How Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj formed the Great Maratha Empire by drawing lessons from past Hindu rulers

Chhatrapati Shivaji built a firm empire based on the real idea of Bharat as an antidote to the foreign invaders and thereby reclaimed all its lost glory. He demonstrated through his actions that the native race of Bharat could rule all over the country and protect and promote its own culture, art, literature, commerce, etc. But his journey was not easy as he had to overcome numerous hurdles to achieve this.

Many of his achievements, intelligence, political awareness, and policies have often been discussed. But one of his important aspects that have been neglected/overlooked is the lessons he took from the blunders of his ancestors.

Many glorious dynasties ruled before Shivaji Maharaj but they lost their Empire due to their blunders. Let’s see how Chhatrapati Shivaji corrected the blunders of his ancestors and built the Great Maratha empire.

1) First blunder: Raja Dahir and his battle against Muhammad bin Qasim

As we know that the journey of Islamic conquest in Bharat started from the defeat of Sindh ruler Raja Dahir by Muhammad bin Qasim. Raja Dahir was a courageous and intelligent king. He defeated Arabs many times earlier and under his leadership Arab forces had been butchered and defeated many times.

But his defeat at the hands of Mohammed bin Qasim was a great tragedy of blunders. Qasim with his large force and strong navy started attacking Dahir’s territory. Dahir ignored Qasim due to his over-confidence in his army and generals on the basis of past records.

Dahir’s own governors from various provinces joined hands with Qasim to satisfy their greed. But Dahir ignored this and started war preparation when Qasim was a mere few miles away from his Rajdhani (capital). His chief general Mokah (Mokham) joined hands with Qasim just before the war. And ultimately in battle, Dahir was defeated and killed by Qasim.

To cut a long and sad story short, the reasons for the loss were as follows

  • Overconfidence of Dahir in his generals and army
  • Total ignorance about Qasim’s moves
  • Dahir fought a battle in the heartland of his territory
  • Lack of strategy while fighting the war
  • Excessive autonomy to governors of provinces

2) Second blunder: Prithviraj Chauhan and second Battle of Tarain

We know the tragedy of the second Battle of Tarain and the civilizational cost that Bharat paid due to Chauhan’s defeat in this battle. Prithviraj Chauhan previously defeated Muhammad Ghori. He was a strong, courageous, valiant, and intelligent ruler.

Unlike the previous year, Mohammed of Ghori replaced bravado with perfidy and lulled Prithviraj into a false sense of peace by claiming that he had come to win his trust on the orders of his elder brother, Ghiyath al-Din. Prithviraj naively believed him and lowered his guards.

In the cloak of darkness before the fateful morning of 1192, Muhammad of Ghori rudely and unexpectedly sprung the second Battle of Tarain. Mohammad of Ghori won it through sheer treachery, not valor. Prithviraj Chauhan was beheaded and died perhaps without realizing the civilizational cost of his misplaced magnanimity.

The reasons for the loss of Prithviraj were as follows:

  • He naively believed his enemy Muhammad of Ghori
  • He fought battle in the inner part of his territory

3)Third blunder: fall of Yadavas of Devagiri

Yadavas of Devagiri were an important dynasty in Southern Bharat with a glorious past of three centuries. In the year 1298 Alauddin Khilji marched towards Devagiri. Condition in Devagiri was not favorable for Yadavas. A major portion of Deogiri’s army was away in the south fighting on a campaign led by their Prince, and Khilji seized this chance and attacked Deogiri.

The incumbent, Ramadevaraya Yadav, found out that an invading army was about to reach Devagiri when it was a mere 12 miles away from his capital. He retreated into the fort after a small fight and decided to wait out the siege till his son returned from the south.

But tragedy struck as the granaries that were supposed to be filled with grains were filled with salt instead. Alauddin Khilji also started the misinformation campaign that his large force is attacking Deogiri. The Deogiri fort also had only one door for both entry and exit. The misinformation campaign worked and Ramadevaraya surrendered to Khilji.

Reasons for loss of Deogiri were:

  • Total intelligence failure
  • Ill strategy to meet eventualities
  • Lack of diplomatic skills to counter Khilji’s campaign
  • Absence of recognition of problems that North could invade the south
  • A large portion of the army was engaged in the south
  • Only one entry point for the fort

4) Fourth blunder: Defeat of Hemachandra, second Battle of Panipat.

Hemachandra was a valiant commander and intelligent warrior who won around 20 battles including the siege of forts like Delhi and Agra. Hemachandra crowned himself in Delhi. He and Akbar fought a war in Panipat which is known as the second battle of Panipat.

In this battle, Hemachandra was initially successful but tragedy struck when an arrow hit Hemachandra’s eye and he fell on the ground from his elephant. After his fall his army scattered in various directions and ultimately lost the war.

The reasons for the loss of Hemachandra were:

  • He did not play to his strength which was his artillery that was engaged in Punjab then
  • He was the sole commander in his army, which means he alone was responsible for loss or gain in battle. There was a second general in this war which was a huge mistake.
  • The soldiers and commanders in his army were not united under a single idea. They had come together only for their own gains and greed. There was no common ideal and they were merely united against Mughals due to Hemu’s leadership. After the fall of Hemu, they were scattered.

5) Fifth and last blunder: Battle of Talikota

The mighty Vijayanagar Empire stood firmly for three centuries against the foreign invaders. It stood rock solid for Bharatiya/Hindu culture, religion, and civilizational pride. Bahmani kingdoms saw a great enemy in the form of the Vijayanagar empire and united against Vijayanagar on the basis of Jihad. In the Battle of Talikota, the emperor of Vijayanagar, Ramaraya was beheaded and his army started retreating and ultimately lost the battle.

Reasons for defeat in the Battle of Talikota were:

  • Rama Raya was the sole commander of his army
  • Intelligence failure of Ramaraya because a major chunk of the army that he sent to Krishna river fell for Bahamani’s trick
  • No plan of retreating and regrouping at another place although their dominance extended into the deep south
  • Bahamanis declared Jihad and Rama Raya’s two Muslim commanders (Gilani brothers) suddenly turned against Rama Raya and attacked his army.

This was the kind of history that preceded Chhatrapati Shivaji. Of this, the last two were more or less recent events when Chhatrapati Shivaji was born. It needs to be emphasized that Chhatrapati Shivaji faced or knew that his people would face similar problems. He, therefore, worked towards formulating military policies that would make the Marathas win.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj corrected the above 5 blunders by making various policies and breaking other old customs.

1) End of feudalism…

Before and during the birth of Chhatrapati Shivaji a large feudal system existed. During Bahmani and sultanate period to control the territory, the Sultans created a system in which they recruited local people as chiefs and gave various posts like Deshmukh, Deshpande, Kulkarni and etc.

They enjoyed autonomy from the Sultan and had their own army. These feudal lords would rule from their forts atop mountains and this had been going for generations. Various sardars in the Bahamani period emerged from this system such as Jadhav, Jedhe, More, Shirke, Ghorpade, etc.

To build an Empire these feudal chiefs were the greatest obstacle. Chhatrapati Shivaji used the policy of Sam dam dand bhed to subjugate the feudal chiefs and to end the feudal system. Initially, he would send a proposal to feudal chiefs to join his Swarajya, if they disagree then Chhatrapati Shivaji used his force to subjugate them. Chandrarao More is an example of this policy.

These feudal chiefs were spread in the 12 Maval area (Pune – Satara region) which formed the backbone of Swarajya.  Chhatrapati Shivaji recruited these feudal chiefs in his army at top posts. Thus, the landholding feudal chiefs came under the banner of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Swarajya.

Chhatrapati Shivaji got rid of the hereditary rights held by these feudal chiefs. He disbanded the hereditary rights of the feudal chiefs which helped him a lot in subjugating them. He restricted these chiefs from fortifications without his permission.

By this, the autonomy of chiefs ended and they united under one banner. As you know a number of the governors of provinces in Dahirs territory backstabbed him by joining hands with Qasim due to the excessive autonomy, Chhatrapati Shivaji ended their autonomy and corrected this blunder.

2) Ideal of Hindavi Swarajya

From the inspiration of his father Shahaji Raje and from his mother Rani Jijabai, Chhatrapati Shivaji envisioned a clear idea of his own ideal nation namely Hindavi Swarajya meaning his own nation of Hindus.

He never claimed Shivaji’s Swarajya, he always claimed that “हे स्वराज्य व्हावे हि तर श्रींची इच्छा” means that the formation of Swarajya is the will of God.

Chhatrapati Shivaji noticed that the Mansabdari system is a potential threat to the idea of Swarajya because, in the Mansabdari system, the Mansabdars fight with each other to increase their Mansabdari and their dominion powers.

Also, the Mansabdari system destroys the idea of Central power and immensely harms the unity in the empire by giving birth to various power centers. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj put an end to the Mansabdari system by recruiting Mansabdars in higher posts in his army and administration.

Which policies were put to test in the year 1689, when Chhatrapati Sambhaji was killed by Mughals? There was no strong leader to lead them, and Raja Ram was the only option but he had to escape to Gingee in the south.

Maratha prevailed 17 years against the Mughals only because of the Ideal of Swarajya. Ramchandra pant Bawadekar, Santaji Ghorpade, Dhanaji Jadhav, and others fought valiantly without a king just for the ideal of Swarajya. Ordinary citizens also helped Maratha’s army and stood courageously against the Mughals only because of Shivray’s deep-rooted ideal of Swarajya. Chhatrapati Shivaji’s policies had ensured that people fought and died for a higher ideal.

Thus, in the case of Hemachandra and Ramaraya, army and generals shattered and fled away from battlefield because there was no central idea or high moral that unites them. Chhatrapati Shivaji corrected this blunder by his deeply rooted ideal of Swarajya.

3) Science of Forts

Chhatrapati Shivaji recognized that power in Maharashtra meant control of the forts. Chhatrapati Shivaji knew the science of forts and made forts unique in terms of defense as follows.

  • Unlike the Rajput forts of the north, with their exposed entrances, Chhatrapati Shivaji devised the Gau Mukh structure. This way it was impossible to know where the fort entrance was.
  • Forts were built to guard all important passes and roads.
  • No one person was given absolute charge of the fort. This eliminated the chance of defections that Dahir faced.
  • He used natural advances to make the forts strong E.g., Double walls on Rajgad fort, Using the dense forest as defense on Vasota fort, etc.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji built various entrances and departure points for the forts. He built various Chor Daravajas (secret passages) to prevent surrender in a siege.
  • As Khilji blocked Deogiris’s only entrance and hence the king had to surrender, a similar situation was faced by Chhatrapati Rajaram when Zulfikar Khan laid siege on Raigad. Rajaram escaped from Wagh Darvaja which was at rear of the Raigad.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji built forts in pairs. If the siege will happen then to provide ammunition and other things such as grains etc, the other fort in the pair would help.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji built huge granaries in the fort which helped in sieges. As we know due to lack of granaries, Deogiri surrendered to Khilji, Chhatrapati Shivaji corrected this blunder by building large granaries with reserved stores.

4) Professional and committed intelligence department

Chhatrapati Shivaji knew that every war is fought in two ways – first on the battleground and second on the intelligence. Lack of intelligence department cause harm to the empire. Chhatrapati Shivaji built a strong network of intelligence which helped him in various decisive battles such as the battle against Afzal Khan, Agra escape, attack on Shahistekhan, etc.

It was due to lack of intelligence that the Deogiri empire fell to a misinformation campaign and was also unaware of Khilji’s movements. The same fate befell the Vijayanagara empire. Bahamani forces spread misinformation campaign that they are attacking from banks of Krishna river, Ramaraya fell for this and send a huge army of one lakh towards the banks of Krishna river. But Bahamani forces attacked from a different point and led to Vijayanagara’s loss.

Chhatrapati Shivaji corrected this blunder by enabling a strong intelligence department under Bahirji Naik and the local tribes.

5) War Strategy

Chhatrapati Shivaji fought battles with unique strategies. Guerrilla warfare was one of them. He with his intelligence department spread misinformation campaigns about their movements and attacks on the enemy.

March towards Surat and Battle of Umbarkhind was a perfect amalgamation of guerrilla warfare and strong intelligence strategy. When Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj went to Dakshin Digvijay he rested a large army in Maharashtra under the leadership of Sambhaji Maharaj because he knew that the absence of an army in one’s own territory welcomes enemies.

As in the case of Deogiri when a large army was busy in Southern Bharat under the prince, Khilji attacked Deogiri where only a small army was stationed.

Another important strategy adopted by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was he never fought a decisive battle deep within his territory. He always fought important battles either in enemy territories or on the boundary of his territories.

This gave him a huge advantage. That is if he lost the battle, then he will not lose his territory and it doesn’t cause any damage to his territory. Vijayanagara, Dahir, and Prithviraj fought battles in the heartland of their territory which caused a lot of damage to them.

Chhatrapati Shivaji knew that if we fight a battle in our own territory, we have to deploy a separate army to protect the territory and if we lose the war, we have to give the entire portion. Therefore, he never fought decisive battles in his heartland of territory. E.g., Battle against Afzal Khan, Battle of Salher.

6) Establishing outpost in South Bharat at Vellore and Gingee

Chhatrapati Shivaji knew that the north power (Mughal) will definitely attack South. So, to establish outposts for fighting a long war against northern powers after the loss of Sahyadri, he marched towards the south and established strong outposts at Vellore and Gingee.

And just after 9 years to his death, Aurangzeb attacked and seized most of Maratha territory. Rajaram escaped from Raigad to Gingee and started fighting with Aurangzeb and reclaimed all his territory. Due to Chhatrapati Shivaji’s political farsightedness, he saved his empire even after his death.

As we know in the case of the Vijayanagara empire, after their fall in Talikota, they had no other strong political center from where they could start reclaiming all their lost territories. They didn’t establish outposts even in areas dominated by them which led to the end of their empire. Chhatrapati Shivaji corrected this blunder by establishing strong outposts.

Thus, Chhatrapati Shivaji corrected the blunders by his ancestors that led to huge civilization loss and successfully reclaimed glory. Lessons from his ancestors helped form a strong Maratha empire that stood rock solid for its culture, art, commerce, trades, etc.

In conclusion, I want to quote Sir Jadunath Sarkar.

“Shivaji proved by his example that the Hindu race could build a nation, defeat its enemies, could conduct their own defense, they could protect and promote literature and art commerce industry, they could maintain navies at Ocean going flats of their own and conduct naval battles on equal terms with foreigners. He taught the modern Hindus to rise to the full stature of their growth. He demonstrated that the tree of Hinduism was not dead and that it could put forth new leaves and branches and once again arise up to its head to the skies.”


  1. Battles of Maratha empire by Anish Gokhale
  2. Invaders and infidels by Sandeep Balakrishna
  3. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj by P.N. Deshpande

(Featured Image Source: Wikipedia)

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About the Author

Akshat Lahane
Pursuing bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering. Interested in Bharatiya History.