Śivājī


Śivājī

▪ Indian king
Introduction
also spelled  Shivājī  
born Feb. 19, 1630, or April 1627, Shivner, Pune, India
died April 3, 1680, Rājgarh

      Indian king (reigned 1674–80), founder of the Marāthā (Marāṭhā) kingdom of India. This kingdom's security was based on religious toleration and on the functional integration of the Brahmans, Marāthās, and Prabhus.

Early life and exploits
      Śivājī was descended from a line of prominent nobles. India at that time was under Muslim rule: the Mughals (Mughal Dynasty) in the north and the Muslim sultans of Bijāpur and Golkundā in the south. All three ruled by right of conquest, with no pretense that they had any obligations toward the ruled. Śivājī, whose ancestral estates were situated in the Deccan, in the realm of the Bijāpur sultans, found the Muslim oppression and religious persecution of the Hindus so intolerable that, by the time he was 16, he had already convinced himself that he was the divinely appointed instrument of the cause of Hindu freedom—a conviction that was to sustain him throughout his life.

      Collecting a band of followers, he began about 1655 to seize the weaker Bijāpur (Bijapur) outposts. In the process, he destroyed a few of his influential coreligionists who had aligned themselves with the sultans. All the same, his daring and military skill, combined with his sternness toward the oppressors of the Hindus, won him the heart and mind of the common man. His depredations grew increasingly audacious, and several minor expeditions sent to chastise him proved ineffective.

      When the sultan of Bijāpur, in 1659, sent against him an army of 20,000 under Afẕal Khān, Śivājī, pretending to be intimidated, enticed the force deep into difficult mountain terrain and then killed Afẕal Khān at a meeting to which he had lured him by submissive appeals. Meanwhile, handpicked troops that had been previously positioned swooped down on the unwary Bijāpur army and routed it. Overnight, Śivājī had become a formidable warlord, possessing the horses, the guns, and the ammunition of the Bijāpur army.

      Alarmed by Śivājī's rising strength, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb ordered his viceroy of the south to march against him. Śivājī countered by carrying out a daring midnight raid right within the viceroy's encampment, in which the viceroy lost the fingers of one hand and his son was killed. Discomfited by this reverse, the viceroy withdrew his force. Śivājī, as though to provoke the Mughals further, attacked the rich coastal town of Surat and took immense booty.

      Aurangzeb could hardly ignore so flaunting a challenge and sent out his most prominent general, Mīrza Raja Jai Singh, at the head of an army said to number some 100,000 men. The pressure that was exerted by this vast force, combined with the drive and tenacity of Jai Singh, soon compelled Śivājī to sue for peace and to undertake that he and his son would attend Aurangzeb's court at Āgra in order to be formally accepted as Mughal vassals. In Āgra, hundreds of miles from their homeland, Śivājī and his son were placed under house arrest, where they lived under the threat of execution.

Escape from Āgra.
      Undaunted, Śivājī feigned illness and, as a form of penance, began to send out enormous baskets filled with sweets to be distributed among the poor. On Aug. 17, 1666, he and his son had themselves carried past their guards in these baskets. His escape, possibly the most thrilling episode in a life filled with high drama, was to change the course of Indian history. His followers welcomed him back as their leader, and within two years he not only had won back all the lost territory but had expanded his domain. He collected tribute from Mughal districts and plundered their rich mart; he reorganized the army and instituted reforms for the welfare of his subjects. Taking a lesson from the Portuguese and English traders who had already gained toeholds in India, he began the building of a naval force and was thus the first Indian ruler in modern times to appreciate that sea power was essential for trade as well as defense.

      Almost as though prodded by Śivājī's meteoric rise, Aurangzeb intensified his persecution of Hindus; he imposed a poll tax on them, connived at forcible conversions, and demolished temples, erecting mosques in their places.

Independent sovereign.
      In the summer of 1674, Śivājī had himself enthroned with great fanfare as an independent sovereign. The suppressed Hindu majority rallied to him as their leader. He ruled his domain for six years, through a cabinet of eight ministers. A devout Hindu who prided himself as the protector of his religion, he broke tradition by commanding that two of his relatives, who had been forcibly converted to Islām, should be taken back into the Hindu fold (Hinduism admits no converts); yet even though both Christians and Muslims often imposed their creeds on the populace by force, he respected the beliefs and protected the places of worship of both communities. Many Muslims were in his service. After his coronation, his most noteworthy campaign was in the south, during which he forged an alliance with the sultans and thereby blocked the grand design of the Mughals to spread their rule over the entire subcontinent.

      Śivājī had several wives and two sons. His last years were shadowed by the apostasy of his elder son, who, at one stage, defected to the Mughals and was brought back only with the utmost difficulty. The strain of guarding his kingdom from its enemies in the face of bitter domestic strife and discord among his ministers hastened his end. The man Macaulay called “the Great Śivājī” died after an illness in April 1680, in the mountain stronghold of Rājgarh, which he had made his capital.

      Śivājī breathed new life into a moribund race that for centuries had resigned itself to abject serfdom and led them against Aurangzeb, a powerful Mughal ruler. Above all, in a place and age stained by religious savagery, he stands almost alone as one who practiced true religious tolerance.

Ranjit Ramchandra Desai

Additional Reading
Jadunath Sarkar, Shivaji and His Times, 6th ed., rev. and enlarged (1961), is a study by one of the greatest authorities, based chiefly on Persian sources. See also H.G. Rawlinson, Shivájí the Maráthá: His Life and Times (1915, reprinted 1984); N.S. Takakhav, The Life of Shivaji Mahari, Founder of the Maratha Empire (1921, reissued as Life of Shiraji, 2 vol., 1985), based mainly on Marāṭhi sources; and V.B. Kulkarni, Shjivaji: The Portrait of a Patriot (1963).

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Universalium. 2010.

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