June 6th, 1674. This day marked a history to be remembered for at least a thousand years if not forever. Probably for the first time after Chandragupta Maurya, a man with no royal family background was coroneted as a Chhatrapati. For the first time in previous 150 years, a truly native ruler backed by the truly native people had risen up to be the King. The next sentence might hurt those who love the left-narrated versions of Mughal history but I don’t care, because the truth was that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj became king against all odds set by the megalomaniac bigot, the imperialist monarch, the butcher of Hindus called Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb had lost his biggest battle the day Maharaj refused to bow down before him while throwing away his tray of gifts, coronation was just the symbolic and religious ceremony to embrace the fact. In our blog today, to celebrate the 350th year of Shivrajyabhishek in 2023, we’re going to take a look at why Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s Hindavi Swarajya was a foundation stone of India’s independence struggle.
Table of Contents
1. The rivalry between Aurangzeb and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
Perhaps only two people in 17th Century knew each other fully well, Aurangzeb and Shivaji Maharaj. You have to know how strong Aurangzeb was, and thus you’ll know how Shivaji Maharaj was even stronger.
During the reign of Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb was sent to conquer Deccan where Shivaji Maharaj was also laying strong foundation of Maratha Empire at the same time. Aurangzeb started conquering one after another forts of Adil Shahi. At the Siege of Bidar in 1657, it was Adil Shah’s strongest commander, Afzal Khan who captured Aurangzeb. Note that Aurangzeb begged for mercy, tried threatening with taking his father’s name but Afzal Khan wouldn’t listen. However, the then Army Chief of Adil Shahi, Khan Mohammad was feared enough with the threat of Shah Jahan. He gave safe passage to Aurangzeb and thus Aurangzeb fled the sight. 2 years later in 1959, this same Afzal Khan approached Shivaji Maharaj with a massive 40,000 army, 3000+ cavalry, 1600 cannons, 85+ elephants and a promise that He’ll capture King Shivaji dead or alive without even descending from his horse. We all know what happened on 10th November 1659, this invincible, cruel, mighty Afzal Khan was ripped open by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on broad daylight and his army was defeated, many killed, some managed to flee.
This was noted by Aurangzeb and he very well knew that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was going to be a threat for him in future. That’s why, he sent his invincible commander and his maternal uncle Shaista Khan with an army of 1,00,000 to Pune in 1660. By the time, Maharaj had already finished more than half of Adil Shahi but was stuck at Rajgad with less manpower. Shaista Khan committed horrendous atrocities on people of Pune and nearby, deliberately so, to bring Shivaji Maharaj out of the mountains. He saw what happened to Afzal Khan when he entered Maharaj’s mountains. That’s why he was risking nothing from his side. Maharaj defeated all his army raids and blocked their passages to Konkan. He deliberately sent the defeated soldiers back alive so that Shaista Khan gets depressed to see himself losing, to defeat his courage. On a fine night in 1663, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj did a surgical strike on Shaista Khan and cut 3 of his fingers. Shaista Khan fled with all of his army and tails between his legs. This was a big psychological and military win for Shivaji Maharaj and a direct message to Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb started his reign in 1658 after killing his own brothers and imprisoning his father. He committed atrocities against Sikhs, their Gurus, erased Hindu temples and killed many Hindus, re-imposed Jaziya, a tax for non-Muslims to practice their religions, which was earlier abolished by his grandfather Akbar. Entire North India under Aurangzeb was traumatized, feared, terrorized and no one dared to speak against him.
After losing the Shaista Khan chapter, Aurangzeb played a brilliant card by sending Mirza Raja Jaisingh to defeat Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The battle and siege of Purandar resulted in a treaty, as Maharaj avoided potential loss coming out of a full-scale war. Maharaj lost 23 forts to Mughals.
2. The Agra Chapter – Turning Point of Indian Medieval History
Afterwards in 1666, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was invited to Agra for Aurangzeb’s birth anniversary. Here’s a catch, Aurangzeb was a well-known deceiver and it wasn’t surprising for Shivaji Maharaj as he had around 5000 spies in his employment. Maharaj knew what Aurangzeb would do to the rival who killed the mighty Afzal Khan in broad daylight and made the strongest Mughal Commander flee in just a surgical strike. Aurangzeb did have plans, so did Shivaji Maharaj. And this is why, we need to understand what exactly was happening between them, and how this Agra chapter made Shivaji Maharaj the ultimate power, despite having a way smaller Empire than that of Aurangzeb.
From what I understand, Aurangzeb wanted Shivaji Maharaj to submit before him as a Mansabdar (Ruler under patronage) and was not ready to treat him as a King of equal merits.
That’s why he deliberately positioned him backward in his court when arrived, and treated him like a Mansabdar. Shivaji Maharaj reacted furiously and what he did next, marked the beginning of end for Mughal Empire. He threw away the Qillat (gift) offered by Aurangzeb, refused to perform Kurnisht (a symbolic gesture of submission) and spoke against him eye-to-eye. Remember, the court was full of rulers all across India and nobody was allowed even to look at Aurangzeb, let alone be speaking eye-to-eye and insulting him. This sheer action by Shivaji Maharaj spread like a bullet in every corner of Agra and later, everywhere in North India. People got to know that Mughals could very much be challenged and their Messiah is none other than a Maratha King from Deccan called Shivaji Raje Bhosale.
Aurangzeb held Maharaj captive for this so called “Ghustakhi” and planned to kill him, but Shivaji Raje escaped under the nose of Aurangzeb and returned safely to Deccan. By the time he returned, entire India was aware of him and his bravery. When he killed Afzal, ballads were sung in entire South India and this Agra Chapter made him a Hero in North India.
Here is one more thing to note, that Shivaji Maharaj was brave enough to face and insult Aurangzeb in his court despite having no one on his side, while the mighty Aurangzeb did not even try to enter Deccan until after Shivaji Maharaj passed away. This is the difference between a Tyrant and a true King. Aurangzeb very well knew that people loved Shivaji Maharaj. They backed him in Deccan and so would they do in North India as well. A few alliances on his side and Shivaji Maharaj would march on Delhi at his own pace and will. Aurangzeb wanted to stop all these, and that is the exact reason he spent 27 out of 50 of his years of reign just to demolish Hindavi Swarajya. Yes, you heard it right, he thrown away his Crown “Kimansh” swearing that he’ll wear it only when he destroys Maratha Kingdom root and stem, he died without the crown on his head. That’s the legacy that Shivaji Maharaj had left behind.
3. The Coronation or “Rajyabhishek”
Aurangzeb did everything in his capacity to stop Shivaji Maharaj from getting coronated. He bought Brahmins of Deccan to declare Maharaj a Shudra, Maharaj called the biggest Brahmin of the era “Gaga Bhatt” from Kashi to coronate himself. Gaga Bhatt declared Maharaj to be of pure Suryawanshi Rajput lineage, related to that of Maharana Pratap. The coronation happened as planned at the new Capital of Swrajya called Raigad. Many people including two British East India Company officers had attended the ceremony. Shivaji Maharaj had taken care of purifying the Marathi language, that the burden of coronation expenses would not fall on shoulders of his subjects and releasing his currency with a Sanskrit quote written on it. He also started a calendar named “Shivshak”. Shivaji Maharaj became Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj with titles such as “GoBrahmanPratiPalak”, “PraudhPratapPurandara”, “Kshatriyakulavatans”, “Maharajadhiraj”, “Yogiraj”, “Gajapati”, “Ashwapati”. Remember folks, he was not born a King, neither seized any throne by killing his own brothers, he became King because his people believed in him, fought for him and died for him.
4. The Ram-Rajya of Swarajya
Shivaji Maharaj’s Hindavi Swarajya was truly a remarkable Kingdom. Despite being small on territory and revenue, Maharaj’s soldiers had the best salaries. His officers were strictly warned for not taking even a stem from farmers without paying them adequately. The soldiers were warned not to touch even a leaf of grass of farmers on any mission, and if you must, you must compensate. Shivaji Maharaj did not even spare his uncle when he came to know about his corruption. He exempted taxes on many occasions such as droughts, hailstorm and even on festivals.
During the 6 years followed by coronation, Shivaji Maharaj continued his conquest southwards and liberated people from the cruel Adil Shah and Bahamani Sultunate. He extended his empire all towards Gingi and Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. In his own words, “अहत तंजावर, तहत पेशावर, हे हिंदवी स्वराज्य व्हावे, हे तो श्रींची इच्छा!”, Meaning it is God’s will to have an indigenous rule from Thanjavur to all the way Peshawar.
While Aurangzeb was a religious fanatic, Shivaji Maharaj never hated, neither did he discriminate based on religion. He very well knew the difference between protection of motherland, culture, Dharma and invasion, butchery and bigotry.
5. After the Demise of Shivaji Maharaj
The news reached Aurangzeb and he came running towards Deccan in 1681. He wanted to demolish the Maratha Kingdom. He thought the Marathas would become weak after the demise of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, turned out his son was a lion. For 9 years straight, Aurangzeb fought more than 100 battles with Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj and lost all of them. He was seeing himself lose and thus got impatient. He captured Sambhaji Maharaj by deception and killed him mercilessly after torturing him for 40 days. He then burnt down the Capital of Swarajya “Raigad”, captured Sambhaji Maharaj’s wife and brother. He hoped at least then he would triumph, turned out a 25-year-old widow queen, Shivaji Maharaj’s daughter in law, Queen Tararani made him drink the water of all the ponds of Sahyadri and continued the resistance. They say Aurangzeb died of old age in 1707, but I am pretty sure he died of ego crash seeing himself lose against a widow queen.
Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath made sure that the Mughal lineage destroys by placing a dummy prince on Delhi throne with the help of a Mughal commander he befriended. He then seized all the territory for Marathas and confined Mughals to the borders of Delhi. We all know what his son, Peshwa Bajirao-I did in his conquest. Even after losing in Panipat war, Marathas made sure Abdali won’t return for next 50 years. Marathas made Abdali flee in the earlier conquest and had set their flags beyond the borders of Attock, present day Pakistan. Thus, the descendants of Shivaji Maharaj, both biological and ideological, fulfilled the wish of Shivaji Maharaj’s “Peshawar to Thanjavur Hindavi Swarajya”. It is the Marathas from whom Britishers took control of India. The Duke of Wellington had famously said that defeating Napoleon was much easier than defeating the Marathas. This is the legacy of the man who dared enough to challenge the mightiest empire in the world by throwing away his gifts and by refusing to submit. This is the legacy of a man who built a Kingdom for the welfare of people. This is why Shivaji Maharaj is the most important and greatest ruler India has seen in a thousand years.
6. Influence on Freedom Struggle and Social Reforms
The First War of Independence was led by Queen of Jhansi, Rani Laxmi Bai, who herself was a Queen of Maratha Kingdom of Jhansi, and thus a devout follower of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Other great freedom fighters such as Lokmanya Tilak, Subhash Chandra Bose, Swatantrya Veer Savarkar, Birsa Munda, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Chaphekar Brothers etc were all influenced by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and had clearly mentioned it. Social Reformers like Mahatma Phule, Dr. B R Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj (who himself was a King in Shivaji Maharaj’s lineage) had also referred to Shivaji Maharaj on many occasions. Philosophers like Swami Vivekananda and Shri Aurobindo Swami were staunch followers of Shivaji Maharaj’s ideology and work. In fact, Shri Aurobindo Swami referred Shivaji Maharaj as a Vibhuti, without whom our entire civilization would have wiped out from this planet, just like it did in present day Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even after the independence of India, The Sanyukta Maharashtra Chalval, The Mill Workers Protests and even the protests against Emergency drew motivation from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Shivaji Maharaj is still alive in the ignited Marathi minds, in the ignited Indian minds and will always empower those who fight against injustice.
“दावा दृमदंड पर, चीता मृगझुंड पर, भूषण वितुंड पर, जैसे मृगराज है; तेज तम अंस पर, कान्हा जिमी कंस पर, त्यों मलिछ बंस पर, सेर शिवराज है!!” - Kavi Bhushan (Shivaji Maharaj’s Court Poet)
जय भवानी जय शिवराय,