Chhatrapati Shivajiraje Bhonsle was a seventeenth-century king who ruled the Maratha kingdom of India from 1643 to 1680. This is history, but what stumps most people who do not belong to the state of Maharashtra is the level of devotion that Maharashtrian people carry in their hearts for this heroic King.
If you insult a Maharashtrian chances are that he will be angry but he will not retaliate. He might argue with you without becoming violent. But insult Chhatrapati Shivaji and any Maharashtrian worth his salt will turn upon you with a vengeance you cannot even imagine.
Non-Maharashtrian people are generally taken aback by this strange adulation for a King. Even I do not have an answer but I like to think that those who find reverence for Shivaji a mystery perhaps do not have any heroic king to revere. No offence intended, but in order to understand why Maharashtrians adore Shivaji, you at least need to be informed about his achievements.
In the seventeenth century, almost the entire Indian peninsula was ruled by Muslim kings. The Hindus, the majority population of this peninsula, were persecuted and had to pay heavy taxes.
The Mahratta clan, who were largely warriors, served Muslim sultans like the Nizamshahi and the Adilshahi kingdoms. The aam aadmi, or common man was not happy because the Muslim rulers imposed heavy taxes, desecrated their temples and raped their women.
Shahaji Bhonsle alternately served under both these rulers. His second wife Jijabai was sent to Pune where Shivaji was born. It is claimed that Jijabai sowed the seeds of an independent kingdom in the heart of Shivaji right from his childhood. She found an able ally in his tutor, Dadaji Konddeo, who helped Shivaji master the art of sword fighting as well as the art of warfare.
Shahaji spent his entire life serving Muslim kings but Jijabai wanted Shivaji to toe a different line. At the age of 16, egged on by his mother and tutor, Shivaji captured a small fort, Torna with the help of a handful of Marathas.
So what? might be the common refrain. So the fact is, his father did not stand behind him in his endeavor. So he won the fort without even 50 soldiers. So these teenagers had nothing except swords and dandpattas. So they used stealth and surprised the killedar, or the fort-keeper, but they did not kill anyone.
From that small fort, Shivaji went on to bring a large territory from coastal Maharashtra to Nagpur in the east and as far as Jinji in the South.
Still, what makes Shivaji so great? Shivaji is considered great because he fought powerful Muslim Kings whose armies ran into tens and hundreds of thousands of soldiers with horses and backed by cannons while he led an army of hardly a few hundreds in the beginning. He is considered great because he used guerilla tactics of warfare, knowing that he could never match his adversaries head to head. He is considered a pathbreaker because before him, no Maratha warrior, in spite of being great fighters, had dreamt of establishing their own kingdom.
Shivaji protected the people of his kingdom. The aam aadmi was not afraid of the enemy without as well as the enemy within. Shivaji established a fair method of collecting taxes and gave tax relief to citizens who deserved it. Under his rule, Hindus were not allowed to ill-treat Muslims. He killed Afzal Khan, the man Adil Shah II had sent to capture Shivaji dead or alive. Upon his death, Shivaji had him buried with full honours and built a mausoleum for him.
If you read the histories of various Kings of the world, you will find that whenever great kings attacked neighbouring kingdoms, their victorious soldiers would loot the vanquished and rape their women. Shivaji is the only King in the history of the world who had warned his soldiers not to “loot and kill the defeated people” and announced the death sentence for any soldier who raped women from the enemy camp.
It was Shivaji who created the Maratha Kingdom. He gave the Marathas an identity. He gave them a legacy of valor and pride in oneself. He was an inspiration for more than five generations of Maratha rulers. There was a period when the Marathas even conquered Delhi and all but dug a grave for the Mughal empire. If it had not been for Shivaji, the Marathas would probably have been a brief blimp on the radar of history.
The French traveller Francois Bernier wrote in his Travels in Mughal India:
“I forgot to mention that during pillage of Sourate, Seva-ji, the Holy Seva-ji! Respected the habitation of the reverend father Ambrose, the Capuchin missionary. ‘The Frankish Padres are good men’, he said ‘and shall not be attacked.’ He spared also the house of a deceased Delale or Gentile broker, of the Dutch, because assured that he had been very charitable while alive.”
Picture courtesy: Shivray.com