The Marathas Part 6 Shivaji Bhonsle Section II: Coming of Age

Canberra, 28 June 2021

Shivaji’s reluctance to do the ‘sajida’ was looked upon by the Adil Shah as an act of a spirited youth and overtly condoned. The sultan was also aware that Shahji, who was extremely loyal to him, was embarrassed by his son’s behaviour and therefore was content to let the matter rest with the senior Maratha chief continuing to be discomfited. The sultan’s ears had been poisoned by the Muslim courtiers of Bijapur against Shahji and the Adil Shah felt that the Maratha had to be brought down a bit in status.

Father and son had differences of opinion, especially the manner in which the Hindus were being treated in Bijapur and about the slaughter of cows, which was a common practice in the Muslim city and sultanate. Shivaji’s request to be permitted to go away from Bijapur was not granted. Shivaji opposed cow slaughter and it is said that he killed a butcher who was selling cow-meat outside the palace walls. The incident, it appears was hushed up by some well-wishers before it reached the sultan’s ears, to avoid further embarrassment to Shahji in the royal court. The incident brought Shahji and Shivaji into argument again. Shahji insistently made it clear that as long as he was in Bijapur service, the Adil Shah’s way of life and instructions would prevail in the Bhonsle household. Further, he also told Shivaji that his actions were undermining his, Shahji’s, carefully cultivated work of a lifetime during which he had moved up the hierarchy in the Adil Shah’s court and was one of the sultan’s favoured generals. Shahji admonished Shivaji and reminded him that it was the Bhonsle’s service to the Muslim sultans and their munificence that had made the clan rich and prosperous while also becoming part of the noble aristocracy.

Understanding the irreconcilable differences in attitude with his father, Shivaji told his father that in matters of religion his actions were instinctive, and asked permission once again to leave Bijapur. Shahji accepted the situation and send Shivaji back to Pune, while he stayed on to plan more campaigns for his overlord the Adil Shah, soon moving to the Carnatic to wage war on his behalf.

Wanderings in Pune

Shivaji left Bijapur without any delay and returned to Pune, where he reverted to his old ways of ‘running wild’ with his Mavle friends. It is perhaps at this juncture in his life that Shivaji started to think more perceptively about what he wanted to achieve into the future. In his wanderings he realised the need to protect the people of his jagir from brigands who frequented the region as freebooters. He came up with the concept of creating a group of locals to guard the roads against these lawless elements who preyed on innocent villagers. The creation of this ‘home guard’ was the first manifestation of Shivaji’s realisation of his responsibility towards his people.

As he moved around his territories, Shivaji felt the need to better the lives of his people, especially the Mavles who had become his constant companions. In the Maval territories food was scarce and the region had been perfunctorily conquered and annexed by the ‘foreign’ Muslim Shahi sultans. These sultans had completely sidelined the Mavles as good-for-nothing people and were never interested in the welfare of the natives who were of no use to them, such as the Mavles. Shivaji gradually realised and then came to believe that only a free country, governed and administered by the people of the land would ensure the upliftment of all the local people. He understood the three critical factors essential to ‘uplift’ the local people.

First, the foreign yoke had to be thrown off, which meant a direct clash with Bijapur, and in turn with other Muslim forces and commanders such as Shahji, his own father, who sustained the Muslim overlordship. There was also the distinct possibility of clashing with the powerful Mughal forces at a later stage since they were also active in the Deccan and had already conquered the Nizam Shahi kingdom of Ahmednagar. Second, after defeating and overthrowing the ‘foreigners’, a Hindu kingdom would have to be created, ruled by a Hindu king who would reign in accordance with Hindu laws and culture. This would bring the ruling elite closer to the people. Third, this Hindu king would have to seek the active participation of the people in ruling the land to ensure that the governance was fair and equitable for the local population.

Based on the above three ‘essentials’ for the upliftment of the marginalised people of his territories, three ideas started forming in Shivaji’s mind. He would refine and coalesce these ideas into firm concepts only at a much later stage in his life—the seeds were sown during this time of wandering his fiefdom for observation and thinking. The three ideas were: removal of the foreign powers who ruled the region; establishment of a Hindu kingdom; and creating a path for the beginning of an elementary exercise in participatory governance. At this stage, these were purely instincts in Shivaji’s mind, clear reasoning and objectives to be achieved were still far away in the future. Dadaji Kondadev, privy to most ideas of Shivaji, tried to curb the more fanciful concepts that were being discussed. Shivaji was inherently a generous person and had started to spend a large part of the jagir’s income in trying to better the lives of the people. Dadaji wanted the generous spending reduced since increase in spending on the people proportionately reduced the remittance to Shahji. Fortunately, a definitive clash of ideas between mentor and would-be prince did not take place since Dadaji died on 7 March 1647. At the age of 20, Shivaji had become his own master.

Taking Charge

Before his death, Dadaji Kondadev summoned all his senior subordinates and in front of them handed over the keys to the treasury to Shivaji, declaring him as their master. The endorsement made a great impact on the minor chieftains who swore allegiance to Shivaji without demur. In this gathering two chiefs were absent—Phirangoji Narsala commanding Chakan and Sambhaji Mohite, brother of Tuka Bai Mohite who was Shahji’s second wife, and now in-charge of the region of Supa. Narsala gave acceptance to serve under Shivaji, who confirmed him in his post and gave him additional charge of some more villages.

Mohite was however, reluctant to hand over Supa to Shivaji or to serve under him. He sent word that he would wait for Shahji’s instructions. Shivaji led a small contingent of 300 hardy fighters to Supa in the pretext of participating in the celebration of a forthcoming festival. There he mounted a surprise attack and captured Supa. The soldiers under Mohite’s command who wanted to join Shivaji were inducted into the growing Maratha army. The rest were send off to Shahji in the Carnatic along with Sambhaji Mohite, who declared that he would not serve under his nephew.

Early Conquests

Officially, Shahji had been the last regent of the independent Nizam Shahi kingdom of Ahmednagar before it was annexed by the Mughals. Shivaji genuinely felt that as Shahji’s heir, he had the right to hold the territories that his father had reigned over in 1634, before being driven out by the Mughals. In the initial partitioning of the Ahmednagar kingdom, Shahji had been left in possession of huge tracts of land. However, the Mughals had later coerced the Adil Shah to draw up a new treaty according to which Shahji had been dispossessed of all his Nizam Shahi territories. Therefore, Shivaji believed that he had as much legal right as anyone else—Mughal or Adil Shahi—to seize and hold as much of Ahmednagar territory as he could manage to capture. Logically this was not a wrong perception. 

A Rebel? At this stage in his life Shivaji has been labelled a ‘rebel’ by both Muslim and European historians. This assessment is both impetuous and ill-considered since it is not clear who Shivaji was ‘rebelling’ against. A rebel, by definition, is a person who fights against, resists, or refuses allegiance to, the established government. In this instance Shivaji could not have been rebelling against an extinct Nizam Shahi kingdom, which in any case had survived the last few years as an entity only because of his father’s last-ditch efforts. He could not have been rebelling against the Adil Shahi kingdom since the Bijapur sultans were traditional enemies of the Nizam Shahis and had been party to the partition of Ahmednagar lands. Further, Shivaji could not have been rebelling against the Mughals who were themselves usurpers of the kingdom of Ahmednagar. The bias against Shivaji, since he was a ‘native-born’ leader is obvious in this minor case of labelling him a ‘rebel’, when in actuality he was only trying to establish his birth-right—he was not a rebel.

Around 1642-43 or a little later, sometime after Shivaji had returned to Pune from Bijapur, Shahji send few of his subordinates—men of tried ability and completely loyal to the Bhonsles—to Shivaji to assist him in his endeavours. Shivaji was now ready to take the next steps in his quest for independence; he was a trained and brave warrior; he understood civil administration well; he knew the people he wanted to govern; and he had assembled a group of men around him of unquestionable loyalty.

The Office Bearers

Shivaji now created the embryo of a governing body to rule his territories. The main office bearers were:

Shyamraj Nilkant Ranjhekar as Peshwa (Chancellor); Balkrishna Hanumante as Majmuadar (Accountant-General); Sonaji Pant – Dabir (Secretary); Raghunath Ballal Korde – Sabnis (Paymaster); Tukoji Chor Maratha as Sar-in-Naubat (Master of the Horse); and Naraya Pant – Sabnis (Divisional Paymaster) *.

* The translations of the titles in English are approximate since some of the nuances of the appointments do not readily have exact English equivalents. However, the general duties of each appointment coincide with the English titles.

In 1646, Muhammad Adil Shah fell seriously ill, but lingered in his sick bed for another decade. This led to no serious business being transacted from Bijapur, with the Adil Shahi kingdom remaining equally comatose as the sultan. Shivaji seized this opportunity of incoherence in Bijapur to further his ambitions. He had already annexed Torna through coercion and bribery. Although the fort had been renamed Prachandgarh, the new name was soon forgotten, and the fort continued to be called Torna. Five miles to the east of Torna, Shivaji built another fort called Rajgarh. He further acquired the forts of Baramati and Indapur, and annexed the fort at Kondana by bribing the Adil Shahi commander, renaming it Sinhgarh. Bijapur was aware of these activities, but did not initiate any action, the sultan being bed-ridden and only partially in control of the affairs of the court. There are also few unverifiable reports of Shivaji bribing Bijapur court officials to ensure that no action was initiated against his annexations of Adil Shahi forts. Considering the modus operandi that he had so far adopted; these reports could be true.

Capture of Purandar – 1648

The fort of Purandar overlooked the plateau above the Sinhgarh hills and control of it would secure Shivaji’s southern flank, which would otherwise remain open and vulnerable. The fort was about 18 miles south-east of Pune and was controlled by a Brahman, Nilakanta Rao. He was the hereditary ‘nayak’ of the fort and surrounding regions, and owed allegiance to Bijapur. On the death of Nilakanta Rao, his three sons entered into a succession struggle, with the eldest Niloji Nilakanta Rao taking over the administration. At this stage, Shivaji got involved in the struggle between brothers for control of this important fort and region. There are two different versions of the events that followed.

Having taken over the administration of the fort, Niloji refused to share power with his younger brothers, Pilaji and Shankarji. The first version of the narrative flows from this division between the brothers. The younger brothers appealed to Shivaji to arbitrate on their behalf, since their complaints had not been well-received by the Adil Shah. The second version is that the Adil Shah asked Shivaji to take over Purandar. This version is supported by some notes that were obviously made at a much later date. Considering the antagonism towards Shivaji in Bijapur, it is more likely that the younger brothers approached Shivaji, giving him the excuse that was needed to move in on Purandar.

In June 1648, Shivaji wrote to Niloji asking permission for himself and his family to make camp in Purandar territories during the monsoon. The request was readily granted and Shivaji and his entourage spend the rainy season in a village at the foot of the Purandar fort. During this period Shivaji became friendly with Shankarji who now wanted his brother ousted from control of the fort. Shivaji managed to get invited by Niloji into the fort to celebrate Diwali, which in 1948 fell on 5th October. He entered the fort with an escort and on 8th October Shivaji surprised Niloji and imprisoned him, along with both his brothers, taking over the fort and surroundings.

Shivaji released the Rao brothers a few days later and gave them the village of Chamli in perpetuity for their use. Their descendants continue to be in possession of this land to this day. Pilaji Nilakanta Rao later joined the Maratha army and served successfully as a commander under Shivaji. Purandar fort was garrisoned by Mavle forces and became Shivaji’s refuge whenever Pune was threatened.

Annexation of Kalyan

Military operations have always been expensive undertakings and all his activities had made Shivaji’s resources run low. Kalyan in the Thane region was a rich town, under the control of the Adil Shahi Muslim commander, Maulana Ahmad. Shivaji intercepted the revenue that was being transported from Kalyan to Bijapur and confiscated it. This action was the equivalent of declaring open war against the Adil Shah. Without waiting for Bijapur reaction, Shivaji rapidly captured nine forts in the region, the major ones being Lohgarh, Rairi and Rajmachi. Kalyan itself was overrun without any opposition and the governor was send back to Bijapur unharmed.

By now the Adil Shah was naturally enraged and a letter of censure was sent to Shivaji ordering him to report to Bijapur. Further, Shahji was instructed to rein-in his son. This was a turning point in Shivaji’s career and can be considered the first critical milestone in his development as a military commander and ruling chieftain, on his way to becoming a ‘king-emperor’. To the Adil Shah, Shivaji wrote a curt reply stating that he would go to Bijapur only after all the territories currently under his control were conferred on him as his personal jagir. In the meantime, Shahji had also written to his son, asking him to obey the summons from the Adil Shah. To his father, Shivaji wrote back that he was no longer a boy to be ordered about, but a man and the master of his own destiny. He further ‘informed’ his father that the jagir of Pune and associated estates were now his personal holding.

Muhammad Adil Shah obviously refused to entertain Shivaji’s proposal. Shahji advised the Adil Shah to initiate a military campaign against Shivaji immediately. However, Muhammad Adil Shah had already been convinced by the Muslim nobles at court, who were jealous of Shahji’s high status, into believing that Shahji was in direct collaboration with his son who was mounting successful military campaigns against Bijapur holdings in the Pune region. Shahji was subsequently captured and imprisoned by Muhammad Adil Shah through the treachery of a minor Maratha chief in Bijapur service, Baji Ghorpade.

Imprisonment of Shahji

In 1648, Shivaji had to stop all activities aimed at territorial expansion since his father Shahji had been imprisoned by the Adil Shah in the Carnatic. He was later transported as a prisoner to Bijapur and coerced into writing to Shivaji asking him to report to Bijapur. Shivaji was caught in a dilemma—if he went to Bijapur, it was certain that he would be imprisoned and executed; however, if he refused, his father would face the same fate. He realised that only diplomacy would free his father and accordingly wrote to Murad Baksh, then the Mughal governor of the Deccan. In this letter, he promised to join forces with the Mughals if his father was freed from captivity. Murad Baksh wrote back stating that he would request his father, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, to ask the Adil Shah to release Shahji.

There is a letter written by Shah Jahan dated 30 November 1649 forgiving Shahji and his sons for opposing the Mughal forces and conferring on Shahji the status of a Mughal noble. This ensured that the Adil Shah could not take any drastic action against Shahji. The situation between Bijapur and Shivaji thus reached a stalemate, with neither able to initiate any action against the other. Muhammad Adil Shah now mounted a military expedition against Sambhaji in Bangalore and attempted to retake Kondana (Sinhgarh) from Shivaji. Both the campaigns failed to achieve any tangible success. The Adil Shah now had no option but to release Shahji and restore all his honours and jagirs. Shivaji heaved a sigh of relief.

Conquest of Javli and Raigarh – 1656

Javli is the region situated in the extreme north-west corner of Satara. The terrain is hilly and thickly wooded with the Sahyadri mountains rising to 4000 feet in altitude. The Javli territory is approximately 60 miles in length and there are eight passes that cross the mountain ranges, with two of them being large enough for carts to go through. The region is also connected to the Konkan coast through numerous gorges and foot tracks. The Bijapur Adil Shah had conferred the ‘state’ of Javli on the More family in the 16th century for services rendered and they had been uninterrupted rulers of the region thereafter, with the head of the family being titled Chandra Rao. The Mores were powerful, had a standing army of over 12,000 soldiers, and over time had come to rule most of Satara and parts of the Konkan.

Javli was geographically positioned in such a manner that it blocked any further expansion of Shivaji’s territories to the south and south-west. Any southward expansion by Shivaji would directly dilute More power and impinge on their independence. Being acutely aware of the manoeuvres of the Bhonsle prince, the incumbent Chandra Rao had enticed several Mavle chiefs to join him, while he had also reaffirmed his alliance with the Adil Shah to create an informal anti-Shivaji clique. A clash was inevitable. This would be a clash between the old and the new—the static and moribund power of the Mores who were vassals of Bijapur and the dynamic force of Shivaji clamouring for true independence.

Shivaji send Raghunath Ballal Korde, his sabnis (paymaster) as an envoy to the More headquarters to win them over to his side. This attempt at settling differences amicably and coming together to oppose ‘foreign’ rule was unsuccessful. Korde observed that the current Chandra Rao was an indolent drunkard and lived without any security precautions, confident of his safety in his own environment. In late 1655, seizing an opportunity that opened for him, Ballal Korde murdered the Chandra Rao and his brother and escaped from the palace, fleeing to a pre-arranged hiding place. The fact that Korde was able to escape and reach a ‘pre-arranged’ hiding place would indicate that the murders were not a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ action as has been written in some narratives, but one that had been pre-planned. Only the actual time of execution would have been left to Ballal Korde’s discretion as the senior person on the scene.

Very soon after the murders, on 15th January 1656, Shivaji attacked Javli and overran it without much opposition. Chandra Rao’s family and sons fled to Rairi. The prime minister of Javli, Hanumant Rao More who was a powerful commander, rallied the partisans and started to menace Shivaji’s forces employing guerrilla tactics. In order to avoid further bloodshed, Shivaji managed to get Hanumant Rao murdered through subterfuge. Javli was now firmly in Shivaji’s control. After staying in Javli for a few weeks, Shivaji marched to Rairi on 30th March 1656. Rairi was a high plateau with minimal fortifications and Shivaji’s forces captured it without any trouble. Chandra Rao’s sons were taken captive and removed to Pune. Here the elder son, Krishnaji, was beheaded for opening correspondence with the Adil Shah to regain his lost patrimony. The younger son Baji, managed to escape from Pune and later joined the Rajput Mughal commander Jai Singh in the war against Shivaji.

Javli and Rairi—later renamed Raigarh—were both captured by initiating deliberate murder and organised treachery. Even the Hindu chroniclers of the time do not attempt to hide the fact of pre-meditated murder of the More family elders by Shivaji’s sub-commander. Further, the descriptions of the episode clearly indicate that the murders were carried out purely for personal gain and not in self-defence or in the heat of the moment in battle. More importantly, the murders were not committed to further the cause of ‘Hindu Swaraj’, which had not yet become a tangible objective for the emerging emperor. The only point that can be made in Shivaji’s defence for this act is that he was at the infancy of his power and therefore could not afford to be scrupulous in the actions that were initiated to achieve his objective of the time—the basic need to strengthen his power base. Irrespective of any argument to support these indefensible actions, the fact remains that the capture of Javli remains a dark episode in Shivaji’s otherwise illustrious life—a blot that cannot be hidden.

At Javli, Shivaji came to the possession of large quantities of treasure that had been accumulated by successive generations of Mores who had ruled the region in an ever-expanding fashion for over a century. Thus, one of his objectives, that of building up his depleted resources, was immediately satisfied. He used some of the wealth to improve the temple at old Mahabaleswar. The major portion was used to build and fortify the Pratapgarh fort, about 2 miles west of Javli, and install his patron Goddess Bhavani there.  


The annexation of Javli opened the path to the south and west for Shivaji. It also had the added advantage of bringing into his army, the Mavle soldiers who had been in More service. The ranks of his army were filling; there is nothing like success to attract the adventurer. With this victory, Shivaji had successfully secured his territories with a strong chain of hill forts to the south and north-west of Pune. Cautiousness was in-built into Shivaji’s character. Even though he now had possession of a greatly expanded stretch of territories, he was careful to ensure that the territorial expansion was regulated and did not go beyond his administration’s capacity to provide good governance to the annexed regions.

Shivaji was intensely aware that his main advantage was the support and good will of the people and therefore he was deliberate in ensuring that the well-being of the common people remained the highest priority of his administration. This attention to the needs of the common people and the fairness of the administration stood out in sharp contrast to the deliberately cruel, disorderly, and religiously biased rule of the Muslim sultans. For the first seven years after Dadaji Kondadev’s death, Shivaji consciously concentrated his energies to ensuring that his rule was acceptable and preferred by the people over the Muslim Shahi rule. This aim is evident in the motto that he adopted for himself from about 1645, given in his official seal: ‘This seal of Shiva, the Son of Shah, shines forth for the good [of the people]. It is daily to increase like the first phase of the moon and is going to be respected by the universe.’

By this time Shahji was permitted by the Adil Shah to return to the Carnatic, where he retook Kanakagiri, making it his headquarters. He had also become more appreciative of Shivaji’s efforts to gain independence as opposed to benign vassalage and aware of the Adil Shah’s attempts to curtail Shivaji’s activities. He sent a letter to Shivaji giving his blessings for the actions that his son was undertaking while also warning him against the duplicity of Baji Gorpade and his family. Finally, Shahji had broken faith, even though surreptitiously, with the Adil Shahs of Bijapur.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2021]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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