The Marathas Part 6 Shivaji Bhonsle Section V Coronation and the Great Southern Campaign

Canberra, 23 August 2021

By the early 1670s, Shivaji was acutely aware of the need to establish a politically legitimate ‘Hindu’ kingdom in the Deccan, although an informal kingdom was already in existence. For him personally, there were several disadvantages to not being ‘crowned’ as a king. While it was true that he had conquered many lands, controlled large tracts of territory, gathered great wealth and held the power of life and death over a large population, in theory he was still a subject of the Adil Shahi rulers of Bijapur. Even though he enjoyed the hereditary title of ‘Raja’, bestowed on his grandfather by the now defunct Nizam Shahi dynasty, the Mughals considered him a zamindar and the Adil Shahis, even in their reduced state treated him as a rebellious son of one of their jagirdars. That his half-brother Vyankoji continued in Bijapur service did not help matters.

In the eyes of the world, Shivaji had no independent status since he was not a king. This situation impinged on his ability to claim the loyalty of the people he ruled, and his promises had no sanctity other than the weight of his personal integrity, it was not automatically backed by the power of a kingdom. Further, he could not legally grant property to anyone and even the lands he conquered could not be considered his lawful property. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to say where he derived his authority from—the question is not merely academic. In practical terms, the Maratha nobles followed him in battle for personal gains; but in private life the same nobles did not give any precedence to Shivaji. The older noble families—the Mohites, Nimbalkars, Sawants, and others—considered the Bhonsles to be upstarts and not part of the established nobility. For Shivaji, validation as an independent king had become a practical necessity.

There was also insidious jealousy among the other noble families regarding the rapid rise of the Bhonsles; after all they had been of equal status with the others just one generation back. Partly to cater for their jealousies, these noble families continued to proclaim their allegiance either to the Mughal emperor or the Adil Shahis of Bijapur and not to Shivaji. Shivaji knew that only a formal coronation would make the Maratha nobility treat him as a legitimate independent king at par with the Adil and Qutb Shahis of Bijapur and Golconda. On the other hand, it is also true that there was a faction, mainly of thinkers, who had started to view Shivaji as a champion of Hinduism capable of raising the Hindus to a higher level of political growth.

Shivaji – The Kshatriya

Once he decided to become crowned as a king, a curious obstacle to achieving this aim came up. Hindu scriptures specified that only Kshatriyas could be crowned kings. However, the Bhonsles were tillers of the land, and at best could claim to be of Shudra stock. Brahmins could bless the ascension to the throne—an absolute necessity for the crowning to be legitimate—only if Shivaji could be authoritatively declared a Kshatriya. This would need the support and acceptance of a Brahmin pundit whose scholarship was so renowned that his reputation itself would stifle and suppress any opposition. They found such a person in Vishweshwar, nicknamed Gaga Bhatta, the greatest Sanskrit theologian of the time and an acknowledged master of the Vedas and scriptures. He was considered the Brahma-deva, the Hindu god at the pinnacle of all learning, of the modern age.

An elaborately fabricated genealogy of the Bhonsles was created in Raigarh and presented to Gaga Bhatta who perused and accepted it. The genealogy declared Shivaji to be a pure-bred Kshatriya descended from the Sisodia Maharana of Udaipur from the solar line, who traced their ancestry back to Sri Ramchandra of Ayodhya. Gaga Bhatta and his entourage were suitably compensated, and he was invited to preside over the coronation ceremony. The entire Brahmin group was treated as the greatest of nobility when they arrived at Raigarh.

The Coronation

The coronation was to be conducted at Raigarh and preparations for the ceremony took several months. Local Brahmins unearthed orthodox ancient precedents from the scriptures, and agents were sent to study the coronation procedures of the Rajputs, leaving no stone unturned to ensure the sanctity of the forthcoming coronation. Brahmins from all over the sub-continent were invited, along with nobles, rich merchants and foreign representatives—Raigarh hosted more than 10,000 guests at the king’s expense. Sivaji’s 80-year-old mother Jijabai basked in the glory of her son being crowned king of the land of his birth.

Shivaji went on a truncated three-week pilgrimage to all the famous shrines of his land and returned to Raigarh on 21st May 1674 to commence the ceremonies leading to the coronation. On 28th May he was publicly ‘purified’ and officially made a Kshatriya. Brahmins who raised objections to Shivaji’s elevation to Kshatriya status were silenced with gold, the age-old and universally practised remedy to buy the acceptance of sanctimonious and orthodox theologians. The coronation took place on 6th June 1674, when Shivaji was installed as ‘Chhatrapati’, paramount sovereign of the universal umbrella. The English Ambassador, Henry Oxinden, who was present at the coronation has left a vivid account of the proceedings. There are also obviously copious records in the Maratha historical records of the event. Oxinden’s account has stopped later-day Western historians from distorting the splendour of the occasion and skewing the narrative of the coronation to vilify the Chhatrapati. After the ceremony, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj rode through the streets of Raigarh in great splendour, the crowned king of a Hindu state.

It would appear that Jijabai was waiting for her son’s coronation; she died on 18th June. Shivaji finished the stipulated mourning period before ascending the throne again on 24 September, to rule his kingdom. It is also mentioned in the local chronicles that because of religious rivalries between the Vedic and Tantric Brahmins, Shivaji carried out a second coronation according to Tantric rites on 24th September. He wanted to ensure there was not even an inkling of doubt regarding his legal right to rule as the Chhatrapati. The cost of the coronation to the exchequer has been conservatively estimated at one crore and 42 Lakh pagodas.

The Pagoda

The ‘pagoda’ was a unit of currency, a coin of gold, issued by various medieval dynasties in the Deccan and South India. It was sub-divided into 42 fanams. The Kadambas and the Vijayanagara emperors issues these coins. 100 pagodas were considered to be worth 350 rupees in Shivaji’s time. Later even the foreign trading companies, the English, Dutch and the French also issued semi-gold coins, calling them pagodas.

Immediately after the coronation, Shivaji received an English embassy, seeking his acceptance of a long list of requests. They also gave presents for the coronation. Shivaji accepted some of the submissions and rejected others that were inimical to Maratha interests. The English embassy, a public acknowledgment of his new status, cemented his new position as the Chhatrapati of the newly established Maratha Kingdom.

Contest with the Mughals

The coronation ceremonies were extravagant displays of power and wealth that exhausted Shivaji’s treasury. He needed money to pay his troops and so had to embark on military raids almost immediately. Accordingly, Shivaji send an army to attack Bahadur Khan, the Mughal commander, who was spending the monsoon in his cantonment at Pedgaon. At the height of the monsoons, in mid-July, a decoy force enticed Bahadur Khan to come out of the fort and then the main Maratha body attacked the almost defenceless fort, carrying away crores of rupees and 200 select horses.

In mid-October 1674, Shivaji personally led an army into the Deccan near Aurangabad and then moved on to Baglana and Khandesh. He continued pillaging raids in the surrounding regions till mid-December. In early January 1675, the Maratha army roamed the region of Kolhapur. The towns in these regions escaped violence by paying tribute in gold on demand to the Marathas. Around the same time, Shivaji opened negotiations with Bahadur Khan, stringing the talks along by giving the hope of peace to the Mughal commander. The real motives to keep the talks going without reaching agreement were twofold: to buy a reprieve from Mughal attacks in order to provision all the Maratha forts; and to extort money from the Adil Shah with the threat of forming an alliance with the Mughals against him.  The talks culminated with Shivaji agreeing to surrender 17 of his forts to the Mughals and to send Sambhaji to serve under Bahadur Khan. Aurangzeb ratified the terms of the treaty.

Shivaji was slow to enact the terms of the treaty and by July 1675 had captured Phonda. He then refused to validate the proposed terms and conditions. These moves humiliated Bahadur Khan in front of his emperor. In desperation to salvage his reputation, he turned to create an alliance with the Adil Shah against Shivaji. The idea was to mount twin attacks on the Marathas. Unfortunately, internal intrigue in the Bijapur court thwarted the effort and nothing came out of the initiative. Bahadur Khan, chastised by Aurangzeb, took the initiative and drove out the Maratha forces from Aurangabad and Junnar regions. At the same time the Marathas captured Kolhapur and raided Bijapur and Golconda territories, even sacking two towns near Hyderabad. Subsequently, Shivaji was seriously ill for three months from January 1676 and laid up in Satara.

When he recovered, a civil war was in full swing in Bijapur between the Afghan and Deccani nobles. Shivaji took the opportunity to plunder and loot Bijapur territory without any hindrance. On 31st May 1676, the Mughals mounted an attack on Bijapur and the Prime Minister/Regent, Bahlol Khan, sought Shivaji’s assistance to resist. Although the terms under which Shivaji would offer protection to Bijapur against the Mughals were agreed upon, nothing much came of it. Shivaji was already fixing his gaze elsewhere—in January 1677 he set out on the greatest expedition of his life—the invasion of the Karnataka region.

The Great Southern Campaign

In the late 17th century, the region encompassed by the term Karnataka was extensive. On the west coast it was held by various Hindu chieftains. Northern Karnataka owed allegiance to Bijapur, which directly ruled the coastal strip from Karwar to Mirjan. The inland districts were controlled by feudatory chiefs, the Nayaks of Sunda being the most powerful and influential. The region south of Mirjan was an independent principality under the Keladi dynasty with their capital at Bednur. The Bijapur viceroy of the south-west corner of this territory was more nominal than in control and held the hereditary title of Rustom-i-Zaman. The large territory inland from the west coast encompassed the districts of Ratnagiri, Kolhapur, and Belgaum, while Karwar south, and Rajapur north were flourishing ports. The English already had factories in both. Trade with Europe emanated from here.    

The Nayaks of Madura and Thanjavur were traditional adversaries and continued their feud even after the Vijayanagara Empire had been laid low by the combined Shahi armies. In April 1674, the Madura Nayak killed the Thanjavur ruler Vijaya Raghav and annexed the fiefdom. The Adil Shah, nominally the overlord of both the principalities, ordered Vyankoji to restore the old dynasty of Thanjavur to power. Vyankoji plotted and planned for more than a year and then recaptured the kingdom of Thanjavur on 12th January 1676. However, instead of returning the kingdom to Bijapur vassalage, at least nominally, Vyankoji usurped the throne for himself and crowned himself the independent king of Thanjavur. With this event, central authority exercised by Bijapur in their territories in the Karnataka, even though already tenuous, vanished for ever.

At the same time another more sinister power struggle was going on in the Bijapur Karnataka. There were two Bijapur governors in the region—Nasir Muhammad Khan at Jinji and Sher Khan Lodi at Waligandapuram. They were at odds with each other, especially after civil war had broken out in Bijapur for the regency during the boyhood incumbency of the new Adil Shah, Sikandar, who had been placed on the throne in 1672. Sher Khan who harboured ambitions of conquering Golconda for himself, wanted to capture the riches of Madura and Thanjavur to facilitate this invasion. His plan was to hire French soldiers for the conquest with the money gathered from the two Nayak territories. As a prelude, he attacked and defeated Nasir Muhammad on 14th September 1676. In Bijapur, the government was paralysed in the throes of the civil war and therefore could not react to this event. Nasir Muhammad fled and joined the Qutb Shah, who was busy availing the opportunity afforded by the civil war to annex Bijapur Karnataka territories.

Intrigue was an innate part of the Deccan Shahi kingdoms. The Prime Minister of Golconda, Madanna Pandit, had secret ambitions of establishing, and ruling, a Hindu kingdom in the Karnataka region. He convinced Abdul Hassan Qutb Shah to invite Shivaji to invade eastern Karnataka, with Golconda as a sleeping partner, bearing the expenses and providing auxiliary forces. The conquered territories would be handed over to Qutb Shahi representatives, the Marathas would retain the loot and plunder. The details of the treaty were: Qutb Shah would pay 3000 pagodas a day to Shivaji for the duration of the campaign (approximately 450,000 rupees per month); would place a force of 5000 troops, out of which at least 1000 would be cavalry, under Shivaji’s command; and provide a train of artillery with the requisite materiel. The treaty also alluded to strengthening mutual defences against any future Mughal invasion. In return, Shivaji promised to keep for himself only the territories in the Karnataka that had belonged to his dead father. 

Shivaji started from Raigarh in January 1677. On entering Golconda territory, he gave strict instructions that no plunder or molestation was to take place; he hanged to death the first few offenders, which ensured that the orders were followed. Shivaji reached Hyderabad in February 1677 and was received with great pomp and show. It took a month for the Qutb Shah to fulfil his promises, especially regarding arms and the money, and Shivaji spent the time in Hyderabad as the guest of the king. In March 1677, Shivaji marched south from Hyderabad, crossed the River Krishna and entered Karnataka through the Damulcherry Pass near Bellary.

Shivaji worshipped at the famous Shri Shaila temple, the most revered Shiva temple in South India, and then moved south. He went down the eastern side of the Peninsula and passed Madras in the first week of May. He then sent a cavalry force to Jinji. The commander of this force managed to convince the Jinji fort commander to hand over the fort to the Marathas without a fight for a mutually agreed financial consideration. Shivaji now reneged on his promise to the Qutb Shah and kept the fort for himself even though it was not part of Shahji Bhonsle’s estate. The fort was not handed over to the Qutb Shahi agent. Shivaji instituted the Maratha system of administration and revenue collection in the province, fortified the defences and leaving a Maratha garrison in Jinji turned north towards Vellore.

Vellore was not an easy fort to capture. It was commanded by Abdullah Khan, an Abyssinian in Bijapur service who put up a stiff resistance. The fort was brought under siege and Shivaji stayed there only for a few weeks before leaving southwards on 20th June. He left behind sufficient forces to carry on the siege of the Vellore fort, which became protracted and went on to last 14 months. Shivaji was now in need of money, especially since the Qutb Shah had stopped payments after he took possession of Jinji, considering the mutual treaty to have been nullified. So Shivaji demanded ransom from all the townships that his army encountered, calling them loans, which obviously would not be returned. The reports of the extortions and the fury of the Maratha soldiers started to precede their arrival and people fled to the forests, since everything in their way was looted by the soldiers. The Maratha army was followed by a vast crowd of at least 20,000 unattached persons who plundered and waylaid villages without fear of reprisals. Progressively, the civil administration of the region dissolved and collapsed.

Defeat of Sher Khan Lodi

Sher Khan had underestimated Shivaji and the Maratha army and in any case, he did not have much of a reputation as a military commander. On the Maratha approach, Sher Khan moved to Tiruvadi, about 13 miles west of Cuddalore with a force of 4000 cavalry to oppose them. Shivaji arrived near Tiruvadi on 26th June and Sher Khan immediately launched an attack on the Maratha force. Shivaji did not react to the attack and fearing some subterfuge, Sher Khan ordered a retreat. Shivaji then charged and put to rout the Bijapur forces. Sher Khan initially fled to the Tiruvadi fort and then moved with a sizeable part of his forces to Bonagirpatam, which was besieged by the Marathas. Within a few days most of the forts in the region fell to Shivaji. On 5th July, Sher Khan made peace with Shivaji for a ransom of 20,000 pagodas in cash. He was permitted to leave after leaving his eldest son Ibrahim Khan as hostage with the Marathas. Sher Khan retired to the court of the Nayak of Madura.

Settlement with Vyankoji – First Attempt

After Shivaji had entered South India, messages had been flowing between Shivaji and his stepbrother Vyankoji to arrange a meeting. Finally, Vyankoji arrived at Shivaji’s camp at Tirumalvadi with an escort of 2000 cavalry. Shivaji welcomed and received him with care and three days of celebrations ensued. On the fourth day Shivaji opened business discussions. He demanded half of Shahji’s estate at his death—territory, money, horses, jewels—as his birth right. Vyankoji replied with a counter-claim to be given half of the entire Maratha kingdom in the Western Peninsula. Shivaji objected to this stating that he had inherited only the Pune jagir and the rest of the vast kingdom had been his personal acquisition. No agreement could be reached and Vyankoji went to the extent of stating that he was willing to go to war.

Reluctantly, Shivaji placed Vyankoji under house arrest, from where he managed to escape to his own territories, to the south of the River Kolerun. Shivaji took no action, mainly to project himself as a man of honour; he did not cross the River Kolerun to the south, which was Vyankoji’s territory, seizing territory only on the north bank. He attempted to bring Vyankoji back for further discussions but was unable to persuade his stepbrother to agree. Around 27th July, Shivaji struck camp from the northern banks of River Kolerun and moved north-east. He captured a few forts along the way, received a Dutch embassy and their chief at Tevanapatam, and by 22nd September Shivaji was at Vanikamvadi, 40 miles south-west of Vellore, which was still under siege. On 3rd October he pillaged Porto Novo and became master of South Arcot district. Few weeks later North Arcot district was annexed.

Reconciliation – Second Attempt

Shivaji now send a letter to Vyankoji, restating his demands and adding that he would enforce them. To emphasise his resolve, he send three nobles to Thanjavur to reason with Vyankoji. However, Vyankoji would not be convinced and noticing that the Maratha forces were concentrating on Vellore, referred the matter to Bijapur since the jagirs in question were originally granted by the Adil Shah. The Regent for the boy Adil Shah did not want to antagonise Shivaji, therefore replied that Vyankoji should give Shivaji what he wanted. This was not the answer that had been anticipated. Vyankoji was now under the influence of some Muslim commanders, who had served with his father Shahji. They egged him on to resort to force.

Vyankoji attacked the Maratha contingent that was deployed near Thanjavur and commanded by Hambirrao Mohite. The attack was repulsed with Vyankoji’s forces suffering heavy losses. Shivaji was now at the end of his patience in dealing with his recalcitrant brother. He invaded the fiefs that had belonged to his father to settle the matter once and for all. He descended the Eastern Ghats and took possession of his father’s jagir—the districts of Arni, Kolar, Uskota, Bangalore, Balapur and Sera—the east and central part of the modern Mysore region.

With Vyankoji subdued, Shivaji continue his quest to establish a viable Hindu kingdom.

Further Conquests

Shivaji marched north from Sera, along the banks of River Velavati and reached Bellary, a corruption of the name Belvadi, meaning the orchard of sacred Bel trees. Bellary resisted the Maratha attack and when its commander was killed, his wife Savitribai led the resistance. After 26 days of fierce fighting Bellary surrendered. Shivaji treated the gallant Savitribai with great chivalry. Subsequently, most of the districts south of the River Tungabhadra surrendered without offering any resistance. Meanwhile Vyankoji, at the insistence of his intelligent wife Dipabai, asked for forgiveness from Shivaji. Shivaji, the elder brother, restored Vyankoji to the throne, appointed Raghunath Narain Hanumante as his Prime Minister, and bestowed the hereditary fiefs as a present to his sister-in-law, Dipabai. He made Vyankoji promise to be a loyal ally, which the younger brother honoured for the rest of Shivaji’s life. Shivaji then went on to defeat the Bijapur commander Yusuf Khan Mayna and annex the Doab, the successful culmination of a great campaign.   

Decision to Return to Maharashtra

Shivaji had now been out of his kingdom for a year and in a grand council meeting it was decided that he would start back to his capital. Urgency was added to this decision since Aurangzeb had ordered his Deccan governor to punish Golconda for its alliance with Shivaji, resulting in a combined Mughal–Bijapur army invading Golconda at Malkher. In November 1677, Shivaji left the Karnataka region with 4000 cavalry, leaving the bulk of his army in occupation of the newly conquered territories.

He returned home through Bellary and Dharwar districts, reaching Panhala in April 1678. On 21st August 1678, Vellore surrendered to the Maratha forces, after 14 months of hard resistance to the siege. It is reported that the regions of Karnataka that Shivaji occupied were ‘peeled to the bone’ by the introduction of the Maratha system of ‘organised plunder’ and exaction. Shivaji carried away a staggering and unaccountable booty, the value of which has never been computed. More than 700 miles from his home base, Shivaji had conquered territories as large as his own original kingdom, and in the course of just 14 months had traversed the Peninsula victoriously from sea to sea without suffering even a single battlefield defeat.

Shivaji was at the pinnacle of his glory.

‘Victory had succeeded victory; town had fallen after town. As he went he organised his conquests; and when he returned to Raygad [sic], as he now did, his new possessions were securely bound together from sea to sea, by a line of fortified strongholds held by garrisons brave to the death and devoted to his cause.’

—C. A. Kincaid & Rao Bahadur D. B. Parasnis,

A History of the Maratha People, Volume I, p. 260.

© [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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