How Shivaji Maharaj laid the foundation to make India a naval power

As the Indian Navy gets a new ensign adorned with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's Octagon, a look at how the Maratha king laid the foundation of Indian naval power.

How Shivaji Maharaj laid the foundation to make India a naval power
The new Navy ensign is inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. (Photo: India Today)

In Short

  • The new Navy ensign is inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
  • The story of Shivaji's Navy begins in the later years of the 1650s
  • In a span of two decades, the Maratha king managed to raise a massive fleet

By Sibu Tripathi: Over 70 years after the Saint George's Cross was added to the Indian Navy's ensign, the armed forces have moved on from its colonial past into a multidirectional future. The navy on Friday received its new ensign adorned with an Octagon — a symbol that represented the Maratha rule under Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

"Till today, the Indian naval flag carried a sign of slavery, which has been replaced with a new one inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as he unfurled the new Naval flag on the rear of INS Vikrant, commissioned into the India Navy during the day.


The new Navy ensign is inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who had laid the foundation of the Indian naval fleet by building it from scratch while negotiating technology, and the prowess of the Portuguese and the British, who controlled the Indian coastlines in the 17th century.

The new naval ensign unveiled by PM Modi. (Photo: Navy)


The story of Shivaji's Navy begins in the later years of the 1650s when he realised the strategic importance of the Indian coastline, which today extends over 7,000 kilometers. Since Indian rulers after Cholas ignored these coastlines, foreigners like Portuguese and Brits, who had just arrived, began their control over what was an entry point into the Indian mainland.

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Vaibhav Purandare, who has written extensively on the Maratha leader in his book 'Shivaji India's Great Warrior King' told, "Realising the strategic importance of the coastline, Shivaji began the work on a naval fleet from scratch, learning from the Portuguese and Dutch, whose permission was required at the time to use the ports and coastline that belonged to India."

Shivaji used primitive technology and corresponded with the foreigners about understanding their ways of building big boats and ships. At the peak of his rule, Shivaji was not only successful in building sea forts to defend the shores and control coastlines that extended through Konkan, but also readying a fleet of over 50 ships that employed over 10,000 sailors.

PM Modi ahead of commissioning INS Vikrant into Navy. (Photo: PTI)

While he began working on his Navy in the late 1650s, in a span of two decades, Shivaji managed to raise a massive fleet before he was crowned King in 1674.


While Chhatrapati Shivaji negotiated his way with foreign arrivals in understanding naval technology and weaponry, his advances raised concerns among the Mughal hierarchy. They worried that he could use waterways to reach land territories amid his already successful conquests.


Shivaji in 1664 sacked the port of Surat, which was then run by Mughal captain Inayat Khan. Meanwhile, he noticed the growing control of the Dutch on the Malabar coast and the Portuguese over Goa who were beginning to monopolise the trade. Shivaji planned to extend his conquests over the Konkan coastal belt.

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Karnataka had key ports like Mirjan, Honnavar, Bhatkal, Mengaluru and traded big in spice and rice. His naval forces entered Karwar, and while he could not establish dominance, he managed to raid several towns with his army in 1665. He also conquered Basrur with help from Konkanis, who wanted an end to European rule.

A view of the newly commissioned INS Vikrant. (Photo: PTI)


While Shivaji's Navy was not fully institutionalized, it had defined structures that were commanded by an admiral rank officer. As the Maratha ruler continued building his fleet, he had a loose hierarchy in place at the time.

"There was an Admiral who commanded the fleet and there were other senior officials as well. However, it was not fully institutionalised as today's Navy, which has well-structured ranks and commands. Shivaji even appointed two Muslims to the top rank, Daulat Khan and Darya Sarang Ventjee. They were among his top navy advisors," says Vaibhav Purandare.



Shivaji's symbol being adorned on the Naval flag is being seen as the dawn of a new Era in the Indian Navy, which sheds its colonial past. The octagon represents the eight directions, signifying the multidirectional approach of the Navy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unveiling the new insignia of the Indian Navy, said that Chhatrapati Shivaji built such a navy on the strength of this sea power, which kept the enemies on their toes. He added that history is witness to how strict restrictions were imposed on Indian ships and merchants by enacting a law in the British Parliament at that time. But from today onwards, inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji, the new Navy flag will fly in the sea and in the sky.

Also Read | New Navy ensign inspired by Chhatrapati Shivaji, previous one carried sign of slavery: PM Modi

"The new ensign is a recognition of Shivaji's contribution to building the first naval fleet of the country," says Vaibhav.

While there are no official records that refer to Shivaji Maharaj as the father of the Indian Navy, it is his legacy that has paved the way and laid the foundation of the Indian naval power that it is today.