Legend of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj

Shivaji Bhonsle, also known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was the founder of the Maratha Empire. He was born in Junnar in the Pune region in Maharashtra in 1627, in a period of war and famine. Shivaji was the son of Shahji Bhonsle and his influential wife Jijabai when much of India was in the hands of Muslim emperors. His father was a brilliant General, who served Adil Shah of Bijapur, Nijam Shah of Ahmadnagar and the Mughals.

Heavily inspired by Indian religious epic heroes, he undertook a mission to free his land from Islamic domination. He implements a strategy of guerrilla tactics allowing him in 1646 to capture a fort near Pune. His success enabled him to rally other tribes and attack the possessions of the Sultan of Bijapur and even to seize several forts.

At 20 years age, in 1647, he began to subvert the local authorities of Bijapur, rebelling against the Islamic gentry of the area, aiming to create an area for Marathis and independence around the city of Pune and so challenging all the great powers of the era that dominated the region from Adil Shahi of Bijapur to the Mughals.

The sultan sends an army under Afzal Khan, but Shivaji murders him through treachery during negotiations by means of tiger claws inside the Pratapgarh fort in 1659, and then seizing the Panhala fort and a stretch of the Konkan coast, between Mumbai and Goa, where he built and settled his fleet. Having lost its commander-in-chief, the army of Bijapur is thus defeated without difficulty.

The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb tried to co-opt Shivaji, who in the meantime had also conquered and plundered the important port of Surat in Gujarat. In 1660, Aurangzeb, worried about the growing power of Shivaji, sends him an army to seize Pune, the Maratha capital, but could not resist the counter-attack of the latter. In 1664, Shivaji pillaged Surat, an important trading port for the Mughals and where foreign counters were installed.

In the same year, he founded the Maratha Empire. Aurangzeb resolved to go to war the following year and the Mughal ruler then sent Jai Singh I of Amber with 15 thousand men to help stop once and for all the irrepressible Maratha insubordination.

Shivaji was defeated and then the two men signed a treaty of peace in 1665 by which Shivaji had to give up 23 of the 35 fortified fortresses he had seized which were until then unconquered and then Shivaji and his son Sambhaji was taken to Agra, in 1666, to pay homage to a sign of submission to the Mughal emperor, who, for his part, did not trust much of the sudden enslavement of the leader. He put Shivaji under arrest. Shivaji, disguised as a sadhu, however, managed to escape and returned to Pune and becoming instantly a legend that was never to fade between the Marathas.

Aurangzeb granted him the title of Maharaj in 1670 to coax him, but he rebelled again and pillaged Surat for the second time. In 1674, Shivaji underwent a series of rituals aimed at legitimizing the caste perspective of his royal aspirations and then proclaimed himself the king of the Maratha empire, while establishing the seat of his court at the Raigad Fort.

He continues to fight victoriously against the Mughals, against Bijapur, against the Portuguese of Goa, and even against the Abyssinian pirates, who make the coasts unsafe. He went back to war and conquered the forts of Vellore and Gingee, near present-day Madras, only to die of a disease in 1680 at Raigad, but not before passing the scepter to his eldest son Sambhaji, who once gave shelter and support to the rebellious son of Aurangzeb, Akbar.