For about three hundred and fifty years before Shivaji, Maharashtra was not a free state. A large portion of it was under the rule of the Nizamshah of Ahmednagar and the Adilshah of Bijapur. These two had divided Maharashtra among themselves. Their officers rules Maharashtra on their behalf. Adilshah and Nizamshah, were very narrow in their outlook and oppressed the people over whom they ruled. They were also sworn enemies of each other. They constantly fought each other and as a result the people of Maharashtra suffered untold hardships. There was hunger everywhere and the people were starving. People were not free to celebrate festivals and worship their Gods openly. Life was not safe at all and injustice prevailed everywhere.
Shivaji – The Great Maratha Warrior
On this background, 18 year old Shivaji and his faithfuls took the oath at Rohedeshwar Temple to establish a nation of the natives which Shivaji maintained was the will of the providence. In his next 35 years he lived an epic which thrilled the imagination of his friends and foes alike.
It is true that Shivaji contributed a lot towards the rise and growth of Maratha power in India, but it is equally true that at the time he appeared on the scene, the ground had already been prepared for him.
Shivaji Maharaj was coronated at fort Raigad about 350 years ago. The throne was made up of gold and studded with diamonds.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote about Shivaji’s great ideals:
“Into one virtuous rule, This divided, broken, distracted India I shall bind.”
In his essay on Shivaji and the Maharastrains written in Bengali from the Visva Bharati quarterly, he wrote:
In the history of Maharastrians we find Shivaji in the dominating role. But Shivaji could never have achieved greatness, had not the whole of the Maharastrian nation made him great. The religious movement in Maharashtra was uniting the people through a process of churning. Shivaji’s genius was derived from that churning.”
Sir Jadunath Sarkar was right in observing that, “Shivaji’s ideals were such that we might accept them even today without any change.”
“He was a person of middling height, with an erect bearing and excellent proportions, very active and whenever he used to speak, it appeared as if he was smiling. He had quick and piercing eyes and was fairer than any of his own people.” – English Records on Shivaji – vol. 1 p. 73. January 1664.
“With a success as happy as Ceasar’s in Spain; he came, saw, and overcame and is reported to have taken so vast a treasure in gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies and wrought corall that have strengthened his arms with very able sinews to prosecute his further designs. “He being no less dexterous, thereat (conquests) than Alexander the Great was for, by the agility of his winged men (himself terming them birds) he took in less than eight months what he had delivered to Jaysing.” – English Records on Shivaji – vol. II p. 150. dated January 1677- 78.
“But it is too well known that Shivaji is as second Sertorious, and comes not short of Hannibal for Stratagems.”
– English Records on Shivaji. Vol II p. 153. dated February 14 1677 – 78.
“Into one virtuous rule,
This divided, broken, distracted India
I shall bind.”
Sir Jadunath Sarkar, House of Shivaji p. 115 remarked:
“The Historian of Shivaji at the end of a careful study of all the records about him in eight different languages, is bound to admit that Shivaji was not only the maker of the Maratha nation, but also the greatest constructive genius of medieval India . States fall, empires break up, dynasties become extinct, but the memory of a true “hero as King” like Shivaji remains an imperishable historical legacy for the entire human race. – The pillar of people’s hope. The center of a world’s desire, to animate the heart, to kindle the imagination, and to inspire the brain of succeeding ages to the highest endeavors.”
According to Dr. Ishwari Prasad, “But Shivaji’s rise to power cannot be treated as an isolated phenomenon in Maratha history. It was as much the result of his personal daring and heroism as of the peculiar geographical situation of the Deccan country and unifying religious influences that were animating the people with new hopes and aspirations in the 15th and 16th centuries.”
The Maratha the most formidable enemy; for he will not fail in boldness and enterprise when they are indispensible, and will always support them or supply their place, by stratagem, activity and perseverance.
Nehru said: “Shivaji did not belong to Maharashtra alone; he belonged to the whole Indian nation.”
“Shivaji was not an ambitious ruler anxious to establish a kingdom for himself but a patriot inspired by a vision and political ideas derived from the teachings of the ancient philosophers. He studied the merits and faults of the systems of administration in kingdoms existing at the time and determined his own policies and administration in the light of that knowledge. A devout Hindu, he was tolerant of other religions and established a number of endowments for maintainig sacred places belonging to them. As a general he was undoubtedly one of the greatest in Indian history; he saw the need for and raised a navy to guard his coastline and to fight against the British and the Dutch. Pratapgad Fort build in 1656 stands today as a monument to his military genius. Shivaji is a symbol of many virtues, more especially of love of country.”
A.B. de Braganca Pereira
Arquivo Portugues Oriental, Vol IIIwrote:“Wonderous mystic, adventurous and intrepid, fortunate, roving prince, with lovely and magnetic eyes, pleasing countenance, winsome and polite, magnanimous to fallen foe like Alexander, keen and a sharp intellect, quick in decision, ambitious conqueror like Julius Caesar, given to action, resolute and strict disciplinarian, expert strategist, far-sighted and constructive statesman, brilliant organizer, who sagaciously countered his political rivals and antagonists like the Mughals, Turks of Bijapur, the Portuguese, the English, the Dutch, and the French. Undaunted by the mighty Moghuls, then the greatest power in Asia. He fought with Bijapuri to carve out a great empire.”
D. Kincaid – The Grand Rebel“In spite of the character of a crusade which Ramdas’s blessings gave to Shivaji’s long struggle, it is remarkable how little religious animosity or intolerance Shivaji displayed. His kindness to Catholic priests is an agreeable contrast to the proscriptions of the Hindu priesthood in the Indian and Maratha territories of the Portuguese. Even his enemies remarked on his extreme respect for Mussulman priests, for mosques and for the koran. The Muslim historian Khafi Khan, who cannot mention Shivaji in his cronicle without adding epithets of vulgar abuse, nevertheless acknowledges that Shivaji never entered a conquered town without taking measures to safeguard the mosques from damage. Whenever a koran came to his possession, he treated it with the same respect as if it had been one of the sacred works of his own faith. 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.”
Shivaji: The founder of the Maratha power.
(source: India Armour – By Lord Egerton, Lord of Tatton).
Cosme da Guarda – Life of the Celebrated Sevaji:“Such was the good treatment Shivaji accorded to people and such was the honesty with which he observed the capitulations that none looked upon him without a feeling of love and confidence. By his people he was exceedingly loved. Both in matters of reward and punishment he was so impartial that while he lived he made no exception for any person; no merit was left unrewarded, no offence went unpunished; and this he did with so much care and attention that he specially charged his governors to inform him in writing of the conduct of his soldiers, mentioning in particular those who had distinguished themselves, and he would at once order their promotion, either in rank or in pay, according to their merit. He was naturally loved by all men of valor and good conduct.”
Prime Minister Indira Gandhiobserved:
“I think Shivaji ranks among the greatest men of the world. Since we were a slave country, our great men have been somewhat played down in world history. Had the same person been born in a European country, he would have been praised to the skies and known everywhere. It would have been said that he had illumined the world.”
Sir E. Sullivan says in Warriors and Statesmen of India
“Shivaji possessed every quality requisite for success in the disturbed age in which he lived. Cautious and wily in council, he was fierce and daring in action; he possessed an endurance that made him remarkable even amongst his hardy subjects, and an energy and decision that would in any age have raised him to distinctions. By his own people he was painted on a white horse going at full gallop, tossing grains of rice into his mouth, to signify that his speed did not allow him to stop to eat.He was the Hindu prince who forced the heavy Mughal cavalry to fly before the charge of the native horse of India. His strength and activity in action were glory and admiration of his race.”
Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) poet, author, philosopher, Nobel prize laureate. Tagore was deeply critical of the British Raj in India. He wrote a poem:
In what far-off country, upon what obscure day know not now,Seated in the gloom of some Mahratta mountain-wood O King Shivaji, Lighting thy brow, like a lightning flash, This thought descended, “Into one virtuous rule, this divided broken distracted India, I shall bind.”
As Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1870-1958) eminent historian, has well expressed:
“Shivaji proved, by his example, that the Hindu race could build a nation, found a State, defeat its enemies; they could conduct their own defence; they could protect and promote literature and art, commerce and industry; they could maintain navies and ocean going fleets of their own, and conduct naval battles on equal terms with foreigners. He taught the modern Hindus to rise to the full stature of their growth. He demonstrated that the tree of Hinduism was not dead, and that it could put forth new leaves and branches and once again rise up its head to the skies. “
D. F. Karakaauthor of Shivaji: Portrait of an Early Indian has written the following passage:
" ...by birth a Hindu, by caste a Maratha but by his own inclination Shivaji was an early Indian who fought to preserve the native heritage of the people of the land from the foreign invaders, at that time Moghul and Muslim, but to Shivaji's way of thinking, it could have been anyone else"
(source: Shivaji: Portrait of an Early Indian- By Dosabhai Framji Karaka p. 167).
Leaders such as Lala Lajpat Rai, Tilak, Annie Besant, Aurobindo Ghosh and poet Tagore have paid eloquent tributes to Shivaji as a great national leader and the builder of the country.
Shivaji had broadend the struggle against the Mughals into an all India one. He had brought the Deccan States together against the Mughals. He had enouraged the Bundelas in their struggle. Ever tolerant of other faiths, Shivaji was hurt beyond measure by Aurangzeb’s intolerant policies, such as the imposition of Jizia and senseless destruction of places of worship. In a spirited letter to Aurangazeb, Shivaji reminded the latter that intolerance would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Mughal Empire and that toleration alone should be the basis of any rule in a country like India. This letter is one of the great documents of Indian history.
Aurangzeb and Shivaji – The two represented two different forces in history, one intolerant and narrow minded, the other liberal, humanitarian and tolerant. The one aggressive and expansionist, the other spirited and defensive. In this struggle, Shivaji and the spirit of Shivaji, which stood out for freedom, justice, tolerance and humanity were the ultimate victors.
Shivaji’s Maritime Power
Having realized fairly early in his meteoric career the importance of navy to his realm, Shivaji set about achieving his aim in a methodical, deliberate manner, as was his wont. Shivaji’s navy made a small beginning with his conquest of what is today the district of Thane. Around 1659 a handful of his vessels plied in inland waterways and creeks around Bhiwandi, Panvel and Kalyan and created quite a stir among the Portuguese. With his ever growing power along the west coast hinterland, he quickly enlarged the size of his navy. Besides the defence of his territories, he pressed it into profitable ventures along the Malabar Coast .
Shivaji on horseback – It is a tribute to his foresight and military genius that side by side with the development of his fleet, he carried out a systematic campaign of capturing the forts along the coast and built fortifications at strategic points.
It is a tribute to his foresight and military genius that side by side with the development of his fleet, he carried out a systematic campaign of capturing the forts along the coast and built fortifications at strategic points. He spared no efforts in collecting the very best among shipwrights and gunsmiths. Sindhudurg, the Fort of the Ocean, built on an island of Malvan , on whose many bastions fluttered the Zari Patka, bore testimony to his immense concern for safeguarding his maritime interests.
His fleet consisted of the big Gurabs, the slow moving gun boats, Galbats, sleek and swift assault vessels, Shibars and Machwas, the trading vessels. At the peak of its strength, Shivaji’s fleet had 700 vessels of various sizes, though most of these belonged to the Mercantile Marine and were cargo carrying in nature. At the time of his coronation in 1674, he had 57 major war ships and a total strength of 5,000 able bodied men.
Mahartha Grab and Gallivat ships attacking an English ship.
(source: History of Indian Shipping – By Radha Kumud Mukerjee).
Five years later in 1679, the strength of big ships rose to 66. In 1665, barely five years after the raising of his fleet from scratch, he mounted an expedition to Karwar and Ankola with 85 assorted ships. This was essentially a ‘Show the flag’ affair but also to build up the efficiency of his fleet. Again in 1670, his fleet, much stronger now, set sail for another such ‘Show the flag’ expedition towards Surat . Such forays along the west coast created panic and concern among the alien powers, notably the English and Portuguese. They presumably thought – “What if he repeats his exploits at sea with similar tenacity and purpose as he has carried out his lightning campaigns on land!
(source: Shivaji: The Great Nation Builder – By S K Sagane published by Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai, India).
The Great Maratha Power
J. Grant Duff says in History of the Marathas
“Bred a soldier as well as a statesman, Bajeerao united the enterprise, vogour, and hardihood of a Maratha chief with the polished manners, the sagacity, and address which frequently distinguish the Brahmins of the Concan. Fully acquainted with the financial schemes of his father, he selected that part of the plan calculated to direct the predatory hordes of Maharashtra in a common effort. In this respect, the genious of Bajeerao enlarged the schemes which his father devised; and unlike most Brahmins of him, it may be truly said- he had both- the head to plan and the hand to execute.”
Sir R. Temple says in Oriental Experiences
“Bajirao was hardly to be surpassed as a rider and was ever forward in action, eager to expose himself under fire if the affair was arduous. He was inured to fatigue and prided himself on enduring the same hardships as his soldiers and sharing their scanty fare. He was moved by an ardour for success in national undertakings by a patriotic confidence in the Hindu cause as against its old enemies, the Muhammadans and its new rivals, the Europeans then rising above the political horizon. He lived to see the Maratha spread over the Indian continent from the Arabian sea to the Bay of Bengal. He died as he lived in camp under canvas among his men and he is remembered among the Marathas as the fighting Peshwa, as the incarnation of Hindu energy.”
Jadunath Sarkar says in his forward to Peshwa Bajirao I and Maratha Expansion
“Bajirao was a heaven born cavalry leader. In the long and distinguished galaxy of Peshwas, Bajirao Ballal was unequalled for the daring and originality of his genius and the volume and value of his achievements. He was truely a carlylean Hero as king or rather as a Man of action.’ If Sir Robert Walpole creat
ed the unchallengeable position of the Prime Minister in the unwritten constitution of England, Bajirao created the same institution in the Maratha Raj at exactly the same time.”
Surendra Nath Sen says in The Military System of the Marathas
“The lover of Mastani knew well how to appeal to the religious sentiments of his co-religionists, although he could scarcely be considered an orthodox Brahman… Shivaji had given the Marathas a common cry, and none appreciated the potency of that cry clearly than Peshwa Bajirao. Shivaji’s military reforms he would not or could not revive, but he stood forth, as Shivaji had done, as champion of Hinduism. People of Central and Northern India saw in him a new deliverer.”
According to J. N. Sarkar, nature developed in the Marathas “Self-reliance, courage, perseverance, a stern simplicity, a rough straight-forwardness, a sense of social equality and consequently pride in the dignity of man as man. ” There were no social distinctions among the people and Maratha women added to the strength and patriotism of men.
According to Elphinstone
“They (the Marathas) are all active, laborious, hardy and persevering. If they have none of the pride and dignity of the Rajputs, they have none of their indolence or want of worldly wisdom. A Rajput warrior as long as he does not dishonour his race, seems almost indifferent to the result of any contest he is engaged in. A Maratha thinks of nothing but the result, and cares little for the means, if he can attain his object. For this purpose, he will strain his wits, renounce his pleasures and hazard his person; but has not a conception of sacrificing his life, or even his interest for a point of honour. This difference of sentiment affects the outward appearance of the two nations; there is something noble in the carriage of the ordinary Rajput, and something vulgar in that of the most distinguished Maratha. The Rajput is the most worthy antagonist – the Maratha the most formidable enemy; for he will not fail in boldness and enterprise when they are indispensible, and will always support them or supply their place, by stratagem, activity and perseverance. All this applies chiefly to the soldiery to whom more bad qualities might fairly be ascribed. The mere husbandmen are sober, frugal and industrious, and though they have a dash of national cunning, are neither turbulent nor insincere.”
Warren Hastings had noted, “..The Marathas possess alone of all the people of Hindostan and the Deccan a principle of national attachment, which is strongly impressed on all the individuals of the nation..”
Cosme da Guarda – Life of the Celebrated Sevaji: “Such was the good treatment Shivaji accorded to people and such was the honesty with which he observed the capitulations that none looked upon him without a feeling of love and confidence. By his people he was exceedingly loved. Both in matters of reward and punishment he was so impartial that while he lived he made no exception for any person; no merit was left unrewarded, no offence went unpunished; and this he did with so much care and attention that he specially charged his governors to inform him in writing of the conduct of his soldiers, mentioning in particular those who had distinguished themselves, and he would at once order their promotion, either in rank or in pay, according to their merit. He was naturally loved by all men of valor and good conduct.” THE GREAT MARATHA POWER-BAJEERAO PESHWA
RANI LAKSHMI BAI
Sir Hugh Rosethe commander of the British force, wrote later, “The Ranee was remarkable for her bravery, cleverness and perseverance; her generosity to her Subordinates was unbounded. These qualities, combined with her rank, rendered her the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders.” A popular Indian ballad said:
How valiantly like a man fought she,
The Rani of Jhansi
On every parapet a gun she set
Raining fire of hell,
How well like a man fought the Rani of Jhansi
How valiantly and well!
“Bundeli har boli mein suni yehi kahani thi…
Khoob laDi mardaani woh toh Jhansi Wali Rani thi….”