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A lot has been written about Chhatrapati Shivaji’s battles and military successes, viz. the slaying of the giant Afzal Khan, the night raid on Shaista Khan, the defeat of Kartalab Khan in Umbarkhind and many such battles. A lot too has been written about his escape from Agra and his coronation. These are the stories we grew up on but let me share some of the lesser known facts about Chhatrapati Shivaji with you:

Shivaji’s birth and siblings

Shivaji was the second son of his mother Jijabai. Shivaji’s elder brother was Sambhaji Bhosale. Jijabai, unfortunately, lost several children after Sambhaji’s birth. At long last, a child born on 19th February 1630, survived. According to legend, Jijabai named him ‘Shiva’ after the Goddess Shivai, to whom she had begged for a son. This son went on to change the history of the country!

Shivaji’s elder brother Sambhaji died in battle in 1654 and it is widely believed that Afzal Khan plotted his downfall. Shivaji’s elder son was born in 1657 and was named after his deceased uncle as ‘Sambhaji’.

Shivaji’s half-brother

Shivaji’s father Shahaji Bhosale had a second wife, Tukabai, who bore him a son named Vyankoji, Shivaji’s half-brother, who was younger than him. Vyankoji remained firmly in the service of Bijapur’s Sultan Adilshah and never joined Shivaji in his freedom struggle. In fact, Vyankoji fought several battles against Shivaji as an officer in the Adilshahi army.

Shivaji’s ‘other’ half-brother

When Shivaji escaped from Agra, a man named Hiroji Farzand had taken his place as his double. This is a well-known fact. What is less well known is that Hiroji was possibly Shivaji’s half-brother, born to one of Shahaji’s unwedded women. This fact is not confirmed, but is mentioned in the Shedgavkar chronicle.

Shivaji’s family

Shivaji had eight wives, whose names are as follows: Saeebai, Soyarabai, Putalabai, Sakvarbai, Sagunabai, Kashibai, Laxmibai and Gunwantabai. Saeebai is widely believed to have been his first wife and the one he was most attached to. She bore him a son (Sambhaji) and three daughters (Sakhubai, Ranubai, Ambikabai). Soyarabai bore him a son (Rajaram) and a daughter (Deepabai). His other children were : Rajkunvarbai (born of Sagunabai) and Kamlabai (born of Sakvarbai). Saeebai died after a prolonged illness in 1659. Another Queen died in 1674, just before his coronation (though we do not know for sure which one). Putalabai immolated herself in the ritual of ‘Sati’ after Shivaji’s death in 1680.

Shivaji’s early conquests

Contrary to popular belief, Shivaji accomplished his earliest conquests without actual battle, either by bribing enemy commanders or through some diplomatic ruses. Thus, Torna, the first fort he usurped from Adilshah was acquired by bribing the Adilshahi fort commander, and Kondhana (Sinhagad) was acquired through a diplomatic move. Shivaji fought his first real battle in 1648, when Adilshah sent a force under Fateh Khan to eliminate him.

Shivaji’s Navy

Shivaji was the first indigenious ruler of medieval India to build his own naval force. The western shores of India were, in Shivaji’s time, controlled by foreign powers: the English, the Dutch, the Portuguese and the Abyssinians (Siddis). Shivaji had realized very early in his career that to control the western shores of Konkan and the trade movements off this shore, he would have to invest in his own naval force… and he did, as early as in 1658. He ran into may hurdles in this endeavor, finance being only one of them. His first full fledged naval expedition materialised in 1665, which he led himself.

Shivaji’s administration

Shivaji laid the foundation for a robust administrative system to govern his fief. He revised and upgraded his government at regular intervals and at the time of his coronation, had eight ministers in his cabinet. The hallmark of his administration was decentralisation. His ministers usually had full authority to take administrative decisions, especially in his absence. When leaving on dangerous missions, he would make complete arrangements for the machinery to work in his absence and even in the event that he died during the campaign. He had taken such extreme steps before leaving for the meeting with Afzal Khan and again before leaving for Agra to attend Aurangzeb’s court.

Jijabai prepares to rescue Shivaji

Shivbharat, a poetic biography of Shivaji in Sanskrit, mentions an interesting incident about the time when Shivaji was besieged by Siddi Jauhar’s troops in Panhala fort (circa 1660). Having received news of her son’s helplessness and inability to break out of the fort, Jijabai (who was then on Rajgad) prepared to go to war herself, in an attempt to rescue her son. Shivaji’s commander Netoji Palkar was then on campaign in Adilshahi territory and delayed his return to Rajgad. When he eventually did, he had to face a wrathful Jijabai who was fully ready to ride out in armour, holding a sword in her hand. She angrily admonished her commander and said that she would now set out to do what was his job. Netoji Palkar begged her forgiveness and somehow convinced her to stay back while he himself tried to rescue his King.

Shivaji’s respect for women

Shivaji upheld the highest respect for women throughout his life. During his military campaigns, not just the common soldiers but even the officers were forbidden to take their women along, which is in stark contrast to the imperial armies of his time, which moved with their zenanas. His men were strictly forbidden from womanising of any sort, paid or otherwise. They were also under strict orders not to molest women and would be severely punished, even with death, if they did. He never allowed the taking of women captives. He himself, led by example and never kept any (unwedded) concubines and never filled his harem with captured women.

Shivaji’s secularism

Shivaji’s war was against the oppressive Sultanates founded by, what he decreed, foreign invaders. He was never at war with a religion. Testimony of this is the fact that he had several Muslims in his service; infantry commander Nur Khan Baig and naval commanders Darya Sarang and Maynak Bhandari, just to name a few. There is also an unconfirmed story about him having employed a platoon of Pathans who had defected from Bijapuri service. There is no record ever, of Shivaji having demolished non-Hindu places of worship, or wilfully having oppressed the Muslims or Christians in his dominions.

A doctor by profession, Gautam Pradhan has been completely enchanted by the Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji all his life. 300 Brave Men is his first novel, a historical fiction he worked on for close to eight years, in order to help the people rediscover the clever tactician and diplomat that Shivaji was. You can read 300 Brave Men on Juggernaut here.

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