Shivaji's Navy & Shivaji, the father of the Maratha Navy - his object

Shivaji and his people had inherited a great military tradition, but the sea was a new element to them. There is no evidence in the past or in the history of the Yadavas of Devgiri of any attempt to build a naval power to rule the waves. Shivaji is, therefore, rightly hailed as the father of the Maratha Navy.

The coast line of the Konkan broken by many creeks, offered excellent shelter for ships, and the rocky islands near the coast presented excellent sites for naval strongholds. Quite early in his wonderful career, he realized the necessity of a strong fighting fleet for the peace of his country, the safety of his subjects, and the prosperity of his ports, which should not be at the mercy of other naval powers – the English, Portuguese, the Siddis, and Dutch.

A strong Navy, he knew, would ensure for the Maratha merchant vessels free navigation of sea and they would not be required to seek permission of Goa or obtain Portuguese pass-ports, which were given on certain conditions. By possessing a strong Navy, Shivaji could secure for his subjects the same rights and freedom on the seas as the Europeans and also a share in the maritime trade, besides ensuring against the possibility of being starved by blockade on land.

Having visualized the need of a powerful navy, Shivaji built a number of naval forts – Vijayadurg, Suvarndurg, Padmadurg, Jaigad, Sindhudurg etc. He also provided the naval bases with docks for the construction and repair of armed and trading vessels such as at Ratnagiri and Anjanwel, besides buildings a merchant fleet for conducting trade with distant Muskat and Mocha.

The strength of Shivaji's Fleet and types of ships

The precise strength of Shivaji's fleet is not known. According to Krisnaji Anant Sabhasad, Shivaji's fleet had two squadrons, each having two hundred ships of different class. Malhar Rao Chitnis mentions four to five hundred ships. The notices in English, Portuguese and Dutch records mention the number of Maratha ships on particular occasions but do not give the full strength of Shivaji's Navy. As new ships continued to be built and added to the Navy, from time to time, it seems that Sabhasad's figures of 400 ships is not exaggerated. The Maratha Navy had different types of fighting ships: Gurabs, Galbats or Gallivats, Pals and Manjhuas.

Naval Enterprises

Of his Naval expeditions, four are more prominently mentioned. In February 1665 he himself set out for Basrur with his army in a fleet, which, according to English Factory Records had 85 frigates and three great ships. In November 1670, a fleet of 160 sail was assembled at Nandgaon (in Kolaba district) under Daria Sarang, the Admiral of the Fleet. In 1675 Shivaji sent 40 vessels full of war material by sea to be used in the capture of Phonda, which, along with Karwar, were two important posts south of Goa. Sometime later, his naval forces occupied island of Kenery, but all attempts to subdue the island Janjira, the stronghold of the Siddis, from where thry carried out plundering raids against the mainland, failed.

When the Marathas were recovering under Raja Ram (younger son of Shivaji) after a turbulent period following Shivaji's death in 1680, Maratha Navy rose to the occasion to meet the great crisis. Under Kanhoji Angria, who was appointed the chief of the Navy with the title of Sarkhel by Raja Ram, Maratha Navy came to be respected by all the sea Powers of the coasts, both Indian and European.