Maharajabhisheka of the Bhonsale king: Abhishikta Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj


In the political, social and religious life of the humans, the coronation of King forms an important role. The ‘trusteeship’ (Kingship) announced to the anointed person didn’t form his property or a utilitarian entity but the power and discretion meant a responsibility which was granted through the ceremony so that society leads a well-regulated life in all the three aspects. Hence, the King could not divide the vested trusteeship without the approval of people concerned by ceremonious sanctions.  In Aryavarta, through ceremonies, different Samskaras have been devised for persons in the individual sphere and in the social and religious spheres. Different societies have had the methodologies defined for such consecration. However, in social and religious spheres, the Hindu polity has had the consecration of the village priest, commander-in-chief of the military and the King and the Yuvraja (heir) of the Kingdom.

The anointing of Yuvraja as an heir to the kingdom happens during the Rajyabhishek of the King which enables the former to attend the kingship; till that period the yuvraja learns different administrative matters and gets acquainted with chieftains of several departments. However, the yuvraja is not anointed unless he attains a certain age. Raja Rama (eldest son) was anointed as the yuvraja by Dashratha after Shri. Rama had sufficiently grown.

Although Shahaji Maharaj assisted the Bijapur sultanate, he had anointed Sambhaji Raja(the eldest son) as yuvraja and entrusted upon him the administration of the independent Bangalore but however, he was killed by Afzal khan the general under the Adilshahi. Along with Sambhaji Raja, Shivaji Maharaj was consecrated as yuvraja at the age of 11-12 years old to look after the Poona and Supa Parganas. The consecration of both yuvrajas meant Shahaji Raje was considering himself as king and the two anointments didn’t mean the division of territories but since he was not in a position to rule over the territories; both of them were entrusted to administer the far-distant territories for him. After Shahaji Maharaj’s death, as Shivaji Maharaj being the next eldest son of Shahaji Maharaj; the former inherited the kingdom.

Shahaji Maharaj had several pundits in his court and possibly under their guidance the different Samskaras and as per the Hindu Shastras anointment of yuvarajas would have happened. Following the father’s footsteps, Shivaji Maharaj at the time of his coronation anointed his son Sambhaji Maharaj as the Yuvraja in 1674 A.D.

Why Maharajyabhisheka?

In Shanti Parva of Mahabharata, it is said, ‘It is the prime duty of the nation to anoint or bathe with sacred powers somebody for the kingship, because in absence of ruler the nation becomes feeble and the enemies easily destroy it; religion could not survive longer; further on the countrymen or nationals fight amongst themselves to their utter destruction. Fie on such lawlessness! To accept a king is really to acknowledge the God Indra so says Smriti’. Yajnawalkya observes, ‘Taking for that (coronation) purpose eternal particles of the Indra of the wind of the Yama of the sun of the fire of Varuna, of the Moon, and the wealth of  Lord Kuber. Because a King has been formed of particles of those Lords of Gods; he, therefore, surpasses all created beings in lustre.’ Hence, people elevate the person to the status of kingship theoretically by purifying his body and soul with sacred waters and by performing different ceremonious rituals whose importance is laid on Samskara and Aachar so as to endow the necessary higher qualities for the proper governance. In effect, the king’s Rajyabhishek creates a new line of Indra with a new kingdom or throne for raising the king to Emperorship.

During the Islamic rule, the Kazis administered justice as per the Islamic law; Shahaj Maharaj exercised all his powers as Jahagirdar under Nizamshahi hence, following the father’s tradition Shivaji Maharaj too followed the same powers for punishment before the coronation ceremony.  Henry Oxion on 30th May 1674 in English records writes, ‘they cannot graunt (their request) being positively against the Laws and Constitution of their country now and formerly the Nisamshay Kingdom, by which they are still governed.’ Hence the general presumption was that the Shivaji’s sway was the same as that of his father.

Although Shivaji Maharaj was acknowledged for his leadership and was trying to consolidate the Hindavi Samrajya,  within the field of administrative services there arose competition between Brahmins and other higher caste persons;some Brahmins claimed a monopoly of all these services by denouncing even the right of learning and writing of competitors under the name of Aachardharma, as also with the reason for not being subordinated under non-Brahmin officers. Shivaji Maharaj appointed Kayasthas to solve this problem however the problem remained unabated. Especially when Sambhaji Maharaj was to be anointed as an heir of Kingdom at the age of 12, Annaji Datto and some officers with their defiant attitude tried to hold back Sambhaji over his authority in the political field. Shivaji Maharaj was thus in a complex situation on the account of tendency growing in Sarkarkuns to assert their age and caste over the Raje’s family. Again his relatives i.e of Maratha Kuleens had proclaimed themselves of an independent kingdom and in some cases, these relatives out of jealousy formed an impediment for the consolidation of Hindavi Swarajya. For example, the Ghorpade’s were jealous of the Shahaji Raje’s supremacy. In these circumstances, Shivaji Maharaj required supreme powers to regulate the social and religious affairs in accordance with Hindu Shastras and this could have been secured by anointing himself as Emperor for which Gagabhatt offered his free will in the interests of Hindavi Swarajya.     

Gagabhatt, a Brahmin who suggested Shivaji of MahaRajyabhisheka

Vishweshwarabhatta or Gagabhatta was a Brahmin belonging to the Vishwamitra Gotra of Bhatta family, with Bhawani of Kolhapur as the family deity. His ancestors were natives of Paithan village but later moved on to live at Kashi. Gagabhatta’s great grandfather Narayan Bhatta got the temple of Kashi-Vishweshwar rebuilt and devised a special procedure for renovating Shivlinga; for the great scripture learnings, he was well-known as ‘Jagatguru’ all over India and by some Mughal monarchs too. Shivaji Maharaj had once invited, Gagbhatt to resolve a dispute among the Saraswat Brahmin community in 1663 A.D; thereon after Shivaji used to refer disputes of DharmaShastras to Gagabhatt along with AnantdeoBhatta.

Gagabhatt when visited the Rajapur Konkan Prant under Shivaji Maharaj got impressed on seeing the reconstruction of Hindu Rajya but was disappointed with the defiant attitude of a few of the Brahmin Sarkarkuns and envious relatives. The number of such Brahmins were few as thousands of Brahmins had gathered for the Vedic rituals for the ceremony, even where the Sakarkuns resided there was not much quarrel about the ceremony, Narayan Shenavi’s writing to Dy. Governer forms testimony to this,” Sevajee is making a throne very magnificent on which he spends Gold and jewels, intending to be crowned in June. To this coronation, he hath invited many learned Brahmins and will literally bestow upon them many horses, elephants and money ”. This also ensures that Gagabhatt’s suggestion was taken by all on religious ground as well as political grounds with the aim of maintaining secrecy about such coronation to avoid the enragement of surrounding Islamic sultanates.

Gagabhatt had confidence in the national outlook of Shivaji Maharaj and was of staunch opinion that lapsed Samskaras required for a Kshatriya and his coronation can be recommenced by doing adequate penances. At the end of 1673 A.D., when Gagabhatt had presumably come from Kashi to pay homage to his family deity Bhawani he called upon Shivaji Maharaj at Raigad. Considering the descendants of the ‘Jagatguru’ family Shivaji paid all necessary homage and probably at these times, the need for the coronation was advised to Shivaji Maharaj for the growth of Hindavi Swarajya, to which Maharaj gave all his consent. The exact procedure was devised entirely by Gagabhatt, the treatise was known as ‘Shivarajyabhishek Prayoga’.

The Coronation!

The initial plan of going through the ceremonies was in March when Maharaj had returned to Raigad however due to the death of Kashibai (Shivaji’s wife) and the trusted commander Prataprao meant the postponement of the ceremonies and at the same time the Adilshahi Vajir Bahlol Khan had laid siege at the Panhala fort, hence the further delay in the anointment. After that, Maharaj returned on the Raigad on 15th May and the first thing he did before the ceremony was to visit the family deity Goddess TuljaBhawani of Pratapgad and returned back by 21st of May. Shivaji’s family belonged to the ancient Rajput clan and to the Sisodia Vamsha which in turn can be linked to Shri. Rama’s clan, Suryvanshi clan. Unlike any public ceremonies, the coronation ceremony of Shivaji Maharaj was a religious one that would’ve given him the powers to administer justice in social and religious matters which included subjects of higher Brahmin caste too.

V.S Bendrey in his Shivarajyabhishek Prayoga mentions six important tasks arrangements that were to be made for the ceremony:

  • The decoration of Throne
  • The enlistment of the services of the Brahmins well-versed in different schools of Vedas so as to assist Gagabhatt in the proper recital of the Mantras prescribed in his  procedure for the Maharajabhishek
  • The construction of Homa-Kundas and Vidhi-Gruhas
  • The collection of scared water from the great rivers & seas and sacred earth soil from the great mountains
  • Arrangement of materials for the ceremonies including horses, elephants, etc.
  • Provision for feeding more than 1000 Brahmins and their families for all the days of the ceremony.

Artists were set upon to decorate the Golden throne just to cover the asandi, a seat of God Indra, made of the ficus tree. The asandi was covered with skins of tiger, lion, wild cat, deer and was consecrated with Vidhis followed by Daana Dakshina to the Brahmins.  The throne was also covered with different diamonds and jewels, Narayan Shenavi writes, ‘Sevagee is making a throne very magnificent, on which he spends much Gold and jewels’; the entire Darbar was grand and even the English men presented diamond bracelets, pearls and jewels, Oxindon along with his embassy narrates, ‘I took notice on each side of the throne; there hung (according to moores(Moropant)) on heads of guilded lances many emblems of  Government and dominion as on the right hand were two great fishes of head gold with very large teeth; on the left-hand several horses’ tails, a pair of gold scales on a very rich lancehead poised equally, an emblem of justice, at palace gate two small-sized elephant on each side and two fair horses with gold bridles and rich furniture which made us admire the way they brought them up the hill’, the description denotes the grand throne and the Darbar.

Maharajabhishek was specially meant for either creating a new line of Indra with a new kingdom and throne or raising Shivaji to the status of Emperorship so that he will be the representative of Indra ascending on the Indra’s throne. However, before that Shivaji had to go through the Upananyan Samskara or the thread ceremony followed by penances or Prayaschitta for the irregularities in the Samskaras. The penances he had to go through were called ‘Tulapurushdan’ and ‘Tuladana’; in the first Prayaschitta Shivaji had to prepare an idol of Vishnu out of Gold (32000 Pagothas or 32 lbs) and then worship it and distribute it amongst the Brahmins assisting in the ceremony. Tuladana meant weighing of himself in presence of fire against the Gold, and other eatables etc; the procedure for vidhis was devised by Gagabhatt, a Dutch factor Abraham Le Feber at Vengurla in his letter to the Governor-General writes, ‘Brahmins and eleven thousand persons with their wives and children assembled to perform the ceremony, Suasy (Shivaji) ordered 7000 pagodas as a present to Gagabhatta. Suasy made great distribution to the learned men for washing away of the sins he had committed, of the Gold to weight his body (weighing 17,000 pagothas or 160 pounds) and the same of silver, copper, spelter, tin-lead iron and camphor, salt, spices, butter, sugar, nuts, mace,etc.’ It is noteworthy here to mention that Shivaji also did penances to absolve himself from the sins involving deaths of women, children, Brahmins; the Dutch factor further adds, ‘Two of learned men also proposed donation of 1600 Pagothas on account of the sin suasy might have committed by involving of death of women, children, cattle and Brahmins.’

After this Vivaha ceremony for which Soyrabai had to undergo the marriage ceremony again with the Vedic rituals to act as Rajnee is the coronation ceremony. Gagabhatt advised all the four surviving wives to undergo the marriage ceremony with the Vedic rituals so that they can take part in the coronation ceremony and their progenies can be recognized as Kshatriyas for future purposes.

The declaration made by Shivaji Maharaj before the Maharajabhishek, ‘मम प्रजापरिपालनाधिकारसिद्धीद्वारा परमेश्वरप्रित्यर्थे साम्राज्यादिकफलप्राप्त्यर्थे….. करिष्ये‘ makes it quite clear that he desired to have the power to govern his subjects and obtain the benefits of Samrajya or Empire. On the auspicious Muhurtam of Shukla Trayodashi of Jyestha i.e. on the 13th day of the Jyestha month, from the evening of 5th June 1674 to the early morning of 6th June 1674, the principal anointment ceremony of Maharajyabhishek which included major three ceremonies of Rajyabhishek, Simhasanarohana and Rajadarshana were performed the entire night.

In the Rajyabhisheka, Shivaji Maharaj was anointed with scented oils, powders, sacred earth soils and water. He was bathed with Panchamruta or mixture of honey, milk, curd, ghee and sugar and along with proper Vedic mantras, he was elevated to a higher level to the representative of Indra or Vishnu. Finally, amidst the of the slogan of, ‘महते क्षत्राय महते ज्येष्ठाय महते राजताराजसयोंद्रियाय… विष ऐष वोमि राजा सोमो अस्माकं ब्राह्मण राजा..’ and the Vedic mantras, the Brahmins ministers, officers and ministers poured ghee from the golden pot, Senapatis and kshatriyas poured milk from a silver pot, merchants and vaishas poured curd from the west and Shudras poured water from the earthern pot which meant Raja was accepted as the Emperor by all the four varnas. The sacred baths followed KumKum vidhi, where Raja was anointed with तिलक and औक्षण, finally,Maharaj proceeded towards the palace gate where Gagabhatt amidst the Vedic mantras vacated the chariot and along with anointed chariot, bows, arrows horses and elephants,the entire kingdom of Indra was put forth as responsibility towards the Maharaja.

Shivaji Maharaj then, ascended the consecrated throne (Simhasanrohana) about one and half quarter before the sunrise on Saturday 6th of June, 1674, while he was ascending the throne chaughada, drums were beaten, horns and other wind instruments were blown loudly to announce that Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had become the Abhishikta Maharaj of the Kingdom. The particular Muhurtam before sunrise is considered for all days and years for all-purpose according to Hindu beliefs; and from this tithi of Shukla Trayodashi of Jyestha Maharaj introduced a new era of the foundation of Hindavi Swarajya and named it, ‘Rajyabhisheka Shaka’ indicating the year of Hindavi Swarajya’s regime

After this, Aheras or presents were offered to Chatrapati by the ministers and officers which followed a procession on the main road. All those gathered near the foot of Raigad were allowed to go up to see the ceremony and the procession. After the procession had returned, Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj had held his first darbar (Raja Darshana) so that those assembled could have a glance at Abhishikta Maharaj on the Indra’s throne. In the Darbar, Sambhaji (anointed yuvraja occupying the next seat of honor), Moropant and Gagabhatt were sitting on the ascent of the throne and the rest were standing in two parallel rows.

The Maharajabhisheka was religious and at the same time political in nature; the high morale maintained by Bhosale kings right from the Maloji Raje times, followed by Shahaji Raje’s times acted as a starting point for the strong uniting force of Hindus. The Maharajabhishek which anointed Chatrapthi Shivaji Maharaj on the Indra’s throne in the era of Islamic foreign invasion formed the crowning incident that marked the moral force and sentiment for the succeeding generations to concentrate on the objective of the Hindavi Swarajya.

Reference: V.S. Bendrey, ‘Shivarajyabhishek Prayoga’