Yesterday was the birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (1627-1680). It was celebrated with great joy all over the Maharashtra and by all Marathi-speaking people wherever they are in some form or other. Shivaji was one national hero of who is still revered by millions above cast and creed. Indeed Shivaji is a towering name above all, and if you ask anyone to give just one name that binds all Marathi people together, it would be that of Shivaji without a second thought.
The popularity and greatness of Shivaji’s character have given rise to a typical phenomenon in the modern India. Each and every ideological group want him colored in their own color, and unfortunately the far-right saffron Hindutva folks succeeded in it. They distorted his image so much that he is almost deified as an incarnation of God who took birth “to save the Hindu people from the tyranny of Muslim rulers”; and this is far from truth.
This needs to be checked against historical facts and people should be made aware about this. This has become more important in the post-1992 and post-Godhra India where Shivaji is again and again projected as a destroyer and enemy of Muslims.
Shivaji’s policy was not religious, but political:
Shivaji was Hindu by faith. He was very religious by his own nature. Most of his neighboring states were ruled by Muslim leaders. As a matter of fact, Shivaji had to fight with all of them to carve out his own state. But all the conflicts and battles were political in nature and not religious. There was a sizeable amount of Muslim soldiers in Shivaji’s army. Indeed, the highest chief of his Navy was a Muslim. On the other hand, a large part of his enemy armies were Hindus. In the battles Shivaji and his enemies, Hindus and Muslims fought against Hindus and Muslims, it was never a religious war. They were purely political wars fought only for expansion of their respective territories.
On the other, Shivaji had many battles against many of the Hindu Maratha Zamindars. Chandrarao More of Javli, himself a Maratha, was one of the very first enemies that Shivaji defeated.
Noted historian Jadunath Sarkar notes in his “Shivaji and His Times”:
Shivaji’s religious policy was very liberal. He respected the holy places of all creeds in his raids and made endowments for Hindu temples and Muslim saints’ tombs and mosques alike. He not only granted pensions to Brahman scholars versed in the Vedas, astronomers and anchorites, but also built hermitage and provided subsistence at his own cost for the holy men of Islam, notably Baba Yakut of Kelshi.
Even Khafi Khan, the historian of his enemies, noted that he never invaded the mosques, and if he founds a copy of Quran during his raids, he would respectfully hand it over to some of his Muslim soldiers. This is in sheer contrast with Bal Thackeray, who after the demolition of Babri mosque reported to have commented that he was proud of the demolishers.
The deification of Shivaji’s image seems to have started in early 20th century. V. D. Savarkar was amongst the very first ones who projected Shivaji as a national hero of Hindus. This was in lines with his philosophy of Hindutva. With his writings and his oratory, He created a predominantly Hindu image of Shivaji for the polarization of Hindus to support his ideology. He also wrote an aarti (religious hymn) of Shivaji that again and again refers to him as a savior of Hindus. Written in highly sanskritized Marathi, it goes like:
हे हिंदुशक्तीसंभूत दिप्तीतम तेजा
हे हिंदुतपस्यापूत ईश्वरी ओजा
हे हिंदुश्री सौभाग्यभूतीच्याअ साजा
हे हिंदुनृसिंहा प्रभो शिवाजी राजा
(The word ‘Hindu’ is is colored red by me for those who don’t know Devnagari script. I am not able to translate it properly because of its overuse of Sanskrit words, but the last like can be translated as “Oh Hindu Lion man Lord King Shivaji.”) The whole aarti is written in a sense that being a Hindu was the most important aspect of Shivaji’s character. The another repeating theme of this aarti is the claim that Shivaji took his political inspiration from the Brahmin saint Ramdas, a claim that Jadunath Sarkar found “based on fabricated and suspicious evidences” even in the 1920s.
Almost all of the history written since then by Marathi authors is looks like written to support these two claims. V. K. Rajwade started this tradition, and a lot of fictional writers based their works on Rajwade’s “history.” Later in the century, B. M. Purandare, a self-proclaimed historian who is no more than just a novelist, devoted all his life to this cause. He wrote a novel on Shivaji’s life and a popular play that he performed all over the state putting emphasis on Shivaji’s image as a Hindu king of a Hindu state inspired by a Brahmin saint.
Why it is dangerous?
One who is not aware of the situation here may ask me why I am making issue out of it? Why don’t I accept that Shivaji was a Hindu king? But I am sure those who are aware of the contemporary social currents in India and those who are proud of India’s secular constitution would never ask this question.
Over the past few decades, RSS, Shivsena, VHP, Bajarang Dal are consistently using Shivaji’s popular name to attract the youth towards them. They are using this saffronized image of Shivaji to polarize them against the Muslims. “Look at him, He, Shivaji, the Hero of Hindus, how he killed Afzal Khan, the cruel wicked Muslim..etc.” is a common mantra. The Hindutva parties have already polluted the atmosphere so much that India cannot afford any more spread of such ideology.
I have already written too much. I shall present a couple of excerpts by some notable authors that would put some light on this issue. The highly reliable Cambridge History of India notes:
Let us pause to consider the sort of polity that Shivaji was carving out in the Pune region. Many of the major writers on the subject would have us believe that Shivaji was creating a Hindu state, something fundamentally different and in opposition to the Muslim states that surrounded it. The Brahmin historians of the twentieth century, starting with Rajwade, especially wanted to prove that Shivaji was guided by Brahmin advisors from early in his life, and that he had a vision of a state based on something called ‘Maharashtra Dharma.’ Much of this, if not all, has been shown by later research to be an artefact of the researchers, and not a fact of the period.
Rafiq Zakaria, a statesman and scholar of current social situation of India, wrote in his Communal Rage in Secular India:
In medieval times, when religious dogmatism was a rage all over the world, Shivaji exhibited an outlook against bigotry which has few parallels in the annals of the world. He fought no doubt against one of the greatest Muslim empires of those days and was inspired by the teaching of his own religion but surprisingly he never allow himself to preach or practise hatred against followers of other religions, including Islam. On the contrary, the recent research that has been carried out about his rule, reveal that he was motived by broad secular values. Stories and plays written about him unfortunately give a narrow, distorted image of him. Politicians have also used his name to promote parochialism and to divide the people of religious and regional basis.
To conclude, I have no hesitation to accept Shivaji as a Hindu king, but as Akbar was a great Islamic secular, Ashoka was a Buddhist secular, Shivaji too was a Hindu secular king, and indeed Ashoka, Akbar, and Shivaji provide a true picture of secularism in the Indian context.
Tags: Afzal Khan, Akbar, Ashoka, B. M. Purandare, communalism, Godhra, Hindutva, history, India, Islam, Jadunath Sarkar, Lokmanya Tilak, Maharashtra, marathi, Rafiq Zakaria, Ramdas, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha, secularism, Shivaji, V. D. Savarkar, V. K. Rajwade