Swarajya: The Vision And The Details

Swarajya: The Vision And The Details

by Rashmin Kulkarni - Friday, June 2, 2023 02:01 PM IST
Swarajya: The Vision And The DetailsChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
  • Swarajya was not merely a struggle of warring kings but a comprehensive, all-encompassing, Hindu alternative state to the one imposed by the Sultanates and the Mughals.

Prithviraj Chauhan’s defeat in the battle of Tarain in 1192 CE at the hands of the Muhammad of Ghori marked the beginning of Islamic rule in northern India.

The Delhi sultanate was later overthrown by the Mughals in the sixteenth century CE. With the death of Rama Raya in the battle of Talikota in 1565 CE, the Vijaynagar Empire collapsed and the Deccan plateau came under the autonomous rule of the Deccan sultanates — Nizam Shahi (Ahmednagar), Adil Shahi (Bijapur), Imad Shahi (Berar), Barid Shahi (Bidar) and Qutb Shahi (Golconda).

This continuous onset of foreign invasions and their administrative atrocities had crushed Hindus.

Hindu kings were forced to become feudal barons of the Mughal emperors and Deccan sultans. No Hindu king remained as a separate sovereign.

In 1646 CE, a courageous youth of just 16 years began his quest for Swarajya (self-rule), initially declaring a war against the Adil Shahi and later going on to establish his own kingdom against the wishes of the Mughals.

Be it the Nizam Shahi, the Adil Shahi or the Mughals, administrative atrocities such as imposition of taxes like bhutfarosi (a tax collected exclusively from idol-worshippers), Zakat-i-Hinduwani (as the name indicates, it was exclusively collected from Hindus) and Jiziya were crushing Hindus throughout the country.

In these times of peril, Chhatrapati Shivaji literally framed his own administration and was highly successful in this regard when Islamic rule was dominant in most parts of the Indian sub-continent.

Chhatrapati Shivaji's remarkable military genius and unyielding defiance against the Adil Shahi and the Mughals is today celebrated as a timeless legend.

But it was while describing his administrative skills that one of the greatest historians this country has ever produced, Dr Surendra Nath Sen, wrote:

“Shivaji’s greatness as a military leader has never been contested, but his greatness as a civil administrator is perhaps still more undoubted.”

Indeed, in celebrating his military achievements, the general public often forgets that Chhatrapati Shivaji was a civil ruler. His administrative system was one of a kind. He not only founded a kingdom but invoked the national spirit in his subjects.

His policies in civic, military and judicial administration have had a long-lasting effect on Indian governance. His reformist administrative policies, still serve as a guiding light to present-day institutions and generations.

The famous saint Samarth Ramdas, whom Chhatrapati Shivaji revered, had eulogised him as ‘Bahut Janasi Aadharu’ (pillar of support to many) and ‘Janta Raja’ (Wise King).

Chhatrapati Shivaji not only established the Swarajya but also embodied the concept of Surajya (Good Governance) in it. Hukumatpanah (Regent of the Empire) Ramchandra Pant, the Amatya or Finance Minister of Chhatrapati Shivaji, authored the Adnyapatra or the royal edict on the principles of Maratha policy with the intention to guide Chhatrapati Shivaji’s grandson Sambhaji of Kolhapur.

In this treatise, Ramchandra Pant has highlighted various aspects of the Maratha administration. A study of this document reveals the size, scope and depth of the Maratha administrative vision.

Economic Policies

Revenue is the most important thing required to run a strong administration. Chhatrapati Shivaji secured the Swarajya (here, territory under his rule) with a strong revenue system.  Land revenue, taxes, custom duties, Chauth and Sardeshmukhi were the main sources of income.

His land reforms were first-of-a-kind in medieval India. The Watandari system which was prevalent in those times was a delicate subject. Though this system had some merits of its own, on the other hand, it worsened the plight of the poor cultivators.

The Watandars were free to extract anything from the cultivators directly. The internal feuds amongst the Watandars were a direct threat to the peace and stability of the state. Chhatrapati Shivaji was well aware of the hazards and evils implicit in the system he had inherited from his Islamic predecessors.

But the statesman and administrator in him also knew that abolishing this system would alienate the Watandars and endanger the administration itself. So, he chose to bring in reforms in Watandari while retaining the system itself.

He reduced the rights of the Watandars and made them aware of their duties to the community. He forbade them to collect their dues directly from the cultivators and instead assigned them their annuities from the district treasuries.

Chhatrapati Shivaji demolished their strongholds and prohibited them to build new ones. Post his coronation, he imposed super taxes like the miras patti or sinhasan patti (throne tax) on the Watandars to keep them under a firm hand. Thus, the Watandari system was weakened, controlled, but not abolished.

The Chhatrapati also had a profound knowledge and long-term vision for agriculture in Swarajya. Since his childhood days, as an administrator of his father’s provinces, he had adopted pro-farmer measures. About Chhatrapati Shivaji’s policy of encouraging agriculture, Krushnaji Anant Sabhasad writes:

 “New cultivators who will come [to settle in our dominions] should be given cattle. Grain and money should be given [to them] for [providing themselves with] seeds. Money and grain [should be] given for their subsistence [also and] the sum should be realised in a couple of years according to the means [of the cultivators]. In this manner should the cultivators be supported. In every village, from each individual cultivator should the karkun [i.e., the civil authority] realize, according to the assessment, rent in grain from the crops [at the time of each harvest].”

 In medieval India, especially in the Adil Shahi and Mughal Empire, the practice of forceful collection of revenue was quite common. On the other hand, we do not know of a single instance where Chhatrapati Shivaji had ordered his officers to employ force while collecting taxes.

A contemporary letter dated 5 September 1676, sent by Chhatrapati Shivaji to Ramaji Anant, the Subhedar of Prabhavali division, shows the King’s concern for his subjects.

One line from this letter is enough to show the empathy of Chhatrapati Shivaji. 

“…रयेतीवर काडीचे जाल व गैर केलिया साहेब तुजवर राजी नाहीत येसे बरे समजणे…” 

“…Bear in mind that even slight injustice and oppression on the people would displease His Majesty...”

 Chhatrapati Shivaji was also well aware of the importance of trade. To this end, he developed his own coastal development centres.

Ports like Chaul, Kalyan, Bhiwandi, Vengurla, Dabhol and Rajapur became prosperous commercial centres under his reign.

Shivaji Maharaj invited European companies (British East India Company and the East India Company) to trade in his country. But unlike other Indian rulers, he was prescient enough to see through their territorial ambitions and never allowed them a foothold in the Swarajya.

Military Administration

Chhatrapati Shivaji was a time-tested General. Faithful and loyal aides were his main strength. A major reason for the success of his resistance against the Adil Shahi and the Mughal Empire was his military administration.

That he was a master of guerilla warfare is well-known. What is not common knowledge are the details of his military strategy and plan.

He developed his army in two parts — infantry (पायदळ) and cavalry (घोडदळ). Most of his Sardars were directly selected by him. There were two types of troopers — Shiledars (those who brought in their own horses) and Bargirs (those who received their equipment from the State).

Along with the effective management of his army, Chhatrapati Shivaji had built an efficient network of spies. Salaries to the soldiers were paid in cash and Chhatrapati Shivaji was known to take good care of his fighters. 


Shivaji Maharaj is regarded as amongst the most consummate masters of naval power in medieval India. He had realised the significance of having a strong navy at a young age itself.

He eventually began building his own armada with the help of the Portuguese in 1659 CE. Even though the Portuguese Captain at Vasai didn’t allow much Portuguese help, the Chhatrapati moved ahead with his plans nonetheless.

This was essential to protect the West Coast (Konkan). Siddi of Danda Rajpuri had destabilised the region and peace of the West Coast was threatened.

Chhatrapati Shivaji was well aware of the naval might of the Siddi of Danda Rajpuri, Portuguese of Goa and the English of Colaba. He increased the strength of his navy by building island forts such as Suvarnadurg, Sindhudurg, Padmadurg, etc.

Along with the protection of the West Coast, an effective navy was necessary for trade as well. Goods like mangoes, rice, sugarcane, sesame oil, diamonds, cotton, etc. were the major export products sent to Arabia and Africa from the Maratha trade centres.


Forts played a significant role in both defence and offence in seventeenth century India. In fact, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s hill forts were his greatest strength.

Ramchandra Pant, in his Adnyapatra, has clearly mentioned his master’s policy about forts. Chhatrapati Shivaji believed forts were the essence of the State (संपूर्ण राज्याचे सार ते दुर्ग!).

Chesson & Woodhall, in their Bombay Miscellany (1860 CE) wrote:

 “Born in a fort, died in a fort, he was mentally and physically, formed to make the most of them. Fancy a wiry little man, with an eagle eye, weighing only ten stone, but with disproportionately long arms; a climber by nature and full of lofty love of high places. The forts made him what he became and he made the forts what they were: the terror of all India; the basis of his conquest; the steps to his ambition; his home and his joy; many of them he built, all of them he strengthened. Shivaji was indeed a man of forts.”

 Along with acquiring, building and repairing fortresses, Chhatrapati Shivaji was equally concerned about their proper upkeep. A separate budget was allocated for this purpose.

Sabhasad says that Chhatrapati Shivaji never allowed any private individual to build their own fortress. And he was right in doing so. The network of forts kept the Swarajya safe from the enemies.

Sabhasad records that Chhatrapati Shivaji, throughout his life, had control over 240 forts. It is remarkable that in those times, when loss of forts through treason of fort officials was common, Shivaji Maharaj did not lose a single fort to treachery.

Ashta Pradhan Mandal Or Council Of Ministers

The Maratha state was a monarchy. The King or the Chhatrapati was the head of the state. He was assisted by a council of eight ministers. The Ashta Pradhan Mandal was a creative genius of Chhatrapati Shivaji.

This council of ministers existed long before even his coronation. Post his coronation, Chhatrapati Shivaji promulgated the Kaanuzabta, in which the definite duties of these ministers and some other administrative officers were listed. 

  1. Peshwa or Prime Minister (re-designated as Mukhya Pradhan post coronation) — The head of the council of ministers who was in charge of the entire administration. He had the authority to draw the seal on royal decrees. He was required to go on campaigns and annex new territories. All the sardars and the army were supposed to obey him.

  2. Muzumdar or Finance Minister (re-designated as Amatya) — He had to check accounts for public income and expenditure.

  3. Surnis or Minister for Land Revenue (re-designated as Sachiv) — He had to supervise the accounts for Mahals and Parganas. 

  4. Waknis or the Minister for Internal and External Intelligence (re-designated as Mantri) — He had to keep a check on the polity and administration of the state.

  5. Dabir or Minister for External Affairs (re-designated as Sumant) — He had to establish and maintain relations with other Kingdoms.

  6. Sarnaubat or Commander-in-Chief (re-designated as Senapati) — He was responsible for both defense and offence against enemies.

  7. Nyayadhish or Chief Justice

  8. Panditrao or the Royal Priest — He was the ecclesiastical head.

 It was mandatory for all the Ministers except the Nyayadhish and Panditrao to perform military operations.

Dr Surendra Nath Sen believed that the concept of Ashta Pradhan was based on the Sukranitisar whereas Riyasatkar Govind Sakharam Sardesai believed that this system was created by Chhatrapati Shivaji from the ancient Hindu tradition.

This brief overview of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s administration is a substantial proof that the Swarajya was not just resistance to Islamic powers. Rather it was a comprehensive alternative, based on tenets of the Hindu culture and tradition, to the one imposed by the Islamic State of the Mughals and the Sultanates of Deccan.

Dr Kedar Phalke, in his Administrative System of Chhatrapati Shivaji — Relevance to Modern Management has encompassed Shivaji’s reign in the following words:

 “Shivaji was one of the greatest soldiers, generals, conquerors of the World. Still, he yielded to none in diplomacy, statesmanship and kingly virtues. He was not only the founder of Maratha Kingdom but the restorer of the Hindu Raj, the wielder of the sceptre of Swarajya, the preserver of Aryan Culture, the welder of the Maharashtra; and is comparable in his exploits to Alexander, Caesar, Sartorious, Hannibal and Gustavous Adolphus. History of Shivaji has not only borne out by these magnificent statements made by Shivaji, but bestowed upon him the title of Shivaji, The Great.”

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