Why Shivaji broke away from the Mughals — and established the Maratha reign

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi
Syed Ali Nadeem RezaviApr 12, 2018 | 13:55

Why Shivaji broke away from the Mughals — and established the Maratha reign

Unlike the Rajputs', the Marathas' was not a clan-based society. For the latter, the individual was a basic unit of the society as against the clan or the tribe. So the challenge the Mughals faced in the Deccan was that for every powerful leader who switched to their side, there would be ten others to take his place.

It was quite different from the Rajputana, where, if the leader accepted the overlordship, his entire clan followed. Thus, if Bharamal joined the Mughals, the entire Kachhawaha clan followed suit; when Amar Singh accepted the Mughal suzerainty, all the Sisodias followed him.


Therefore, for the Rajputs, appointing the leader of the clan to the mansab meant that the entire clan would follow him in fealty. This scenario was not possible as far as the Marathas were concerned: each individual was free to accept or reject an association; there was no leader of the clan. The Mughals were not in a position to satisfy the demands of each and every Maratha, so there was a social impediment.

A painting shows Jai Singh of Amber receiving Shivaji, marking the Treaty of Purandhar.

Secondly, the Mughals befriended the Rajputs during the reign of Akbar, when the emperor wanted to annex the whole of North India to the Mughal Empire. The services of the Rajputs proved of immense use to achieve this consolidation. Thus, concessions were extended by the emperor towards the martial ally.

By the year 1666, Akbar's great grandson Aurangzeb had not decided to annex the Deccan to the Mughal Empire. Hence, the importance accorded to the Marathas by the Mughals at the time could not be equated with that enjoyed by the Rajputs.


At the time, Mughal general Mirza Raja Jai Singh asked Aurangzeb to give concessions to the Deccan because he presumed that the region would be annexed to the Mughal Empire. If Aurangzeb had decided on this policy, he would have seen merit in granting them.


Thirdly, Shivaji had a burning desire to carve for himself a separate kingdom and political identity. It was this ambition that acted as the most attractive slogan for the Marathas who joined Shivaji.

Irrespective of whether he was given the exalted rank of panj hazari (commanding 5,000 troops) or haft hazari (commanding 7,000 troops), the Maratha could not be satisfied. Even if Shivaji accepted the overlordship and mansab of the Mughals, he was bound to lose his following in Maharashtra.

Perhaps, Aurangzeb knew his weakness. Even if Shivaji recanted, it would have no serious consequence. Shivaji was only a leader of the Marathas so long as he gave the slogan of a separate political identity in the south. That is why the indecision. The unfortunate result was that Shivaji was neither crushed nor conciliated. These were the basic reasons for Shivaji breaking away from the Mughals.

In addition, it was also an assertion of regionalism and the regional elite that created a problem in the process of reconciliation of the Marathas. Shivaji's movement can also be defined as one for regional Independence. That was the period of rise of nationalities, as has been pointed out by Reisner. Yet, the basic weakness of his argument lies in the fact that in the 17th century, India was not a nation.


A warrior insulted

There were also certain immediate reasons Shivaji's disenchantment with the Mughals.

After the Treaty of Purandhara, when the terms were dictated by Mirza Raja Jai Singh, the Maratha warrior accepted the those favourable to the Mughals and extremely humiliating to himself. Jai Singh persuaded Shivaji to pay a visit to Agra. He gave him the solemn assurance of safety at the Mughal bastion.

When Shivaji was entering Agra, Kunwar Ram Singh, son of Jai Singh, was directed by the emperor to go out to receive Shivaji in the outskirts of the city. It was mere accident that while Ram Singh had gone to receive the Maratha warrior at one of the gates, Shivaji entered from another. The Maratha resented this move as he thought it was a deliberate humiliation.

Shivaji ultimately reached the darbar, and he was immediately presented before the emperor. He was ordered to stand in the row of the panj hazari as per the court etiquette of the nobles, who were organised as per their ranks. When he enquired who was standing before him in the second row, he was told: "Maharaja Jaswant Singh." At this, Shivaji protested, "His back has been seen by my soldiers (in Shaista Khan's company). And he is standing in the front!" Upon hearing this, Jaswant Singh retorted that if every petty baniya was given the status of 5,000, it would be an insult!

One should remember that in 1665, his son had been given the rank of 5,000. Shivaji now sharply protested this so-called humiliation of being made to stand in the rank of the panj hazaris.

Upon hearing the commotion, the emperor asked what the furore was about. It was reported to him that Shivaji was not used to the heat of Agra, and as such was not feeling well. Aurangzeb ordered him to be taken to the Haveli to take rest. But subsequently Shivaji’s annoyance became clear to him.

Two parties developed at the court: one in favour of Shivaji and the other against him. The party in favour consisted of Kunwar Ram Singh, his father Jai Singh, Muhammad Amin Khan, the son of Mir Jumla of the Deccan (probably due to regionalism), and Murtuza Khan.

They pleaded for Shivaji and impressed upon the emperor that the Maratha should be pacified and all his demands conceded to.

The other group, which was more powerful, consisted of Princess Jahanara Begum, Maharaja Jaswant Singh and Ja’afar Khan. They were opposed to Shivaji and pressured Aurangzeb to take stern action against him. Jahanara was hostile to Shivaji as Surat was under her jagir and it had been plundered by the Maratha warrior.

Jaswant Singh knew if the dispute with Shivaji was resolved, his own prestige would take a beating. Ja’afar Khan was the son-in-law of Shaista Khan, who had been attacked by Shivaji and whose prestige had been broken, just like his fingers, by the Maratha warrior.

Aurangzeb could not decide what action to take against Shivaji. He was in the meanwhile imprisoned in a house, and its custody given to Faulad Khan, the kotwal of Agra. Later, Kunwar Ram Singh was put in charge of Shivaji's custody. But Shivaji made his escape from Agra in 1666 and Aurangzeb was deprived of the fruits of the Treaty of 1665.

Jai Singh's death led to the opening of a new chapter in Deccan politics. No Mughal noble could replace him, be it as a general, a diplomat or a statesman, and hence no one could succeed against Shivaji the way he did.

In 1672, the Afghans revolted in the northwest, and Aurangzeb had to leave for Hasan Abdal and stay there for two years. The bulk of the Mughal forces was withdrawn to be posted against the Afghans. At such a time, the absence of the emperor and the Mughal forces from the Deccan provided an opportunity to Shivaji.

The result was the grand coronation of Shivaji in 1674. Thus, he became an independent king, with the apparatus and prestige that monarchy brought. He could now talk to the rulers of Golconda and Bijapur on equal terms.

Shivaji was no longer dependent on the recognition of his authority by the Mughals, Adil Shah or Qutb Shah. He became a sovereign in his own right. 

The theoretical framework that his movement lacked so far, the moral and legal albatross, was now removed. This way, Shivaji established the "Hindu pad padashahi".

Last updated: February 19, 2019 | 10:09
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