The Marathas Part 6 Shivaji Bhonsle Section VII: A Panegyric

Canberra, 7 September 2021

The account of Shivaji’s activities and achievements, described in the previous few chapters, is only a concise narrative of the main events of his life. Even such a short description proves the genius that he possessed. However, unfortunately and for some unfathomable reason, Shivaji is perhaps the most under-appreciated, misunderstood and maligned king in Indian history—not by the contemporary chroniclers of his time, but by historians who came later, especially by the European Indophiles like James Grant Duff and others. Shivaji was singled out by these somewhat mis-guided historians and judged by a completely different moral yardstick that lend itself to very harsh opinions and assertions regarding the character of the Hindu king. The same historians have used a different set of standards and been extremely tolerant of the vile and base nature of the Mughal Aurangzeb, the Adil Shahis of Bijapur, the Nizam Shahis of Ahmednagar and the Muslim nobles of the Deccan in general—all contemporaries of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. These historians have gone to extraordinary lengths to playdown, ignore and in some case whitewash, the treacheries that were committed against Shivaji by the Mughals and others, making them pass moral muster as acts of extreme ‘diplomacy’. At the same time, they have gone out of their way to highlight, bemoan and condemn in the strongest terms, acts of deception that Shivaji undertook to ensure his own personal safety and the survival of his fledgling kingdom. This chapter is an attempt at an unbiased analysis of Shivaji the king and the human being, and the events that transpired during his life.

If the flawed narratives created in the 18th and 19th centuries by a series of European historians had not been corrected by Mahadev Govind Ranade (18 January 1842–16 January 1901; an Indian scholar, social reformer, judge and author; commonly referred to as ‘Justice Ranade’) Shivaji would have remained a tainted renegade in the public eye, reality forever hidden in the folds of doublespeak and religious and racial bias. Irrespective of the standards used to judge him, Shivaji remains truly a great man of many virtues—chivalrous to a fault, with great individual ability and deep religious convictions. Depicting this great king as a treacherous assassin, and believing such a narrative, rates amongst the most biased reportage of Indian history; an indelible black mark on the perpetrators and the later historians who accepted the flawed assessment and further propagated it.

Over the years more records of Shivaji’s life and even eulogies have come to light. These, especially the ones written by people who had direct contact and interaction with Shivaji during his eventful life including few European traders, conclusively demolish the biased narratives that have been circulated from the time of his demise, by Muslim and European chroniclers. Ramchandra Pant Amatya (1650–1716) wrote an elaborate treatise in Marathi that provides a true picture of the polity during Shivaji’s reign, which also includes the nuances of the king’s personality.

Ramchandra Pant Amatya

Ramachandra Neelkanth Bawadekar (known popularly as Ramchandra Pant Amatya) served in the council of eight ministers (Ashta Pradhan) as the Finance Minister (Amatya) in the administration of Chhatrapati Shivaji from 1674 to 1680. He was the youngest member of the council at that time.

He then served as the Imperial Regent to the four emperors who followed—Sambhaji, Rajaram, Shivaji II and Sambhaji II. He was the author of Adnyapatra, a famous code of civil and military administration as practised in the Maratha Empire that provides invaluable information regarding the real state of affairs during the reign of Shivaji and immediately after. This treatise is also the first book on politics in the Maratha kingdom. The book is of such erudition that it is often compared to Kautilya’s Arthshastra. Ramachandra Amatya is renowned as one of the greatest civil administrators, diplomats and military strategists in the Maratha Empire.

Further, Krishnaji Anant Sabhasad a noble in Shivaji’s court, wrote an elaborate and unembellished biography of Shivaji in Marathi, officially titled Shri Shiva Prabhuche Charitra and popularly referred to as Sabhasad Bakhar (published 1697).

From all available accounts it is obvious that Shivaji had great leadership qualities. If he did not possess this fundamental trait, it would have been impossible to make the high-spirited Maratha nobles accept his overall leadership. The other character trait that can be deduced from the events that transpired is Shivaji’s loyalty to his friends and followers. Never during his tumultuous life was Shivaji betrayed by anyone, a sure indication that he was completely trustworthy and never betrayed a friend. This unquestioned loyalty to his people was the litmus test for his integrity and steadfast fidelity towards the people he led.

Personality

Physically, Shivaji was not an imposing man. He was short and slightly built, weighing only 64 kilograms at the time of his coronation, when he was 47 years old and at the prime of his life. However, all his contemporaries unanimously speak of an unmistakable aura of power and intelligence that emanated from him. He was fair, kept long hair and was considered handsome in a traditional manner of the time. All reports by people, both Indian and foreign, who physically met him mention his eyes as the most striking feature of his personality, reporting them as, ‘…with quick eyes that show a great deal of wit …’ or ‘…quick and piercing eyes …’.

Shivaji was an excellent judge of people and was extremely persuasive in conversation. He found no pleasure in debauchery, a common feature among the rulers of the time and preferred to lead an austere and simple life of rigour. He was married seven times, no doubt some of them political alliances. However, but did not keep any concubines, which was a common practice dating back to the times of Asoka and Vikramaditya. Several marriages were common in medieval times in both Hindu and Muslim royalty, a custom established to ensure adequate progeny to continue the dynasty in a time of high infant mortality.

The most important influential person in Shivaji’s life was his mother, the redoubtable Jijabai, who inculcated a strong moralistic streak in his character. He had a very high respect for women, both his own and those of the enemy. Even Shivaji’s greatest critic, Khafi Khan on whose accounts James Duff primarily based his biased assessment, praises his fair treatment of women and prisoners. In this respect, Shivaji had passed clear instructions to his army regarding the treatment of women and defaulters were punished severely.

Religion

His mother had instilled an abiding and intense religious faith in the young Shivaji. As a child he was fascinated by the discourses of Tukaram, a renowned sage who lived near Pune. Later in life, the sage Ramdas became his spiritual guide. As Shivaji grew older his religious faith and devotion increased. A careful analysis of Shivaji’s religious devotion and his sense of heroic purpose in later years indicate that his spiritual evolution was derived from the Hindu epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. It is certain that Shivaji was acutely aware of the influence of the epics on him since he tried to replicate the same fervour in his soldiers by having the war chapters of these epics read out to them repeatedly. (These recitations could well be the first recorded instance of what is today called professional military education.)  

The most noteworthy fact is that Shivaji’s intense religious faith did not make him a bigot, unlike his archenemy Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor. Shivaji was a Hindu and would never compromise on his faith. However, he equally respected the faith of others and was accommodating of their devotion. In a harsh and brutal environment when religious toleration was unheard of, Shivaji with his special religious sensibility, and probity in all his actions, stood out as a rarity. This facet of his character is not given sufficient importance in most of the narratives regarding Shivaji’s life. It is also notable that Shivaji never permitted any mosque or madrasa to be ravaged by his army, even though the Mughal and Bijapur armies had made the pillage and destruction of Hindu temples a matter of routine. Shivaji’s tolerance of other religions also extended to the Europeans and people of the Christian faith. There were several Muslims in his army and administration, who were treated at par with their Hindu contemporaries. Shivaji also had a Muslim ‘guru’ called Baba Yakut of Kelsi.

Building a Military Machine

One of Shivaji’s greatest achievements was that he created a victorious Hindu army from scratch. This is all the more laudable since his recruits were the hillmen of the Western Ghats who were totally ignorant of war; and the Marathas of the plains who had been downtrodden and broken in spirit over three centuries of servitude to the Muslims. By creating a victorious Hindu army, Shivaji completely destroyed the myth of the superiority of Muslim armies, which had been created over few centuries by the marauding Muslim hordes that swept into the sub-continent from Arabia and Central Asia. Shivaji’s army comprehensively demonstrated that Hindu soldiers, led by Hindu commanders, could repeatedly defeat even the mighty Mughal army. There is absolutely no doubt about Shivaji’s military genius for war and his place in history as a victorious general.

Shivaji could be the first Hindu commander to use tactical intelligence to its fullest extent in planning and executing battles, skirmishes and running encounters. Few others, especially the Rajputs, had used intelligence earlier but had not exploited it to the optimum like Shivaji. The use of intelligence to outsmart the adversary was twisted in the biased reports to state that he used trickery and craft to get his way, although even his adversaries and detractors agree that he was courageous in battle. His uncanny knack of appearing at the most unexpected places gradually transformed into a myth around him. The Mughal armies believed that he was a sorcerer who could fly for more than 50 yards at will. The ability to appear suddenly was nothing but the nuanced use of tactical intelligence combined with astute planning.

The tactical actions that Shivaji initiated may not always have been pleasant for the adversary, but they were always effective. The king was patient and deliberate in his planning, and ardent, resolute and persevering in execution. From the beginning of his military career, he was faced with adversaries who fielded numerically superior and relatively more heavily armed forces in comparison to the Maratha light cavalry and infantry. Shivaji therefore, developed and perfected into an art form the concept of classic guerrilla warfare—preferring to use asymmetry through indirect attacks, hit and run tactics, and tactical manoeuvrings, rather than fight pitched battles. Till the last few years of his rule, he avoided pitched battles with the heavier Muslim armies, embedding the strategy of guerrilla warfare in his army. The tactics of hit and run had the added advantages of retaining the initiative and minimising own casualties. Shivaji always kept in mind the fundamental aim—adopt the most efficient means to yield optimum results with minimal effort and probability of casualties.  

Shivaji was single-handedly responsible for bringing about a fundamental change to the Hindu attitude towards waging war and fighting battles that had so far been epitomised by the entrenched Rajput concept of either winning or dying in battle based on the ethos of honour and chivalry. Shivaji brought in the idea that there was no dishonour in flight to save oneself and whatever booty had been captured. In fact, the core of asymmetry is built on this concept—hit and run is the fundamental tactic of a less powerful force against a larger and more powerful adversary. It was better in the long term to survive to fight another day, maybe in more advantageous conditions, than fall in battle and gain a pyrrhic victory of ‘honour’ in the short term. It is because of his following this philosophy towards warfighting that the terms ‘cunning’ and ‘deceitful’ have been used by some chroniclers, at times in a derogatory manner, to describe Shivaji’s battlefield tactics.

There is no doubt that Shivaji was decisive, tough and ruthless in battle, but he was never savage. He was intrepid and innovative and had great foresight. He was always on the lookout for solutions to challenges, which would improve the situation for his forces, even in the thick of battle—a thinking general.

Military Organisation

Chhatrapati Shivaji’s strength, power and status was built on the back of his army, and it is not surprising that he paid minute attention to its organisation and training. In the early days, Shivaji operated from and in the mountainous terrain of the Western Ghats and the army was built around the infantry, consisting of hardy hillmen suited for the purpose. As his campaigns and expeditions extended to the plains, the cavalry element within the army grew in importance and size, gradually becoming the core of the Maratha army.

The army consisted predominantly of Hindus of the Sudra caste originating mainly from his home country around Pune. Shivaji personally recruited every soldier, who was taken into service only on the surety of an already serving soldier. Even though the army had a predatory character and carried out regular plundering raids, it was highly disciplined. The predatory nature of the army is highlighted by the fact that pillaging remained the primary activity of the army, even after Shivaji was crowned a monarch, as Chhatrapati Maharaj. The ethos was so deeply ingrained in the Maratha army that, the term ‘to plunder the enemy’ became synonymous with ‘victory’ in common usage. All plunder was remitted to the state, being formally received by the king, sitting in court after the campaign. Officers and men were rewarded proportionate to the booty that they brought. A strict and thorough process was devised and instituted to ensure that there was no private pilferage of the booty and on the other hand to ensure that any personal losses were made good by the state.

The basic unit of infantry consisted of 1000 soldiers placed under a Hazari and could be considered the equivalent of a modern battalion. The unit was divided into ten companies, or Jumlas, each commanded by a Jumledar; further divided into platoons of 50 under Havildars with each platoon being divided into five sections of 10 soldiers under a Naik. Seven such battalions formed one brigade under a Sarnobat. The basic unit in the cavalry was a 1250-strong regiment, consisting of 10 Jumlas of 125 horsemen, each further sub-divided into 5 Havalas of 25 Bargis or troopers. Each Havala had its own farrier. Five such regiments formed a cavalry brigade under the command of a Panch Hazari.  

Pay for all officers was carefully regulated to ensure that the correct hierarchy was always maintained. Bonuses for extraordinary performance in battle were not uncommon. During the monsoon period, troops and horses were housed and fed at government expense in large custom-built barracks. During the fair-weather season, they were expected to live off the land, mainly in adversary territory.

Shivaji also built up a navy since his kingdom had a long coastline. Around 1665, at the height of its strength, the Maratha navy consisted of over 85 ‘frigates’. The navy was used to attack and plunder ships of trade in the Arabian Sea. This activity brought them into regular clashes with the Sidis, an Abyssinian military clan who were normally the commanders of the Indian rulers’ naval fleets. The Maratha navy tried to avoid clashes with the Europeans, other than for infrequent minor skirmishes.

Creating a Hindu Kingdom

The most significant aspect of the kingdom that Shivaji created and consecrated is that he consciously revived ancient Hindu customs, political traditions, and court conventions. He made Marathi the official language of the kingdom and banned the used of Persian in court. Old Sanskrit nomenclatures were revived, and a dictionary of official terms called Raja Vyvahara Kosa was compiled.

Traditionally all Hindu kingdoms had feudal nobility, who individually and collectively, were always a threat to central authority. Shivaji understood this complexity and initiated two measures to contain this threat. First, he did not permit any of the nobles to build any kind of fortifications inside the kingdom, the only fortified structures being the forts that were commanded by Shivaji’s own captains. Second, he did not make any land grants to the nobles, but governed through paid agents, who could be and often were dismissed for incapacity, insubordination or corruption. To oversee the administration of the kingdom, he constituted a council of eight ministers (Ashta-Pradhan) headed by a Peshwa, modelled on the traditional Hindu process of governance. Each minister looked after one broad aspect of administration. None of these positions were hereditary, no son automatically succeeded his father unless he had proven his qualifications without doubt. These were wise and futuristic provisions, which were unfortunately not carried forward by his successors. In the first few decades after Shivaji’s death, the offices reverted to being hereditary and nobles were once again being given land grants.

The political system that Shivaji instituted can be explained as three concentric circles. At the centre, the core, was the swaraj, own country, the region ruled directly by the king in a benevolent and paternalistic manner. Here the people were treated with patience and were never harassed. The next circle was the region contiguous to the swaraj over which Shivaji claimed suzerainty but did not directly rule. The region was not pillaged but was bound to pay Chauth and Sardeshmukhi. Contrary to popular belief, both Chauth and Sardeshmukhi were not Shivaji’s inventions. They were prevalent in Maharashtra and neighbouring areas before his time and were also imposed by the Rajputs in regions of their conquest. Shivaji rigorously imposed these existing taxes over a very wide region. His vigorous collection of the dues could be the reason for the Chauth being indelibly associated with his rule. Outside the second circle, the third circle spread far and wide—it was the country open to plunder. In this region, Shivaji and his hordes were dreaded by all, irrespective of religion and the pillaging raids were purely to collect treasure. It is notable that even after Shivaji was crowned Chhatrapati, these plundering raids outside the second circle did not cease.

Shivaji built and/or refurbished existing forts as a basic line of national security and gave high priority to their regular maintenance. This was particularly so in the core region, swaraj, which was always protected with a string of mutually supporting forts. The forts also doubled as secure areas for the peasants during times of attack. The forts were administered in a uniform manner. Shivaji placed retired officers of high calibre and reputation as commanders of these forts, giving them rent-free land as payment. The commander was always a Maratha. He was supported by a Brahmin accountant, the Sabnis, who had civil and revenue responsibilities for the surrounding villages under the administration of the fort. A Prabhu Kharkhanis was in-charge of ensuring the adequacy of civil and military supplies. By clearly separating the administrative and operational responsibilities within the fort, Shivaji ensured that no individual commander could become too powerful or mis-manage the finances. Further, none of these appointments were ever hereditary. A contingent of soldiers were based in each fort, their numbers depending on the importance and size of the fort. The soldiers were organised in sections of ten commanded by a Naik, similar to the infantry battalions. In order to ensure their loyalty to the king, the soldiers were always paid from the central treasure.

A Concluding Analysis – The Chhatrapati’s Enduring Achievements

Shivaji’s character is the most enigmatic of all the Hindu rulers in Indian history. Opinions regarding his contribution to the evolution of Indian history vary in the extreme. On the one hand there is a group of analysts who tend to relegate him to the place of a local Maratha chieftain who rebelled against the Mughals. This group completely ignores, or is unaware of, the role that Shivaji played in the Hindu revival in the 17th century. Another group on the other end of the spectrum deify Shivaji, going to the extreme of even declaring him an incarnation of Lord Shiva. The truth lies somewhere in between these extreme viewpoints. However, in the cacaphony of modern debate regarding his role and place in Indian history, Shivaji—the pragmatic man, the prince, the king, the military leader, the warlord, the Chhatrapati—as an individual is in danger of being lost without a trace.

This chapter is an attempt at ensuring that Shivaji, the human being, is not lost for posterity.

After the initial few years of his youth when he whiled away time in pure plunder and pillage, Shivaji set himself the objective of securing freedom for his countrymen, meaning the Hindus of the region that he controlled. Thereafter, every single action in his entire life was focused on achieving this absolute objective—freedom from oppression for the Hindus of the land. This was an exalted vision, which most of his contemporary chieftains and nobles were unable to grasp. Therefore, he was never able to garner sufficient strength and mass of support to mount a full-fledged rebellion against the Mughals. In fact, he had to content with Hindu nobles and Rajputs princes fighting against him on the side of the Mughals. By the late 17th century, the psyche of the Hindus had deteriorated and become one of servile service to the Muslim conquerors who were meekly accepted as the overlords and sultans.

Only after Shivaji’s untimely death was the next generation influenced by his vision and activities aimed at achieving freedom, although with limited success. Proof of this awakening in the succeeding generations can be seen in the manner in which the Mughals were gradually pushed back from South India and finally out of the Deccan itself. It was Shivaji who created the southern defensive line of forts from Bednur to Thanjavur—a line that held even when Aurangzeb brought the full might of the Mughal army to bear on it. It was from this line that the might of the Mughals was progressively whittled away and finally, inexorably driven back by the intrepid Maratha captains. The far-sightedness of the great emperor, bore fruit nearly 30 years after his death.

Some of Shivaji’s remarkable achievements are at times understated, or even unstated, by chroniclers. They need to be highlighted.

Creation of a Hindu Kingdom

The first and most important achievement is that Shivaji created a kingdom where none existed before. Across Indian history there would perhaps be a thousand dynasties that ruled, in different times and different regions, and each one would obviously have a founder. In such a broad assessment, Shivaji could be counted as yet another founder of a dynasty. However, there is a subtle difference between Shivaji and the other dynasty-founders. All the other founders had either declared independence from being strong vassals of a weak king or had dethroned an already ruling king. In either case, the incoming ‘founder’ inherited three entities: one, a territorially well-defined kingdom; two, a functioning, or at worst, a dysfunctional administrative apparatus; and three, and more importantly, an already constituted military force, even if it was of questionable effectiveness. In Shivaji’s case he did not inherit a kingdom or either of these state-building institutions. He had to build them from scratch. Further, unlike in the case of other dynasties, Shivaji from the beginning of his endeavour faced the opposition of the mighty Mughal Empire, as well as the powerful Deccan Shahi kingdoms, especially Bijapur and Golconda.

Shivaji did not have the power to even create a stalemate with any of these powers in direct confrontation and therefore, cleverly adopted asymmetric means—both in the battlefield and in pursuing diplomatic statecraft—to somewhat even the field. His attempts at winning Aurangzeb’s friendship, even temporarily and although it failed, must be understood from this aspect of nation-building. After 29 years of continuous struggle, he left behind a clearly defined embryo of a Hindu kingdom in the Deccan, where none had existed since the rise of the Bahmani Sultanate.

Redefining Victory

Shivaji’s second achievement was that he redefined the Hindu concept of ‘victory’ in battle and war. Traditionally, Hindu kings were forgiving of their defeated opponents, more often than not permitting them to retain their lands and military forces. Not only did such victories not add anything to the victor’s estate, but it also gifted an opportunity to the defeated opponent to recoup and give battle again. On the other hand, the ruthlessness of the invading Muslim armies was such that defeat was a catastrophic event for the Hindu kingdom, which could never hope to recover from the depredations, pillage, destruction and loot that followed the defeat. Shivaji understood this dichotomy and took measures to solve it. First, he ensured that every victory increased his territorial holdings, which meant that the adversary was deprived of territory. On the other hand, he was careful to ensure that even in instances where he suffered a setback, the overall strength of his forces was not diminished in any appreciable manner.

Since he studiously followed these two maxims, he had no qualms about withdrawing from battle when the tide was not flowing in his favour, resorting to rapid tactical retreats when necessary. Shivaji never lost sight of the fact that his aim was to gain territory and treasure, without suffering too heavy casualties. He was clear in his mind that there was no sense in dying to achieve these objectives for the sake of an archaic sense of ‘honour’, as traditionally defined by the Rajputs. The adoption of guerrilla tactics was a tacit acknowledgement of the changed realities. Shivaji could be considered to have single-handedly moved aside the Hindu concept of ‘chivalry’ in battle and brought in a pragmatic focus on victory based on perseverance, attrition and survival at all costs.

Intelligence Apparatus and Asymmetry

Shivaji created and effectively employed an intelligence apparatus, an aspect that had so far not been given sufficient importance by other Hindu rulers. He had analysed and concluded that the basic criteria for victory depended on being on the offensive, surprising the adversary and always retaining the initiative. It was also advantageous to ensure that battles were fought on enemy territory. In order to achieve these requirements, Shivaji realised the need to have a reliable intelligence network. Historically, Hindu kings were ignorant of enemy activities and invariably found themselves fighting battles on their territory. In these conditions, irrespective of the outcome of the battle, the damage was to the Hindu kingdom. By ensuring that his intelligence was sufficiently accurate, Shivaji upended this age-old paradigm—he carried the battle to the adversary, choosing the time and place of the battles that he would fight.

Shivaji optimised the intelligence inputs by surprising the adversary, employing asymmetric tactics and adopting guerrilla warfare. By fine-tuning hit and run tactics he enhanced the chances of achieving tactical goals that were aligned with the broader strategic objective. Shivaji’s adversaries were far superior to his Maratha forces in terms of conventional capabilities and he employed basic cunning to best a more powerful enemy. This included hiding his actual intent through deception. Shivaji demonstrated that a common and lightly equipped force could get the better of the mighty Mughal army and outlast them, by employing an asymmetric strategy.   

In an overarching analysis, it is seen that Aurangzeb did not suffer a defeat in 27 years of campaigning in the Deccan. However, it also remains true that even after winning battle after battle, Aurangzeb could not win the war or defeat the Marathas. After expending enormous resources, Aurangzeb at the end of the campaign was at the same place where he started, the Marathas continued to hold territory and had not been defeated as an entity—the Hindu kingdom had survived. On the other hand, the Mughal Empire had been so weakened that it would not survive much longer, the ill-conceived campaign had speeded its demise. After Shivaji’s death, the Marathas continued the fight to its logical conclusion.

Religious Tolerance

While being a staunch Hindu, Shivaji was also tolerant of other religions, especially Islam and its followers. With respect to the treatment of other religions, Shivaji is often compared to the Mughal ruler Akbar and his narrowly tolerant view of Hinduism. The analysts who tend to make this comparison and equate the two rulers do not take into account one fundamental factor. Akbar had no option but to be generous to the Hindus and bring them into the military and administration since he was attempting to forge an empire in a Hindu majority land. The stability and prosperity of his kingdom depended on the Hindu population being content and supportive. Of course, to his credit, Akbar managed to achieve this balance while continuing to rule for most of his reign as a decidedly ‘Muslim’ monarch. In fact, the beginning of the decline and fall of the Mughal dynasty can be traced to the time when his successors decided that the Hindus need not be kept on-side, and they could rule through sheer force of arms. The onset of this hubris was their undoing.

Shivaji on the other hand ruled a Hindu majority kingdom as a Hindu monarch. He had no need to appease the minority Muslim population, since they were not the mainstay of his kingdom. They were actually a susceptible encumbrance, especially because of the overt Islamic tilt of the Mughal Empire. Even so, Shivaji treated the Muslim subjects well because of an inborn sense of justice and generosity, not out of need as was the case of Akbar. It speaks volumes about his magnanimity and inherent sense of fairness that he did not enact a single law or rule in his kingdom that required the subject to be distinguished by his or her religion. It took Akbar more than a decade of rule to become the much touted ‘tolerant’ monarch, and that too after he had ruthlessly exterminated some of the more prominent Hindu dynasties. Even the abolition of the derogatory religious tax of Jaziya on the Hindus took more than a decade of rule. Relatively, Shivaji was on a much higher mental plane as far as religious tolerance went.

For a medieval Hindu king, struggling against overtly religious Muslim kings to establish his own kingdom, Shivaji’s stance on religion was remarkably futuristic, not seen before. Unfortunately, this exemplary aspect of the Chhatrapati’s character and rule remains largely unsung in all the myriad writings about him.

Welfare of the Subjects

In an age when the common people of a kingdom were almost always treated as objects rather than human beings, Shivaji stands out for his care and concern for the welfare of his subjects, especially in what has been earlier described as the territory of the inner circle or swaraj. Although he was at war for the entire duration of his adult life, Shivaji never levied any extra taxes to fund the wars, even though they were wars of necessity and not of choice. Even the enormous expenses incurred for his coronation were met from the central treasury without levying any tax on the common people of the kingdom. This was unusual behaviour in a medieval monarch.

Concluding Remarks

Shivaji was endowed with great organisational ability that he put to good use throughout his career. As he grew into manhood, he also displayed all the traits of an exemplary and accomplished statesman. However, he was an extremely modest man—even in the face of so much success in a lifetime, his mind was obviously very balanced, and he remained ‘grounded’ throughout his life. An example of his down-to-earth pragmatism can be seen in the fact that even when he continued to win battle after battle, he was acutely aware of the fact that he had not yet confronted the full might of the Mughal Empire.

Shivaji was a remarkable personality. Although not built in the classic pattern of a Hindu monarch, he more than demonstrated all the qualities of a king as described by Chanakya.  Shivaji was deeply religious without being a fanatic; extremely courageous and brave but never impulsive in battle; ambitious but pragmatic; a dreamer of lofty dreams but practical enough to trim the sails of his dreams to achieve reality.             

© [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)

One Response to “The Marathas Part 6 Shivaji Bhonsle Section VII: A Panegyric”

  1. Excellent piece Sanu. A much needed boost to correcting the numerous inaccuracies that have crept into Indian history.

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