Many describe Chhatrapati Shivaji as a ‘rebel’ or grand rebel’. A rebel is the one who defies authority and undermines an establishment. Against who or what did the Chhatrapati rebel? Against the invaders who had come from Central Asia and beyond and had massacred millions to establish their empires and kingdoms? Many also call him a Great Guerrilla. He might have used a few guerrilla tactics like ambushes, hit and run, sabotaging the enemy’s line of communications, using speed and mobility to attack enemy camps and cavalcades in the early years of his career, but these tactics were used by everyone, including the Mughal and the Deccan Sultanates those days.
So, what are Chhatrapati Shivaji’s real achievements? He was the only person who noticed a major flaw in the war machinery of the established Empires and Sultanates. It was riddled with the jagirdari system. The king appointed a trustee of the estate, or huge lands (jagir) to his jagirdars. Instead of a salary, jagirdars were given the right over the land revenue from the region that fell in their jagir. With those funds they were to maintain a contingent of horsemen for their king (to help their king in times of war) as well as use some of the money for their personal expenses. They had no hereditary rights over the estates the king bestowed upon them.
Jagirdars were warriors, either Hindus or Muslims. They depended on the watandars to collect agricultural revenue from the villages, watandars like Patil – head of a village, Deshmukh – head of a region. They were mostly Hindus, sons-of-the-soil. They were supposed to encourage the cultivators, collected revenue, levies, and taxes from their region for the jagirdars. Large pieces of tax-free lands were given to them as inams (gifts) and, at times, some share of the government revenue also went to them generation after generation. Even before he became the Chhatrapati, Raja Shivaji understood that the jagirdars and watandars actually ruling the countryside. At times they became tyrants and fleeced the farmers. They even amassed huge wealth and built fortified homes. Some even became more powerful than the king. Some jagirdars (also called mansabdars in the Mughal administration, nayaks in Vijayanagar Empire administration) cheated on their king by keeping lesser number of horsemen than shown on the paper.
What amazes me is that Raja Shivaji tried to change the system. He tried to demolish jagirdari and mansabdari, bringing Maratha administration and military directly under his control, where everyone, each of his infantrymen and cavalrymen were directly paid from his treasury. The astonishing fact was that Raja Shivaji’s army had a rank system that bound all military personnel together as a team and that bond was known as chain-of-command. This enabled junior officers to know whom to look to for orders, guidance, and leadership. This was totally missing in jagirdari and mansabdari systems. Take, for example, of our army and its chain-of-command, starting with Field Marshal, General, Lieutenant General, Major General, Brigadier, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Major and Captain followed by junior officers, Raja Shivaji’s cavalry had Cavalry Sarnaubat, the head of the cavalry, Panch Hazari – the head of cavalry division, Hazari, the Regiment Head, Jumledar, the Squadron Head, Havaldar (Troop Head) and then Troopers. Same was the case with his infantry and navy. Raja Shivaji’s thinking was modern and this proves that he was a visionary. Ask any defence official today – if he or she could function without chain-of-command and the answer will be ‘NO’!
Not to forget Raja Shivaji’s fortitude. He had a mighty enemy like Emperor Aurangzeb, who was backed by 8,000 mansabdars, 200,000 thousand cavalrymen, 40,000 artillerymen and more than 200,000 infantrymen. Mughal mansabdars collected about Rs 100 million as the revenue collection from their territories (each rupee weighing a tola of pure silver). If we convert in gold and factor in today’s gold price, the military budget of the Mughal comes to a mind-boggling figure, more than $3 billion – that is more than Rs18,000 crores!