Shivaji Bhonsale (1630 - 1680) or Chatrapati Shivaji, as he is popularly known in India was a Maratha ruler of Maharashtra between 1674 and 1680. He was the creator of the Maratha Empire.

See History of Maharashtra

He was born at the Shivneri fort to Shahaji Bhonsale and Jijabai on February 19, 1630. Shahaji Bhonsle was a loyal servant of the Bijapur sultanate and had a small jagir near Pune given by the Sultan. Shahaji bequeathed his jagir (fiefdom) of Pune and Supa, which was practically independent, to his son, Shivaji, who founded the Maratha Rajya sometimes also referred to as Hindavi Swaraj. He united the Maratha chiefs from Maval, Konkan and Desh regions for a higher purpose - the promotion of Maharashtra Dharma - and carved out a small kingdom. Shivaji became an inspirational leader to his people and took the onus of leadership of the Marathas. One hundred years after the demise of the great Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara, when the Muslims ruled supreme in all of India, the rebellious Shivaji provided an impetus to the Marathas and other Hindus with martial tactics, which the Marathas effectively used against the sultans of the peninsula as well as the Mughals.

Table of contents
1 Guerilla warfare and success in Mughal times
2 Coronation, Death
3 Quality of rule
4 Maratha Rajya after his death
5 Remembering Shivaji

Guerilla warfare and success in Mughal times

Shivaji and his fast forces made it a habit of attacking and occupying various forts in the Western Ghats and the Konkan coast. The Bijapur sultans were unable to handle the crafty Maratha king and sued for peace, when an agreement was reached between Afzal Khan, a general of the sultans of Bijapur and Shivaji.

Afzal Khan and Shivaji met as previously arranged in an open area sans any weapons or attendants. However, both men had secretly armed themselves, as there was no trust amongst these enemies. Afzal Khan pretending to be friendly hugged Shiavaji with the motive of strangulating Shivaji. Afzal Khan had a giant body and was almost 6 feet in height. Shivaji deftly produced his famous finger grip weapon of four curving hooks and with dexterity used it on the general, who fell to his death immediately. Upon Shivaji’s signal, his fighters appeared from the hills to empty the general’s camp of supplies and recruited many of his soldiers to Shivaji’s forces.

By now Aurangzeb was the emperor in Delhi. He was watching Shivaji’s adventures and successes with consternation. He sent his trusted uncle, Shaista Khan (Mumtaz Mahal’s brother), with a large army to handle Shivaji in Deccan. Within three years in 1663, Shivaji had lost most of his conquests to a relentless attack by a well-trained Mughal army.

After driving Shivaji from Pune, Shaista Khan had taken residence in a house there, which was well guarded. No Maratha was allowed in the city of Pune. One day a wedding party had obtained special permission and it was the same day a group of Maratha prisoners were being brought to Pune. In the cover of the night, the bridegroom’s party and the prisoners met at a prearranged site and quietly entered the general’s house. After disposing of the guards they broke into the house by breaking a wall and killed all the residents. Shaista Khan lost only his thumb and consciousness but was taken to a safe place by the servant maids. The attackers mistook another man as the general and killed him. There was no looting and they left as quietly as they had come in.

This incident infuriated the emperor and he sent a full force of Mughal army to subdue Shivaji, after Shivaji crafted an attack on the fort at Surat. The famed Jai Singh was sent with an army of fifteen thousand to Deccan to confront Shivaji. Shivaji’s forces were outnumbered and he was forced to surrender twenty forts and a considerable indemnity as well as a personal submission to Jai Singh under strict security precautions. The Mughals had learnt well from their past experiences with the wily Shivaji.

Shivaji had still maintained a small force and several forts. During Aurangzeb’s attack on the Bijapur sultanate in 1666, Maratha defections prompted in Aurangzeb demanding that Shivaji should visit Delhi. Shivaji agreed and went with much pomp. He was not well received by the emperor and was retained in Delhi under house arrest. This called for another miraculous escape on the part of Shivaji. He hid in a basket of confectionaries which was meant to be sent to religious persons of the city and was carried outside the city gates, from where he made his way to Maharashtra, undetected. Following this the reputation of Shivaji soared and that of Aurangzeb soured.

Coronation, Death

In 1674, Shivaji elevated himself to kingship and in an elaborate ceremony in Hindu tradition (coronation) and proclaimed himself as a true Kshatriya.

The 300th anniversary of his coronation in 1974 was marked by major celebrations by the state government of Maharashtra (India).

Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj, as he was called, he conducted a digvijaya by attacking Mughal encampments in Berar and Kandesh. As an independent sovereignty, he set his sights south. With his Maratha forces he defeated and captured the forts at Vellore and Jinji in Madras. Shivaji died in 1680 at Raigad, at the age of fifty from a bout of dysentery. He left behind an ill-defined, non- contiguous region as his kingdom. His premature death at the age of 50 (April 5, 1680) created a vacuum, though his place in Indian history has been documented, recognised and remembered.

Quality of rule

He stabilised the state with effective civil and military administration and adopted a policy of religious tolerance to accommodate all religions and sects in his state. He was the first Maratha Chhatrapati (ruler) to start the Raj Shaka (royal era) and issue the gold coin, shivarai hon - on the occasion of his coronation (1674).

Shivaji made it a policy never to desecrate a mosque or seize women. This made it possible for Muslim men to serve in his army. With the help of this larger force Shivaji conquered more land along the coast, between Mumbai and Goa. Whenever the enemy forces were close on his heels and it appeared as though he would surely be captured, crafty Shivaji would miraculously escape. This added to his stories of bravery and legendary status as a king, who could not be defeated.

Maratha Rajya after his death

After his death, two of his sons competed for the kingdom and Sambhaji was the victor. He continued to antagonize Aurangzeb and remained a thorn on his side. Prince Akbar, who was rebelling against his father, was sheltered by Shambahaji. As fate would have it Aurangzeb was drawn back to Deccan to give chase to his errant son. The emperor and his entourage moved to Deccan in the 1682 never to return to Delhi until his death twenty-five years later.

Shivaji was succeeded by his elder son Sambhaji.

Shivaji's son, Sambhaji (1657-1689), during his short reign of nine years, in addition to domestic feuds, was confronted with the Siddis, the Portuguese and the Mughals. His cold-blooded murder (1689) by the Mughals inspired a wave of patriotism in the Maratha region, and the Marathas, under the leadership of his brother, Rajaram (1670-1700), waged a War of Independence against the imperial army of Aurangzeb who, until his death (1707), struggled in vain to eradicate Maratha power. Tarabai, Rajaram's widow, declared her son, Shivaji II (1700), Chhatrapati. But when Sambhaji's son, Shahu was released (1707) from Mughal captivity and gained support from the Maratha elite, a civil war ensued in Maharashtra, and Tarabai set up a separate gadi (throne) at Panhala (Kolhapur). A palace revolution (1714), removed Shivaji II and Tarabai declared Sambhaji (1698-1760), second son of Rajaram, the Chhatrapati of Kolhapur, which the Shahu finally recognised by the Treaty of Warna (1731).

Remembering Shivaji

A Bengali historian had these words of praise for Shivaji: "Shivaji was not only the maker of the Maratha empire, 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 an entire human race. The Pillar of people's hopes. The Centre of a World's desire to animate the heart, to kindle the imagination and to inspire the brain of succeeding ages to the highest endeavour".

Both the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport and the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, both located in Mumbai, are named after him.