Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Shivaji Maharaj and the Agra escape


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: National heroes

Mains level: Medieval history, Maratha kingdom and the important persons

Shivaji Maharaj

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  • Recently, Maharashtra Tourism Minister Mangal Lodha triggered a controversy by equating Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s legendary Agra escape to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s defection from the Uddhav Thackeray-led camp in Maharashtra. His comments drew sharp criticism from political parties and other organisations that venerate Shivaji as a Maratha icon, with no parallel in the past or present.

Brief Political background of the issue

  • Eknath Shinde’s “revolt” against party leadership and CM Uddhav Thackeray in June this year led to the fall of the coalition government of the Shiv Sena, NCP, and the Congress. He has since taken the reins of Maharashtra as its CM.

Shivaji Maharaj

Who was Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj?

  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (1630-1680): He was born on 19th February, 1630 at Shivneri Fort in District Pune in the present-day state of Maharashtra. He was born to a general Shahaji raje who served different Deccan Sultans over the course of his life and Jijabai, as known to be an influential and determined woman who was an embodiment of self-respect and virtue.
  • Founder of an Independent Maratha kingdom: Shivaji Maharaj was keen on expanding his father’s fiefdom of modern-day Pune into an independent Maratha state. He carved out an independent Maratha kingdom from various Deccan states in the 17th century. At the time of his death, he held around 300 forts over an area that stretched across the Konkan coast, from Surat to near Goa, and was overlooked by the strategic Western Ghats.
  • Contemporary kingdoms and power struggle: At this point of time, several Sultanates (mainly Bijapur, Golkonda and Ahmadnagar) and the Mughals were vying for the control of the Deccan. As Mughal power grew, these Sultanates would become tributaries to the Mughal Empire (while often continuing to bicker among themselves) with the rulers and ruling clans being given positions in the Mughal court.
  • Lifetime conflicts and fights for Swaraj: His conflict with the Adil Shahi Sultanate of Bijapur began when he was only 16. He would spend the rest of his life fighting various opponents, and in the process, laying the foundation for the Maratha Empire which would stretch across large parts of the Indian subcontinent and rule till the 19th Century.
  • Importance of forts in his times: Early in his life, he realised that the key to holding power in the Deccan (or for that matter, many places in India in that era) was to capture and hold important forts. Thus, his strategies would be centred around taking control of forts in strategic locations, often on hilltops. He also repaired and built new forts as his sphere of control increased.

How is Shivaji Maharaj remembered?

  • An inspiration to fight against the colonial rule: Shivaji remained a Maratha folk legend until two centuries after his death. It was the British Raj and the subsequent anti-colonial movement that marked his increasing stature in history and as a pan Indian hero.
  • From a folk hero to a Pan India hero: Nationalist historians saw him as an example of an local Indian ruler who was able to successfully resist and defeat the powerful and oppressive “outsiders” (Muslim rulers, including both Mughals and the Deccan Sultans). Thus, Shivaji rose from being a folk hero to a nationalist icon, seen as a proto-nationalist himself.
  • Tales of his bravery and just rule used to infuse motivation: Tales of his bravery were told to galvanise a population that was enduring emasculation and injustices under its British overlords. Over the 19th and 20th centuries, the narrative around Shivaji Maharaj emphasised on both his military heroism and his just rule.

Shivaji Maharaj

Shivaji Maharaj and the Mughals

  • Meteoric rise: Shivaji Maharaj’s meteoric rise posed challenges to the suzerainty of the Mughals. His first direct encounter with the Mughals was during Aurangzeb’s Deccan campaigns of the 1650s. As Aurangzeb went North to fight for the Mughal throne, Shivaji Maharaj was able to seize further territory.
  • Swift and smart warfare tactics beyond understanding of the Mughals: His tactics against the Mughals were adapted to the specific nature of his force and the flabby Mughal armies. Using swift cavalry attacks, he would raid and pillage Mughal strongholds. While on the rare occasion he would engage in battle to actually capture and hold Mughal positions, most often, he would simply cause much menace, raid the treasury, and leave with the Mughals in terror and disarray.
  • Well know Seize of Surat: Famously, in 1664, he attacked the port of Surat (now in Gujarat) and plundered one of the richest and busiest commercial towns of Mughal India while the local governor hid in a nearby fort.
  • Posed a greatest challenge to Aurangzeb and subsequent treaty of Purandar: As the legend of Shivaji and the physical sphere of his influence grew, Aurangzeb sent a 100,000-strong, well-equipped army under Raja Jai Singh I to subdue him in 1665. After putting up a valiant fight, Shivaji was besieged in the Purandar hill fort.

The chronology of the great escape

  • Taken to Agra after purandar treaty: He was taken to Aurangzeb’s court in Agra in 1666. He presented Aurangzeb with various gifts, but he felt slighted at the treatment he received in return, and made his displeasure clear in open court.
  • Kept under strict House arrest: Aurangzeb put him under house arrest in Agra. Far away from home and help, Shivaji realised he needed to escape to save himself and his territories. He began to plot a plan to return home and keep up his fight against the Mughals.
  • The perfect plan of escape: The story of Shivaji’s subsequent escape is now part of common lore. The popularly told story involves an elaborate plan, under which he began daily distribution of alms to brahmans. The alms would be sent from his home in Agra in large, covered baskets.
  • The final escape right under the nose of Mughals: After some time, the Mughal guards became lax about checking the contents of the baskets that daily left his house. One day, Shivaji slipped into one of the baskets, and put his young son, Sambhaji, in another basket. It was in these covered baskets that Shivaji and his son left Agra, right under the noses of the Mughals.
  • Smart and swift movement in disguise from the Mughal territory: From there, he would traverse across Mughal territory, living incognito until he reached the safer lands closer to home. Some versions of this story say that he took the disguise of a wandering ascetic while others say he had a number of different disguises. His exact path is not known, though folktales and songs memorialising Shivaji often mention different towns and places he crossed.
  • Embarrassed Aurangzeb regarded him as a king: Aurangzeb was livid and embarrassed. But he chose not to start an immediate conflict with Shivaji again. Instead, he offered Shivaji the title of Raja and guaranteed his authority in the Maratha lands as long as he acknowledged the supremacy of the Mughals and maintained truce.

Shivaji Maharaj

Coronation of Shivaji Maharaj to Chhatrapati and the ideal rule

  • By 1669, Shivaji had regrouped and raised an effective army. Using his old guerilla tactics, he would swiftly descend into static Mughal and Bijapuri strongholds, looting and pillaging the shocked Mughals.
  • During this time, Aurangzeb was occupied with Pathan revolts in the North-West corner of his Empire. Shivaji deftly regained his lost positions in the Konkan coast. In 1674, he crowned himself Chhatrapati, officially creating an independent Maratha kingdom.
  • The next six years were spent expanding his rule and forging new political norms, replacing the prevailing Indo-Persian court culture. He promoted the use of Marathi and Sanskrit in his courts and created an elaborate administrative system with a council of ministers known as “Ashta Pradhan.”


  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is not just a name or a person but to many he is an idea, a life and inspiration for today and tomorrow, which has no parallel in the past or the present.
  • Protection of the Swarajya and welfare of his subjects were the motives that pushed Shivaji Maharaj to escape from Agra. Comparing his love for his subjects with the political exigencies and manoeuvers of present-day politicians will be an injustice to the astuteness of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Mains question

Q. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is considered as the king of the people; Discuss how he is remembered today and what qualities make him stand tall and different from those of the past and present?

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