Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is one of those rare individuals who restored life and vitality into their less daring compatriots who might have surrendered before the tragedies of life. Shivaji Maharaj and his journey is a source of courage and inspiration for people.

By Vinay HA, Research Associate at Rashtram

Once in a while, there are born individuals whose genius transcends all the boundaries of time and space. They restore life and vitality into their less daring compatriots who might have surrendered before the tragedies of life. Today we remember Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who exemplifies this quality. Centuries after whose death, people continue to be awed by his accomplishments and draw inspiration to shape their life. 

Swami Vivekananda was once heard by his host singing praise of Shivaji:

दावा द्रुमदंड पर चित्ता मृग झुंड पर, भूषण बितंड पर जैसे मृगराज हैं ।

तॆज तम अंशपर काह्न जिम कंसपर, त्यॊंमिलेच्छवंसपर शर शिवराज हैं ॥

“As forest-fire is to the forest trees, a leopard to the deer-herds and a lion to the stately elephants; as the sun is to the darkness of the night, as Krishna was to Kansa, so was king Shivaji, a lion, towards the hordes of Mlecchas.”

The host who had learnt in his school days that Shivaji was “ a cunning unprincipled freebooter”, curiously asked: “. . . how that praise and those lines were justified in the case of Sivaji. Was he not a mere child of fortune, a marauder who collected similar men like himself and succeeded in establishing a kingdom by sheer cunning and treachery?” An outraged Swamiji immediately stopped singing, with his eyes lit up, retorted that the host should be ashamed of himself. He went on to explain the critical role that Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj played by shattering the Mughal Empire’s plan to establish permanent hegemonic-hold over Indian culture and polity:

“. . . that is all you know of the greatest king that India had produced within the last three hundred years; one who was the very incarnation of Siva, about whom prophecies were given out long before he was born; and his advent was eagerly expected by all the great souls and saints of Maharashtra as the deliverer of the Hindus from the hands of the Mlechchas and one who succeeded in the establishment of the Dharma which had been trampled underfoot by the depredations of the devastating hordes of the Moghals.”

As one can infer, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born in the direst of circumstances. It was a time when the Deccan Sultanate had displaced the native Hindu leaders from power and reduced them to mere pawns in fulfilling their ambitions. More dangerously, these regions were staring at an impending invasion by the Mughal empire. Shivaji’s father Shahaji who was a jagir under Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar had fled to Bijapur to escape from the Mughal army. Mother Jijabhai gave birth to him in the fort of Shivneri where she had taken refuge.

To make matters worse, the Mughal army who failed to catch hold of Shahaji, now turned their attention to Jijabhai and her child. Given these frightful circumstances, Dennis Kincaid wonders if “anxiety and fear” were the “earliest words” heard by Shivaji, and supposes that his childhood might have passed in an atmosphere of tension.

Shivaji Maharaj was to dramatically turn-around all this. Jijabai had visions proclaiming great fame and success for her child. The surrounding villagers too had caught the whiff of it, and looked forward to their “deliverance”: “The time of deliverance is at hand. Maidens herald it with songs of joy and the heavens shower blossoms on the earth . . .”

A teenage Shivaji acquired rights over a few outposts from his father Shahaji who was then serving under Adil Shah of Bijapur. Obviously, Shivaji was not someone who would be content with it, and he soon began to capture some of the weaker forts belonging to Adil Shah, his father’s master! Though possessed with only a minuscule army and a few minor forts, Shivaji’s vision knew no bounds. He not only remained undaunted in the face of the constant challenge from the Deccan Sultanate and the bigger threat that the mighty Mughal empire was to pose, but resolved to establish Hindavi Swaraj or self-rule of Indians. Notwithstanding some twists and turns, Shivaji continued to grow in strength.

When an alarmed Adil Shah sent a huge army under his veteran commander Afzal Khan, Shivaji proved his mettle by defeating them and killing Afzal Khan despite being severely outnumbered in army and weaponry. Look here for a detailed account of the battle. 

With this, Shivaji emerged as a formidable force in no time and came into direct confrontation with Aurangzeb. In a long drawn tussle, Shivaji dealt a blow after blow to Aurangzeb of which this essay provides a detailed account. By handing over a humiliating defeat to his trusted general and uncle Shaista Khan, raiding the prosperous port city of Surat which was then under his empire and slipping away right under his nose from the Agra fort, Shivaji left Aurangzeb completely frustrated and sounded the death-knell for his dream of conquering the whole of India. 

While Shivaji did not live to see the glorious heights the Maratha empire reached under the Peshwas, it was he who laid the foundation for this task that once seemed impossible. Shivaji’s military genius aside, he showed great dignity and poise in his conduct. Although he confronted the likes of Aurangzeb and Afzal Khan who took pleasure in destroying temples, he was not affected by their religious fanaticism. As Kinkaid mentions, even a Muslim historian, who had nothing but contempt for Shivaji had to acknowledge that 

“Shivaji never entered a conquered town without taking measures to safeguard the mosques from damage; whenever a Koran came into his possession he treated it with the same respect as if it had been one of the sacred works of his own faith; and that whenever his men captured Mussulman ladies they were brought to Shivaji, who looked after them as if they were his wards till he could return them to their relations.”

Perhaps, these words of Swami Vivekananda captures the essence of Shivaji and his place in the story of India:  

“Is there a greater hero, a greater saint, a greater bhakta and a greater king than Sivaji? Shivaji Maharaj was the very embodiment of a born ruler of men as typified in your great Epics. He was the type of the real son of India representing the true consciousness of the nation. It was he who showed what the future of India is going to be sooner or later, a group of independent units under one umbrella as it were . . .” 

He has been an inspiration for public leaders for centuries and would continue to do so in future as well.

If you’re enamoured by public leaders like him. And wish to contribute to nation-building by taking up formal training in public leadership rooted in indic knowledge systems, check out our Accelerator Programme.