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Why Shivaji Maharaj matters?


What Napoleon is to France and Julius Ceaser is to Rome, Shivaji Maharaj is to India. 19th February is Shivaji Maharaj’s birth anniversary. For those looking for inspiration, his life story has plenty to offer even today, to bring about change – within and without, against all odds. 

Imagine a 15- year old teenager taking an oath to free the country from Mughal tyranny. At 17, this boy undertakes his first military strike only with handful of soldiers and captures a fort in difficult terrain. When imprisoned by the Mughal King, he tricks his elite guards by escaping in large sweet baskets. Under the very nose of a cruel, powerful, intolerant and despotic Mughal Aurangazeb, he carves up his Maratha Empire. Only few rulers in the world could have built an empire with such scarce resources and hard topography that his native territory offered. Later he even offers his empire to his Guru. He is India’s national hero ~ Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (1630 -1680) whose mix of military intelligence, guerilla warfare and public good are still unmatched and have no parallel.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as he should be rightly called was a People’s King, a visionary General, a secular ruler, a humble disciple of his Guru, a fearless warrior and much more to his subjects, supporters and even to his enemies. Upon his coronation in 1674, he was conferred the title of ‘Chhatrapati‘- A ‘Chhatrapati’ is a Lord (pati) who is worthy of a ‘chatra’ (umbrella) meaning a person worthy of a ceremonial umbrella. Only ‘Supreme Kings’ in India are credited with ceremonial umbrellas and hence the title. ‘Chhatrapati’ also indicates a person who gives shade to his followers and ensures their welfare as it has been the case during his short life of fifty years.

Despite the odds, he was a just King who showed tolerance towards all religions and languages. In an enlightening letter to Aurangzeb, he showed his wisdom and respect of other religions, when he wrote:

“Verily, Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colours and filling in the outlines. If it is a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted in remembrance of Him. If it is a temple, the bells are rung in yearning for Him alone.”

The history of India is incomplete without the Maratha history with Shivaji Maharaj at the nucleus. To know the attributes of this great King is to discover the motives and values behind his actions, which matters today more than ever. Without going into the details of his life and events, here is a gloss of estimates by thinkers and writers about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj which shows why he matters even today.

Setu Madhavrao Pagadi, a historian in his introduction to his book ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji’: “Shivaji is one of the great national figures of India…As a soldier, warrior and general, Shivaji fashioned the army into a truly national one. Perfect discipline, rapid movements, excellent intelligence service, and continuous attention to defence marked his military organization, and this enabled him to defeat his adversaries time and again. Nor did he neglect the defence of the sea coast. He is rightly called the father of the Indian Navy.”

Swami Vivekananda’s adds to the Chhatrapati’s subtleties by saying

“Is there a greater hero, a greater saint, a greater bhakta and a greater King than Shivaji? Shivaji was the very embodiment of a born ruler of men as typified in our great epics. He was the type of the real son of India representing the true consciousness of the nation. It was he who showed what the future of India is going to be sooner or later”.

The 17th century saint Sant Tukaram extolled his reign as “Ram Rajya” in which the ruler and his subjects were all equal and there was all-round welfare. Even his own Guru, Samarth Ramdas acknowledged him as “Shrimant Yogi,” or a person achieving desires with detachment, which draw attention to the Chhatrapati’s underlying life-attitude.

Even inimical chroniclers like Khaf? Khan, a contemporary Historian of the Mughals, writes in his Muntakhab-ul-Lubab: “Shivaji had always striven to maintain the honour of the people in his territories … and was careful to maintain the honour of women and children of Muhammadans when they fell into his hands. His injunctions on this point were very strict.” Bhimsen, a contemporary historian in Tarikh-i-Dilkasha remarks: “He was a straightforward man and a matchless soldier and knew the administrative side of the king-ship very well. He enjoyed the full confidence of his soldiers.”

To such a hero, Sir J.N. Sarkar, a prominent Indian historian remarks

“States fall, empires break up, dynasties become extinct, but the memory of a true ‘hero as King’ like Shivaji, remains an imperishable historical legacy for the entire human race.”

Unfortunately we know of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj mainly through our school text books and TV serials, which is simply not adequate. Remarks Francois Gautier, a French journalist, writer & historian

“the French most French people are proud of Napoleon – and rightly so – because he was, like Shivaji, great warrior, a visionary and an exceptional statesman. Therefore, every year, at least four to five new books are written, directly or indirectly, about Napoleon, his life or his deeds. Compare this with India, where it is difficult to find a book about Shivaji. No nation can move forward unless it has heroes. No country can progress unless it is proud of itself and can make its children relate to heroes seeped in one’s culture.”

To know Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is to know the vision of a patriot inspired by the teachings of the ancient Indian philosophers. His life shows us a path of natural love for self-determination and aversion for external domination. It is only befitting that the city of Mumbai is planning to erect his statue off its shore in the Arabian Sea – that will be taller than the Statue of Liberty.

One Response to Why Shivaji Maharaj matters?

  1. Sreekumar Nair says:

    Brilliantly analysed and well put forth. This is something that should be known to everyone who wants to understand the history of India. Shivaji is usually referred to as a marauder but this should help know him better.

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