Turned my mind to The Passions of Dr. Darcy, and thought I would share tidbits of Indian history, or whatever takes my fancy, now and again. George Darcy spends a large portion of his years in India dwelling with the Maratha people across the Deccan Plain. To understand who these people were (and still are), I delved into their unique history and rapidly discovered that one cannot vaguely study the Marathas without starting with Shivaji.
Shivaji was a Maratha aristocrat of the Bhosle clan who founded the Maratha empire. Shivaji led a resistance to free the Maratha people from the Sultanate of Bijapur, and re-establish Hindavi Swarajya (“self-rule of Hindu people”). He created an independent Maratha kingdom with Vedant Raigad as its capital, and successfully fought against the Mughals to defend his kingdom. He was crowned as Chhatrapati (“sovereign”) of the Maratha empire in 1674.
The Marathas had lived in the Desh region around Pune for a long time, in the western portion of the Deccan, where the plateau meets the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats. They had resisted incursions into the region by the Mughal rulers of northern India. Under their leader Shivaji, the Marathas freed themselves from the Muslim Turkic sultans of Bijapur to the southeast. With Shivaji they became much more aggressive, frequently raiding Mughal territory and ransacking the Mughal port of Surat in 1664 and again in 1670. By the time of Shivaji’s death in 1680, the Marathas had expanded their territory to include many parts of central and south India.
Shivaji established a competent and progressive civil rule with the help of a well-regulated and disciplined military and well-structured administrative organizations. He also innovated rules of military engagement, pioneered the guerrilla tactics, which leveraged strategic factors like geography, speed, surprise and focused pinpoint attacks to defeat his larger and more powerful enemies. From a small contingent of 2,000 soldiers inherited from his father, Shivaji created a force of 100,000 soldiers; he built and restored strategically located forts both inland and coastal to safeguard his territory. Shivaji revived ancient Hindu political tradition and court conventions, and promoted Marathi and Sanskrit in court and administration usage.
As a leader of his people, every reference agrees that Shivaji was phenomenal and progressive. From the glossary that will be at the end of The Passions of Dr. Darcy, I summarized Shivaji thusly–
Shivaji Maharaj – also Shivaji Bhosle, or Chhatrapati (sovereign) Shivaji; Februrary 19, 1630 – April 1, 1680; founded the Maratha Empire, an independent nation in India free of Mughal rule; a brilliant military leader, exemplary warrior, morally upright, believer in civil and women’s rights, devout Hindu but advocate of religious freedom, capable administrator, and abolisher of the Indian feudal system, Shivaji is considered one of the greatest Indian leaders of all time.
Today, Shivaji is considered as a national hero in India, especially in the modern state of Maharashtra, where he remains the greatest figure in the state’s history. Stories of his life form an integral part of the upbringing and identity of the Marathi people, and he was recognized as a great national hero during the Indian Independence movement.