Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha nation, was born in 1627, at the time when Moghul Emperors were trying to conquer the independent Muhammadan kingdoms of the Deccan. He was the son of a Maratha chieftain, Shahji Bhonsle who had married Jijibai, a lady of superior rank to himself Like many Maratha nobles. Shahji Bhonsle had taken service in the Muslim kingdom of Bijapur, and, being away from a great deal at the wars, left the training of his son to his wife. Jijibai was a very capable and strong-minded woman, and was the most powerful influence in Shivaji’s life. Proud, bigoted, and deeply religious, she brought up her son as a strictly orthodox Hindu. He early learnt to hate the Moghuls as national and religious enemies, to revere the Hindu religion and the Brahmins, and to glory in the legends and traditions of his Maratha forefathers.
When he came to man’s estate, he determined to free his land and people from the overlordship of the Muhammadan kingdom of Bijapur, which at the time was weakly governed and distracted by wars with the Moghuls. With his devoted followers, the Mavlas, or Maratha highlanders, he captured forts and annexed territory, until he established himself in the impregnable fortress of Pratap Gad. At last, in 1659, Bijapur sent a powerful army under Afzal Khan to crush the rebel; but Afzal Khan was slain and the army routed.
Shivaji was now practically independent; but to establish his position firmly, he visited the Moghul Emperor at Delhi to secure his protection. Aurangzeb, however, was suspicious and kept him a prisoner, until Shivaji escaped by a clever trick. Thenceforward he was the avowed enemy of the Moghuls; and by successful campaigns, he finally established his independence, and was crowned King, or “Paadsha of the Hindus”, at Raigad, in 1674. He died in 1680, during a campaign in the protection of Bijapur against the Moghuls.
Shivaji may be regarded as a national hero because, by his genius, courage, and enthusiastic leadership, he welded the Marathas into a nation, and gave them an independent national existence.