. He had neither the money to spend on sculptures,
paintings, music, poetry or monuments nor the inclination. He did not
possess the classical appreciation needed to spend over 20 crores to
build a Taj Mahal as famine was claiming over hundreds of thousands
of lives; nor was he pious enough to erect temple after temple while
the British were systematically consuming India.
He was a sinner; he was a practical man like the rest of us.
Khafi Khan says he went to Hell. He would not have enjoyed the
company of the brave warriors who preferred gallant death to
preservation of their land. It would have ill suited him to live with
the noble Kings who would rather indulge in rituals such as Yadnya
than expand the army. For the Heaven is full of such personalities.
Akbar adopted a generous attitude towards Hindus and has been
praised for that. However, it is an elementary rule that a stable
government is impossible without having a contented majority. Akbar
was courteous to them who, as a community, were raising his kingdom
and stabilizing it for him. The Hindus he treated well were a
majority in his empire and were enriching his treasury through their
taxes. The Hindus had no history of invasions. They had not destroyed
Mosques. They were never indulged in genocides against Muslims. They
had not defiled Muslim women nor were they proselytes, as compared to
Abrahmic fanatics found in Muslims and Christians. These were the
people Akbar was generous to. On the contrary; Muslims were a
minority community in Shivaji’s Empire. They were not the mainstay of
his taxes. They were not chalking out a Kingdom for him. Besides,
there was a danger of an invasion and Aurangzeb was imposing Jiziya
Tax on Hindus. Yet, he treated Muslims well. That was not out of fear
but because of his inborn generosity.
Shivaji's expertise as a General is, of course, undisputed.
However, besides that, he was also an excellent Governor. He believed
that the welfare of the subjects was a responsibility of the ruler.
Even though he fought so many battles, he never laid extra taxes on
his subjects. Even the expenditure for his Coronation was covered by
the taxes on the collectors. In a letter he challenges, "It is true
that I've deceived many of my enemies. Can you show an instance where
I deceived a friend?" This challenge remains unanswered.
He funded establishment of new villages, set up tax systems on
the farms, used the forts to store the farm produce, gave loans to
farmers for the purchase of seeds, oxen etc, built new forts, had the
language standardized to facilitate the intra-government
communication, had the astrology revived and revised, encouraged
conversion of people from Islam to Hinduism. He was not a mere
warrior. Moreover, he believed that charity begins at home. His
brother in law, Bajaji Nimbalkar, was forcibly converted to Islam. He
called for a religious council and had him reconverted to Hinduism.
He reconverted many people who were forcibly converted to Abrahmic
faiths, Islam OR Christianity. Even after conversion, when nobody was
ready to make a marital alliance with Bajaji’s son, Mahadaji, Shivaji
gave his own daughter to Bajaji’s Son in marriage, and set an example
Secondly, and most important of all, to protect his Kingdom, his
subjects fought for over 27 years. After Shivaji's demise, they
fought under Sambhaji. After Aurangzeb killed Sambhaji, they still
fought for over 19 years. In this continued struggle, a minimum of
500,000 Moguls died (Jadunath Sarkar's estimate). Over 200,000
Marathas died. Still in 1707, over 100,000 Marathas were fighting.
They did not have a distinguished leader to look for inspiration.
There was no guarantee of a regular payment. Still, they kept on
fighting. In these 27 years, Aurangzeb did not suffer a defeat. That
was because Marathas simply lacked the force necessary to defeat so
vast an army. Jadunath says, "Alamgir won battle after battle.
Nevertheless, after spending crores of rupees, he accomplished
nothing, apart from weakening his All India Empire and his own death.
He could not defeat Marathas". When the Peshawai ended
(A.D.1818), there was an air of satisfaction that a government of law
would replace a disorderly government. Sweets were distributed when
the British won Bengal in Plassey (A.D.1757). Where ordinary man
fights, armies can do nothing. In long history of India, Kalinga
fought against Ashoka. After Kalinga, Maharashtra fought with Mughals
from grass-root level. The greatness of Shivaji lies here in his
ability to influence generations to fight for a cause.
Why was Shivaji successful in making common man identify with
his kingdom? The first reason is his invention of new hit and run
tactic. He showed people that they can fight Mughals and win. The
insistence was always on survival and maximum attrition of enemy in
his territory and successful retreat. He gave his men the confidence
that if they fight this way, they will not only outlast the Mughals,
but also defeat them. He gave way to traditional notions of chivalry
and valor on battlefield, for which Rajputs were famous. Instead, he
focused on perseverance, attrition, survival at all costs, series of
tactical retreats and then finishing off the foe. His land reforms
were revolutionary which further brought his subjects emotionally
closer to him. He took care of their material needs, which is of
utmost importance. He started the system of wages in his army. And
third reason is Hindu Ethos and hatred towards Muslim supremacy
prevalent in masses. In this light, the above facts demonstrate the
excellence of Shivaji as founder of a dynasty, which ended political
supremacy of Islam in India.
Conclusion . . .
Shivaji fits in all the criteria of Chanakya’s ideal King.
Considering the prevalent socio-political scenario, it is fallacious
to try and fit Shivaji in classical Kshatriya values of chivalry and
nobility. Shivaji was religious; but he was not a fanatic. Although
ruthless and stubborn, he was not cruel and sadist. He was
courageous, yet not impulsive. He was practical; but was not without
ambition. He was a dreamer who dreamt lofty aims and had the firm
capacity to convert them into reality.
Shri. Narahar Kurundkar
Epilogue on Coronation Controversy . . .
There have been few controversies existing regarding the
Coronation of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
This controversy has been fueled and used to create the famous
Brahmin-Maratha dispute in Maharashtra. I strongly oppose such
mischief mongers and believe that both these communities are pillars
of Maharashtrian society and need to move ahead hand in hand.
While criticizing any historical personality, I think, we must
think from the reference frame existing during that time. Trying to
apply present values and understanding of ethics to the people of
past is a big fallacy and nothing is more misleading and specious
The controversy arose due to following reasons.
Firstly, according to Hindu theology, in kali-yuga, there are
only 2 varnas; Brahmins and Shudras. There are no Kshtriyas and
Vaishyas. The opposition of Brahmins to recognize Shivaji as a
Kshatriya has the roots in this deep rooted belief. Shivaji proved
his descent by tracing his lineage to Sisodiya Rajputs of Rajasthan.
In fact, this was done by Shahaji itself in 1630's.
The Second issue was- Many Brahmins in past, like Krishnaji
Bhaskar emissary of Afzal Khan, were killed by Shivaji himself. It is
a well known fact that Brahma-Hatya (Murder of Brahmin) is one of the
biggest sins that are described in Hindu theology. No one was
supposed to kill a Brahmin. Since Shivaji had killed Brahmins,
according to theology, it was a crime with no Prayashchitta
(repentance ritual). But, Gaga Bhat being an authority on Vedic
literature argued that there were some repentance rituals which were
described in scriptures which could wash the sin of a man who had to
kill a Brahmin in extreme situations. Also, he reasoned that since
Brahmins that were killed by Shivaji were not practicing Brahmins,
but were just by birth, it is possible to have a repentance ritual
for the killings of Brahmins in such cases.
Thirdly, for being a Kshatriya OR Brahmin OR Vaishya, one has to
be a Dwija (twice born). According to Hindu theology, man comes to
birth on second instance when he has performed the thread ceremony OR
Upanayan Sanskar. After that ceremony, man enters Brahmacharya-
Ashram. After this stage, he can marry and enter Grihastha-Ashram.
Shivaji was already married to 8 ladies. So he entered Grihastha-
Ashram without going through Brahmacharya-Ashram and was an immoral
act according to scriptures. This was a technical fault. So thread
ceremony was performed on Shivaji and he formally became a
Brahmachāri. Then he remarried to his wives again and formally became
a Grihastha. Now he was eligible to be Coronated as a King.
After he became a Coronated King, he was conferred the authority
OR the Raja-Danda to punish Brahmin culprits to death as well. No sin
whatsoever, as a Coronated King is considered an incarnation of Lord
Shivaji performed all these ceremonies and rituals of repentance
and others elaborately. There were too many rituals to perform.
Hence, it was a bit costly affair. He recovered the money by looting
Mughal treasury soon after the Coronation. He also levied a surcharge
over the Feudal Lords. He did not levy a single penny extra tax on
the common man.
Today, we may laugh on this ritualistic society. But at that
time, it was the norm of society. Shivaji himself abided to it. Hindu
society had become too rigid and ritualistic. And don't forget, this
was a revolutionary thing happening. It was something that was
unheard of in real life. It was heard only in myths and tales. It
takes time for a Rigid Society to accept this change. But the work of
Shivaji and authority of Gaga Bhat were in favor of this very
aberrant ceremony. Hence it was materialized.
We should not forget the ritualistic society that existed then,
and was at its lowest ebb due to Islamic supremacy.
Maratha movement was a part of overall Hindu revival. Everybody
in this world is motivated by selfish reasons. But, along with the
ambition to establish an Empire, their ambition also was to end the
socio-political Islamic Supremacy in India. Although they lasted for
170 years, from 1645-1818, they succeeded in loosening and throwing
the shackles of Islamic supremacy to a very large extent. Sikhs,
Ahoms, Jats, later Rajputs, Bundelas and many others were also an
important part of this overall Hindu Revival.
People from different states refuse to acknowledge this fact. It
is pity that many people from other states feel Mughals were much
closer to them than Marathas. This is partly because of certain illdeeds
of Marathas themselves.
The contribution of Marathas towards nationalistic Hindu Revival
was rarely understood in medieval days. And it is misunderstood in
this era by many people of other states.
I think, we need to polish and present our image in history with
vehemence so that we can give our ancestors due credit...