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JIJABAI (1594-1674)

Jijabai was a woman of high birth and the mother of Shivaji. She was the daughter of a powerful landowning family. Her father was a noble of the court of Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar. She was married to Shahaji, feudatory of Nizam Shah and holder of the estates of Poona and Supa. Some years after her marriage, her father Lakhaji Jadhavrao crossed over to the Mughal camp, while Shahaji remained a loyal follower of Nizam Shah. Shahaji suffered a series of reverses in the ensuing war and when he finally had to flee before the forces of Jadhavrao, Jijabai was pregnant with his son, the future Shivaji. Shahaji left her behind, trusting that her father would treat her kindly.

Her father invited her to his fortress, but she preferred to stay at the fort of Shivneri. There she meditated on the state of the Maratha country, as it trembled with the repeated shocks of attack and counterattack between the Mughals and the resistance. She prayed fervently to the guardian goddess of the fort, Shivai, that her son would do something to end the wars. In due course Shivaji was born and named after the fort’s presiding spirit.

Shahaji had meanwhile become Chief Minister to Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur. Shivaji stayed with his mother, who managed the jagir of Poona on her own. He learned the rudiments of administration from her, and was fired with the desire to free his land from the Mughals. It was Jijabai who celebrated Shivaji’s victory over the Mughal general Afzal Khan in song. Once, defeating him in chess, she demanded that he free the fort of Kondana as forfeit. When Shivaji left Poona to organise the resistance, she stayed behind to manage the estate. Her influence made Shivaji instruct his men always to respect women, whoever they may be. Jijabai was also free of the caste fastidiousness of many of her compatriots; she gave her own granddaughter, Sakhubai, in marriage to Bajaji Nimbhalkar, who had once been a Muslim.
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