Remembering Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation

published on June 9, 2010

The Central government has given permission to celebrate the 336th coronation ceremony of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at Raigad Fort on June 6, 2010 although the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), declined permission earlier citing provisions of Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010. The article throws light on the ceremony which took place 336 years ago.

The coronation ceremony of Shivaji Bhonsle June 6, 1674 was an event of great historic significance in India. In the case of other erstwhile rulers of India, the coronation had to be approved by the then Mughal Emperor, but Shivaji did it as a bold challenge to the Mughal authority.

Shivaji popularly known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was a warrior king who founded the Maratha kingdom with Raigad as its capital. Shivaji was formally anointed Chhatrapati on June 5, 1674, at the Raigad Fort and he became the crowned king on June 6. Shivaji led a resistance to free the Marathas from the Sultanate of Bijapur and defended them from the Mughal Empire.

Shivaji’s coronation ceremony (Rajyabhisheka) was performed according to the Shastras by Pandit Gaga Bhatt, a renowned Brahmin priest from Varanasi. He had gone through the genealogy of the Bhonsles, which showed that they were a branch of the Sisodias of Mewar, the Kshatriyas of the Rajput clan. Shivaji visited major shrines in Maharashtra before his coronation. He also performed pujas for Mahadeva, Bhavani, and other deities.
As Shivaji mounted the throne for the coronation, the priests chanted the holy verses. Musical instruments began to play and the artillery of all the forts fired salvos of their guns. The main priest held the royal umbrella and hailed him as Shiva Chhatrapati. He was conferred the title of ‘Kshatriya Kulavantas Sinhasanadheeshwar Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’ by the priest. However, barely a fortnight later on June 18, 1674,Shivaji’s mother Jijabai passed away. Since this was considered an ill omen by many, a second coronation was carried out in September the same year which was presided over by Nischal Puri, another priest.

Shivaji was born on April 10, 1627 in the hill-fort of Shivneri near Junnar to Shahaji Bhonsle and Jijabai. But the official birth date of Shivaji accepted by the Maharashtra government is February 19, 1630. Shahaji Bhonsle was a loyal servant of the Sultan of Bijapur and his mother was a pious Hindu woman. While Jijabai was pregnant, she had prayed the local deity Shivai for the good of her expected child. Shortly after that, a son was born and the parents named him ‘Shivaji’ after Lord Shiva. At the age of 12, Shivaji was taken to Banglore where he was given formal military training. Shahaji Bhonsle had a small jagir near Pune which was gifted to him by the Sultan of Bijapur. Shahaji in turn bequeathed his jagir to his son. At the age of 14, Shivaji returned to Pune with a Rajmudra (Sovereign seal) and a Council of Ministers. Shivaji founded the Maratha Rajya and became an inspirational leader of the Marathas.

Shivaji espoused the ideology of Hindavi Swarajya (self-rule of the natives). He established a competent and progressive civil rule with the help of well regulated and disciplined military and well structured administrative departments. He adopted a policy of religious tolerance to accommodate all religions and sects in his state. He was the first Maratha Chhatrapati to start the Raj Shaka (royal era) and issue a gold coin on the occasion of his coronation. Shivaji made preparations for the effective use of Marathi language in administration.

Shivaji made it a policy not to desecrate a mosque or seize women after the battle. The laws of his nation were based on Manusmriti. He studied the two great Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The morality and spiritual messages of the epics made a great impression on him. He was deeply interested in religious teachings, and sought the company of Hindu and Sufi saints throughout his life. He was generous in his donations to temples and religious institutions. As per the legend, Goddess Bhavani, the family deity of the Bhonsle’s had presented a divine sword to Shivaji Maharaj.

Shivaji was an able administrator who established a government that included modern concepts such as Cabinet (Ashtapradhan Mandal), Foreign Affairs (Dabir) and Internal Intelligence. He also built a powerful navy and erected new forts and strengthened old ones on the West Coast. He was an innovator and an able Commander. Towards the end of his reign, he built up the Maratha forces and could effectively keep the Mughal forces in check. His genius is evident in his military organisation, which lasted till the downfall of the Maratha Empire. Shivaji constructed a chain of over 300 forts running over a thousand kilometers across the Western Ghats.

Shivaji became an icon of freedom fighters in the Indian independence struggle that followed two centuries later. Shivaji was the greatest Hindu king that India had ever produced. He died on April 5, 1680 at Raigad, at the age of fifty. His death has created a vacuum, though his place in Indian history has been documented, recognised and remembered.

The Marathas had always been a hard-working and intelligent people. But until Shivaji came to the scene, they had not played a major role in Indian history. It was Shivaji who infused in them a spirit of ethnic consciousness and religious pride. Thanks to the writings of Sri Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore, Satyendranath and others, the cult of Shivaji spread beyond Maharashtra.

(The author is a freelance journalist, social activist and Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting. He can be contacted on [email protected])

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