IntroductionThere was once a great Hindu king who fought against the Moghuls. In every way, he was a hero supreme, and he was appreciated, admired and adored by all Indians without exception. His name was Shivaji. He wanted to have freedom for his country, especially for the part where he was born, which is called Maharashtra.
There are many, many authentic stories about Shivaji, but I have chosen to tell a few stories in connection with his self-sacrifice for his country and his spiritual life.
Shivaji and AurangzebKing Shivaji lived during the reign of the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s father was Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife. Unfortunately, Aurangzeb was very bad. He killed all his brothers, put his father into prison and did many other terrible things. Then, towards the end of his life, he repented.
In 1666 Shivaji received a letter from the Emperor inviting him to come to the court at Agra. Although Shivaji knew that the Emperor was capable of treachery, he accepted because he did not want to appear to be afraid of Aurangzeb. Shivaji arrived in Agra with his eldest son, Shambhuji, and a small contingent of soldiers on the 12th of May, which happened to be the Emperor’s 50th birthday.
When Shivaji entered the Audience Hall and placed his offerings before Aurangzeb, the Emperor did not speak a single word of welcome to him. Instead, Shivaji was led to an inferior position at the back of the hall. It now became obvious that the great Maratha hero had been led into a trap. He and his son were captives of the Emperor.
Shivaji was imprisoned in the Moghul capital for several months. However, he did not surrender to despair, but began making plans for his escape. One evening Shivaji and Shambhuji hid inside two huge fruit baskets. Shivaji had arranged for them to be left at a lonely spot outside the city. Shivaji and Shambhuji waited until the porters had gone and then emerged from the fruit baskets. They besmeared their bodies with ashes and made their way back to their kingdom disguised as religious mendicants.
Kindness repaidOn their way back to their own kingdom, Shivaji and Shambhuji stopped at a farmer’s place for shelter. The farmer’s mother was always hospitable to strangers and she very often gave shelter to guests.
While she was cooking food for them, Shivaji’s Maratha fighters happened to come and plunder her farm. The woman cried out, “The real culprit is Shivaji himself! He should have died in prison or the Moghul Emperor should have killed him. Now I understand that Shivaji has escaped and he is still alive. He is the real cause of this trouble.”
Shivaji overheard what the farmer’s mother said. She did not know that her guests were none other than the King himself and his son. Shivaji said to the poor woman, “I fully agree with you. They have no right to make you suffer in this way. How much damage did these people cause?”
The woman added up the damage that had been done and gave Shivaji a figure. Later, when Shivaji had safely returned to his kingdom, he gave the woman double the figure she had quoted. Then he revealed that it was he who had taken shelter in her house. He told her that he was so grateful to her because unknowingly she had saved his life and that of his son.
Shivaji obeys his own commandAfter quite a few days of walking, Shivaji and his son reached a fort that belonged to Shivaji. It was Shivaji’s order that the fort remain closed from sunset to dawn. No matter who came to the fort, the guard was not allowed to open the gate.
When King Shivaji and his son reached the fort, night had already fallen. The guard knew perfectly well that it was his King and the King’s son who had come back after so many months. He also knew what kind of ordeal they had gone through. Still he would not open the gate.
The guard went to the roof of the fort and tied one end of a rope to a pillar. Then he climbed down the rope to the ground. As soon as he touched the ground, he fell at Shivaji’s feet, crying and embracing him.
Shivaji was also crying because he was so proud that the guard was faithfully carrying out his order not to open the gate. The King and his son waited outside the fort until daybreak, even though the guard had the key.
Mother and son reunitedDuring Shivaji's absence from the royal court, his mother, Jija Bai, was made regent. At that time, Jija Bai was very, very old and quite sick. She was a deeply religious woman and Shivaji was devoted to her. She came to hear that Shivaji had escaped in the month of August, but after four months he had not yet returned to his palace at Rajgarh. His mother was filled with worries and anxieties. Why was it taking so long for him to come back? Had he been recaptured by the Moghul soldiers?
One day a servant came to Jija Bai with a message. He said, "There is a mendicant at the gate who wants to see you."
"Fine, fine," said Jija Bai. "Bring him in."
Shivaji was shown into his mother's presence. He had shaved off his beard and moustache and was dressed as a sannyasin. He was so tired and exhausted from his arduous journey that he simply threw himself at his mother's feet.
Jija Bai was surprised that a sannyasin should behave in this manner. "What do you want?" she asked.
"What do I want?" cried Shivaji. Then he started sobbing, "Mother, you cannot recognise me?" and he laid his head on Jija Bai's lap.
At last Jija Bai recognised that it was her long-lost son. Her tearful joy and Shivaji's tearful joy mingled together.
The elephant bodyguardsThis is a striking incident in King Shivaji's life. A neighbouring king invited him to pay a visit and so Shivaji and his entourage went to see this king. During their meeting, Shivaji noticed that this particular king kept quite a few bodyguards plus two or three elephants beside him.
Shivaji asked the King, "Where is the need for these elephants? Here, we two are friends. You do not need protection."
The King answered, "I have to be prepared. If an enemy comes even at this very moment, my elephants will charge and trample that person."
"Am I then your enemy?" asked Shivaji.
"No," said his royal friend, "you are my true friend. But I have to be wise. The elephants are my bodyguards."
"Oh, these are your bodyguards," said Shivaji, quite puzzled.
"Yes," replied the King. Then he added, "Tell me, Shivaji, do you not keep bodyguards?"
"Certainly!" said Shivaji. "But I do not keep elephant bodyguards. I have human bodyguards."
"Can human bodyguards protect you if an entire army comes to attack you?" queried the King.
"My human bodyguards can protect me against any untoward events," insisted Shivaji. Then Shivaji asked one of his bodyguards to step forward.
The other King laughed. "Are you saying that this bodyguard alone can challenge and defeat my huge elephant?"
"Yes, he can," said Shivaji.
The other King felt that this debate had gone on long enough. He said, "All right, Shivaji, ask your bodyguard to kill my elephant here and now."
Shivaji gave the command and the bodyguard went and stood directly in front of the elephant. The elephant became enraged and charged the bodyguard, who turned and ran away. The other King was very satisfied with the outcome of the engagement, but it was far from over. In a tricky way, the bodyguard circled the elephant unnoticed and then he stepped forward and cut its trunk with his sword. The elephant's trunk was bleeding profusely and it was in extreme agony. Finally, in front of the two Kings and all those who had assembled, it lay down and died.
Shivaji calmly said to his host, "Here is the proof that my man-elephant is infinitely stronger than your animal-elephant. That is why I need only my human bodyguards."
Shivaji's hospitalityShivaji used to have only one meal a day. He would eat something that is like what we call biryani. It was rice and dhal mixed together and boiled in butter. Shivaji did not eat meat.
Once Shivaji had some English guests at his court. They were voracious meat eaters. Even though Shivaji and most of his followers did not eat meat, he was kind enough to satisfy his guests by preparing meat dishes for them.
TukaramOnce Shivaji wrote a letter to the great poet-saint Tukaram, inviting him to come to his palace. Shivaji had heard much about the saint and had developed the highest admiration for him.
But Tukaram declined his invitation. He sent a message back, “O King, you have invited me to come to your palace, but I do not find any necessity to come. You will present me with gifts, but I do not need anything from you. If I want to eat, there are trees bearing fruits. When I walk along the street, I see that people have discarded their old and used clothes. I can use them if I need clothes. If I want shelter, there are many caves all around. What else do I need on earth? I cannot accept your invitation, and I do not need anything from you.”
Shivaji immediately realised his mistake and he went personally to see Tukaram, walking barefoot to honour the saint.
In search of a GuruOne day King Shivaji was told by a wise friend, “Without a Guru, there can be no salvation. You need a Guru.”
Outwardly, King Shivaji was performing his duties as sovereign extremely well, in spite of the fact that his life was full of responsibilities. But inwardly he felt that something was missing. He used to visit temples quite often and he was religious in the strict sense of the term. But without a spiritual guide, he was unable to enter into deep prayer and meditation. So he began to search for a Guru.
Shivaji came to learn of a particular saint. Three times he went to see the saint, only to find that the saint was not available. The saint was evading him. Finally, Shivaji asked one of the saint’s devotees where her Master actually was. She told Shivaji to go to a certain village. Shivaji went there and found the saint sitting under a tree with a few of his disciples. After the saint had finished singing devotional songs, Shivaji humbly approached him and begged to be accepted as his disciple.
The saint said, “I accept you as my disciple.”
Then Shivaji begged the saint to come and live at his palace, but the saint said, “Oh no, I cannot come to your palace. You are a king. Your duty is to protect your subjects. My duty is to pray and worship. I shall stay here. You can come and visit me from time to time.”
In obedience to his Master’s will, King Shivaji agreed to return to his palace and resume his duties. He was so happy that at last he had found his spiritual Master. The name of this saint was Ramdas and the year was 1672 AD.
Shivaji conquers his prideOnce pride entered into Shivaji. He was building a fort and he became very proud that this huge project was supporting 5,000 families. When Shivaji paid a visit to Ramdas, he spoke about the fort with his beloved Guru.
Ramdas saw and felt the pride in his disciple, so he showed Shivaji a particular rock. The rock had an opening in it and inside there was a small pool of water. Out of the water jumped a frog.
“Who is supporting and protecting this little frog?” asked Ramdas.
Shivaji’s pride vanished. He realised that it is only God who protects and preserves His creation.
The Master's sufferingOne day King Shivaji left his palace to visit his Master. As usual, his Master was not available. Somebody informed Shivaji that his Master was in a nearby village and Shivaji immediately went there. When Shivaji approached his Master, he saw that Ramdas was in tremendous pain. He was suffering from all kinds of ailments and it seemed that he could not live much longer.
Shivaji was very distressed to see his Master in this condition. He said to him, “Please, please tell me what I can do for you. I can bring any doctor in my kingdom to cure you.”
Ramdas replied, “No doctor can cure me.”
The King asked, “Is there nothing that can be done? Is there nobody who can cure your suffering? I am the King and I am your disciple. There must be something that I can do for you.”
“Nobody can do anything,” repeated Ramdas.
“I feel that I can do something,” insisted Shivaji.
“All right,” said Ramdas at last, “if you can bring me the milk of a tigress, then only will I be cured.”
Shivaji exclaimed at once, “That is nothing!”
“If it is nothing, then you try to do it,” said Ramdas.
The special cureShivaji went into the densest forest. There he saw two little tiger cubs and he grabbed them. He thought, “If I keep them with me, then naturally the mother will come looking for them.”
In a few minutes, the tigress returned and saw that a human being had seized her cubs. She became furious and sprang on Shivaji, wounding him with her claws. But Shivaji was very strong and he was determined not to be killed by the tigress. While they were wrestling together, he begged her inwardly to offer him some of her milk. Strangely enough, the tigress heard his prayer and she did give him some milk.
Hurriedly, the King went back to his Master and offered him the milk. Ramdas drank it and was cured then and there. Then Ramdas shared with his devoted disciple just a little portion of the milk because the King's body was scratched and bleeding. When the King drank it, his pain immediately vanished.
Modern science will not believe this unique experience in King Shivaji's life. If you use the mind, you will be the last person to believe it, but if you use the heart, you are bound to believe that such things can take place. This story is one hundred per cent true.
The ochre clothWhen Shivaji went to see Ramdas, he used to massage his Guru’s entire body. One day, while he was devotedly massaging Ramdas, he said, “Master, I am so sick and tired of ruling this kingdom. I am not getting any peace.”
Ramdas said, “I am giving you a small piece of my ochre cloth. From now on, you should use the ochre cloth for your banner. Ochre is the colour of renunciation. You will rule and guide all your subjects with utmost compassion and love, and at the same time you will feel that it is I who am guiding you. In you and through you I shall protect and guide your kingdom.”
Shivaji accepted his Guru’s advice wholeheartedly. After that, he always used as his flag a simple piece of ochre fabric without any decoration.
The happiness of a slaveOnce Shivaji went to a temple. To his great astonishment, he saw his Master at the temple gate begging for alms. People were giving him a little rice, some coins and so on. When the King saw his beloved Master reduced to begging, he wrote something down on a small piece of paper and put it in his Master’s bowl.
Ramdas was curious to see what his disciple had written. He opened the note and read: “I am placing my kingdom at your feet. I am here and I want to be your slave.”
Ramdas asked Shivaji, “Do you mean it?”
“I mean it,” replied Shivaji. “I am not going back to my kingdom. I shall remain here at your feet. I am your servant. Please tell your servant what to do.”
So Ramdas started ordering Shivaji about at random, saying, “Do this, do that.” The King did everything his Master asked, even the most menial work.
Finally, Ramdas beckoned Shivaji to come to him. “Why are you doing this, my son?” he asked. “Do you not know that you are a king?”
Shivaji shook his head. “I am not a king. I am your slave now.”
“But are you happy?” asked Ramdas.
Shivaji answered, “You cannot imagine my joy! To be at your feet and to listen to your command is the highest delight. You have made me the happiest person.”
The Master's sandalsKing Shivaji was so happy to be serving his Master in the temple. After some time, his Master asked him, "Do you want to stay here permanently?"
"Yes, that is what I want," replied the King. "I am not going back to my kingdom."
"But I want you to go back to your kingdom," said Ramdas.
King Shivaji was puzzled. "You do not want me to have this kind of happiness? Please believe me, I do not want my kingdom. I want to be here at your feet. Let somebody else take care of my kingdom. I want to remain here. I want to be your servant forever."
Ramdas said, "No, you have to go back."
Finally, Shivaji was forced to accept his Master's command. As he was leaving, he pleaded with Ramdas, "Can you not give me your sandals at least? I shall place them on the throne."
Ramdas willingly gave the King his sandals. Then he said "I will come occasionally to visit you. But, remember: you are not the King. You are a mere instrument. I am the King."
Shivaji bowed and replied, "If you are the King, then I am fully prepared to go back. As I have been your slave here, I am ready to go back to my kingdom and be your slave there. Inwardly you will guide me, and I will do everything in the way that you want me to."
This is how Shivaji went back to rule his kingdom. He took his Master's sandals and placed them on the throne with the absolute faith that they would guide and protect him at every moment. The same thing also happened in the life of our first Avatar, Sri Ramachandra. When Sri Ramachandra was compelled to go into exile for fourteen years, his brother Bharat took his sandals and placed them on the throne as a symbol that he was only taking care of the kingdom until Rama returned.
Shivaji at prayer
The renunciateOn another occasion, King Shivaji entered into a temple and started shedding bitter tears. He was crying piteously and saying that he did not want to return to his palace. One of his attendants said to him, “O King, what are you doing? You have to come back to us. Who will rule the country in your place?”
For more than ten days Shivaji stayed inside the temple. He kept saying, “I am not going back. I want to live here.” Many people tried to persuade him to give up this idea. They said, “How can a king live inside a temple? It is absurd! You have to come back and rule your kingdom.”
But Shivaji was adamant. He refused to go back. Finally, he said, “Since I am not allowed to live here, I want to be allowed to die here.”
“What do you mean?” asked his frightened attendants.
Shivaji immediately pulled out his sword and was about to kill himself. His attendants rushed to his side and grabbed the sword from his hands.
Shivaji told them, “You will not allow me to live; you will not allow me to die. Either allow me to live here or allow me to die here, but I will not go back. I do not need the material life; I want only the spiritual life. I have had enough of being King. Is there anything this world has not given me? I have name and fame, everything, but I do not have peace, I do not have inner joy. When I enter into a temple, I am filled with peace and joy. This is what I need. Being a king, I have everything and I have done everything. But now I do not want to remain King for even one moment longer. I want to stay here inside this temple and only pray and meditate, pray and meditate, pray and meditate. I know this is the only way I can get true satisfaction in my life.”
But Shivaji’s attendants would not listen to their King’s soulful request. They continued begging him and begging him to return to the palace. Eventually, he was compelled to surrender to their demands.
Shivaji was extremely devoted to the goddess Bhavani, who was his family deity. He later built a very beautiful temple dedicated to this aspect of the Divine Mother. Bhavani is the Goddess of Power, the Goddess that was awakening the slumbering India.
"Mother, take me!"Shivaji always said that he loved only one woman in the world, and that was his mother, Jija Bai. She lived to see her son crowned Chhatrapati Shivaji, the King of the entire Maratha State, in 1674. Less than two weeks later, she passed away, leaving Shivaji completely heartbroken. He used to cry out, "Mother, take me! I do not want to remain here on earth without you." Pining for his mother, Shivaji lived only a few years more. He passed away in 1680 at the age of 52.
When Shivaji's funeral pyre was lit, his faithful dog, Vaghya, jumped into the flames to be with his master. A statue of the little dog now faces Shivaji's shrine at Fort Raigad.
Shivaji's Guru, Ramdas, left the body in 1681, soon after the death of his dear disciple.
Shambhuji's captureShivaji was succeeded by his eldest son, Shambhuji. The Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb was determined to subdue the son of his old adversary and regain control of Maharashtra. In 1689, Moghul troops captured Shambhuji and tortured him mercilessly. When he refused to become a Muslim or to reveal where the Maratha treasure was hidden, they blinded him and cut out his tongue. A few days later, Shambhuji was executed. The brutal death of Shambhuji caused all the Marathas to unite under the leadership of Rajaram, Shivaji's second son, and to renew their heroic efforts to resist the Moghul domination of India.
Tagore's immortal poemIn most of his poems and songs, Rabindranath Tagore extols Bengal to the skies and says that the rest of India should follow in the footsteps of Bengal. But when it came to Shivaji, Tagore urged Bengalis to follow Shivaji's example. Shivaji's motto, his sacrifice, his courage and self-giving all received the utmost praise from Tagore. He said, "O Bengalis, follow him, follow him. Follow Shivaji and say: 'Victory to Shivaji! Victory to Shivaji!'" This was Tagore's immortal poem.
God's slave, not man's kingThe main point of the Shivaji stories is this: earthly happiness, earthly riches and earthly name and fame are no match for inner peace and happiness. Shivaji's name and fame spread far beyond the boundaries of Maharashtra. They covered the length and breadth of the entire sub-continent. Even the British Government had tremendous admiration for him. And the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb was extremely jealous of Shivaji because he was so powerful and indomitable.
Shivaji's outer capacities were all due to his moral courage, plus the virtue of his prayer-life and meditation-life. To him, prayer and meditation were infinitely more important than being a king or remaining a king. He wanted to be God's slave and not man's king.
Everything can be fruitfulIn these stories about King Shivaji, we see that spirituality is infinitely higher than anything we can achieve here on earth. Everything is meaningless and useless, save and except spirituality. Again, everything can be meaningful and fruitful if spirituality is inside that very thing. This is what Shivaji's Guru, Ramdas, taught him. Ramdas said, "You go back to your palace and carry me inside you. I will rule the country through you. I will guide all your people."
Spirituality was Shivaji's life-breath. Not as a king was he happy, but as the servant of his Master. When Shivaji brought spirituality into his outer activities, he discovered peace, peace, peace.
My admiration for ShivajiI have always been a great admirer of Shivaji. At the Sri Aurobindo Ashram where I grew up, our teachers used to give us marks out of four. If you got four out of four, it was excellent; if you got three, it was very good; two was good; one was fair and zero was "tolerable."
One time my Bengali teacher asked us all to write an essay on Shivaji. We had to write it in the classroom, not as homework.
I was at that time around thirteen or fourteen years old. The teacher was so pleased with my essay that he gave me eight out of four! The principal came to know of it and he said to this particular teacher, "Are you crazy? How can you give eight out of four?" Then they had a serious altercation.
By giving me eight out of four for my essay on Shivaji, my Bengali teacher — who was so fond of me — got into trouble with the principal!
Tributes to Shivaji
— Jawaharlal Nehru
— Indira Gandhi
Shibaji Shibaji ShibajiShibaji Shibaji Shibaji
Taba prane savita maji
Dekhayeche naba sharani
Tumi ajanar swapani