Shivaji’s Surat Attack was not a blind Massacre
Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of a grand Shivaji statue on Arabian sea off Mumbai coast. With that a hue and cry was raised from usual quarters on the cost of the project. There were arguments how the money could have been better spent on poor or how it’s a waste of taxpayers fund etc. Such arguments always use a logical fallacy that such a project draws funds from other planned expenses for public. The government is expected to fund multiple areas in parallel and tourism is one of them. World over, nations build magnificent structures with huge capital to boost tourism.
Some went further in their opposition to the statue and even tried to prove that Shivaji is not worthy of being bestowed with such a memorial. The natural choice of proof against Shivaji was his Surat attacks and apparent plunder of money there. Shivaji’s otherwise spotless history of a just ruler and brave worrier has this one black spot of Surat plunder. Some historians and writers have tried to equate it to other loots like that of Ghazni or Ghori. There is no doubt that Shivaji attacked Surat more than once and looted the wealth of the city but equating this to attacks by foreign invaders is not correct. Let’s examine the conditions under which Surat attack happened and the its results.
The first attack on Surat was a thought out revenge on Aurangzeb who was viceroy of Gujrat and Surat was under him. Before this attack Aurangzeb had sent Shaista Khan to attack Shivaji. He captured Puna and Chakan and restricted the revenue earning for Marathas for more than couple of years. Shivaji defeated Shaista Khan in a daredevil attack with only 400 men against an army of 10,000 Mughals. In the process Shivaji had lost a lot of his funds and it was but natural to try and recover it from Aurangzeb. Surat being a rich city under Aurangzeb and also the most approachable from Kokan, became the ideal target. The city had rich Persian, Armenian, English and Dutch traders while the local Gujarati population was facing abject poverty.
When Shivaji reached near Surat he sent a message to the mayor of city, Inayat Khan to come for a discussion and work out terms of agreement without having to spill blood. Inayat Khan, typical of Mughal practices, tried to assassinate Shivaji. Quoting Jadunath Sarkar from his book “Shivaji and His times” –
The cowardly governor Inayet Khan, who had run into the fort in Tuesday night, formed an infamous plot from his safe refuge. On Thursday he sent a young follower of his to Shivaji with pretended terms of peace. These were so manifestly unreasonable that Shiva scornfully asked the envoy, "Your master is now cooped up in his chamber like a woman. Does he think of me too as a woman that he expects me to accept such terms as these?" The young man immediately replied, "We are not women ; I have something more to say to you ;" and whipping out a concealed dagger he ran full at Shivaji 's breast. A Maratha bodyguard that stood before the Rajah with a drawn sword, struck off the assassin's hand with one blow.”
After this Shivaji’s army wanted to do a widespread massacre to avenge this attack which Shivaji stopped and only punished the prisoners instead. After this he gave peace another chance and sent a letter to three richest people of Surat, Haji Said Beg, Baharji Borah and Haji Qasim, to come and make peace with him. However there was no response from any of them. Finally Shivaji entered city and ransacked houses of rich. Some over-jealous soldiers also set these houses on fire. The attack was distinctly different from those which India experienced at the hands of invaders, as pointed below –
- Shivaji did not attack the family of Mohandas Pareikh, a rich employee of Dutch company. His business and property was left untouched because Pareikh was reputed to be a charitable person and worked for poor of Surat.
- As French doctor Bernyeir wrote, Shivaji did not loot houses of Missionaries. In contrast every invader in India has never missed a chance of plundering and destroying Hindu religious places.
This is significant due to the fact that English and Portuguese were supporting Mughal and resisted Shivaji in Surat and yet Shivaji chose not to harm any missionary.
As described earlier the town of Surat was divided into two distinct socio economic parts. One part belonged to the rich people, majority of whom were Persian, Armenian, Dutch, Mughal and English and the other part was for poor local populace. During the second attack Shivaji had already been crowned as a king and people looked up to him as a savior. When he attacked Surat to inflict loss on Mughals and increase riches for his own state, local population, hitherto poor, joined the Maratha army and attacked the rich foreigners. Due to heavy availability of cavalry with English and Dutch, they were left alone though.
Shivaji’s Surat attack has always been shown as an act of cruelty, but as shown above it was not the case. It was not a blind massacre spree, there were no atrocities on women reported and none of the religious centers were attacked. As everything in history there are contexts to incidents which we need to understand before trying to tarnish image of great men.
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