Considered as the greatest Maratha ruler, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born February 19, 1630, at Shivneri Fort, near the city of Junnar in what is now Pune district.
Though the Government of Maharashtra lists 19 February as a holiday commemorating Shivaji’s birth (Shivaji Jayanti), scholars disagree on his date of birth.
Shivaji’s father Shahaji Bhonsle was a Maratha general who served the Deccan Sultanates His mother was Jijabai, the daughter of Lakhuji Jadhavrao of Sindhkhed, a Mughal-aligned sardar claiming descent from a Yadav royal family of Devagiri.
Born as Shivaji Bhosale I, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was a warrior-king and a member of the Bhonsle Maratha clan.
Shivaji was named after a local deity, the goddess Shivai.
As early as 1645, the teenage Shivaji expressed his concept for Hindavi Swarajya (Indian self-rule), in a letter.
On 25 July 1648, Shahaji, his father, was imprisoned by Baji Ghorpade under the orders of Bijapuri ruler Mohammed Adilshah, in a bid to contain Shivaji. Consequently, Shivaji paused in his conquests and quietly consolidated his gains.
After his release, Shahaji retired from public life, and died around 1664–1665 in a hunting accident. Following his father’s release, Shivaji resumed raiding, and in 1656, under controversial circumstances, killed Chandrarao More, a fellow Maratha feudatory of Bijapur, and seized the valley of Javali, near present day Mahabaleshwar, from him.
In 1657 Adilshah sent Afzal Khan, a veteran general, to arrest Shivaji. Before engaging him, the Bijapuri forces desecrated the Tulja Bhavani Temple, holy to Shivaji’s family, and the Vithoba temple at Pandharpur, a major pilgrimage site for the Hindus.
Afzal Khan and Shivaji meet in private outside the fort to parley. However, it led to a fierce battle called Battle of Pratpagarh, won by Shivaji.
Shivaji carved out an enclave from the declining Adilshahi sultanate of Bijapur that formed the genesis of the Maratha Empire.
Shivaji was contemptuously called a “Mountain Rat” by Aurangzeb and his generals because of his guerilla tactics of attacking enemy forces and then retreating into his mountain forts.
In 1674, he was formally crowned as the Chhatrapati (emperor) of his realm at Raigad.
Over the course of his life, Shivaji engaged in both alliances and hostilities with the Mughal Empire, Sultanate of Golkonda and Sultanate of Bijapur, as well as European colonial powers.
Shivaji’s military forces expanded the Maratha sphere of influence, capturing and building forts, and forming a Maratha navy.
Shivaji established a competent and progressive civil rule with well-structured administrative organisations.
He revived ancient Hindu political traditions and court conventions and promoted the usage of Marathi and Sanskrit, rather than the Persian language, in court and administration.
Shivaji’s legacy was to vary by observer and time but he began to take on increased importance with the emergence of the Indian independence movement, as many elevated him as a proto-nationalist and hero of the Hindus.
The Jayanti of the great emperor was first started in Pune in 1870 by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, who had discovered the tomb of Shivaji Maharaj on Raigad. Phule also wrote the longest and first Ballad on Shivaji Maharaj’s life.
Commemorations of Shivaji are found throughout India, most notably in Maharashtra. Shivaji’s statues and monuments are found almost in every town and city in Maharashtra as well as in different places across India. Other commemorations include the Indian Navy’s ship the INS Shivaji, numerous postage stamps, and the main airport and railway headquarters in Mumbai. In Maharashtra, there has been a long tradition of children building a replica fort with toy soldiers and other figures during the festival of Diwali in memory of Shivaji.
In 1966, the Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji) party formed to promote the interests of Marathi speaking people in the face of migration to Maharashtra from other parts of India, and the accompanying loss of power for locals. His image adorns literature, propaganda and icons of the party.
A proposal to build a giant memorial called Shiv Smarak was approved in 2016 to be located near Mumbai on a small island in the Arabian Sea. It will be 210 meters tall making it the world’s largest statue when completed in possibly 2021.