Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Coronation of Shivaji

The coronation of Shivaji Maharaj was a watershed event in the history of Maharashtra.
After a long hiatus of foreign rule, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had managed to carve out a Hindu kingdom in an Islamic India. 
Those were troubled times. The foreign rulers always displayed religious arrogance towards their hindu subjects. Justice was never even and lawlessness was rampant. Even their royal courts produced rival factions, with the Irani (Persian) / Turani (Central Asian) stock getting precedence over the indigeneous Hindustani. Their hindu fief holders were more interested in retaining their estates and turned a blind eye to the fanaticism of their masters. Hence there was a general discontent amongst the populace albeit muted. However, people secretly desired a liberator. That was when Chatrapati Shivaji maharaj arrived on the scene.
Such was the personal charisma and persuasiveness of the king, that his every follower identified with his cause and joined him in large numbers. He gave them a hope to cling on to and a dream to cherish. He promised them a land they could call their own. A land free of oppression and religious bigotry, a land where justice prevailed, a land where people were heard and had their say . Ofcourse it was to be a monarchy but a very benevolent  monarchy.
Eventually, it took Shivaji almost three decades to translate his dream into reality. His kingdom  was duly named ‘swarajya’ or self rule.  Though popularly known as Hindavi  swarajya, it wasn’t just a swarajya for the hindus but a swarajya for all those who considered themselves to be the sons of the soil (sons of hind - hindustan) .
 According to the historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Shivajis greatness lay not in his creation of a kingdom, but in the circumstances in which he created it (..... from the survey of the conditions amidst which he rose to sovegreignty). Shivajis swarajya was accomplished amidst extreme adversities. This was something nobody had envisaged.  After decades of enslavement, the most fierce of warriors had turned benign and  resigned to their fate of subservience . This remained the case until the advent of Shivaji. He stirred them up from their slumber and ignited in them the spark of freedom.  After almost three and a half centuries of a foreign rule (of the Afghans , the Mughals or the Sultans of Persian descent), finally the people had a king  who had risen from their own stock.
To achieve his goal Shivaji had to tackle not one but two formidable empires. The Adilshahi Sultanate of the south and the mighty  Mughal Badshahi of the north (not to mention irritations from the Europeans). It was no mean achievement by Shivaji. He was tremendously constrained in terms of resources and  manpower.  But nevertheless he succeeded in his quest by sheer grit, a brilliant acumen , a daring  approach and an endurance of spirit. As the adage goes, that luck favours the brave, mother destiny too showered her gracious fortune on this entrepreneurial son of hers. Shivajis courage was rewarded with some early successes and his ambitions soared new heights. But one of Shivajis great qualities was, while his head always looked up to the sky, his feet were always firmly entrenched on the ground.
Shivaji was undoubtedly a very courageous person, but his courage was never impaired by recklessness but rather embellished by caution. Like a seasoned general, he knew exactly when to attack and when to retreat. He was extremely circumspect while fighting the enemy . He did so with extreme cunning , a knowledge of not just his own strengths and weaknesses but also that of his enemy. Something  which he acquired through his resourceful spy network. Hence more than often the place and time of his battles were his own choosing , something which gave him an distinct edge over the enemy. Thus, Shivaji  always proved to be a step ahead of his rivals.
Starting as a teenaged leader of a band of young Mavales (inhabitants of the Maval region around Pune), Shivaji was quick to comprehend the geographical intricacies of Sahyadri  terrain . He used these mountains   virtually as his armour while battling some very daunting foes. Lightening in his movements he swept down on his unsuspecting enemy and before the latter could react, disappeared into the darkness of the night or back into the thickly vegetated camouflage of the hills. Thus the enemy despite the colossal size of their armies and their great wealth, soon found themselves helpless against the brilliance of Shivajis strategems.
Shivaji practised the Kautilya neeti of Chanakya, whereby the end was more important than the means. Afterall his enemy was powerful and crafty and it was more often necessary for Shivaji to match deceit with cunning. He never made any pretentions of chivalry or magnanimity towards the enemy , (which history repeatedly shows has led many a great warrior to their peril) and crushed his enemies with ruthlessness. Thus, even  the veteran generals like the Goliathic  Afzal Khan and powerful Shaista Khan found it difficult to match Shivaji in terms of guile and they soon found themselves at their wits end.
Shivaji  was a born leader of men . He inspired loyalty in his soldiers to such an extent that  many a gallant knight like Tanaji Malusare, Baji Prabhu Deshpande, Prataprao Gujar, Baji Pasalkar ….. readily sacrificed themselves at the altar whenever the need so arose. In fact no era ever witnessed such a regularity of martyrdom as during Shivajis time.
Though it is true that Shivaji was a devout Hindu who fought  enemies  many of whom were incidently Islamic by faith, it will be factually incorrect to label Shivaji as a Hindu zealot or anti Muslim. On the contrary, his secular credentials were always impeccable. He regularly prayed at Muslim dargahs and sought blessings from Sufi peers like Baba Yakut. Muslims were free to practice their religion in his kingdom  without any hinderance. Shivaji was even magnanimous in allowing the tomb of his arch foe , Afzal Khan to be built at the site where he was killed. Never did Shivaji ever raze down a mosque in victory nor allowed anyone to desecrate the holy Koran during his raids. He disallowed defilement  of womenfolk even from the enemy camp. He had issued strict warnings to his men to refrain from such acts and meted out the strictest punishment to those found guilty of breaking these cardinal rules. This fact has been acknowledged even by the mughal  chronicler  Khafi Khan, one of Shivajis severest critics. Moreover, Shivaji  freely employed muslims in his army at various positions . There are examples of them reaching high positions viz. Noor Beg, Haider Ali Kohari, Daulat Khan,Ibrahim Khan …just to name a few.But at the same time Shivaji never hesitated to take up cudgels for his hindu bretheren. His bold letter chastising mughal emperor Aurangzeb for the oppression of the hindus is quite well known. Hence, It wasn’t a war between Hindus and the Muslims  as such, but more of a war between the aborigine and the oppressive invader. 
Shivaji  began his quest with a small heridatory fief,  but increased it ten fold  by capturing a large region that stretched from ghats bordering Pune to coastal plains of the  Konkan. Hence it became all the more imperartive that the Marathas declare their own king to rule this vast land. Eventually a pandit from Kashi by the name of Gaga Bhat suggested that the Rajyabhishek of Shivaji take place and Shivaji be crowned the king of kings , the Chhatrapati. The coronation ceremony was thus conducted on 6th June, 1674, on the fort Raigad amidst great pomp and splendor.
The English envoy Henry Oxinden who witnessed the ceremony writes, ‘… This day, the Raja, according to the hindu custom was weighed in gold and poised about sixteen pagodas which money together with one hundred thousand more, is to be distributed after his coronation onto the Brahmins who in great number are flocked hither from all the adjacent countries…’.
The Jedhe Chronicle mentions ‘…on 30th May 1674, Shivaji was invested with the holy thread and he married again according to the Vedic mantras’.
Records also mention the presence of the heir apparent Sambhaji with Shivajis queens, his mother Jijabai amongst the many royal attendees, dignitaries and soldiers. There were several elephants and horses present on the fort as observed by Oxinden.
Sabhasad mentions ‘ A golden throne weighing thirty two maunds was made and inlaid with the choicest and the most precious jewels of nine kinds procured from the treasury……the total expenditure incurred in the cost of the ceremony amounted to one crore and forty thousand honas. The ashta pradhans (eight ministers) were honoured with a lakh of hon each besides a elephant, a horse, clothes and ornaments….thus the Raja ascended the throne.’

Note: The throne was designed by one Ramaji Datto Chitre of Kolhapur. 
Shivajis court at the time of his coronation has been described as - Shivaji arrived in the court (wearing gold toda around the suruwar around the legs, jewellery around the neck a kavda necklace-over the angarkhaa, kambarpatta,...),with his right hand weilding a golden bow and his left hand held a golden Vishnu idol (the king symbolises the incarnation of Vishnu on earth). The ashta pradhans (Moropant Pingale held a gold kalash with perforations,Hambirao Mohite held a silver kalash, etc) flanked the throne.On the right side stood Balaji Avji Chitnis and on the left side stood Nilopant Farasvis. Madari Mehtar (who was given the title Takht Firosh, caretaker of the throne). One sardar Vishwasrao Gaekwad held Bhavani the bejewelled sword of the king. The men around the throne weilded the royal sceptres-insignias (gold chavri, morchel,gold spear with a weighing scale symbolising even justice and fair commerce,gold spear with fish head symbolising control over seas,gold spears with horse head symbolising a powerful cavalry). Gagabhat held the royal umbrella over the king......... -  Shivcharitrakathan by Shivshaahir Babasaheb Purandare.

Shivaji struck his own coins and inaugurated a new era called Rajyashaka.  Also the fort Raigad was declared the new capital of the kingdom. A blueprint on the proposed administration of the kingdom was drawn out. It was executed by Ranganath Pandit and was called the Rajyavyavaharkosh.
But a tragedy struck Shivaji, when he lost his mother Jijabai hardly within a months time after the coronation. Shivaji considered it a bad omen and re conducted the coronation ceremony this time as per tantric traditions. The ceremony was conducted by one Nischalpuri  Gosavi. This ceremony was however a very simple affair and lasted just for a day.
Shivaji didn’t rest on his laurels and conducted several successful incursions in the south (northern Karnataka and Ginjee in Tamil Nadu) which brought him more territory , wealth and glory.
Shivaji could have achieved much more if the jaws of death hadn’t snatched his eventful  life. Shivaji  fell ill and breathed his last on 3rd April 1680, almost six years after his coronation. He was just 53. Shivaji left behind a legacy. A legacy which empowered the future generations of the Marathas , providing them with a self belief that propelled them to rise as major force in the political scene of a greater India.

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