64. Shivaji - The Fearless and Legendary Emperor

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Who was Shivaji Bhosale ?

Shivaji Bhosale ( c. 1627/1630 – April 3, 1680) was an Indian warrior-king and a member of the Bhonsle Maratha clan. Shivaji carved out an enclave from the declining Adilshahi sultanate of Bijapur that formed the genesis of the Maratha Empire. In 1674, he was formally crowned as the chhatrapati (emperor) of his realm at Raigad.

Over the course of his life, Shivaji engaged in both alliances and hostilities with the Mughal Empire, Sultanate of Golkonda and Sultanate of Bijapur, as well as European colonial powers. Shivaji's military forces expanded the Maratha sphere of influence, capturing and building forts, and forming a Maratha navy. Shivaji established a competent and progressive civil rule with well-structured administrative organisations. He revived ancient Hindu political traditions and court conventions and promoted the usage of Marathi and Sanskrit, rather than Persian language, in court and administration.

Shivaji's legacy was to vary by observer and time, but he began to take on increased importance with the emergence of the Indian independence movement, as many elevated him as a proto-nationalist and hero of the Hindus. Particularly in Maharashtra, debates over his history and role have engendered great passion and sometimes even violence as disparate groups have sought to characterise him and his legacy.

I. Ancestors

Shivaji was born in family of Bhonsle, a Maratha clan. The clan claimed descent from the Suryavanshi Sisodia Rajput royal family of Udaipur. Maloji had a younger brother, Vithoji. Shivaji's paternal grandfather Maloji (1552–1597) was an influential general of Ahmadnagar Sultanate, and was awarded the epithet of "Raja". He was given deshmukhi rights of Pune, Supe, Chakan and Indapur for military expenses. He was also given fort Shivneri for his family's residence (c. 1590).

II. Early life

Shivaji was born in the hill-fort of Shivneri, near the city of Junnar in what is now Pune district. Scholars disagree on his date of birth. The Government of Maharashtra lists 19 February as a holiday commemorating Shivaji's birth (Shivaji Jayanti). Shivaji was named after a local deity, the goddess Shivai. Shivaji's father Shahaji Bhonsle was a Maratha general who served the Deccan Sultanates. His mother was Jijabai, the daughter of Lakhuji Jadhavrao of Sindhkhed, a Mughal-aligned sardar claiming descent from a Yadav royal family of Devagiri.

At the time of Shivaji's birth, power in Deccan was shared by three Islamic sultanates: Bijapur, Ahmednagar, and Golkonda. Shahaji often changed his loyalty between the Nizamshahi of Ahmadnagar, the Adilshah of Bijapur and the Mughals, but always kept his jagir (fiefdom) at Pune and his small army.

A statue of young Shivaji with Jijabai installed at the fort of Shivneri in 1960s

A cradle at Shivneri Fort claimed to be that used for baby Shivaji

III. Upbringing

Shivaji was devoted to his mother Jijabai, who was deeply religious. His studies of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, also influenced his lifelong defence of Hindu . He was deeply interested in religious teachings, and regularly sought the company of Hindu saints. Shahaji, meanwhile had married a second wife, Tuka Bai from the Mohite family. Having made peace with the Mughals, ceding them six forts, he went to serve the Sultanate of Bijapur. He moved Shivaji and Jijabai from Shivneri to Pune and left them in the care of his jagir administrator, Dadoji Konddeo, who has been credited with overseeing the education and training of young Shivaji.

Many of Shivaji's comrades, and later a number of his soldiers, came from the Maval region, including Yesaji Kank, Suryaji Kakade, Baji Pasalkar, Baji Prabhu Deshpande and Tanaji Malusare. Shivaji traveled the hills and forests of the Sahyadri range with his Maval friends, gaining skills and familiarity with the land that would prove useful in his military career. Shivaji's independent spirit and his association with the Maval youths did not sit well with Dadoji, who complained without success to Shahaji.

In 1639, Shahaji was stationed at Bangalore, which was conquered from the nayaks who had taken control after the demise of the Vijayanagara Empire.

He was asked to hold and settle the area. Shivaji was taken to Bangalore where he, his elder brother Sambhaji, and his half brother Ekoji I were further formally trained. He married Saibai from the prominent Nimbalkar family in 1640. As early as 1645, the teenage Shivaji expressed his concept for Hindavi Swarajya (Indian self-rule), in a letter.

IV. Wars and Battles

1.Conflict with Bijapur

In 1645, the 15-year-old Shivaji bribed or persuaded Inayat Khan, the Bijapuri commander of the Torna Fort, to hand over possession of the fort to him.The Maratha Firangoji Narsala, who held the Chakan fort, professed his loyalty to Shivaji, and the fort of Kondana was acquired by bribing the Bijapuri governor. On 25 July 1648, Shahaji was imprisoned by Baji Ghorpade under the orders of Bijapuri ruler Mohammed Adilshah, in a bid to contain Shivaji.

According to Sarkar, Shahaji was released in 1649 after the capture of Jinji secured Adilshah's position in Karnataka. During these developments, from 1649–1655 Shivaji paused in his conquests and quietly consolidated his gains. After his release, Shahaji retired from public life, and died around 1664–1665 in a hunting accident. Following his father's release, Shivaji resumed raiding, and in 1656, under controversial circumstances, killed Chandrarao More, a fellow Maratha feudatory of Bijapur, and seized the valley of Javali, near present-day Mahabaleshwar, from him.

2. Combat with Afzal Khan

Pic : An early-20th-century painting by Sawlaram Haldankar of Shivaji fighting the Bijapuri general Afzal Khan

Adilshah was displeased at his losses to Shivaji's forces, which his vassal Shahaji disavowed. Having ended his conflict with the Mughals and having a greater ability to respond, in 1657 Adilshah sent Afzal Khan, a veteran general, to arrest Shivaji. Before engaging him, the Bijapuri forces desecrated the Tulja Bhavani Temple, holy to Shivaji's family, and the Vithoba temple at Pandharpur, a major pilgrimage site for the Hindus.

Pursued by Bijapuri forces, Shivaji retreated to Pratapgad fort, where many of his colleagues pressed him to surrender. The two forces found themselves at a stalemate, with Shivaji unable to break the siege, while Afzal Khan, having a powerful cavalry but lacking siege equipment, was unable to take the fort. After two months, Afzal Khan sent an envoy to Shivaji suggesting the two leaders meet in private outside the fort to parley.

The two met in a hut at the foothills of Pratapgad fort on 10 November 1659. The arrangements had dictated that each come armed only with a sword, and attended by one follower. Shivaji, either suspecting Afzal Khan would arrest or attack him, or secretly planning to attack himself,wore armour beneath his clothes, concealed a bagh nakh (metal "tiger claw") on his left arm, and had a dagger in his right hand.

Accounts vary on whether Shivaji or Afzal Khan struck the first blow: Maratha chronicles accuse Afzal Khan of treachery, while Persian-language records attribute the treachery to Shivaji. In the fight, Afzal Khan's dagger was stopped by Shivaji's armour, and Shivaji's weapons inflicted mortal wounds on the general; Shivaji then fired a cannon to signal his hidden troops to attack the Bijapuri army. In the ensuing Battle of Pratapgarh fought on 10 November 1659, Shivaji's forces decisively defeated the Bijapur Sultanate's forces.

More than 3,000 soldiers of the Bijapur army were killed and one sardar of high rank, two sons of Afzal Khan and two Maratha chiefs were taken prisoner.

After the victory, a grand review was held by Shivaji below Pratapgarh. The captured enemy, both officers and men, were set free and sent back to their homes with money, food and other gifts. Marathas were rewarded accordingly.

Pic : Pratapgad fort

Pic : Present Day Pratapgad Ford, Mahabaleswar, Maharastra

3. Siege of Panhala

Having defeated the Bijapuri forces sent against him, Shivaji's army marched towards the Konkan and Kolhapur, seizing Panhala fort, and defeating Bijapuri forces sent against them under Rustam Zaman and Fazl Khan in 1659. In 1660, Adilshah sent his general Siddi Jauhar to attack Shivaji's southern border, in alliance with the Mughals who planned to attack from the north. At that time, Shivaji was encamped at Panhala fort with his forces. Siddi Jauhar's army besieged Panhala in mid-1660, cutting off supply routes to the fort. During the bombardment of Panhala, Siddi Jauhar purchased grenades from the British at Rajapur to increase his efficacy, and also hired some English artillerymen to bombard the fort, conspicuously flying a flag used by the English.

This perceived betrayal angered Shivaji, who in December would exact revenge by plundering the English factory at Rajapur and capturing four of the factors, imprisoning them until mid-1663.After months of siege, Shivaji negotiated with Siddi Jauhar and handed over the fort on 22 September 1660, withdrawing to Vishalgad and Shivaji retook Panhala in 1673.

Pic : Pratapgad Fort

4. Battle of Pavan Khind

There is some dispute over the circumstances of Shivaji's withdrawal (treaty or escape) and his destination (Ragna or Vishalgad), but the popular story details his night movement to Vishalgad and a sacrificial rear-guard action to allow him to escape. As Per these accounts, Shivaji withdrew from Panhala by cover of night, and as he was pursued by the enemy cavalry, his Maratha sardar Baji Prabhu Deshpande of Bandal Deshmukh, along with 300 soldiers ( like Leonidas holding Spartan Pass with 300 Spartans ) , volunteered to fight to the death to hold back the enemy at Ghod Khind ("horse ravine") to give Shivaji and the rest of the army a chance to reach the safety .

In the ensuing Battle of Pavan Khind, the smaller Maratha force held back the larger enemy to buy time for Shivaji to escape. Baji Prabhu Deshpande was wounded but continued to fight until he heard the sound of cannon fire from Vishalgad, signalling Shivaji had safely reached the fort, on the evening of 13 July 1660.Ghod Khind (khind meaning "a narrow mountain pass") was later renamed Paavan Khind ("sacred pass") in honour of Bajiprabhu Deshpande, Shibosingh Jadhav, Fuloji, and all other soldiers who fought in there.

Pic : Maratha Empire in 1680

5. Conflict with the Mughals

Until 1657, Shivaji maintained peaceful relations with the Mughal Empire. Shivaji offered his assistance to Aurangzeb, the Mughal viceroy of the Deccan and son of the Mughal emperor, in conquering Bijapur in return for formal recognition of his right to the Bijapuri forts and villages under his possession. Dissatisfied with the Mughal response, and receiving a better offer from Bijapur, he launched a raid into the Mughal Deccan. Shivaji's confrontations with the Mughals began in March 1657, when two of Shivaji's officers raided the Mughal territory near Ahmednagar. This was followed by raids in Junnar, with Shivaji carrying off 300,000 hun in cash and 200 horses.

Aurangzeb responded to the raids by sending Nasiri Khan, who defeated the forces of Shivaji at Ahmednagar. However, Aurangzeb's countermeasures against Shivaji were interrupted by the rainy season and his battle of succession with his brothers for the Mughal throne following the illness of the emperor Shah Jahan.

Shivaji fought several other Battles fearlessly and rattled all Muslim rulers in India with his bravery and strategic moves and tactics.

V. Death and succession

The question of Shivaji's heir-apparent was complicated by the misbehaviour of his eldest son, Sambhaji, who was irresponsible. Unable to curb this, Shivaji confined his son to Panhala in 1678, only to have the prince escape with his wife and defect to the Mughals for a year. Sambhaji then returned home, unrepentant, and was again confined to Panhala.

In late March 1680, Shivaji fell ill with fever and dysentery, dying around 3–5 April 1680 at the age of 52,on the eve of Hanuman Jayanti. Putalabai, the childless eldest of the surviving wives of Shivaji committed sati by jumping into his funeral pyre. Another surviving spouse, Sakwarbai, was not allowed to follow suit because she had a young daughter. There were also allegations, though doubted by later scholars, that his second wife Soyarabai had poisoned him in order to put her 10-year-old son Rajaram on the throne.

After Shivaji's death, Soyarabai made plans with various ministers of the administration to crown her son Rajaram rather than her stepson Sambhaji. On 21 April 1680, ten-year-old Rajaram was installed on the throne. However, Sambhaji took possession of Raigad Fort after killing the commander, and on 18 June acquired control of Raigad, and formally ascended the throne on 20 July.Rajaram, his wife Janki Bai, and mother Soyrabai were imprisoned, and Soyrabai executed on charges of conspiracy that October.

VI. Five Important Facts about Chhatrapati ( Emperor ) Shivaji Maharaj

Shivaji established a royal name for himself in history with his administrative skills by upholding the Swarajya values and the Maratha heritage. He was known for his bravery and tactics with which he won numerous wars against the Mughals.  Remembering the greatest Maratha ruler on his birthday, here are some interesting facts about Shivaji.

1.    Known as the Father of Indian Navy, Shivaji was the first to realise the importance of having a naval force, and therefore he strategically established a navy and forts at the coastline to defend the Konkan side of Maharashtra.  The Jaigad, Vijaydurg, Sindhudurg and other such forts still stand to testify his efforts and ideas.

2.    Contrary to popular belief, Shivaji was not named after Lord Shiva. In fact, he was named after a regional Goddess Shivai. His mother prayed to the goddess for a son and was blessed with one. The god-like stature was given to him for his deeds, and not his name.

3.    The secular ruler was very accommodating of all religions. He had numerous Muslim soldiers in his army. His only aim was to overthrow Mughal rule and establish Maratha empire. He was also very supportive of people who converted to Hinduism.

4.    Shivaji was a dependable supporter of women and their honour. He opposed all kinds of violence, harassment and dishonour against women. Anyone under his rule caught violating woman's rights was severely punished. In fact, women of captured territories were also released unharmed, and with integrity.

5.    Chhatrapati Shivaji was called as the 'Mountain Rat' and was widely known for his guerrilla warfare tactics. He was called so because of his awareness in geography of his land, and guerrilla tactics like raiding, ambushing and surprise attacks on his enemies. He knew the importance of a good army, and with his skills, expanded his father's 2000 soldier army to 10,000 soldiers.

VII. Ten Powerful Leadership Mantras or Lessons from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ( Ruler of Vast Lands and King )

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is one of the greatest organisers in the history of the world. The man who 'welded the Marathas into a mighty nation', was also an outstanding military strategist, a skilful diplomat and an enlightened administrator. He never let his enemies unite against him. He got his father free from the Sultan of Bijapur on account of his diplomacy. His freedom from the detention of Aurangzeb at Agra speaks volumes of his diplomacy.

Shivaji Maharaj was highly praised for his exceptional leadership qualities even by his major enemy like Aurangzeb, who had to admit that “My armies have been employed against him for nineteen years and nevertheless his (Shivaji’s) state has always been increasing.”

Cyrus Gonda and Nitin Parab have tried to capture the exceptional leadership style of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in their book titled, 'Leadership Learning From Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj'. Here are the ten mantras for everyday leadership practitioners:

1. To Lead with Emotional Quotient- Conquer the Heart

Most of the Maratha people of Shivaji Maharaj's time were farmers who were not very well educated, but were simple and honest. Shivaji Raje Bhosale won their hearts as a leader who believed in humanity and the man who walked the talk. The noble qualities of Shivaji Maharaj were instilled by his mother Jijabai since childhood, by narrating stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana which are full of high moral and ethical values. His Guru Smarath Ramdas was also an influencing figure in his life.

2. Merit–Your Key to Recruitment and Promotion

Shivaji Maharaj believed only on merit when he chose people for his service. He ensured the background check and always insisted on integrity. The trustee of the Maratha Swarajya took the main role in selecting the right person for the right job and did not only check on the skill set but also check on the character and loyalty of the person. 'The author mentions the practice of two kinds of recruitments in the army one is full-time employees on a salary basis and others were appointed on a project basis.'*

3. Build Trust through Effective Communication

Shivaji Maharaj had great oratory skills. He spoke from the heart. His words bore the pain and agony of people. 'The leader first practised the qualities of honesty, truthfulness and trust and therefore won the admiration of the Mavalas'.

4. Keep Noble Purpose of Organisation First

The country and its people's interest always topped the priority list of Shivaji Raje Bhosale. He just played a role of a caretaker for his organisation first and then other objectives.

5. Develop Administrative Efficiency and a Fearless, Knowledgeable, Honest and Independent Board

Shivaji Maharaj was a fearless warrior as well as an honest administrator. He introduced the concept of Ashthapradhan council (a cabinet of 8 ministers in the 16th century), with clearly defined roles. As a grass root level administrator, Shivaji Raje is thus ranked to the great generals of Alexander, Napoleon and Hannibal, the author points out.

6. Foresight and Vision, Values and Ethics

The book very strongly depicts through his writings the true dedication and national spirit Raje had for his motherland. 'A leader who lived the life of simplicity was even witnessed by the Dutch travellers as quoted by the author. Raje was a great leader who walked the talk and loved his people and motherland. The author cites an incidence of a campaign being won were Abaji Mahadev gifts Shivaji Raje a beautiful girl. This beautiful girl was blessed by Shivaji Raje and made his sister and respected for.

Dadaji Kondev once as cited by the author was tempted to eat the fruit grown on the state property tree he broke his law and also ensured that he was punished with the same punishment for his act done. Action points suggested by the author are ethics a good roadmap for success and that great career would only happen with career flight without foresight.'*

7. It is Never too Early-To Learn to Lead

Two great individuals who moulded the childhood of Raje through their environment and experience are Jijabai mother of the king and Dadaji Kondev. Early battles which Raje won boosted the morale of his troops. Battle with Afzal Khan the great general of the Mughals passed on a very strong message for his enemies. 'Action points mentioned by the author for practice is, first develop an honest and fearless mind and take personal initiative for your leadership success.'*

8. Identify Right Mentors –Open Doors to Great Leadership

The seeds for developing this able leader were sown by his mother. The foundation for building the vision of Swarajya was invoked through the stories and the morals from the great epic of Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Secondly, the trusted Sardar Dadaji Kondev who was Raje’s coach guided him to take decisions which helped him win several battles. 'The author talks about how a person could help himself becoming a good leader talks about how one should be alert in picking up his or her mentors.' His life teaches an important lesson to the modern rulers: Why should a leader invest time in the people to groom the right persons once the quality of leadership is found in them.

9. Open Mind and Open Eye – Adopt New and Beneficial Trends and Technologies

Maharaj always stressed on innovation and new technology. He studied this and equipped his soldiers with new weaponry. He also foresaw the importance of navy and built a powerful command over water. The author quotes the cycle of learning which is 'learn, unlearn relearn and experience'.*

10. Leave a Lasting Legacy for Future Generations to Build on

When his mother Jijabai sowed the seeds for Swarajya in the mind of young Shivaji his father Shahaji helped him build the foundation of Hindavi Swaraj. His Swaraj was built on the pillars of humanity, values, ethics, management and leadership, so he would be remembered for all the generations in future for nation-building exercise undertaken by him and uniting people for the cause of Swarajaya. The king has left a legacy of good deeds, hard work and selflessness is a role model for a good leader in the modern world.


Shivaji Maharaj was the warrior king and famous for his bravery, tactics and administrative skills. He always focussed on Swarajya and Maratha heritage.

He left the lasting Legacy for furure generations to follow and Build upon.

The very word, Shivaji, ignites Bravery and Fealess Emperor and built Maratha Empire even though surrounded with several enemies all along.

His Leadership Skills, his Speed and Surprise in Attacks, Guerrilla Warfare are unmatched by anyone and his Value system, Ethics and Dharma ( what is right to be done ) paved the emotional foundation for his Administrative Skills.

He can be classified under the League of Legendary Military Generals in the world history and someone writes Indian History, there will be a glorious Chapter separately for Shivaji Maharaj.

Shivaji Maharaj is a Fearless and Legendary Emperor and Lives in the Annals of Indian history Forever....

MM Rao


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