Why did Shivaji want to establish SWARAJYA

  • By Shivram Kalrkar
  • August 15, 2023
Crowds at Raigarh Fort on Shivaji Coronation Day anniversary 2022
  • Thought-provoking article includes importance of Shivaji’s coronation, why did Shivaji wish to establish Swarajya and How did it compare with conditions of Hindus during Muslim rule.  

In the chronicles of medieval Deccan, Chh. Shivaji's life stands as a remarkable narrative that continues to inspire generations. G. H. Khare, a distinguished historian, states that Shivaji's life is a tale worthy of emulation. Amongst the pages of recorded history, there are moments that leap out like rays of sunlight through the clouds, leaving us spellbound. Here is why. 


1. In a series of awe-inspiring events, Chh. Shivaji Maharaj faced off against the formidable Afzal Khan, slaying him in a stroke of brilliance thereby solidifying his legendary status. This was just the beginning as Shivaji orchestrated a daring raid on Shaista Khan's palace, leaving the mighty commander stunned. 


However, the most remarkable event was Shivaji's miraculous escape from the clutches of Emperor Aurangzeb in Agra, showcasing his ingenuity and bravery. These extraordinary feats propelled the glory of Shivaji Maharaj to spread far and wide, captivating all who heard his tale.


Read  About Battle of Salher where Mughal army was badly defeated  


2. Shivaji Maharaj was engaged in fierce battles against his formidable adversaries to establish the realm of sovereignty. Among these were Adilshahi, Qutubshahi and the Mughals, who posed significant threats.


These rivals wielded the power of religion as a tool of governance. They believed that any form of governance, as long as it served their religious interests, was justifiable. However, “my religion was not just a façade; it stood true and upright. So, either accept my righteous stance and rectify your own, or prepare to die!” Such was the disposition exhibited by these rulers. Inspite of this strong opposition, Shivaji Maharaj rose to power, determined to bring prosperity to the common people.

Read  Shivaji’s Karmas matter


Article has two authors in Shivram Kalrkar and Rohit Pawar.


But if you were to ask, “What is the most significant event in his life?” Without doubt, I’d say it is the "Coronation" of the Shivaji Maharaj.

Raigarh Fort on Shivaji Coronation Day anniversary 2022. It is celebrated as Shivrajyabhishek Day. Pic Sudhir Nazare. 

It was on June 6, 1674, according to the English calendar, that Shivaji Maharaj ascended to the throne.


But what did the grand coronation signify? What does the establishment of 'Swarajya' truly mean? These are the very questions we yearn to explore today.


Theoretically speaking, this coronation ceremony was just a religious event, but actually it symbolized the assertion of sovereignty. It meant rejecting any dominion and embracing a king who would look after the welfare of the common people. Here are a few instances highlighting this:


1. Just as the Mughal rulers used their Julus (Hijri calandar), Shivaji Maharaj began his era with 'Rajyabhishek Shaka' (own Hindu calendar).  

2. By the same measure that the Mughals had their own coinage, Shivaji Maharaj too minted his own coins during coronation, 'Shivrai' and 'Hon' with words 'Shiv' and 'Chhatrapati' in Devnagari Script. It symbolized not only  authority and sovereignty but was also a reflection of his economic power and control over the realm.

3. In medieval India, Persian emerged as the predominant language for correspondence. However, in a bold and visionary move, Shivaji Maharaj embarked on a transformative transition, shifting from Persian to the Sanskrit-Marathi format for his sealed letters. Letters sent after the coronation bore the words “Swastishree rajyabhishek...”. This symbolised Shivaji Maharaj's unwavering commitment to his cultural heritage. 


During the era of Shivaji Maharaj, Ghorpade's of Mudhol represented an alliance with Adilshah. A letter sent by Shivaji Maharaj to them unveils the significance of the coronation. It was written few months after the coronation and carried a message. 


It reads, “The king of Vijapur (Adilshah) is inexperienced, perhaps being influenced by Pathans. So, why you are serving them? I have entrusted you with a noble mission to accomplish. I may negotiate with Qutub Shah and offer you a jagir from them, but you should not remain in this place.” Here Shivaji Maharaj clearly highlights that Qutub Shah listens to him, and he will take care of everything. 


In the visionary mind of Shivaji Maharaj, the concept of a sovereign kingdom extended far beyond the boundaries of his realm. This ambitious vision is substantiated by the travel accounts of renowned French traveller Abbe Carre. It is no secret that Shivaji Maharaj harboured the ambition of conquering Delhi, and it was through this coronation that the kingdom gained a solid foundation.


'Sabhasad', who is regarded as the first contemporary Marathi biographer of Shivaji Maharaj wrote some powerful words about the coronation, “या युगी पृथ्वीवर म्लेंच्छ बादशहा, मऱ्हाटा पातशहा एवढा छत्रपती जाहला, ही गोष्ट कही सामान्य झाली नाही.” This is translated as “Even in this era where Muslim kings dominate the world, a Maratha king has emerged, making it an extraordinary occurrence.” 


Furthermore, it is equally intriguing to consider that Sabhasad, referring to Raigad as the capital of the state, sets it apart from any other capital. Instead, he compares it to the 'Devgiri' of the Yadavas, which in ancient times stood as the last Hindu kingdom in Deccan.


To see  album of Raigarh Fort  


Post Shivaji Maharaj & his son Sambhaji Maharaj, a pivotal moment unfolded on the formidable fortress of Sinhagad. Balaji Vishwanath, a distinguished Maratha sardar, led his troops in a fierce battle against Aurangzeb’s troops. Amidst the clash of swords and the thundering echoes of war, Balaji Vishwanath, with unwavering determination, proclaimed, “The Marathas have risen as the guardians of honour today, and destiny shall undoubtedly favour our cause.”


These resolute words reverberated across the battlefield, encapsulating the very essence of the Maratha kingdom.

Bust of Shivaji Maharaj in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Pic 2013. 

Perspectives about Mughal Invaders vs. Indigenous Marathas

Maratha historians have skilfully woven a captivating tale of the Maratha Empire, aptly named the "Realm of the Natives." These courageous people faced the relentless onslaught of invasions and conquests by powerful forces such as the Tughlaqs, Bahmanis, Mughals, and other Islamic dynasties. These foreign rulers sought to impose their culture upon the indigenous population. In response, the Maratha Empire emerged as a resilient and steadfast defender of their identity and aspirations. 


The pursuit of Maratha historical research rests upon authentic sources, and the methodology introduced in this endeavour could be considered the most effective approach. Maratha historians have delved into various languages, refining their principles to uncover the truth.


Within the realm of this native-versus-invader discourse, a significant issue arises: If the Marathas were indigenous, why were Mughals considered invaders? It is even suggested that despite their external origins, the Mughals had made their home here and established their reign.


The difference between the Mughal and Maratha rule was that Shivaji's kingdom was a testament of his unwavering dedication to the welfare of his people, driven by noble principles and a sense of duty. Conversely, the invaders' kingdoms were often motivated by greed and the pursuit of wealth in the name of religion. 


From the evidence, a question arises. What were the reasons behind the establishment of Shivaji Maharaj's kingdom? This topic has been extensively discussed in numerous forums, and it is highly recommended for readers to explore these discussions.


What are the criteria (timeless) of an Ideal Empire?

Now, speaking metaphorically, if we analyse the relationship between the king and the people, it becomes easy to evaluate the worth of a kingdom. In this regard, historians like 'G H Khare' have presented some intriguing perspectives. In summary, their conclusion is as follows: 


1. Ruler and the ruled should belong to the same human lineage to establish a strong connection, including matrimonial ties.

2. Ruler and the ruled should share the same religious beliefs or have sensitivity towards each other's religions. 

3. Ruler and the ruled should have a shared culture. If there are different cultures, they should be encouraged and supported. 

4. Ruler and the ruled should have a common language, without any language barriers posing difficulties. 

5. Ruler and the ruled should have similar economic aspirations. 

6. The ruler should involve the ruled in administration of the state. 

7. Justice should be based on equality, ensuring no remaining disparities.

Shivaji Maharaj Raigarh Fort. 2022. 

Comparing Maratha vs. Mughal Rule using the above parameters

1. A profound bond existed between the native people and their revered leader, Shivaji Maharaj. United by a shared lineage, they lived harmoniously and forged deep connections. The Maratha Sardars, including the esteemed king Shivaji, reinforced this bond through matrimonial alliances within their own religious community.


Conversely, things were different with the Mughals; like Jahangir, Akbar, and Aurangzeb, who formed alliances with the Rajputs only for their own political advantage. The Rajputs, driven by fear of losing everything, made compromises by offering their daughters to the Mughals. Nevertheless, it is truly remarkable to believe that an unbreakable connection like marriage forms only when a ruler and the people share a common heritage, making them stand out in the pages of history.


2. When it came to religious beliefs, there was a noticeable difference between the Mughal/Muslim rulers and Shivaji Maharaj. Where Hindus were in a majority, Shivaji Maharaj embraced the diversity of religions, showing respect for different beliefs while staying true to his own.


Conversely, Muslim rulers demonstrated a lack of sensitivity towards the Hindu majority. Shivaji Maharaj, never demolished mosques without a strong reason; instead, he restored temples that had been unjustly replaced.


This distinction underscores the importance of shared religious beliefs or a genuine understanding and respect for each other's faith, bridging the gap between rulers and their peoples. 


3. Mughal culture was distinct from the local community. Interestingly, even the Muslim rulers in South India followed a similar path. During his time in South India, Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor, was unaware of the grandest Hindu festival 'Diwali'. In fact, he went so far as to ban celebrations for other festivals like Rangapanchami. Hindus were compelled to dress differently and were forbidden from riding horses. 


Conversely, Shivaji Mahara promoted the joyous observance of all festivals. One remarkable instance was during his Dakshin-Digvijay campaign in 1677, when he stationed near Tiruannamalai in modern day Tamil Nadu. It was there that he revitalized the ancient tradition of lighting up the mountainside with thousands of diyas (oil lamps), symbolizing the essence of Hindu culture and celebration.


This serves as a profound reminder that rulers and their people share a common cultural bond. In cases where different cultures coexist, they should be nurtured and supported, fostering an environment of harmony and appreciation.


4. The language, spoken by the native populace, was severely influenced by Muslim invasions since Muslim rulers conducting their administration in Persian. Historian V. K. Rajwade's work on Maratha history discusses this phenomenon in Volume 8 of Marathyanchya Itihasachi Sadhane. He analysed that initially devoid of Persian words, Marathi letters gradually incorporated around 80-90% Persian vocabulary.


Conversely, Shivaji Maharaj took steps to purify the language by infusing it with Sanskrit words. As a result, Marathi words dominated Marathi literature, accounting for over 70% again.


Mughal correspondence showed a decline in bilingual orders, indicating their imposition of Persian upon the people. During the 18th century, when the Marathas expanded across India, their correspondence with Rajputs featured in Sanskrit and Hindi.


This raises a question: Shouldn't the language of rulers and the ruled align? Language should bridge, not divide, the governing and governed.


5. The annals of Mughal administration offer a captivating exploration of their economic policies, demanding meticulous examination. However, it becomes strikingly clear that their concern for the welfare of the people was deeply lacking. These incidents are chronicled in Aitihasik Farasi Sahitya Khand, particularly in Volume 6. It gives instances where the Mughals issued directives to seize and plunder the belongings of individuals who resisted tax payments, without considering the well-being of the populace.


Likewise, in Jadunath Sarkar's renowned work History of Aurangzeb, a letter penned to Raski Das Karori by Aurangzeb emerges, sheds light on Aurangzeb's economic beliefs. In the letter Aurangzeb advises, “Exert efforts to extract money from the people and deposit it directly into my treasury using my currency coins. If dues are paid using Shah Jahan's currency coins, devalue them and collect the outstanding amounts.” (People, Taxation and Trade in Mughal India by Shirin Musavi, page 175).


What is the taxpayers fault in this equation? Conversely, look at Shivaji Maharaj’s approach. 


In a well-known letter to the Subhedar of Konkan, Shivaji Maharaj asserts sternly, “Do not even lay a finger on the produce from the people's fields.” This widely known order issued by Shivaji Maharaj goes on to emphasize, “Do not burden the people, lest they compare you unfavourably to the Mughals.” These statements exemplify Shivaji Maharaj's unwavering dedication to ensuring that his reign surpasses the Mughals in terms of favourability for the people, thereby earning their trust. 


6. The dynamics of Muslim rulership in India exhibited a notable lack of active participation by Hindus in their administrative affairs.


The Mughal rulers, while acknowledging the presence of Hindus in their nobility, maintained a proportion ranging from approximately 13% to 30%. This ratio remained consistent even when Aurangzeb expanded his influence to the southern regions. Delving into the intricacies of Mughal India's religious policy, the book The Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb provides a comprehensive analysis which reveals reluctance on the part of the rulers to grant Hindus significant roles in governing the state.


Conversely, Shivaji Maharaj's administration boasted a staggering estimated representation of Hindus at around 99%. They held authoritative positions and served as representatives of the peasant class. 


This emphasized the importance of involving the ruled population in the administration of a state for effective governance.


7. Justice is considered blind, or so we believe today. It is everyone's desire to receive fair justice. 


When we look at the Muslim rulers, it appears that justice took on a different form. In their governance, Muslims seem to have a different standard of justice compared to Hindus. For example, in the records of Adil Shah of Bijapur, it is evident that Muslims and their laws were enforced strongly, even if it meant neglecting the rights of a poor Muslim. (Ref-Itihas Sangraha Sput lekh, No 7). This was also observed in the Mughal era. During Aurangzeb's reign, if someone converted to Islam, their mistakes were forgiven. 


Conversely we do not come across any instances in Shivaji Maharaj's kingdom where justice was compromised based on religion. Medieval justice systems were peculiar, but they were the same for all in Shivaji Maharaj's rule.  Therefore, equality should prevail between the governed and the governing. 


Is a kingdom truly people-centric rule, a self-governing state?

This question can be answered by contemplating its essence. The king represents society, acting as the voice of the common people within the realm. He swiftly responds to their needs, such is the nature of his duty. As the saying goes, Yatha Raja Tatha Praja, Raja Kalasya Karanam, meaning the king's actions deeply affect the well-being of the people. This understanding arises from the wisdom mentioned earlier. 


Conversely, when we observe the Mughals and other Muslim rulers or even the British, their approach to governance appears to be motivated by self-interest instead of people welfare.


Hence, we now understand why Chh. Shivaji's governance was referred to as Swa-Rajya, with "Swa" meaning "mine." It was a clever and captivating way of expressing ownership and unity. Under his rule, everyone acknowledged the positive and somewhat self-centred notion of having their own kingdom.


About Authors

1. Shivram Karlekar is a sales manager working in Pune. He has a very good knowledge of Modi script and is co-author of  Itihasachya paulkhuna, Volumes 1 & 2.


2. Rohit Pawar is an IT professional from Pune with a passion for history. He co-authored 'Itihasachya paulkhuna' Volumes 1 & 2 and translated 'Foreign Biographies of Shivaji' into Marathi.


To read all articles on Maratha History


Also read

1. Three articles on Shivaji Mahraj by Uday Kulkarni

2.  Marathas made temples across India in the 18th century

3. How Marathas contributed to the decline of the Mughal Empire

4. The Maratha Century

5. The Battle of Assaye

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