Shrimant Shahu Sambhaji Raje Bhonsle Chhatrapati Maharaj (1682-1749) was the fourth ruler of the Maratha Empire created by his grandfather,
Chhatrapati Shivaji, and was officially the Raja of Satara (now in the state of Maharashtra, India).
More popularly known as Chattrapati Shahuji, he came out of captivity by the Mughals and survived a civil war to gain the throne in 1707.
Somewhat of a roi fainéant, he was a good judge of character, but was content to let his Prime Ministers (the Peshwas) rule on a day-to-day basis.
He was the son of the second Chattrapati Sambhaji, who was killed by the Mughals in 1689.
During Mughal-Maratha war of 27 years Shahuji was imprisoned by the Mughals at the age of 7 years after the fall of Raigad, the Maratha capital in Feb. 1689 when his parents were also captured.
The Marathas emerged as victorious in this long war. The Mughals retreated around 1707 after the death of the then Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707.
The next Emperor Bahadur Shah released Shahuji in 1707 under conditions which rendered him a vassal of the Mughal emperor.
His mother was still held captive to ensure good behaviour by him and her release could be obtained only in 1719 when Marathas became strong and controlled Delhi.
After his release Shahuji had to contend with a competing claim by his aunt, Tarabai and her son, Raje Sambhaji II (son of Rajaram).
She set up a competing Kingdom of Kolhapur. With the assistance of Balaji Vishwanath who was later appointed the ‘‘Peshwa (Marathi for Prime Minister) and Sardar Khanderao Dabhade who was later appointed the ‘‘Senapati (Marathi for Commander-in-Chief), Shahuji outmanoeuvered Tarabai in 1714 and consolidated his power.
Being a grandson of Great Shivaji and son of Sambhaji, Shahu could not make strong impression on history and the politics of his time.
His childhood was spent in royal mughals captivity, he was kept away from his own people, and he could not got any military education.
After release from mughals, then caretaker of Maratha kingdom, Rani Tarabai refused to give him throne, which she had defended from might mughals.
Shahu was alone and was not very ambitious like his grandfather and father. Balaji Viswanath sensed opportunity to become kingmaker and helped Shahu to turn Maratha’s loyal to Rani Tarabai towards Shahu. In exchange Shahu appointed Balaji Vishwanath Prime Minister of Maratha kingdom. After civil war Shahu was kept away from regular politics of the empire and was forced to settle at Satara. Maratha Empire was then governed by Peshwas of Pune.
Shahuji's primary accomplishment was in stabilising the fractured Maratha empire after the defeat of the Mughals by Marathas.
During the War of 27 Years many Maratha nobles became powerful. He was the binding force of the Marathas.
Under his patronage his many civilian officers like Balaji or army commanders like Bajirao, Raghoji I Bhonsle and many more expanded the Maratha frontiers. In a real sense he was the emperor of contemporary India, but remained grateful to even weak descendants of the great Mughals. During his captivity, Mughals had raised him as a prince and never compromised his honor or that of his mother. He spent his entire childhood and youth, from age 7 to age 28 in the custody of the Mughals. He had passed through hardships and all uncertainties of life. Born as a prince, he became a prisoner at the age of 7, became a Chattrapati at the age of 28 and saw the empire spreading all over the continent. These events strengthened him.
3. Socio-political revolution
As a patron, he always gave space to the rising talented buds to act and as an authority made those ambitious chiefs to submit before his highness.
Shahuji was instrumental in giving space to new talents irresepctive their background. His reign saw rise of many like Balaji, changes in late 19th century as a result of this.Shinde and many more talented people who later became the strong support on which the Maratha empire expanded and flourished, especially Bajirao Peshwa and Holkars in North. He is credited with establishing the position of Peshwa, which later became a hereditary position. He appointed a young Bajirao as Peshwa on April 17, 1719 after the premature death of his father Balaji Vishwanath.
After 20 years tenure of Bajirao, he appointed Nanasaheb, as Peshwa. These three Peshwas were extremely efficient and Shahu always acknowledged their efforts to enhance the Maratha Empire. He is also responsible for appointing Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre to the position of the first Maratha naval chief, in return for his moving loyalty from the Tarabai camp. He appointed Sardar Khanderao Dabhade as his "Sarsenapati" or Commander-in-Chief. During his tenure almost all sections of society rose to power. Perhaps Maratha empire was the most socially mobile empire which accommodated many new socio-economic groups which were hitherto miles away from the power. It had had an effect on the social fabric of the nation. Maharashtra witnessed a spate of social.
Shahuji had four wives, and fathered two sons and four daughters. He adopted two sons, Meherban Shrimant Fatehsinh I Raje Sahib Bhonsle and Shrimant Rajaram II Raje Bhonsle Chhatrapati Maharaj Sahib in 1745 (who succeeded him as the Raja of Satara).
After Shahuji's death in 1749 his adopted son, Rajaram II succeeded him, but he was largely incompetent. The Maratha empire was primarily governed by the Peshwas from then onwards, with the Chattrapatis remaining the titular head.