Shivaji belongs to that rare category of ambitious heroes which inspires the coming generations for all times to come. Shivaji not only carved out for himself a kingdom in Marathaland and liberated the Maratha nation but also secured for himself a permanent niche in history. Shivaji was born on 10th April, 1627. The name of his father was Shivaji and mother's Jijabai.
The legend goes that once Shivaji had a dream in which he was offered a mango. On sharing this with his wife, he would have a son, who would be an incarnation of the god Shiva. Eventually when the child was born, he was named after the saint Shah Sharif, Shivaji's mother was a pious and devout Hindu lady, who had tremendous faith in God. She also loved calling her son 'Shivaji'.
As was the want of aristocracy those days, Shivaji got another wife. As Jijabai was a self-respecting lady, she shifted from Shivner, the birthplace of Shivaji, to Poona. She took impeccable care in bringing up and educating the child. The task of Shivaji's education was entrusted to Dada Kondevji, an experienced and dedicated Brahmin teacher.
Right from his childhood, Shivaji was freedom loving. His mother and his teacher had groomed him well and taught him martial exercises. They told him stories of heroes, which instilled in his mind courage and love for adventure.
Not much fond of formal education, he loved having mock fights with his friends. He was exceptionally bold and fearless. Once when was a child, his father took him to Bijapur court. Not only did he not wash himself for purity after returning from there. In fact he started dreaming about a kingdom of his own when he was only thirteen years old.
He was hardly twenty years old when he ventured his first military operation. Accompanied by his three childhood friends and some soldiers he attacked the famous 'Toran' fort falling in the Bijapur Kingdom. The fort was conquered without much difficulty. He got a sizeable booty. He also became very popular amongst the Maratha young men, who flocked to join his service. It encouraged him in the attainment of his mission.
The news of Shivaji's military exploits reached Bijapur Court, where his father Shahji was in employment. The nawab of Bijipur wrote a letter to Shivaji and also forced Shivaji to write one to his son. In reply Shivaji wanted that the territory conquered by him should be given to him. Only then he could present himself at the court, the reply made the Nawab all the more angry.
At this the Nawab put Shivaji in a very narrow, dark and cingy cell with a small aperture for fresh air, which he threatened to close if Shivaji did not submit. Shivaji thought of a plan. He immediately wrote a letter to Shah Jahan, the Moghul Emperor requesting him to get Shivaji liberated. The Emperor was already eager to find an excuse to interfere in Bijapur. The Emperor issued the required order at once. It was a remark-able diplomatic feat which won him applause and built his self-confidence further.
One of the most interesting incidents of his military career was his duel with Afzal Khan. Shivaji was an eyesore to the Nawab of Bijapur. He sent a human giant Afzal Khan with a large number of picked soldiers to subdue Shivaji and bring him as captive to the court; Afzal Kahn entered Shivaji's territory from the south. He demolished temples on his way and got the idols thrown into the river.
It is said that he also got an iron cage to put Shivaji in. Afzal Khan wanted to kill him by deception. So he sent a conciliatory message to him. Shivaji managed to get a clue to what was in Afzal Khan's mind. He planned to pay him in the same coin. Both agreed to meet along with two security men each only. When both of them met each other, Afzal Khan tried to strangulate him by pressing his neck under his arm and hitting him with his dagger. But Shivaji outwitted him. He had already protected himself against such attack.
He also concealed a dagger in his sleeve and fitted steel points to his left hand. Shivaji, unable to free his neck from Afzal Khan's powerful grip, drove with his right hand his dagger into the Khan's back and tore open his belly with the steel points in his left hand. The Khan's army beaten and slain fled in confusion. It yielded Shivaji a considerable booty in the form of trained animals and cash.
Another important military operation of Shivaji involved an attack on Shayista Khan, who was a maternal uncle of the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb asked the Khan to teach Shivaji a lesson and annex his territory to the Moghul Empire. Raja Jaswant Singh also accompanied the Khan in this campaign. Shayista Khan was camping in the Poona Fort with the regal luxury. Shivaji and his 400 picked soldiers entered the city disguised as a marriage party. The sudden attack surprised the Khan, who fled in panic but not without losing his thumb in the skirmish.
After hearing about Shayista Khan's defeat Aurangzeb flew into a rage. He sent a huge army under the command of two veterans- Raja Jaswant Singh and Diler Khan, who launched a massive attack on Shivaji's territory. Eventually Shivaji sent a message of peace to Jaswant Sngh. Shivaji also agreed to go to the Moghul Court. But he felt insulted at the court and he made bold to express it.
At this he was detained. Shivaji once against outwitted his captors and secured his liberation. He pretended to be ill and after some days asked for permission to distribute sweets on his recovery. The permission was granted. The baskets of sweets and fruits used to come in and go out of the prison. One day he came out of it in one of the baskets. He journeyed back disguised as a Sadhu. The Maratha hero was back in his territory.
Now Shivaji thought fit to have him crowned. So the coronation ceremony was arranged at his capital Rajgarh with great pomp and show. He was given a sacred thread and anointed as per the tradition of the ancient Kshatriya Kings. He was weighed against coins which were distributed among the poor. His dream along with that of his mother had been realized. His mother died about two weeks after the coronation ceremony.
The great Maratha hero fell ill and developed a swelling at the knee joint, which did not respond to medical care. At last he did on April 3, 1680.
Probably, the most fitting assessment of Shivaji has been done by Orme in his 'Historical Fragments'. He says, "In personal activity he (Shivaji) exceeded all generals for whom there is record. He met every emergency of peril, however sudden or extreme, with instant discernment, and unshaken fortitude; the ablest of his officers acquiesced in the imminent superiority of his genius and the boast of the soldier was to have seen Shivaji charging sword in hand."