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Shivaji as a Conqueror and Fighter and His Effect on Hindu Life
In 1628 a man greatly respected and revered by the Hindus was born. He was Shivaji and he died relatively young at the age of 52 in 1680. Shivaji lived his entire life under the shadow of Muslim rule personified by Aurangzeb, the greatest Moghul conqueror in Hindustan.
Aurangzeb was the Shehan-Shah( king of kings) and this was the salutation by which he was addressed. Even Guru Gobind Singh in his Zafarnama, which forms part of the " Dasam Granth" addressed him by this title. Aurangzeb lived on for 27 years after the death of Shivaji and died in 1707..
Shivaji is more of an icon of that troubled period. His rule covered a very small area compared to the empire of Aurangzeb but he left a tremendous impact. He is regarded in awe by the Hindus and many in Maharashtra worship him as a god. Some Western historians who have written about Shivaji have concluded that he was just a small-time king in Mulsim ruled India.
This is not entirely true as Shivaji's contribution cannot be related to his military standing and land he ruled. He is to be remembered as the man who restored Hindu pride at a time when Aurangzeb had started his policy of persecution of Hindus. He brought in a renaissance in the Hindu movement and imbibed in them the character of being fighters. This is no mean achievement and credit must go to Shivaji for giving a new meaning to bravery and chivalry.
Shivaji Contribution as a Soldier
After his death legends abound about Shivaji and his legendary battle with the Muslims. One cannot, however, pass any comment on his ability as a soldier as he never had a standing army. In addition, the caste equation played against him and much lower cast Maharathas joined Aurangzeb against him.
British historians like Cunningham have opined that Shivaji was effective in only a few districts around Pune, in particular, the Western Ghat area. But there is no denying the fact he created a nuisance for the Mughal ruler because he often looted the royal treasury. As a shrewd leader, he avoided a pitched battle though he was forced into them sometimes. He fought one pitched battle at Chakan in 1660 against the force of Aurangzeb commanded by another Hindu Raja Jai Singh which he lost.
Another important battle he lost is the battle of Purandar in 1665. This battle had its effect and Shivaji was defeated resulting in his ceding 23 forts to the Mughals.
Shivaji resorted to guerrilla tactics and this was his forte. He was a highly successful guerrilla captain of war, and harassed the Mughal army leading to Aurangzeb referring to him as a " mountain rat".
Coming to Shivaji one must give him credit for raising the banner of revolt against the great Aurangzeb, who in factual matters was a bigoted ruler. He destroyed Hindu temples though he claimed to be a pious man. The fact is he was a blind believer in Islamic values and just could not countenance anything else. His view of India was only through Islamic thought and philosophy.
Shivaji fought his last battle in 1679 often called the Battle Sangamner. It was his biggest defeat as he had to flee the battlefield with just 500 soldiers as over 2000 of his soldiers were done to death. Shivaji died soon after in 1680
No judgment can be passed on Shivaji, without taking into account the socio-economic situation in India the 17th century when Emperor Aurangzeb had conquered most of the Deccan Plateau. The Hindus had been defeated and worse the Hindus practiced caste discrimination. In addition to this, they patronized ills like sati, child marriage and practised weird rituals.
This was a need for a man to exorcize all these evils and also give the Hindus self-respect. There was no worthwhile leader at that time except for Guru Gobind but he was confined to Punjab. Shivaji came on the scene and roused the spirits of the Hindus and for this, he must get full marks. He kept the Hindu flag alive by his bravery and example. To challenge the Shehan Shah, Aurangzeb mightiest of the Mughal emperors was a great and brave act. He roused the Hindus and showed that the Hindus was as brave or resilient as anyone and could match the Muslims.
After his death, the legacy of Shivaji was carried forward by others and led to the birth of the Maratha empire and the eclipse of Muslim rule in India. For the Mughals, the defeats of Shivaji in retrospect turned sour as Muslim rule ebbed away to become a page in Indian history.
Shivaji's biggest contribution is not that he won or lost, but showed the world that the Hindus were brave and could match the Muslims. This by itself was a great achievement.