Section 2.06 Shivaji – A Questionable Monarch

We have already seen FOIL’s selective portrayal of Indian history in the above section.  But, FOIL’s tendency to devalue important Indian figures needs further elaboration.  As part of the “Sketches Out Of South Asian History”, Prashad discusses the “The Complexities of Shivaji”[1].  This article is essentially in response to an event held in New York by an organization called HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) in which a speaker by the name of Shripati Shastry described how Shivaji fought Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and was a defender of Hindu civilization.  Prashad questions this portrayal of Shivaji by asking that “the historical record should be scoured to check if Shivaji indeed did fight Aurangzeb to constitute ‘Hindu civilization’ and if he made it his purpose to cleanse the subcontinent of ‘foreigners.’”[2]  In his analysis, Prashad reduces Shivaji to a “a rebellious zamindar and hill-chief”[3] who, “claimed to be a ‘Hindu’ king when it suited him…”[4]  He says further that “In 1668, Shivaji’s repeated petitions to Aurangzeb won him the title ‘Raja’ and Chakan fort. After the Mughal treasury refused to reimburse him for a trip he took to Agra, he took up arms again”.[5]  This statement makes Shivaji sound like a little whiner and spiteful.

Then, to raise more suspicions on the Shivaji’s character, he even throws in information about his son’s conduct, as if that is a black mark on Shivaji himself.  He adds: “one might add that Shambhaji, Shivaji’s son, raped a Brahmin woman in December 1678: such facts often get lost in the blind valorization of historical figures.”  What does his son’s behavior have to do with his character?  Did he sanction his son’s behavior?

Let’s analyze Prashad’s claim about Shivaji’s stature as a Hindu king and as mere ‘hill chief’.  What does history really say about Shivaji?   True, in his earlier life, he was given charge of his father’s Jagir (territory) of Pune.  But, history indeed is more complex than Prashad’s version.

The Maratha Empire was founded and consolidated by Maharaja Shivaji Bhosale.[6] Shivaji learned much from his father’s failed attempts at political independence, his exceptional military capabilities and achievements, his knowledge of Sanskrit, Hindu ethos, patronage of the arts, his war strategies and peacetime diplomacy. Jijabai also instilled in Shivaji a natural love for self-determination and an aversion to external political domination.[7] In 1657, while Aurangzeb attacked Golconda and Bijapur, Shivaji, using guerrilla tactics, took control of three Adilshahi forts formerly under his father’s command[8]. These victories provided Shivaji with leadership of many independent Maratha clans.  Shivaji’s small and ill-equipped army survived an all out Adilshahi attack, and Shivaji personally killed the Adilshahi general, Afzal Khan.[9] With this event, the Marathas transformed into a powerful military force, capturing more and more Adilshahi and Mughal territories.[10]  At the end of 1676, Shivaji Maharaj launched a wave of conquests in southern India with a massive force of 50,000 (30,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry).[11]  How can a mere ‘hill chief’ command a force of 50,000?  Shivaji established an effective civil and military administration and had a powerful navy.  By 1659, he had a fleet of twenty warships[12] and continued to expand his naval presence to strengthen the Maratha Empire’s coastal borders.  He even launched an amphibious assault on the Sidi Yakub’s fort of Danda Rajapur[13].  Toward the end of his career, he had a control of 360 forts to secure his growing kingdom. Shivaji himself constructed about 15-20 totally new forts (including key sea forts like Sindhudurg), but he also rebuilt or repaired many strategically-placed forts to create a chain of 300 or more, stretched over a thousand kilometers across the rugged crest of the Western Ghats[14].  “Aurangzeb spent the best part of 30 years trying to crush the light-footed, rapid-action mountain people of Shivaji’s army. In the process, he ruined his health and expended his treasury – fruitlessly, as it turned out, for the Marathas continued to expand their holdings for a full century after Shivaji’s death.” [15]

All of the above clearly shows that Shivaji was not ‘a rebellious zamindar and hill-chief’ but one of the greatest kings of medieval India.


[1] Vijay Prashad, “The Complexities of Shivaji”, http://www.proxsa.org/history/shivaji.html, accessed June 30, 2011

[2] Prashad, Ibid.

[3] Prashad, Ibid.[1]

[4] Prashad, Ibid.[1]

[5] Prashad, Ibid.[1]

[6] See the entry on Maratha Empire on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maratha_Empire, accessed June 30, 2011

[7] See the entry on the Early Life of Shivaji on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_life_of_Shivaji, accessed June 30, 2011

[8] See the entry on Aurangzeb on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurangzeb#Rebellions, accessed June 30, 2011

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.[8]

[11] Ibid.[7]

[12] Randolph, G.S. Cooper, “The Anglo-Maratha campaigns and the contest for India: the struggle for control of the South Asian military economy”, 2003, Cambridge University Press, Page 31, accessed online at http://books.google.com/books?id=qweZWra_tbwC&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=shivaji+navy&source=bl&ots=FJgJ7PRr3a&sig=HU7sefgGEyClVofCEGLvXf-wYGE&hl=en&ei=quUETp_ONdCRgQeXqpjDDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CEoQ6AEwBzgK#v=onepage&q=shivaji%20navy&f=false, accessed June 30, 2011

[13] Cooper, Ibid., 29

[14] See the entry on Shivaji on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shivaji, accessed June 30, 2011

[15] Adrian Hamilton, “Shivaji: At home with a Hindu hero”, December 15, 2010, The Independent online edition, http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/asia/shivaji-at-home-with-a-hindu-hero-2160480.html, accessed June 30, 2011

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