The Rise of the Marathas – Shivaji

Chatrapati Shivaji

The Early Life of Shivaji:

  • Maharashtra is a mountainous country with many easily defended hill-forts and a bracing climate. Though the soil is poor, no more fitting birthplace for warlike peoples could be imagined. Its sparse population was noted for bravery, self-reliance, perseverance and simplicity. The Maratha people created an independent State under the leadership of Shivaji, late in the seventeenth century.

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj

Chatrapati Shivaji

Image: Youth Corner

  • Maratha nationalism of this time was based partly on the great bhakti literature of Maharashtra which abounded in popular songs of great force and for the rest on the military training the people and their leaders got in the service of Bijapur. Jnanadeva, Ekanath and Tukaram were household names, and Ramdas was the spiritual guide of Shivaji himself.
  • Shivaji was the son of Shahji Bhonsle who had risen from the position of a small jagirdar under the sultans of Ahmadnagar to that of a king-maker. We have noted that in 1636 Shahji was defeated by Shah Jahan. After this defeat he became one of the leading Hindu generals of Adil Shahi Government of Bijapur. Shivaji was born in 1627 and by time he was sixteen he became quite famous.
  • Shivaji’s love of adventure, his knowledge of popular ballads and his exciting raids leading the sturdy Marathas, his intimate acquaintance with every footpath and defile in that mountain country, his horsemanship and statesmanship were on the tongues of all. He got from his father his holdings in the Poona district. His half-brother Venkoji also called Ekoji occupied Shahji’s acquisitions in Mysore and the Arcot district.

The Rise of Shivaji

  • Shahji neglected Shivaji’s mother, leaving both mother and son under the care of Dadoji Konddev, an honest and shrewd brahman who looked after the Poona estates of Shahji. Shivaji under this teacher learnt fighting, riding and other accomplishments.
  • Shivaji had good training in the art of administration. Shivaji’s mother taught him the old Puranic and epic legends of bravery and war. She was largely responsible for inspiring in him a determination to defend the Hindu dharma against the inroads of Islam.
  • In 1647 Shivaji became his own master at the age of 20, He gained many forts from their hereditary owners or the local officers of Bijapur. He applied both force and diplomacy in capturing the forts. Poona had originally belonged to Ahmadnagar and had not reconciled itself to the rule of Bijapur. This circumstance was favourable to Shivaji.
  • Moreover, Muhammad Adil Shah of Bijapur (1646-56) suffered from prolonged illness. His regents were selfish and in a way encouraged Shivaji in his enterprises. In two years (1646-47) he captured Torna, 20 miles south-west of Poona and seized other forts including Purandar.
  • The court at Bijapur attempted remonstrance, imprisoned poor Shahji and threatened to wall him up unless Shivaji repented of his errors. Now Shivaji resorted to diplomacy, and offered his services to Shah Jahan through Prince Murad, then the viceroy of the Deccan and requested the emperor to get the release of his father.
  • In 1649 Shahji was released on condition that he would check his son. Shivaji stayed his hand against Bijapur for the next five or six years. By 1656 Shivaji had more than doubled the extent of the heritage under him. His revenue was also doubled.
  • In 1657 taking advantage of the Deccan viceroy Aurangzeb’s invasion of Bijipur, Shivaji raided the districts of Ahmadnagar and Junnar. But Aurangzeb’s army took him by surprise and routed his troops.
  • When Adil Shah made peace with Aurangzeb, Shivaji had to submit to the emperor. Shivaji then turned his attention to the strip lying between the Western Ghats and the sea, called Konkan. The territory from Kalyan up to Mahad in the south fell into Shivaji’s hands. So Bijapur had to act against Shivaji.


  • He is a veteran officer, was sent by the sultan of Bajipur ‘to bring back the rebel Shivaji, dead or alive’. Afzal Khan had under him 10,000 cavalries. He fixed his camp at Wai about 15 miles due east of Pratapgad where Sivaji had taken up his residence. Afzal Khan opened negotiations through a Maratha brahman Krishnaji Bhaskar and invited Shivaji to a conference. There are several versions of what happened when Shivaji met Afzal Khan; but they need not detain us.
  • With the death of Afzal Khan, the troops of Bijapur fell into a state of confusion and Sivaji’s troops that had been lying in ambush came forth and completely routed the Bijapur army (20 November 1659). For the next three years, the war with Bijapur continued unabated.
  • Sivaji captured important places southward of Panhala and along the banks of the Krishna. He defeated the Bijapur while his generals plundered the rich sea-port of Rajpur. Shahji was still alive and Bijapur government sent him to negotiate with his son. The sultan acknowledges Shivaji as the ruler of the territories he had won in the last few years.

Shivaji killing Afzal khan

Image: ve65.blogspot


  • In 1660 Aurangzeb sent Shaista Khan, a veteran general, as governor of the Deccan with instructions to suppress Shivaji. His army was harassed by the Marathas. Shaista Khan retired to Poona for the monsoon. Meanwhile Sivaji rapidly extended his conquests down the coast strip up to Kharepatan but in 1661 he lost Kalyan to the Mughals.
  • During the next two years, there were indecisive skirmishes. In April 1663 Shivaji with great secrecy managed to get into Shaista Khan’s residence at Poona at midnight with a picked band of 400 soldiers to attack the Khan.
  • In his attempts to escape the Khan lost three fingers. Sivaji took all those in his residence as captives. Shaista Khan retired to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb recalled him, charging him with negligence and incapacity.
  • In 1664 Shivaji attacked the rich city of Surat almost unchecked, for the Mughal governor had fled. However, the English, Dutch and French factories in Surat defended themselves successfully. Two-thirds of Surat was destroyed by fire and the Maratha plunder exceeded ten million rupees.

Shivaji Killing Shaista khanImage: haribhakt


  • Aurangzeb sent Jai Singh of Amber to punish Sivaji (1665). He laid siege to Purandar where the families of Maratha officers had sought refuge. The Mughal cavalry ravaged the Maratha villages and even threatened Raigarh.
  • Shivaji realizing the futility of further resistance met Jai Singh in person and made with him the treaty of Purandar (June 1665). According to this, Shivaji ceded to the emperor 23 forts and retained for himself 12 forts.
  • He acknowledged himself to be a vassal of the emperor and promised to send a contingent of 5,000 horse to serve in the Mughal ranks in the Deccan. Sivaji allowed himself to be persuaded by Jai Singh to pay a visit to Aurangzeb’s court at Agra.
  • When he went there, he was not received in the manner he had expected. A Venetian contemporary, Niccolao Manucci had described Shivaji’s reception in Storia do Mogor:
  • Upon Sivaji’s arrival at Agra the king caused him to appear in his presence, and instead of giving him the promised position, which was to be the highest in his audience-hall, he caused him to be assigned the lowest place in the first circle of nobles within the golden railing.
  • Sivaji was much hurt at this deed of Aurangzeb’s which did not conform to the promises received; and angry (so to speak) at being still alive, he said resolutely to Aurangzeb that the position allotted was not according to that promised to him under oath, nor to the agreement made with Raja Jai Singh.
  • From this his first reception, he could well surmise what would come to pass thereafter. Let Aurangzeb remember that the officers in His Majesty’s presence, except for Namdar Khan, who was a good soldier, the rest of them were so many old women, whom he had overcome in the field with the greatest ease. Thus, not one of them deserved the position he held. Then in anger he came out.’
  • Aurangzeb had Sivaji arrested and put in prison. Shivaji’s appeals for leave to return home went unheeded. After three months of captivity Shivaji slipped out of Agra along with his son, both of them deceiving the guards.
  • By way of Mathura, Allahabad, Banaras, Gaya and Telingana Shivaji reached home on 30 November 1666 after an absence of nine months. Aurangzeb’s contempt for an alliance with Shivaji made him lose the best chance of restoring tranquillity in the Deccan.


  • Raja Jai Singh was engaged in subduing the Bijapur kingdom and was suddenly recalled in 1667. He died on his way at Burhanpur probably poisoned by his son Kirat Singh at the instigation of Aurangzeb.
  • Raja Jaswant Singh was sent to the Deccan in place of Jai Singh. This change was in favour of Sivaji, for Jaswant Singh was inclined to be friendly to him. This was the time when the Mughal troops were withdrawn for service on the North-west frontier.
  • In the decade that followed his escape from Agra, Sivaji built up his possessions and he organized the internal administration of his territory making peace with the Mughal government. Jaswant Singh and Prince Shah Alam persuaded Aurangzeb to recognize Sivaji’s title of Raja and Aurangzeb did so.
  • Sambhu ji (Shivaji’s son) was given the rank of a mansabdar of 5,000. Shivaji got a jagir of Berar in settlement of his claims to chauth (one-fourth of the land revenue) in the Ahmadnagar territories. But in 1670 Shivaji fell out with the Mughals again, and recovered all the forts that he had given up to them five years back.
  • He frequently went on plundering raids into the Mughal territory in the Deccan. He raided Surat a second time in October 1670. The trade of the greatest port of India was thus ruined. Shivaji raided in the Mughal provinces, Baghlan, Khandesh and Berar besides Aurangabad and captured many hill-forts.
  • There were dissensions among the Mughal commanders which resulted in their repeated defeats. Aurangzeb removed Jaswant Singh and Prince Muazzam from the Deccan. He sent Bahadur Khan Jahan in 1674 and Mahabat Khan in their place. But this change brought no advantage to Aurangzeb.
  • Sivaji continued to make annexations. He permanently occupied Koli country  south of Surat. In December 1672 Ali adil Shah II of Bijapur died and this enabled Shivaji to sack Hubli, capture Karwar and Ankola and gain other places at the expense of Bijapur.

Raja Jai SinghImage: dailyo


  • In 1676-77, Sivaji prepared and completed the ‘most important expedition of his life’. With 30,000 cavalries and 40,000 infantry he reached Golconda. Abul Hasan Qutb Shah and his two brahman ministers conspired with Shivaji and prepared a scheme to capture the possessions of Bijapur in the Carnatic and divide them between themselves.
  • Shivaji left golconda for the Carnatic. Passing Madras he persuaded the brothers who held Jinji to surrender that strong fortress to him. Shivaji appointed one of his officers to the command of the fort.
  • He established his own system of administration in the surrounding territory. He captured Tiruvannamalai and Vellore in the Carnatic, which had been assigned to Shahji. In accordance with a treaty with his brother Ekoji, the territories in Mysore were presented to Dipa Bai, wife of Ekoji.
  • Tanjore and the adjoining districts were given to Ekoji. In this way Sivaji successfully displaced the suzerainty of Bijapur in the south by his own. In the rest of possessions of Bijapur in the Carnatic, Shivaji levied chauth and sardeshmukhi (additional tenth of the revenue).
  • If these were withheld he plundered the country. Shivaji’s conquests in the Madras, Carnatic and Mysore plateau were estimated to cover ‘60 leagues by 40 and to yield 20 lakhs of huns a year, with 100 forts’.


  • Success and prosperity emboldened Sivaji to assume formal sovereignty in the Hindu traditional manner. Shivaji crowned himself Chhatrapati, king of kings, at a grand durbar held at Raigarh with full Vedic rites after he had been declared a true Kshatriya on undergoing a purificatory ceremony.
  • Learned brahmins from all over India under the leadership of the celebrated Gaga Bhatta of Banaras, officiated at the ceremonies. He was constantly engaged in hostilities with the Mughals and with Bijapur during the remaining six years.

Rajgarh Fort - Chatrapati Shivaji MaharajImage: dailyo


Towards the end of 1679 Sivaji had a severe reverse in an engagement with the Mughal forces. He did not long survive this reverse. On 2 April 1680 Shivaji developed fever and dysentery and died 14th at the age of fifty-three.

Government under Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj

  • It is a matter of no small credit to Sivaji that he should have built up a large and well-equipped kingdom with an estimated annual revenue of nine crores of rupees, at the time when the Mughal empire was at its full strength and zenith under one of its ablest monarchs.
  • For the preservation of Hindu religion and culture Sivaji welded the Marathas into a mighty nation. His spiritual guides were Tukaram and Ramdas. He had a formidable belief that he was the favourite of Goddess Bhavani. Khafi Khan a very unfriendly chronicler to Shivaji bears testimony to his spiritual virtues.
  • He says that Sivaji ‘introduced a rule that whenever his followers went plundering, they must not destroy the mosques, Book of God or the women of any one. Whenever a copy of the sacred Koran came into his hands, he treated it with respect and gave it to some of his Muslim followers’.
  • Again, ‘he was careful to maintain the honour of the women and children of Muslim when they fell into his hands. His injunctions upon this point were very strict and anyone who disobeyed them received punishment’.
  • Sivaji maintained strict discipline in the army. No soldier was allowed to take with him wife or mistress. Any infringement of this rule meant death. The army officials were well graded. A nayak commanded a squad of ten men.Over five nayaks there was havildar; over two or three havildars there was one jumladar and over ten jumladars one hazari.
  • There were seven hazaris with the sar-i-naubat (senapati) of infantry at the head. For the cavalry, there was a separate chief. Sivaji disliked the jagir system and preferred to pay his men salaries in cash. Shivaji took great care to see that his commandants were not corrupt.
  • The campaigning season began after Dasra in October and lasted till about April. He had a considerable fleet stationed at Colaba to check the power of the Abyssinian pirate chiefs and to plunder the rich Mughal ships.
  • Sivaji’s government was in accordance with the principles laid down by Kautilya and the dharmasastras. The Council of State consisted of eight ministers. There were eighteen different departments of public service. The kingdom was divided into three provinces, each under a viceroy.
  • The ancient institutions of the panchayat was preserved intact. The panchayats decided the minor civil disputes. Land was carefully measured. The State levied of the estimated produce as a tax. Agriculturists were assisted by advances for the purchase of seed and cattle, if they were settled on uncultivated lands.
  • Sivaji gave up the farming system. A regularly paid government staff collected the revenue. The rules of land revenue applied to territories under the direct rule of Shivaji called swaraj. The areas under Muslim rule known as Mughlai territory were subject to chauth and sardeshmukhi.
  • All clerical and account work was in the hands of brahmins. Learning the three R’s was considered unworthy of a soldier and so the Marathas did not care to learn to read or write. Sivaji too was an illiterate.


  • Aurangzeb found no relief after the death of Sivaji. He found the Maratha people determined to get rid of the Muslim rule altogether. In the face of a hostile faction which supported Rajaram, his young step-brother, Sambhaji succeeded to the throne.
  • Sambhaji was a daring soldier like his father but he lacked his other virtues. The rebel Prince Akbar was Sambhaji’s guest. Bijapur and Golkonda were still independent. Thinking that his personal supervision alone would bring the Deccan under Mughal control, Aurangzeb came into the Deccan with a large army. In 1682, he reached Aurangabad and made it the imperial camp.

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