A couple of years ago, I had gone to meet Padma vibhushan Babasaheb Purandare, a great historian who had dedicated his entire life to spread Shivcharitra among the people of Maharashtra.
I asked him a question that had been in my mind for many years, ‘what made Shivaji Maharaj so different from his contemporaries at such an young age?
Why did he choose to dedicate his life to carve out an independent Hindu kingdom, when he could have chosen the easy way out and serve as a feudal lord at the court of one of the Deccan sultanates like his father.
Babasaheb smiled that knowing half-smile of his, and replied with the customary twinkle in his eye, ‘he had a mother like Jijabai’!
No story of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is complete without the story of his mother, Jijabai or Jijau as she is known in Maharashtra fondly, who was the embodiment of feminine power. Jijau’s contribution in the making of Shivaji was second to none.
Every historian who has written about Shivaji Maharaj has acknowledged the important and inspiring role Jijabai played in her son’s life.
Shivaji, the younger son of a Sardar in Nizam’s court, Shahajiraje Bhosle became the last Hindu sovereign king in India, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj only because of Jijabai’s upbringing and the values she inculcated in him when he was very young.
Even if we judge her by today’s standards, Jijabai comes across as a fierce, strong woman who was always clear about her goal.
She was a single mother for almost her entire life. Jijabai was born on 12 January 1598 to Mhalasabai and Lakhujirao Jadhav of Sindkhedraja. Lakhujiraje Jadhav was a Maratha nobleman at the court of the Nizam.
As was the custom of the day, Jijabai was married at an early age to Shahajiraje Bhosle, then also a nobleman at the court of the Nizam. Jijabai had eight children, six daughters and two sons. Shivaji was her youngest son.
When Jijabai was pregnant with Shivaji, Shahaji Raje left her behind at Shivneri fort as he had changed his allegiance to Adil Shahi of Bijapur and was appointed as the Jahagirdar of Karnataka. As he had changed loyalties, he was being pursued by his father-in-law’s forces.
As Jijabai was heavily pregnant, Shahaji Raje thought it was best to leave her behind at Shivneri.
Shivaji was born at Shivneri in the absence of his father and any close family member. As a nobleman at the court of Bijapur, Shahaji Raje was deputed to administer southern Deccan and lived in Bengaluru.
When Shivaji was six years old, Shahaji sent Jijabai and Shivaji to Pune to administer his jagir of Pune with his trusted aide, Dadoji Konddev.
When a young Shivaji and his mother moved to Pune, the village lay destroyed and abandoned. Murar Jagdeo, a Maratha sardar from the Nizam’s court had destroyed Pune as retribution when Shahaji had moved his allegiance to Adil Shah.
Jijabai encouraged the people of Pune to move back in the village and famously made a young Shivaji plough the land with a golden plough as a gesture of rehabitation.
Jijabai was an able administrator who managed her husband’s jagir with an iron hand with the able help of Dadoji. She saw to the cultural and religious development of Pune by building the Kasba Ganpati temple and renovating the Tambdi Jogeshwari temple.
As a single mother, Jijabai was the greatest influence on a young Shivaji. She encouraged him to read stories from Hindu scriptures to develop a strong moral compass in her son.
She was also a skilled warrior and a horse rider. She often rode alongside her son and encouraged him to get out of his palace and mingle amongst common people to see how they lived.
Shivaji, though the son of a nobleman, grew up amongst common people. Many of his childhood friends became his most trusted warriors who later helped him achieve his dream of Hindavi Swarajya.
Jijabai watched her son like a hawk, keeping him focused and away from distractions and vices.
It was her influence that made him dream big, and not just be content with being a good jagirdar. Having seen the plight of Hindu women under the Islamic rule, Jijabai encouraged Shivaji to think about establishing an independent Hindu kingdom, where rights of Hindus would be respected.
She also taught him to be always protective about women and treat them with honour, a lesson Shivaji never forgot. When he established his kingdom, he instituted extremely harsh punishments to anyone who dared to dishonour or disrespect a woman, even a woman from the enemy camp.
Early in his career, Jijabai encouraged Shivaji Maharaj to avenge the death of her eldest son Sambhaji at the hands of Afzal Khan, a desire that Shivaji Maharaj fulfilled to her great satisfaction.
When Shivaji Maharaj used to participate in military campaigns, often staying away from the headquarters for months, it was Jijabai who ruled as the queen regent in his stead.
When Shivaji Maharaj was compelled to accept the humiliating terms the treaty of Purandar by Mirza Raja Jaisingh fighting for Aurangzeb, it was Jijabai who counselled Shivaji Maharaj to not lose heart and focus on the greater goal. She encouraged him to accept the treaty as a tactical move.
When Shivaji Maharaj was summoned to Agra by Aurangzeb and there was no guarantee of his safe return, it was Jijabai who put away her own sorrow, fear and worry to ably administer the kingdom in Shivaji Maharaj’s absence.
She was a doting, but watchful grandmother to Shivaji’s eldest son Sambhaji after his mother died soon after giving birth to him.
Jijabai was also a social reformer who strongly backed Shivaji Maharaj when he brought in revolutionary changes in his kingdom like land reforms, social equality and readmitting converted Hindus to Dharma.
Such was Jijau’s bond with her son that she restrained from committing Sati after her husband’s death, even though it was the custom of the time.
Her life’s mission was fulfilled when she witnessed the grand coronation ceremony of Shivaji Maharaj that officially made him the first sovereign Hindu king of India since the fall of the Vijayanagara empire.
She passed away barely twelve days after the coronation ceremony at the age of 76, a content woman who had turned a dream of an independent Hindu kingdom into reality.
Jijabai was known for her virtue, valour and values, traits that she passed down to her illustrious son. She championed the cause of Swarajya and helped and inspired Shivaji Maharaj to unite the feuding Maratha factions to establish the ‘Hindavi Swarajya’ that lasted till the 19th century.
Jijabai’s stellar qualities — like her fiercely independent nature, her exemplary leadership skills, her commitment to Dharma, her intolerance of injustice, and her single-minded clarity that made Shivaji Maharaj into what he was, a visionary leader who continues to inspire generations of Indians.
Jijabai Bhosle’s well-lived is living proof of what a mother can achieve if she is committed to the future of her children.
As we offer tributes to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on the 350th anniversary of his coronation, the tributes are not complete till we salute the woman who turned Shivaji into Shivaji Maharaj.
The writer is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist based in Pune.
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