Shivaji: Saffronization of a secular king

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.

Let him remain as he was.  Don't color him saffron.

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 perpetrators:
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.

Some excerpts:
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.

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31 Responses to “Shivaji: Saffronization of a secular king”

  1. mayur hulsar Says:

    nicely written article Ganesh…. Shivba is close to everyone’s heart from as early as school ages. I still remember my class teacher taught us history of shivrai not as a normal curriculum part but as a story. A real life story which always amazes and inspires to a human mind.

    Yes, it is disheartening to know that such is the way an idealistic mind is twisted and used for one’s own benefit. And it is done more or less on every great person. You pickup anyone out of the blue and there would be a scar exactly created by its followers.

    • Ganesh Dhamodkar Says:

      Thanks Mayur, and extremely sorry for my late response.

      Shivaji Maharaj’s story is indeed close to our hearts and it is the very reason that the right-wing organizations have always tried to color him in their own color.

      Yeah, and it has happened with almost everyone!

  2. risingbharat Says:

    Very well researched article

  3. pratik Says:

    i liked your article.yes shivaji was a secular king no doubt but you can’t deny the fact that he took oath to form “hindavi swaraj”.apart from the religious aspect king shivaji was a great visionary,thinker,administrator.i agree that in india some right wing political party are using this great personality to spread hatred but people like you are trying to make people aware and eliminate the misconceptions.thus people will know the facts and respect our national heros.keep this work going my best wishes with you.thankyou.
    Amcha manacha mujra tumhas!
    Jai shivaji,jai hind,jai maharashtra!

    • Ganesh Dhamodkar Says:

      Thanks Pratik for taking your time to comment. I totally agree with you that only a part of Shivaji Maharaj’s life (his military excellent and leadership) has been told again and again. It sometimes creates a picture like he was just an excellent soldier, but he was much more than that: A great visionary and excellent administrator.

      On the other hand, it is true his kingdom was a Hindvi Swaraj, but I think the word Hindvi was used in a sense of Hindustan as we use it today. The idea of Hindustan is nourished by Islam and all other religions and even atheism as it is by Hinduism. Can we even drop out Kabir (apparently a muslim) from Shivaji’s idea of Hindvi Swaraj? Of course, not!

      Thanks again 🙂

  4. The AntiNietzsche Says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. As an American, we often don’t learn much about the history of India (or much of any Eastern country), so it’s always nice to get a chance to learn about the significant people and events of other nations.

    • Ganesh Dhamodkar Says:

      Thanks 🙂 I am really happy that you found it useful. It was primarily written for those who have some basic information of this subject, but still..!

      Now I think I shall write more frequently on this subject. (A quote from “Notes to Myself” by Hugh Prather: Planning to write, without the actual act of writing, is no writing at all.) 😉

      • The AntiNietzsche Says:

        Maybe I should have said that over here we’re forced to educate ourselves on the subject of other people’s histories and cultures. So I had the basics going in, but with the shaky sources we have here, I’m always afraid that the info I’m reading will be a very “watered down” version of the complete picture.

        And I usually find that the planning part of doing anything is more exciting than actually doing it. This can cause much procrastination on my part 😀

  5. Kailash Mohankar Says:

    Yeah! This is really good step taken by you to lead the Indian Youths towards the truth about Shivaji Maharaj especially of Marathi Youths. I have always seen them misleading by Shivsena as I lived in a constituency which is always won by Shivsena Candidate. Good Work.

    • Ganesh Dhamodkar Says:

      To say I am trying to “lead” the India youth would be a wild exaggeration, but still your point is correct. There are many misleading stories and myths about Shivaji Maharaj spread around, I just tried to clear some mist!

  6. PIL against the statue of Chatrapati | media laundry- @Dhobitalao Says:

    […] Shivaji: Saffronization of a secular king ( Share this:EmailPrintDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. March 27, 2012 by Media Laundry- Dhobitaloa Categories: Mumbai | Tags: India, Kiran Desai, Maharashtra Government, Maratha Empire, Mumbai, Shivaji, Statue of Liberty, United States | Leave a comment […]

  7. Raj Singh Says:

    you are a partly right and partly wrong.

    // Akbar was a great Islamic secular //

    If Akbar was so secular , why did he ask his soldiers to kill Hindus of besieged chittor.Why were only Hindus of chittor attacked and the mosques/muslims untouched ? This undeniable fact is attested in Akbar Nama . Iconoclasm continued during akbar’s time

    Destruction of Hindu temples and their conversion into mosques continued , and the secular Akbar did nothing to stop this .

    Take for instance, an Inscription from Juanpur mosque . The italicized words in the last line form a chronogram and yield the year AH 975 (AD 1567-68) which is Akbar’s reign

    ““Thanks that by the guidance of the Everlasting and Living (Allãh), this house of infidelity became the niche of prayer (i.e. mosque). As a reward for that, the generous Lord, constructed an abode for its builder in paradise: The Pen of Reason wrote (the words): the mosque of Nawwãb Muhsin Khãn for the date of its construction.”

    Infact ,Akbar played an important role in its demolition , by threatening or bribing the Temple owner lacchman das to back off.

    The builder of the mosque was Nawwãb Muhsin Khãn.

    Muhammad Fasîhu’d-Dîn writes in The Sharqi Monuments of Jaunpur

    “The materials of the mosque were “taken from those of the temple of Lachman Das, Diwan of Khan-i-Zaman Ali Quli Khan… Akbar made over an the property of the Diwan to Nawab Mohsin Khan.””

    It is an undeniable fact that temple destuction and hindu suppression never stopped throughtout the islamic period .

    Shivaji was a secular Hindu ruler and he rose in prominence because he promised a better alternative to the temple destroying Muslims

    Shivaji wrote to his commanders ” ‘I take oath to establish Hindavi Swarajya to liberate all the holy places and rivers of Hindu Sthaan from Mlenccha (Muslim) dominance'”

    So the issue at play was prevention of iconoclasm(and perhaps even cow slaughter)

  8. Arun Dixit Says:

    Ganesh, it seems is not aware of JIZIA?. In late 16th Cen., five Muslim Sultanets ruled different parts of India, one of which was Mughal Dynasty. If you carefully read the invasion of Mughals to India right from Taimur Lung; you will unmistakably find that all the mughal rulers were EXTRA ORDINARILY CRUEL. They used to just cut off thousands of lives for the sake of fun only. Except this one thing, very rarely they knew how to govern and rule. Some of these rulers were phychic enough to move the CAPITAL from Delhi to Elsewhere within DAYS and to move their armies to Himalayas (to die) for attacking china. Hindu commen person had only two options; either to get tortured and vanish OR to become Muslim.In this age of torture and massacre; Shivaji dreamed of having HINDU Dynasty. If you look at and study different sects of Hinduism; you will learn that Hinduism is the only religion which is secular by itself. This is the sole reason that even among extremely adverse conditions hinduism not only stayed alive but flourished.

  9. Sanjay Dharmadhikari Says:

    What about Netaji Palkar’s conversion to Hinduism ? If Shivai Maharaj was secular, why would he have done that ?

    Again, kavi shambhu says ” kashi ki kala jati, mathure ki masjid hoti, agar SHIVA na hota to SUNNAT sabki hoti”.

    What are your thoughts on that ?

    • Omkar Says:

      Netaji wanted to return to Hinduism. Maharaj never said to him that he will be welcomed back only if he reconverted to Hinduism. That’s what secularism is. Respecting all religions, and all people irrespective of their religion.

      And as for the lines that you mention on Shivaji Maharaj, it again depends on each ones’s interpretation. The poet must’ve thought that all Hindus would’ve become Muslims had Maharaj not existed. However the point to be noted here is that even before the birth of Shivaji, HIndus all over India, and the Marathas in Maharashtra were serving the emperors and had their religious freedoms.

  10. SaluteIndianArmy Says:

    Ganesh@ well written article. Guys like you make real India.
    Just to reply to Arun regarding Jizia that during Mughal rule it was mandatory for muslims to pay zakat (tax) for government treasury, similarly jizia(tax) was imposed on non-muslims to bring equality in tax paying.

  11. anirbond Says:

    surprised to find such a well-written blog….generally, most people write without knowing anything…..keep it up……maybe, its worth adding as a specific example that the Mughal general who defeated Shivaji in battle was himself a hindu – Raja Jai Singh. that should re-emphasize the fact that it was all part of a political conflict for supremacy in the Deccan

  12. Ranganthan Says:

    It is not quite correct to point out personalities like Jai Singh et al. who despite being capable generals did not stand up to Aurangzeb’s excesses against Hindus, to pint our secularism of Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s policies were aimed at the decimation of Hindus (ref; Jadunath Sircar’s works) and their way of life. It is a different story that he could not – we know why. While zakat is a part and parcel of Islamic pillars of faith, jaziya is not a part of Hindu faith. It was a system imposed by a foreign invader with whom many powerful Hindu kings (e.g. Jai Singh) collaborated. So giving the example of Jai Singh or Maan Singh for that matter to emphasize secularization of the plight Hindus is a sleight of hand. On the other hand, existence Muslim generals in Shivaji’s army is part and parcel of a natural process of citizens of a different faith who saw a commonality of their national psyche with Shivaji’s Hindavi swaraj. It has to be seen as a product of those times – and not with post WW2 communist rhetoric of Nazi phobia that colors our perspective.

  13. bunty Says:

    Excellent post. I have seen the entertaining but inaccurate play Janata Raja, so I can concur that our history is being rewritten. The real lesson from our history open minded and secular leaders like Shivaji and Akbar succeeded in uniting our country, whereas divisive ones like Aurangzeb fell by the wayside.

  14. Abdulsattar Mulla Says:

    Dear Dhamodkar Saheb,

    I salute you for such a great article backed by vast study of all facts. I am a Muslim from Western Ghat ancestors. Myself and almost 95% of Muslims in Sangli Satara and Kolhapur are more proud of Shivaji than King Akbar even in 21st century.

    The religious harmony seen in this region is comparable to none in the whole world, which proves a secular foundation laid by great King Shivaji.

    I am so touched by intellectuals like you, we need your views to spread across India which will help “liberating” our great nation from fanatics of all religions.

    May God bless you,

    Abdulsattar Mulla

  15. Purohit Says:

    your a jaichand of 21 century . shivaji was Hindu king and he protected Hinduism and Hindus from Blind faith of islamic fundamentalist and Atrocity of islam..HINDUTVA is integral part of Nation .

  16. rahulwk Says:

    I like it. Put more efforts dear. I want to know more. Like shivaji , dr. Ambedkar is also confined to dalits only. Jai prakash narayan ideaology is vanished.

  17. anirbond Says:

    do you know where i can get the english translation of govind pansare’s ‘shivaji kon hota’? hardcopy or pdf?

  18. Amey A Kulkarni Says:

    Let us put some things in perspective
    The concept of “we” vs “they” eg Muslim Vs Kafir in Islam, Christian Vs Pagan is not there in the Hindu religion.
    For Hindus – entire world is one family irrespective of the method of worship.

    So to think that in a Hindu nation other religions will have a problem of any sort is a fallacy of a person who sees a religion from the Semitic (Christianity/Islam/Judaism) perspective.

    Check this out
    Muslims is Nepal want it to be a Hindu Nation because under a “secular” constitution Christianity is finding it easy to convert.

    Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj was unabashedly He wanted the Hindus to be able to live without fear.

    India/Bharat is the only place in the world where no external religion has ever faced restrictions of any sort.
    Hindus are such that they have even made provisions in the constitution viz Article 30 under which Muslims can run Madarsas but Hindus cannot run their own religious schools without interference from government.
    Check out this case where Ramkrishna Mission petitioned Calcutta Hight Court that they are not Hindus but a minority religion

    It is very important to first get the perspective right – please don’t interpret Hinduism and Indian secularism (which gets its definition from how Hindus treat people of other religions) from the lense of “we” Vs “they” religions.


    Great to read this its clear what is Shivaji..
    If you want suggestions here it is
    Born 1930 (officially)

  20. kailash b. shiwankar Says:

    very nice article ganesh. really since childhood we have been looking and listening Shivaji as ‘hindu king’ fought for hinduism. your article helps to change the mindset. need to spread it.

  21. Sachin Wakankar Says:

    We need such content proliferated much more than it is being, and we need it well timed like this one. Appreciate the effort.

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