Abhay Shivgounda Patil

About what matters.

Archive for January 2013

Can we ever read History with an open mind?

with 12 comments

Shivaji_british_meusium

Sourced from Wikipedia.

As an 11 year old in the 9th grade, untouched by any “ism” and totally oblivious of the label p-secular, I remember stealing uncomfortable glances at my Muslim classmates when the history teacher was gleefully describing Shivaji Maharaj killing Afzal Khan.  Those memories came back vividly as I recently watched the play “Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla” where a Muslim character tells his friend how everyone in his class used to stare at his tummy when the story of Shivaji piercing Afzal Khan’s abdomen used to be narrated in the class.

Can we ever discuss History rationally – without getting emotional, without attempting to push things under the carpet lest someone may get hurt? Can we ever accept that the History we are studying may be one sided – and there could be another version, which may actually be factual?  These questions came to my mind recently when I stirred up hornet’s nest with a Facebook update where I claimed that there are people who believe that the British rule of India was a lesser evil than the Peshwa (read Brahmin) rule that it replaced in Maharashtra.  (BTW, it was Jotiba Phule who stated publicly that he preferred British to the Peshwa rule.)

As a follow up, I stated that there were barbaric practices like alive burial of shudras in the under construction walls of forts and palaces.  I added that such practices by the ruling elite (read – Brahmin and Maratha) instilled a deep hatred in the minds of the untouchables – which they harbor to this day! To make matters amply clear, I clarified that while one has to accept the facts – they should never get translated into animosity against the descendants of those who perpetrated the atrocities.

Some of my friends asked for the proof.  I had no ready access to the proof – but thanks to Wiki I pointed them to a page which stated with reasonable authenticity that indeed in medieval India, the practice of burying humans either dead or alive in the foundations of fort walls, to ensure their stability, was widely followed.  It was believed that the ghosts of those sacrificed as such would keep evil spirits away.  As a corollary, one shouldn’t be surprised if these humans, who were buried, happened to be from the most disadvantaged class of the society – namely shudras and ati-shudras. And it also goes without saying that the ruling classes of those times approved – or rather accepted – such practices.

Some friends felt that I was holding the Peshwa’s responsible for the practices that pre-dated them.  I in fact was citing that as an example of an atrocity that is used to foment hatred against the descendants of the perpetrators.   A parallel example is how some Hindu organizations incite hatred against Muslims for the Muslim kings’ vandalizing of Hindu temples.

What surprised me the most that a friend accused me of Brahmin bashing!  True, in Maharashtra there are rabid organizations that have expressed their aversion to anything Brahmin in the most vulgar fashion – but my statements were no where on those lines!  Sambhaji Brigade is one such rabid organization. They vandalized the famed Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), when many priceless historic manuscripts got destroyed. The reason? A western author, James Lane, had dared to mention a vulgar rumor about Shivaji’s lineage in his book, and he happened to have acknowledged help from  some of the researchers from BORI in the credits.

All said and done, the fact also remains that – take any era – the powers to be have always mutilated History to serve their own purpose – sacrificing facts to promote their own agenda.  Shivaji’s story, as it is taught in Maharashtra, is no exception.  People who believe that they know enough of Shivaji’s legacy, should care to take the following pop quiz!  Do tell me if you are not surprised looking at the answers given at the end of this post!

1. Who discovered Shivaji’s samadhi on the Raigad fort and also started practice of celebrating Shivaji’s birth anniversary?

2. Who were the most virulent adversaries of Shivaji Maharaj?

3. What makes Shivaji a truly visionary ruler – well ahead of his contemporaries anywhere in the world?

4. Was Shivaji a Kshatriya king?

5. How many  of Shivaji’s bodyguards were Muslims?

6. What percentage of Shivaji’s commanders were Muslims?

7. How did Shivaji treat the family of his adversary Afzal Khan’s after killing him?

8. Do you know where Shivaji’s sword is today?

Answers below!

.
.
.
.

1. Who discovered Shivaji’s samadhi on the Raigad fort and also started practice of celebrating Shivaji’s birth anniversary?
No – it was not Lokmanya Tilak.  Jotiba Phule discovered the samadhi (cremation memorialof Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on Raigad Fort which had disappeared in creepers and climbers.  He wrote “Shivajicha powada” an epic poem.  He started “Shiv Jayanti” (Birth day of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj) first time in India.

2. Who were the most virulent adversaries of Shivaji Maharaj?
No – not the Mughals and Nijam, but the Maratha vatandars (ones who ruled small fiefdoms – and gave cess to the kings) who brutally exploited the farmers.

3. What makes Shivaji a truly visionary ruler – well ahead of his contemporaries anywhere in the world?
Here are some facts.  He was the first one to set up an “administrative system” to manage his kingdom and collect fair taxes.  In one of his edicts he asks his army to treat trees as children of the society and allows them to cut only the decrepit trees, that too when absolutely necessary and only after seeking permission from the owners. During his time the language of the administration used to be Farsi – which was not understood by the commoners.  Shivaji created the compendium of Marathi terms in governance and made Marathi the official language of his state.  He banned slave trade.

4. Was Shivaji a Kshatriya king?
No! He was the first Shudra king.  Both the local Marathas and Brahmin did not accept him as a true Kshatriya (warrior class).  He had to persuade a brahmin priest from Varanasi (with a lot of money!) to come down and coronate him as a king.

5. How many  of Shivaji’s bodyguards were Muslims?
Some 5 of his 11 bodyguars were Muslims.  The most notable was Madari Mehtar who sacrificed his life while helping Shivaji escape from Aurangzeb’s captivity in Agra.

6. What percentage of Shivaji’s commanders were Muslims?
Apparently some 20% to 30% of his commanders were Muslims.  It was the same with the Muslim rulers – about 20% of their loyal commanders were chaste Hindus.  Notable Muslims under Shivaji were Ibrahim Khan (head of artillery) and Daulat Khan (head of navy).  The dreaded Afzal Khan’s ambassador was a Marathi brahmin named Krishnaji Bhaskar Kulkarni – who was killed by Shivaji’s men.

7. How did Shivaji treat the family of his adversary Afzal Khan’s after killing him?
Shivaji not only allowed them to settle near Pratap Gad (where he killed Afzal Khan) but also arranged to send regular supplies from the Bhavani Devi temple for the upkeep of Afzal Khan’s tomb.

8. Do you know where Shivaji’s sword is today?
The ridiculous myth that the Goddess Bhavani bestowed her divine sword on Shivaji has been making rounds from time immemorial.  A blacksmith from Sawantwadi (in coastal Maharashtra) gifted a sword of Portuguese make to Shivaji – which he used as his personal sword.  This sword is kept in a museum in Satara.

How much did you score out of 8?

References: These two books are “must-read”s – and are principal references for this post.

  •  शिवाजी कोण होता – गोविंद पानसरे (Who was Shivaji by Govind Pansare)
  • छत्रपती शिवाजी महाराज जीवन रहस्य – नरहर कुरुंदकर (King Shivaji – Unraveling his life by Narhar Kurundkar)
  • Books by Govind Pansare and Narhar Kurundkar.
    Books by Govind Pansare and Narhar Kurundkar.

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

January 18, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Posted in History, India, Shivaji