• By Uday S. Kulkarni
  • March 8, 2018
  • @MulaMutha
`Tanaji`s Vow` to capture the fort of Sinhagad in 1670

Continued from: Life story of Shivaji Maharaj 

Raja Shivaji’s escape from Agra to his capital Rajgad was reported to Aurangzeb in November 1666 and the Mirza Raja, so triumphant lately, entered into the bad books of the Emperor. The Mughal prince Muazzam (later Bahadur Shah) along with Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur took his place in the Deccan. The letters from Shivaji raje to Aurangzeb using the good offices of Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur were full of promises of service, and peace was declared with the Mughals. Bijapur too was not keen to begin a new campaign. Aurangzeb was busy guarding his northwest frontier from a Persian invasion and Afghan revolts. The Mughal Emperor then accorded the title of ‘Raja’ to Shivaji at this time, making a virtue of necessity.

This period of peace presented an opportunity to Shivaji to tune up his administration. At the same time, he dispatched some armies to capture the south Konkan from Adilshahi and threaten the Portuguese. A letter by the Portuguese Viceroy at this time says of Shivaji, ‘…considering his cunning, valour, agility and military foresight he might be compared to Caesar or Alexander’.

Shivaji's administrative reforms, foresight and concern for people comes out in the following paras. 

It had been a practice to let the ‘vatandars’ collect taxes from the farmers and pay a part of it to the ruler. In the process the farmers were often exploited. Shivaji reformed this system by paying many of these vatandars from the state treasury and ensuring that farmers were not charged exorbitantly. In this way the hold of the deshmukhs on the peasantry was weakened. 

He further changed the system the army was raised and paid. Independent vatandars were not permitted to raise armies and mukasas were not given for this purpose. The army was paid by the central treasury. He created new administrative units and designated new terms such as Sachiv or Amatya to perform these duties.

His eight-member Cabinet with the Prime Minister or Peshwa at its head was advisory; when he needed the advice. He did not restrict his reforms to the civil and military field but went further by introducing new Marathi words in place of the Persian. His seal itself was in Sanskrit. 

He encouraged new cultivators by giving them remission in taxes for the first few years besides giving them aid and land to begin cultivation. The payment to his Government was in grain rather than cash. In the Mughal rule, in place of this inducement to cultivate a firman from Aurangzeb to his officers said, ‘…if they abstain from cultivation, you should urge and threaten them and employ force and beating’. The firman was kind indeed, for in the reign of Akbar it was permitted to sell the wives and children of the peasants! Contrary to the impression that revenue reforms and proper administration was not present in the Maratha state, at least three revenue settlements are known to have occurred during Shivaji's reign. The duty of the king according to Raja Shivaji was thus to alleviate the misery of his people and bring the economy onto a sound and fair footing.

Salt was an important commodity that was brought from Goa and Mumbai. Salt was a commodity that was manufactured in Portuguese territories as well as in the Konkan. The salt in Sangameshwar in the Konkan was not as fine and the people therefore bought the salt from Goa.Shivaji raje therefore imposed a duty on ‘imported’ salt to bring its price on par with the one manufactured by his people. Trade was important as a source of revenue and the Maratha merchant marine travelled as far as the Arabian states of Muscat and Persian ports. At the same time, he encouraged the traders – Indian and European- to trade in order to boost the income of his inland territories. 

However, Shivaji was not in favour of granting the Europeans any place in the hinterland. His foresight comes out here. The Adnyapatra, a treatise on his administration, states, ‘their interference should therefore be restricted to the extent of only their coming and going. They should strictly never be given places to settle. They should not at all be allowed to visit the sea forts. If some place has sometimes to be given for a factory, it should not be given at the mouth of a river or on the shores of a sea…it should be given at two or four famous towns distant about eight or sixteen miles from the mouth of the sea…. These places must be such that it must be low lying and within the range and control of the neighbouring town…’. Contrary to these wise admonitions of Shivaji raje, at about the same time one finds Aurangzeb granting the English the places at Surat and the Hooghly to carry out their trade, and in 1667 even awarded them a remission in the Customs duty.

While he introduced his civil and trade reforms, he did not ignore the defence of his people. In a seminal letter addressed to his commander Sarjerao Jedhe he wrote, ‘there is intelligence that the Mughal will attack your village. You should immediately evacuate the village with the women and children to a strong place below the ghats, where the Mughal disease will not come. Do not neglect this job. Immediately you get this, move the people. If you do not do this and the Mughal takes away people, the sin will be on your head. Thinking in this manner, day and night, go from village to village and take the people to the sanctuary below the ghats. Not a moment should be lost in implementing this order. You should stay alert in your place. Those who stay to safeguard the fields also you should send to the mountain tops where they will be safe. If they spot the Mughal from a distance, they should run away. You be alert at your post’. In every letter, each line shows the rich details of his instructions and concern for his people.

Shivaji raje began to develop his army with nothing but raw levies. The infantry and the cavalry were the chief divisions. He organised them in groups headed by a naik and havaldar. The cavalry had siledars who had their own horses and the bargirs who were supplied horses by the state. The pay of a siledar was therefore higher. As his army grew he practically provided for all the horses in the army from the central treasury. Various accounts give an account of his cavalry that ranges from 40,000 to 1,00,000 men. The infantry comprised the hardy men from the ‘maval’ regions west of Pune. His own bodyguard had a distinctive dress. The artillery however, remained weak, as the technical knowledge for their casting as well as use was not known to the Marathas, and they had to depend on the Europeans such as the French and occasionally the Dutch and the English. 

The character of the king passed on into his army. He did not demolish places of worship in the captured territories and treated all women respectfully. Khafi Khan writes, ‘if a Hindu or Muslim woman fell into the hands of his men, no one had the courage to look at her with an evil eye’. In later years the French envoy Germain visited the Maratha camp and commented about the Spartan camp of the warrior king, ‘…without pomp, without women, no baggage, only two simple tents of simple cloth, one for himself and the other for his Prime Minister’. This is corroborated by other authorities like an English physician named Fryer who wrote, ‘whores and dancing wenches he allows none in his army’.

The Maratha army travelled light and had three horses for every two riders. They lived off the land and the food was simple. His treatment of prisoners was humane – unlike the massacres one saw at Panipat a hundred years later – and even the prisoners from Afzal Khan’s army were treated well. His forts were his strongest defence. He therefore took care that they were well stocked and properly built and defended. The money he obtained from Surat was used for construction and repair of forts. By the end of his life he had two hundred and forty forts and it is said that if each fort fought for a year, it will take the Mughals many centuries to take this kingdom. Remarkably, in his entire reign no fort was lost due to treason by his men.

In the religious field, while Shivaji raje did not pull down places of worship of other faiths, one sees him building temples. One sees him using very Hindu rites for his own coronation and one sees him reconverting those who had been forced to convert to Islam; his own commander Netoji Palkar being a prime example. He endeavoured to found a state where Hindus would emerge from a subsidiary status that they had endured for many centuries. In all the decades that he ruled, stray examples of Muslim commanders are found in his army and that in the early period. He however, had Muslims in his Navy, using their expertise in the earlier years and Daulat Khan and Darya sarang are two such names that come down to us. By his actions therefore, he emerges as a champion of the Hindus.

The return from Agra and the rigours of his journey probably passing through Mathura and Allahabad, probably led to a period of illness and convalescence and as we saw earlier he opened his campaign against Bijapur in the south Konkan and then against the Siddi who sought protection from the Portuguese and the English. A treaty was patched up with Bijapur in 1667 and by 1669, he had agreed on a treaty with the Portuguese and the Siddi. However, the peace was more tactical than real as we will see.

By 1669, Aurangzeb had assumed complete power after his father’s death. Peace in the Deccan and on the north west frontier made him confident of himself. In 1669, the Jats rebelled against the Emperor, the Mughals attacked them and their leader Gokla was captured and brutally killed. In September 1669, Aurangzeb demolished the Kashi Vishwanath temple built by Raja Mansingh in Akbar’s reign, and ordered the destruction of a large temple built during Jehangir’s reign at Mathura. By then, Shivaji raje had wound up his conflicts with the Portuguese and the Bijapur sultan. He further ordered the withdrawal of his officers from Mughal Viceroy Prince Muazzam’s court at Aurangabad.

The next phase of Shivaji’s battle with Aurangzeb was set to begin. For four years, the eyesore when the Raja sat at his sadar on Rajgad, was the Mughal occupied imposing fort of Sinhagad that stood between his capital and Pune. Once the intention to take back the forts surrendered to Jaisingh was taken, Sinhagad became the automatic choice for the start of the war. It is said that of all his deputies it was Tanaji Malusare who volunteered to win this fort for his king. Honoured with robes and the customary betel leaf, Tanaji began to prepare for the task, vowing that he would win the fort overcoming all obstacles. With this Shivaji began his war with the Mughals.  In the next part of this series we will see how events unfolded.


1. Shivaji: His life and times by GB Mehendale.

2. The Era of Baji rao by Uday S Kulkarni.

Cover picture courtesy 'Sachitra Shiv Charitra' published in 1930.

To read Part 3 

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