Shivaji Bhosale was an Indian warrior king. An aristocrat of the Bhosle Maratha clan, Shivaji, in 1674, carved out an enclave from the declining Adilshahi sultanate of Bijapur that formed the genesis of an independent Maratha kingdom with Raigad as its capital. Shivaji established a competent and progressive civil rule with the help of a disciplined military and well-structured administrative organisations. He innovated military tactics, pioneering the guerilla warfare methods (Shiva sutra or ganimi kava), which leveraged strategic factors like geography, speed, and surprise and focused pinpoint attacks to defeat his larger and more powerful enemies.
From a small contingent of 2,000 soldiers inherited from his father, Shivaji created a force of 100,000 soldiers; he built and restored strategically located forts both inland and coastal to safeguard his territory. He revived ancient Hindu political traditions and court conventions, and promoted the usage of Marathi and Sanskrit, rather than Persian, in court and administration.
Shivaji’s legacy was to vary by observer and time, but 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.
Shivaji was born in the hill-fort of Shivneri, near the city of Junnar in Pune district around the year 1630. The Government of Maharashtra accepts 19 February 1630 as his birthdate; other suggested dates include 6 April 1627 or other dates near this day. His mother named him Shivaji in honour of the goddess Shivai, to whom she had prayed for a healthy child. Shivaji’s father Shahaji Bhosale was Maratha general who served the Deccan Sultanates.His mother was Jijabai, the daughter of Lakhujirao Jadhav of Sindkhed. At the time of Shivaji’s birth, the power in Deccan was shared by three Islamic sultanates: Bijapur, Ahmednagar, and Golconda.
Shivaji was extremely devoted to his mother Jijabai, who was deeply religious. Throughout his life he was deeply interested in religious teachings, and regularly sought the company of Hindu and Sufi saints. Shahaji entrusted the two to his friend Dadoji Kondadev Kulkarni, who provided them a mansion to live in, profitably administered the Pune jagir, and mentored the young Shivaji. The boy was a keen outdoorsman, but had little formal education. Shivaji drew his earliest trusted comrades and a large number of his soldiers from the Maval region, including Yesaji Kank, Suryaji Kakade, Baji Pasalkar, Baji Prabhu Deshpande and Tanaji Malusare.
In the company of his Maval comrades, Shivaji wandered over the hills and forests of the Sahyadrirange, hardening himself and acquiring first-hand knowledge of the land, which was to later prove applicable to his military endeavours. At the age of 12, Shivaji was taken to Bangalore where he, his elder brother Sambhaji and his stepbrother Ekoji I were further formally trained. He married Saibai, a member of the prominent Nimbalkar family in 1640.Around 1645-6, the teenage Shivaji first expressed his concept for Hindavi swarajya, in a letter to Dadaji Naras Prabhu.
In 1645, the 16 year old Shivaji bribed or persuaded the Bijapuri commander of the Torna Fort, Inayat Khan, to hand over the possession of the fort to him. Firangoji Narsala, who held the Chakan fort professed his loyalty to Shivaji and the fort of Kondana was acquired by bribing the Adilshahi governor. On 25 July 1648, Shahaji was imprisoned by Baji Ghorpade under the orders of the current Adilshah, Mohammed Adil Shah, in a bid to contain Shivaji. Shahaji was conditionally released in 1649 after Shivaji and Sambhaji surrendered the forts of Kondhana, Bangalore and Kandarpi; during this period Shivaji maintained a low profile. Following his father’s death, Shivaji resumed raiding, seizing the kingdom of Javali from a neighbouring Maratha chieftain in 1656.
Shivaji was an able administrator who established a government that included modern concepts such as cabinet (Ashtapradhan mandal composed of eight ministers), foreign affairs (Dabir) and internal intelligence. Shivaji was a devout Hindu, but respected all religions within the region. Shivaji had great respect for other contemporary saints, especially Samarth Ramdas, to whom he gave the fort of Parali, later renamed as ‘Sajjangad‘.
Among the various poems written on Shivaji, Ramdas’Shivastuti (“Praise of King Shivaji”) is the most famous. Shivaji allowed his subjects freedom of religion and opposed forced conversion. Shivaji also promulgated other enlightened values, andcondemned slavery. He applied a humane and liberal policy to the women of his state. Kafi Khan, the Mughal historian and Francois Bernier, a French traveller, spoke highly of his religious policy.
Though many of Shivaji’s enemy states were Muslim, he treated Muslims under his rule with tolerance for their religion. Shivaji had several noteworthy Muslim soldiers, especially in his Navy. Ibrahim Khan and Daulat Khan (both were African descendants) were prominent in the navy; and Siddi Ibrahim was chief of artillery. Muslim soldiers were known for their superior skills in naval and artillery combat skills.
The French traveller Francois Bernier wrote in his Travels in Mughal India:
“I forgot to mention that during pillage of Sourate, Seva-ji, the Holy Seva-ji! Respected the habitation of the reverend father Ambrose, the Capuchin missionary. ‘The Frankish Padres are good men’, he said ‘and shall not be attacked.’ He spared also the house of a deceased Delale or Gentile broker, of the Dutch, because assured that he had been very charitable while alive.”
He built a powerful navy. Maynak Bhandari was one of the first chiefs of the Maratha Navy under Shivaji, and helped in both building the Maratha Navy and safeguarding the coastline of the emerging Maratha Empire. He built new forts like Sindhudurg and strengthened old ones like Vijaydurg on the west coast. The Maratha navy held its own against the British, Portuguese and Dutch. He was one of the pioneers of commando actions, then known as ganimi kava (enemy trickery). Shivaji was responsible for many significant changes in military organisation:
- A standing army belonging to the state, called paga.
- All war horses belonged to the state; responsibility for their upkeep rested on the Sovereign.
- Creation of part-time soldiers from peasants who worked for eight months in their fields and supported four months in war for which they were paid.
- Highly mobile and light infantry and cavalry excelling in commando tactics.
- The introduction of a centralized intelligence department; Bahirjee Naik was the foremost spy who provided Shivaji with enemy information in all of Shivaji’s campaigns.
- Introduction of field craft, such as guerrilla warfare, commando actions, and swift flanking attacks. Field-Marshal Montgomery, in his “History of Warfare”, while generally dismissive of the quality of generalship in the military history of the Indian subcontinent, makes an exception for Shivaji and Baji Rao I. Summarizing Shivaji’s mastery of guerilla tactics, Montgomery describes him as a military genius.
- Innovation of weapons and firepower, innovative use of traditional weapons like thetiger claw (vaghnakh) and vita.
- Militarisation of large swathes of society, across all classes, with the entire peasant population of settlements and villages near forts actively involved in their defence.
Shivaji captured strategically important forts at Murambdev (Rajgad), Torana, Kondana (Sinhagad) and Purandar and laid the foundation of swaraj or self-rule. Toward the end of his career, he had a control of 360 forts to secure his growing kingdom. Shivaji himself constructed about 15–20 totally new forts (including key sea forts like Sindhudurg), but he also rebuilt or repaired many strategically placed forts to create a chain of 300 or more, stretched over a thousand kilometres across the rugged crest of the Western Ghats.
Each were placed under three officers of equal status lest a single traitor be bribed or tempted to deliver it to the enemy. The officers (sabnis, havaldar, sarnobat) acted jointly and provided mutual checks and balance.