Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj: Visionary leader; defender of Dharma

As we honour Shivaji Maharaj’s memory, let us pledge to uphold his legacy and work towards building a society that reflects the true spirit of dharma and righteousness.

| Updated: 19 February, 2024 2:28 pm IST
TNI Illustration by Eknath Narale

In the annals of Indian history, few figures stand as tall and revered as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the visionary warrior king who defied the odds to establish the Maratha Empire in the 17th century. Born in 1630 to Shahaji Bhonsle and Jijabai, Shivaji’s early years were marked by adversity and hardship, yet it was these very challenges that forged his indomitable spirit and unwavering commitment to his people.

From a young age, Shivaji displayed exceptional courage and military prowess, earning him the moniker of “Shivaji the Great” among his admirers. He understood the importance of strategic alliances and diplomatic acumen, forging partnerships with regional powers to strengthen his fledgling kingdom and challenge the might of the oppressive Mughal Empire. But Shivaji was more than just a military strategist; he was also a dharma and social justice champion.

He embraced a policy of religious tolerance, treating people of all faiths with respect and dignity. His administration was known for its fair and just governance, with a focus on uplifting the downtrodden and empowering the marginalized sections of society. Shivaji’s legacy extends far beyond the battlefield; it lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of Indians who continue to draw inspiration from his life and deeds. His emphasis on courage, righteousness, and integrity is a guiding light for leaders and citizens alike, reminding us of the timeless values that define our nation. Indeed, the story of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is a testament to the power of determination, leadership, and unwavering faith in the pursuit of noble ideals.

As we honour his memory, let us pledge to uphold his legacy and work towards building a society that reflects the true spirit of dharma and righteousness. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is one of the most revered and celebrated figures in Indian history. He is widely regarded as a national hero, a champion of Hinduism, and a symbol of resistance against the Mughal tyranny. His achievements in warfare, administration, and diplomacy are unparalleled and exemplary. His legacy is cherished and honoured by millions of Indians, especially in Maharashtra, where he is considered the father of the state.

However, Shivaji’s greatness and glory are not limited to any region, religion, or community. He was a visionary leader who transcended the narrow boundaries of caste, creed, and sect. He was a secular ruler who respected and protected the rights and dignity of all his subjects, regardless of their faith or background. He was a humanist who valued the principles of justice, equality, and freedom. He was a patriot who fought for the unity and sovereignty of India, and not for any personal or partisan agenda.

Shivaji was born in 1630 in the Shivneri Fort, near Junnar, in the present-day Pune district of Maharashtra. He belonged to the Bhonsle clan of the Maratha community, which was a martial and agrarian group that had served as soldiers and sardars in the Deccan Sultanates. His father, Shahaji, was a general in the service of the Adilshahi Sultanate of Bijapur, while his mother, Jijabai, was a devout and courageous woman who instilled in him the values of courage, honour, and devotion.

Shivaji grew up in a turbulent and oppressive era when most of India was under the rule of the Mughal Empire, led by Aurangzeb, who was notorious for his religious fanaticism and persecution of non-Muslims. The Deccan Sultanates, which were nominally independent, were also under the influence and threat of the Mughals. Shivaji witnessed the atrocities and injustices committed by the Mughals and their allies, such as the destruction of temples, the imposition of jizya (a tax on non-Muslims), and the enslavement and conversion of Hindus.

Shivaji was determined to liberate his land and people from Mughal domination and to establish a Hindu kingdom that would uphold the dignity and rights of all Indians. He started his career as a guerrilla leader, who raided and captured several forts and territories from the Adilshahis and the Mughals, with the help of his loyal and brave army of Marathas and other communities. He used his knowledge of the terrain, his skills in warfare, and his strategies of surprise and deception to overcome his enemies, who were often numerically and militarily superior to him.

Shivaji gradually expanded his domain and consolidated his power, and in 1674, he was crowned as the Chhatrapati (the supreme sovereign) of the Maratha Empire at Raigad Fort. He established a well-organized and progressive administration, with a centralised and merit-based system of governance, a sound revenue and taxation policy, a strong and disciplined military, and a competent and impartial judiciary. He also promoted the use of Marathi and Sanskrit languages in his administration and revived the ancient Hindu traditions and customs in his court. Shivaji was not only a warrior and a ruler, but also a patron of arts, culture, and education. He encouraged the development of literature, music, painting, and architecture in his empire. He also supported the spread of learning and education among his subjects and established several schools and libraries. He was a devout Hindu, who followed the teachings of the saints and sages of his time, such as Ramdas and Tukaram. He respected all religions and granted freedom of worship and protection to Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others in his realm. He was also known for his generosity and compassion towards the poor, the women, and the oppressed.

Shivaji died in 1680, at the age of 50, leaving behind a vast and glorious empire that stretched from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, and from the Himalayas to the Narmada River. He also left a legacy of courage, honour, and patriotism that inspired generations of Indians to fight for their freedom and dignity. He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest sons of India, and a role model for all Indians, irrespective of their caste, creed, or region. Shivaji’s vision and values are relevant and essential for the present and future of India, which is facing the challenges of communalism, corruption, and violence. We need to learn from Shivaji’s example and strive to emulate his ideals of secularism, pluralism, and humanism. We need to remember that Shivaji was not a hero for the Hindus, or the Marathas, but for all Indians.

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