Chhatrapati Shivaji: The Lion from Maharashtra Shakes Aurangzeb

This article is part 4 of 75 in the series The Tradition of Kshaatra in India

Although Shivaji was born in a Shudra family, his love and respect for Sanatanadharma was immense. In his letters to Aurangzeb, he uses his honorific titles that translate into "a protector of cows and brahmanas." He put together a number of youngsters from the Maval region and created a strong army. Not only that, just like Prahlada, he took on his own father in battle.

Shivaji's Victory

The first major victory of Shivaji was against Afzal Khan. The Sultan of Bijapur sent Afzal Khan to assassinate Shivaji. He had camped near the Pratapgad fort. As per the dictates of the Shukra-niti, Shivaji called for a meeting with Afzal Khan and when the latter tried to kill him, using tiger nails for self-defence, he ripped Afzal Khan's belly, killing him. The most impressive traits of Shivaji are his intelligence, strength, and his victory over his enemies by adhering to the Shukra-niti. However, a number of shameless historians are constantly trying to cover up the fact that Shivaji killed Afzal Khan by tearing apart his stomach. The death of Afzal Khan evoked a deadly fear in the heart of the Sultan of Bijapur, which never went away. In 1646, the Sultan had a paralytic stroke and he became completely weakened.

Soon after, Shivaji captured the areas covering the Maharashtra coastline. He constructed huge forts on the seashore like Suvaranadurga, Vijayadurga, Sindhudurga, and Colaba Fort. He took control of over 270 forts and possessed a strong navy. After the reign of Raja Raja Chola and Rajendra Chola, it was only under Shivaji that the naval power shone in great glory in India. Shivaji was inspired by the Europeans to build such a large and powerful naval fleet. Be it knowledge, technology, good ideas, or economic strength, Shivaji had the wisdom to keep aside his ego and accept good ideas and advice from any source. He travelled widely in Dambhol, Shringarpur, Prabhavali, Rajpur, and other regions on the coastline and strengthened his firm grip on those areas.

Once in Northern Konkan, a region that belonged to Adil Shah, Shivaji's associates captured the wealth of a traveller going from Kalyan to Bijapur. Along with the wealth, they also captured a beautiful Muslim girl and presented her to Shivaji as a gift. Enraged at this, Shivaji not only chided his associates but looking upon the Muslim girl with great respect, he sent her back to her home, escorted by his own soldiers. This episode bears testimony to the nobility and upright character of Shivaji. Such episodes cannot be even imagined in the Muslim world. Historians record that this episode created ripples in the Islamic community.

Later, Aurangzeb sent his uncle Shaista Khan to destroy Shivaji. He came with a huge army and camped at Aurangabad. In the middle of the night, Shivaji's forces attacked Shaista Khan's camp and made the enemies run helter-skelter. The vanquished and decimated Shaista Khan had to lose his fingers as well before he ran away. This episode instilled fear for the first time in the heart of Aurangzeb with regard to Shivaji.

The Mughals carried on trade with the Western world through the prosperous port of Surat, which Shivaji captured and raided completely. Then Aurangzeb sent Raja Jai Singh with a huge army on the trail of Shivaji. Jai Singh chased Shivaji to the Agra Fort. In the court of Aurangzeb, Shivaji was humiliated and when he walked out in a huff, he and his son Sambhaji were arrested. There, Shivaji enacted a drama of being unwell and under the pretext of distributing sweets, hid himself in the sweet baskets and escaped. Within twenty-five days, Shivaji, dressed as an ascetic and using a circuitous route, reached Raigad; one can only imagine his resourcefulness and fortitude.

In 1669, Aurangzeb gave a terrible order to break and destroy all Hindu temples, institutions and schools. It was during this period that the Muslims destroyed the temples at Kashi and Mathura.

Shivaji's mother Jijabai told him that he must give a fitting response to this. During that time, Shivaji's health was not very good. During a casual game of dice, Jijabai asked her son to put Sinhgad (Lion Fort) as the wager. Sinhgad was a treacherous and difficult mountain fort. Having placed a wager on Sinhgad and with a view to capture it, a great warrior by name Tanaji Malsure accompanied Shivaji with a small army of a couple of hundred soldiers. It was due to their unmatched valour that Shivaji was able to win the fort of Sinhgad. Using a monitor lizard named Yashwanti, Shivaji's small force was able to scale the fort. Sinhgad was captured but Tanaji was martyred. Affected by great sorrow, Shivaji said, "Gad aala pan sinh gela" (The fort has been won but the lion is gone!") This was a response to Aurangzeb. One can compare this war with the Battle of Thermopylae that was fought between Persia and Sparta.

After this, Shivaji captured many regions in the Northern Konkan region. Starting from 1669, for three long years, he embarked on a huge conquest. He attacked Surat once again.

Aurangzeb himself has recorded in his diary: "For nineteen years, Shivaji has tormented me. However much I try, it doesn't seem like he will give up control over his kingdom. I was unable to make it any smaller; I was unable to expand my kingdom. I was unable to impoverish him; I was unable to increase my wealth."

In his fortieth year, Shivaji was given the title of 'Chhatrapati.' At that time, the big question that arose was if he truly was a kshatriya belonging to the Sisodia clan. Further, even though he was married, the upanayana samskara had not been performed and therefore, the other question: was he truly worthy of this position? In this situation, Vishveshvarabhatta (or Gagabhatta) of Kashi demonstrated in front of all the scholars that by traits and temperament, Shivaji was indeed a kshatriya. Further he wrote a new treatise titled 'Samrajya-pattabhisheka-nibandhana-vidhi.'

We can see all this in the Aitareya-brahmana. What was previously used in the cases of Bharata, Chandragupta Maurya, Samudragupta, Pulakeshi, Rajendra Chola, Vikramaditya, and Krishna Deva Raya was revived and followed in the case of Shivaji.

On 16th June 1674, Shivaji was coronated as 'Chhatrapati.' Shivaji had the titles 'Kshatriyakulavatamsa,' 'Simhasanadhishvara,' 'Maharajadhiraja,' 'Chakravarti,' and 'Chhatrapati.' A new era by name 'Shivaji-shaka' began. He established a council of eight ministers called 'Ashtachhap.' He introduced the tax known as 'Chauth,' which was a tax of one-fourth of the income.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

Translator(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.