“Chhatrapati Shivaji was indeed a great man. (His son) Sambhaji was also a lion cub.”
And indeed, the life of this second emperor of Maratha Empire is full of tragedy, betrayal and bravery, and triumph of will over impossible odds.
Born on 14th May 1657 on Purandar, Sambhaji’s mother Saibai continued to suffer from pregnancy-related illness, and died when Sambhaji was two years old. His father was at the time busy building the empire, and the death of Saibai coincided with the attack of Afzalkhan on emergent Marathi kingdom, the resultant expansion of maratha kingdom and later the siege of Panhalgad (a period of almost an year when Shivaji was away from Rajgad).
Growing up, Sambhaji had to stay with Mirzaraje Jai Singh as political hostage while the treaty between Shivaji and Mughal Empire was fulfilled. He also visited Agra with Shivaji, where they were placed in house arrest by Aurangzeb. After escaping from Agra, Sambhaji was left in Mathura with trusted followers (to escape attention), while Shivaji went ahead and declared the death of Sambhaji while travelling.
Growing up, Sambhaji’s quick temper and straightforward nature clashed with some of the political advisors of Shivaji before and after coronation. This caused in Sambhaji being kept away from the capital Raigad while Shivaji was on the conquest in south India, and resulted in Sambhaji joining Mughal general Dilerkhan.
Watching the atrocities committed by Dilerkhan made Sambhaji realize his mistake, and he came back to his father, and was staying on Panhalgad when his father died. Although a full-fledged civil war between Sambhaji (as the eldest son and heir) and the advisors of Shivaji who were against placing Sambhaji on throne (and wanted to his brother Rajaram instead) was avoided by quick action of the Maratha Commander-in-Chief, Hambirrao Mohite.
But even after coronation, Sambhaji had to fight on many fronts to maintain his empire, Europeans in Mumbai, and Goa, Siddi fighting from the marine fortress of Janjira, and a resurgent Adilshahi were the old enemies. But Aurangzeb decided to take advantage of Shivaji’s death and to capture south India, and attacked the south with a huge army and entire strength of Mughal Empire.
While fighting against these odds, Sambhaji also had to contend with the treachery of old advisors of his father (whom he had pardoned and re-appointed after his coronation), and his step-mother Soyarabai. Yet Sambhaji continued to battle till he was captured by Mughal armies and tortured and killed by Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to muslim religion (11th March, 1689).
“Chhava” as a historical novel captures the personality of this “warlike prince” perfectly. It is a novel which tries to place this man in his rightful place in the Maratha history.
Like most of the sons of great men, Sambhaji had his share of shortcomings and costly mistakes. From his clashes with old and trusted advisors of Shivaji, to his estrangement from his father and joining the enemy forces, his nature led him into many pitfalls. Which is why perhaps he is described by many as an alcoholic and despotic ruler (he killed the conspirators who were plotting against him by crushing them under elephant’s feet).
Yet, unlike many sons of great men, Sambhaji was worthy contender to the throne of his father. This can be evidenced not only in his brave sacrifice, or his campaigns (he tried to dam the bay near Janjira to make it easy for his army to attack, and his admirals had gone close enough to put ladders on the fort’s walls), but also in his other achievements. He was an accomplished Sanskrut scholar, who wrote “Budhbhushanam”, a compilation of teachings on politics and other things.
Maratha history has often overlooked this second Chhatrapati, but his story shows you that Sambhaji was the True Heir to Chhatrapati Shivaji’s legacy.
Quote of The Day:
Our heroes are people and people are flawed. Don’t let that taint the thing you love.
– Randy K. Milholland, Midnight Macabre, 09-27-07
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