Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur also known as Rajarshi Shahu, was the first Maharaja of the princely state of Kolhapur and a great social reformer. Let's have a look at his life, work and contribution.

Shahu Chhatrapati

Born: June 26, 1874

Place of Birth: Kagal, Kolhapur District, Central Provinces (currently Maharashtra)

Parents: Jaisinghrao Appasaheb Ghatge (Father) and Radhabai (Mother); Anandibai (Adoptive Mother)

Spouse: Lakshmibai

Children: Rajaram III, Radhabai, Sriman Maharajkumar Shivaji and Srimati Rajkumari Aubai

Education: Rajkumar College, Rajkot

Religious Views: Hinduism

Legacy: Social and Educational Reforms, Opposed Brahman Supremacy

Death: May 6, 1922

Place of Death: Kolhapur, Maharashtra

Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj also known as Rajarshi Shahu was considered a true democrat and social reformer. First Maharaja of the princely state of Kolhapur, he was an invaluable gem in the history of Maharashtra. Greatly influenced by the contributions of social reformer Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj was an ideal leader and able ruler who was associated with many progressive and path breaking activities during his rule. From his coronation in 1894 till his demise in 1922, he worked tirelessly for the cause of the lower caste subjects in his state. Primary education to all regardless of caste and creed was one of his most significant priorities. 

Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Early Life

He was born Yeshwantrao in the Ghatge family in Kagal village of the Kolhapur district as Yeshwantrao Ghatge to Jaisingrao and Radhabai in June 26, 1874. Jaisingrao Ghatge was the village chief, while his wife Radhabhai hailed from the royal family of Mudhol. Young Yeshwantrao lost his mother when he was only three. His education was supervised by his father till he was 10-year-old. In that year, he was adopted by Queen Anandibai, widow of Kingh Shivaji IV, of the princely state of Kolhapur. Although the adoption rules of the time dictated that the child must have Bhosale dynasty blood in his vein, Yeshwantrao’s family background presented a unique case. He completed his formal education at the Rajkumar College in Rajkot and took lessons of administrative affairs from Sir Stuart Fraser, a representative of the Indian Civil Services. He ascended the throne in 1894 after coming of age, prior to which a regency council appointed by the British Government took care of the state affairs. During his accession Yeshwantrao was renamed as Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj.

Chhatrapati Shahu was over five feet nine inches in height and displayed a regal and majestic appearance. Wrestling was one of his favourite sports and he patronised the sport throughout his rule. Wrestlers from all over the country would come to his state to participate in wrestling competitions. 

He was married to Lakshmibai Khanvilkar, daughter of a nobleman from Baroda in 1891. The couple had for children – two sons and two daughters.

Early Life
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Social Reforms

Chhatrapati Shahu occupied the throne of Kolhapur for 28 years, from 1894 to 1922, and during this period he initiated numerous social reforms in his empire. His emphasis was on education and his aim was to make education available to masses. He introduced a number of educational programs to promote education among his subjects. He established hostels separately for different ethnicities and religions like Panchals, Devadnya, Nabhik, Shimpi, Dhor-Chambhar communities as well as for Muslims, Jains and Christians. He established the Miss Clarke Boarding School for the socially quarantined segments of the community. He introduced several scholarships for the poor but meritorious students from backward castes. He also initiated a compulsory free primary education for all in his state. He established Vedic Schools that enabled students from all castes and classes to learn the scriptures and propagate Sanskrit education among all. He also started special schools for the village heads or ‘Patils’ to make them into better administrators.

Chhatrapati Sahu was a strong advocate of equality among all strata of the society and refused to give the Brahmins any special status. He removed Brahmins from the post of Royal Religious advisers when they refused to perform religious rites for non-Brahmins. He appointed a young Maratha scholar in the post and bestowed him the title of `Kshatra Jagadguru' (the world teacher of the Kshatriyas). This incident together with the Shahu’s encouragement of the non-Brahmins to read and recite the Vedas led to the Vedokta controversy in Maharashtra. The Vedokta controversy brought a storm of protest from the elite strata of the society; a vicious opposition of the Chhatrapati’s rule. He established the Deccan Rayat Association in Nipani during 1916. The association sought to secure political rights for non-Brahmins and invite their equal participation in politics. Shahuji was influenced by the works of Jyotiba Phule, and he long patronized the Satya Shodhak Samaj, formed by Phule. In his later life, he, however, moved towards the Arya Samaj.

Chhatrapati Shahu made great efforts to abolish the concept of caste segregation and untouchability. He introduced (perhaps the first known) reservation system in government jobs for untouchable castes. His Royal Decree ordering his subjects to treat every member of the society as equal and granting the untouchables equal access to public utilities like wells and ponds, as well as establishments like schools and hospitals. He legalised inter-caste marriages and made a lot of efforts for the upliftment of the dalits. He discontinued the hereditary transfer of titles and tenures of revenue collectors (Kulkarni), a caste infamous for exploiting the masses, especially enslavement of the Mahars, a lower caste.

The Chhatrapati also worked towards betterment of the conditions of women in his empire. He established schools to educate the women, and also spoke vociferously on the topic of women education. He introduced a law banning the Devadsi Pratha, the practice of offering girls to God, which essentially led to exploitation of the girls in the hands of the Clergy. He legalised widow remarriages in 1917 and made efforts towards stopping child marriages.

He introduced a number of projects that enabled his subjects to self-sustain in their chosen professions. The Shahu Chhatrapati Spinning and Weaving Mill, dedicated market places, establishment of co-operative societies for farmers were introduced by the Chhatrapati to alleviate his subjects from middle men in trading. He made credits available to farmers looking to buy equipment to modernise agricultural practices and even established the King Edward Agricultural Institute to teach the farmers to increase crop yield and related technologies. He initiated the Radhanagari Dam on February 18, 1907 and the project was completed in 1935. The dam stands testament to Chhatrapati Shahu’s vision towards the welfare of his subjects and made Kolhapur self-sufficient in water.

He was a great patron of art and culture and encouraged artists from music and fine arts. He supported writers and researchers in their endeavours. He installed gymnasiums and wrestling pitches and highlighted the importance of health consciousness among the youth. 

His seminal contribution in social, political, educational, agricultural and cultural spheres earned him the title of Rajarshi, which was bestowed upon him by the Kurmi warrior community of Kanpur.

Image Credit: wikipedia

Association with Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

Chhatrapati was introduced to Bhimrao Ambedkar by artists Dattoba Pawar and Dittoba Dalvi. The King was greatly impressed by the great intellect of young Bhimrao and his revolutionary ideas regarding untouchability. The two met a number of times during 1917-1921 and went over possible ways to abolish the negatives of caste segregation. Together they organised a conference for the betterment of the untouchables during March 21-22, 1920 and Chhatrapati made Dr. Ambedkar the Chairman as he believed that Dr. Ambedkar was the leader who would work for the amelioration of the segregated segments of the society. He even donated Rs. 2,500 to Dr. Ambedkar when he started his newspaper ‘Mooknayak’ on January 31, 1921, and contributed morelater for the same cause. Their association lasted till the Chhartapati’s death in 1922.


Due to his numerous altruistic efforts for the betterment of his subjects, he earned the honorary LLD degree from Cambridge University. He also received the titles of Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (G.C.S.I.) from Queen Victoria, Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (G.C.V.O.) from the Duke of Connaught and Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (G.C.I.E.) from the Imperial Darbar. He also received the King Edward Coronation Medal in 1902.


The great social reformer Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj died on May 6, 1922. He was succeeded by his eldest son Rajaram III as the Maharaja of Kolhapur. It was unfortunate that the reforms initiated by Chhatrapati Shahu gradually began to cease and fade for the lack of able leadership to carry on the legacy.