Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj

Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was the son of Sambhaji Maharaj. He was the grandson of the Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of Maratha Empire in India. He was born on 18th May, 1682 at Mangaon. He ascended to the throne and became the King (Raja) of Satara on 22nd January, 1708.

Shahu, at the age of seven, was captured along with his mother Yesu Bai and taken to Aurangzeb‘s camp to be lodged there. He had to pass seventeen years and a half in captivity, and although he was provided with ordinary comforts of life and educated under the kindly eye of Zinat-un-Nisa, a daughter of Aurangzeb, he had little hope of regaining freedom. In fact, an uncertain fate seemed to await him. Chhatrapati Shahu was brought before the emperor to pay him his respects and Aurangzeb felt satisfied about his manners and loyalty.

In the Mughal camp, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj learnt reading and writing Marathi and to speak Hindi. He was also taught riding, hunting and swordsmanship within the limits of the camp. He acquired some knowledge of the Muslim faith and developed respect for it on account of his intimate contact with the Mughal court. In 1703 he married two ladies.

On Aurangzeb’s death and his son Azam Shah’s accession, Shahu was presented to the latter by Zulfiqar Khan who begged that the Maratha prince might be released and sent back home on the condition that he would remain loyal to the Mughal throne and whenever called upon would serve the emperor with a contingent of troops. Shahu was released though her mother was retained as a guarantee of his good behavior towards the Mughals. However, Shahuji was able to free her mother in 1719.

With a handful of followers, Chhatrapati Shahu crossed the Narmada and proceeded to Maharashtra where he was cordially welcomed. He got the support of Parsoji Bhonsle, the ancestor of the future rulers of Nagpur and  Balaji Vishwanath, the future Peshwa. Shahu was then planning to proceed ahead and capture Satara which was then the capital of the Maratha state.

Tara Bai, aunt of Shahu Maharaj, declared that Shahu had no right to the kingdom which had been lost by his father Sambhaji Maharaj. The present state, she said, was created by her husband Raja Ram Maharaj and its lawful ruler was her young son Shivaji II. She sent an army to check Shahu’s advance by force, and the latter had to prepare for a contest with the army of Tara Bai. A battle was fought and the army of Tara Bai was defeated.

Dhanaji now joined Chhatrapati Shahu and was appointed Senapati. Many other notable officers of Rani TaraBai deserted her and went over to Shahu, who marched in triumph to Satara and performed his coronation on 22nd January, 1708.

With the support of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath, the Maratha Empire under Shahuji Maharaj became very powerful. Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath was instrumental in winning important political elements in Maharashtra to Shahu’s cause. Being a skilled financier he improved the financial administration system of Shahu Maharaj and secured for him financial support of many wealthy bankers of the day.

Personality: He established the powerful position of the Peshwas who played significant role in Maratha history. He was essentially a kind-hearted man. He freely mixed with people and took part in their social festivities. He is remembered for his generosity to this day.

Last Days: The last days of Shahu Maharaj.  His queens intrigued against each other. His own health began to fail and Tara Bai’s move to secure power and the rivalry started between important Maratha chiefs. To these difficulties were added the absence of an heir to the throne. TaraBai, who lived in confinement at Satara, produced a child who was supposed to have been born of her son Shivaji II and requested Shahu to adopt him. His name was Ramaraja. Under these circumstances, the health of Shahu Maharaj miserable detoriated and he died in 1749. He left a will expressing his preference for RamaRaja.

Conclusion: Chhatrapati Shahu brought together the Maratha nobles who were instrumental in expanding the Maratha Empire. He had the amazing commonsense of detecting quality in other people and utilizing them for the state.

Additional Notes

Disambiguation: This article relates to Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj (born in 1682), who the grandson of Shivaji Maharaj. This article is not related to Shahaji II, who was born in 1874 and became the Maharaja of Princely state of Kolhapur. In India, Shahaji II is also sometimes referred to as Rajarshi Shahu or Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj. For further studies, the Wikipedia links of both these personalities is given below:

  1. Wikipedia link for Chattrapati Shahu Maharaj
  2. Wikipedia link for Shahaji II