The year Shah Jahan was crowned king at Delhi; a child was born far away in a hill fortress in the Western Ghats. At that time nobody realized that one day this child would grow up to be the biggest challenge to the power of his dynasty and one of the greatest sons of India. This was Shivaji.
Shivaji's father was an officer in the army of the Sultan of Bijapur and spent most of his time away from home. His mother, Jijabai, brought up Shivaji. She was a very religious woman of great courage and was devoted to her son. She told him stories of the brave Pandavas and the noble Rama, and sang songs to him about the wonderful things that the ancient heroes of India had done. Shivaji made up his mind that when he grew up he too would do big things.
His friends were the wild shepherd boys of the hills. He loved to ride with them. Very soon he could ride the wildest horse, and find his way through the thickest jungle. He also became a very good shot. Soon many young men collected round him and began to call him their leader.
When Shivaji was only twenty years old, he attacked some forts, which belonged to the Sultan of Bijapur and captured them. When the Sultan heard of it he arrested Shivaji's father and demanded an explanation. All that the poor father could say was that he had no control over his son.
Shivaji did not mend his ways even after this. He went on raiding the lands of the Bijapur Sultan and harassing his army. At last the Sultan could bear it no longer. He sent one of his generals, Afzal Khan, with a large army to punish Shivaji. Afzal Khan boasted that he would bring Shivaji back in chains without even getting off his horse. What actually happened, however, was quite different. As Afzal Khan's army came near, Shivaji returned with his men into the hills, near a strong fortress called Pratapgarh. Afzal Khan waited in the plains for many weeks. When he got tired of waiting he sent a message to Shivaji suggesting that the two should meet and settle things without fighting. Shivaji agreed. The two met, but not as friends. Afzal Khan came with a dagger hidden in his sleeve. But Shivaji had worn a steel helmet under his turban and a coat of mail beneath his dress. He was also wearing tiger claws of steel on his fingers. First the two seemed to be embracing, but people soon realized that they were fighting. In this fight, Afzal Khan was killed. A cannon was fired from Pratapgarh fort, and the Marathas fell upon the army of Bijapur and destroyed it.
Shivaji now decided to test his strength against the Mughals and started raiding their territory. His armies fought Shivaji for nearly twenty years, without any success. Shivaji never came out in the open because his men were fewer than the Mughals and did not have such good weapons. He used what are called guerilla tactics. His horsemen would attack the Mughal army when it least expected to be attacked and then disappear before an action could be organized against them. When the Mughals recaptured a fort from the Marathas Shivaji was fifty miles away, storming another one! The mighty Mughal army could not keep pace with Shivaji's fast moving cavalry.
Aurangzeb got so fed up with Shivaji's tactics that he decided to lay a trap for him. He invited him to visit Agra, the Mughal capital, along with many other chieftains. Shivaji loved adventure. So one day he walked boldly into the Mughal durbar, without any weapons whatsoever. Aurangzeb offered him a seat along with officers much lower in rank than himself. Shivaji felt insulted and flew into a terrible rage. He strode out of the court. Aurangzeb ordered him to be kept a prisoner in the rooms in which he was staying. But Shivaji was too clever for his guards. He pretended to be ill, and one day escaped from the palace hidden in a large basket of sweets. His return home was a great triumph and Shivaji was crowned king of the Marathas.
Shivaji was a great leader. His soldiers and his people loved him and were ever ready to lay down their lives for him. They admired him because he was brave and fearless; and they trusted him because he was fair and always looked after them. There were many qualities in Shivaji, which impressed even his enemies. He had a genius for warfare. He planned his raids with great care and chose all the officers in his army himself. He was very strict with them, and did not let them break any rules.
Shivaji was a remarkable ruler and did many things for the people of Maharashtra, especially the villagers. He had all the land measured and fixed the tax that had to be paid to him. He broke the power of the rich landowners who lived on the toil of poor peasants. Before Shivaji's time, titles and honours used to pass from father to son, even if the son did not deserve them. Shivaji stopped this unfair system. In his time, the Deccan was better ruled than it had ever been before. Shivaji had eight ministers who helped him in looking after his kingdom.
Shivaji was also a very religious man. He honoured the saint Ramdas as his Guru. So great was his devotion, that he once offered him his whole kingdom.
Bards in Maharashtra still sing songs about the bravery of Shivaji, and his love for his land. He lived more than two hundred and fifty years ago, but he is still among the favourite heroes of our country.
SAMBHAJI AND SAHU
Shivajis son Sambhaji was not a bit like his father. He was selfish and believed only in having a good time. When Shivaji died, Aurangzeb had no difficulty in capturing Sambhaji. He was carried off to Delhi and put to death. Sambhaji had a little son called Sahu. Aurangzeb thought the best way of keeping a hold over the Marathas was to get Sahu under his control. He kept Sahu at the palace under his own care. When Sahu grew up, the Mughals sent him to the Deccan to take his place as the head of the Marathas. For a while this trick worked. But soon after the Marathas resumed their fight against the Mughals.
THE FIRST PESHWA
There was a clever Brahmin called Balaji Vishwanath who helped Sahu to rule. While Sahu went out shooting and fishing, Balaji looked after the affairs of the State. He also made Sahu get rid of the influence of the Mughals. Sahu made him his Chief Minister and gave him the title of Peshwa. When Sahu died, the power passed into the hands of the Peshwa. He shifted his headquarters to Poona, and announced that after him, his son would rule the people of Maharashtra. Thus was founded the house of the Peshwas which ruled the Deccan and parts of northern India for nearly a hundred years. They ran the affairs of Government very ably and became more and more powerful. In their time, Maratha soldiers conquered more territories and set up states of their own. That is how the principalities of Baroda, Gwalior and Indore were founded. Maratha states covered a vast area of India.
The Peshwa was so sure of his power that he sent his army north. Delhi was captured without much trouble; the emperor who sat on the throne had hardly any power to resist. At that time, there was an Afghan called Ahmad Shah Abdali who invaded the Punjab. The Marathas, full of confidence after their success in Delhi, went north to meet him. There was a fierce battle at Panipat. The Marathas were badly defeated. They lost 200,000 men. This was a hard blow from which they never really recovered.
After this battle of Panipat, the Maratha states and chieftains began to quarrel amongst themselves. When one of them declared his independence of the Peshwa, the Peshwa appealed to the British for help. This was a very good chance for the British and they started meddling in the affairs of Indian rulers, playing one against the other. When the British agreed to help the Peshwa against other Maratha chiefs, rivalries and jealousies between them increased still further. There was civil war and rebellion in all the Maratha territories. Nothing could be better for the British. Soon they got all the Maratha chieftains under their control.