Abhay Shivgounda Patil

About what matters.

Can we ever read History with an open mind?

with 13 comments


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

13 Responses

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  1. Abhay,

    Superb, bravo…keep writing and ignore the detractors… your blogs are based on hard facts and studies and not emotions….the misguided perceptions based on ‘blind faith’ or ‘vyakti puja’ is corrupting ‘real’ culture of Indian society and these blogs are necessary to wake people up…..


    January 19, 2013 at 6:26 am

    • Thanks Hemant. As usual there are always two sides. I have received well meaning and sincere feedback about the efforts to completely remove “Hindu” element from Shivaji’s story. Will surely take a deep dive into that too and write. /Abhay

      Abhay Shivgounda Patil

      January 20, 2013 at 7:42 pm

  2. Is that a typo – “11 year old in 9th grade”. Not impossible of course but highly unusual. Other than that – good stuff


    January 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    • Hmmm. Anand, I indulge into subtle (!) ways of self-promotion in my writings. Indeed I was 11 year old when I entered class IX. I will write some other day how an earthquake made me finish class I, II and III in one year. (Later I could not join Medical School as I was 15 when I secured admission. They wanted me to wait for two years. I went for engineering.) /Abhay

      Abhay Shivgounda Patil

      January 20, 2013 at 7:40 pm

  3. Abhay, tell your friends and/or acquaintances who are scandalized by your assertion that the brahmins sometimes performed human sacrifices is not actually a practice unique to the brahmins. I am italian, and can tell you that up to and including the time of the second punic war (the war against hannibal of carthage), the romans also occasionally practiced human sacrifices. So did the greeks – not the classical greeks of the time of Herodotus, Socrates, Aristotle and the like, but the very ancient bronze age greeks nowadays referred to as Mycenaeans. If you remember, the Trojan war was not initiated until Agamemnon, leader of the greek expedition against troy, appeased the Gods of Olympus by sacrificing his daughter. There is also ample evidence that the Carthaginians, Phoenicians, and various ancient cultures in the Near East had religious rituals to appease their deities thru human sacrifices.


    January 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    • Pete – thanks for the note. Yes we need not get too rattled by the facts to get into a denial. I wish to reiterate that History mustn’t be used as a tool beat/ hate/ punish the descendants of the perpetrators.

      Abhay Shivgounda Patil

      January 20, 2013 at 7:37 pm

  4. It is sad that one cannot say anything on such subjects in our society without being accused of being parochial or at least partisan. Nevertheless assuming we all (including me) are liberals folks on this thread, who like to take a balanced view of things, it begs to say the following: Growing up in modern day Pune as a person of Maharashtrian Brahmin ancestry, it is easy to visualize how Jews must have once been demonized in the West. And how many a well-meaning intellectual, may have contributed to the hatred against them, and the eventual Holocaust. May I be proved completely wrong, Amen!

    Sanjay Sadashiv Pendse

    January 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm

  5. Abhay, I liked the piece.Both history books and history teaching are biased here. But I think this should be more or less so all over the world.I do not know how Americans write about their victory over the natives in their history books. How they describe Hiroshima will also be interesting to read. You may share your experience of that.In any case History Texts in US will never borrow a leaf from Noam Chomsky’s writing.I feel that history as you think can never be taught objectively and rationally. It will always be used as an instrument of patriotic discourse.Pakistan has history books named Pakistan Studies that indoctrinate school children against India and Hindus. This hatred forms their national identity. History writing and teaching is almost inevitably linked to this identity politics.

    Please also write on the books you read. You have an art of making your personal opinion readable.Though personal,it does not smack of any prejudice against anything. Your writing is as open as you are.I may also suggest to you to write more on your/our school days.In my school, even science was taught highly subjectively and the truths changed from one teacher to other. No wonder, history was made into evil bashing exercise by your teacher…


    Datta Dandge

    April 18, 2013 at 11:29 am

  6. Also,Might want to go through the book : “Shivkalin Maharashtra” by A.R Kulkarni”

    Gokul Sonawane

    February 23, 2015 at 11:00 am

  7. Dude
    You are stupid! don’t pretend you know much of history… makes me laugh.
    you claiming Ibrahim Khan was Shivaji’s artillery chief is ridiculously laughable. Get your facts right before writing blog on history, especially talk figure like Chatrapati.
    what supporting evidence you have to claim 5 of 11 body guards were Muslims? Or 20-30 percent comanders were Muslim? This is as pathetic as exit polls before indian elections. If not 30 then 20 percent or may he 10-15…?

    Btw.. Ibrahim khan Gardi, was very honest, Nobel and equally brave artillery chief of Bhausaheb peshwe in Panipat war of 1761. That was about 100 years after Shivaji Era.
    Madari Mehatar was Maharaj’s personal attentedent not body guard…
    Any evidence to prove your claim that Maharaj paid Varanasi Brahman (Gaga Bhatt, was chief pundit for coronation ceremony ) huge sum of money to get his caste certificate? … LOL
    So on and so forth.. you got historical facts wrong with questionable quality of entire blog.
    Grow up.

    Praveen Mhapsekar

    September 14, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    • Dear Praveen, thanks for the colorful language and the expletives! First of all please see page #403 of “Shivaji: His Life and Times” by Gajanan Bhaskar Mehendale and I quote: “Sabhasad’s chronicle also tells us about Ibrahim Khan who distinguished himself in the siege of Phonda in 1675.” BTW – while Mehendale claims that Shivaji’s avowed objective was to establish a Hindu nation, it was in line with his times and it NEVER manifested in vulgar and parochial ways as it happens too often with today’s “Hindu Hriday Samrats”. One Khafi Khan records that “If a copy of the Holy Quran fell into his hands during his raids, he would keep it with respect and reverence and give it to his Muslim servants.” As for bodyguards and commanders – I have taken the information from Mr. Govind Pansare’s book. While Mehendale’s book says that apart from Navy there were not many Muslims in the army – I need to check about the bodyguard bit in other sources. As for Madari Mehtar, according to Mehendale, his story is questionable. As for Gaga Bhatt, the popular belief that Gaga Bhatt came on his own is wrong according to Mehendale – he was invited by Shivaji Maharaj. Again – I have to research more, but I believe it is an established fact that Shivaji Maharaj was considered a “shudra” and therefore there was resistance to his coronation in the local Brahmin community. And yes, Praveen – I am ready to grow up, by reading as many perspectives as possible. Question is: are you!

      Abhay Shivgounda Patil

      September 15, 2015 at 5:50 am

  8. Hi Abhay

    I think you would like reading E H Carr’s What is History. Sheds light on your thesis – that narratives are often biased.


    March 10, 2016 at 2:55 pm

  9. The information that Madari Mehtar gave his life or lost his life saving shivaji from Agra is incorrect. In-fact there are many references of Madari Mehtar post Shivaji’s return from Agra. Madari and Hiroji Farzand escaped together. After Shivaji’s Coronation, Madari Mehtar was “In charge” of taking care of Chhatrapati’s throne.


    May 29, 2018 at 7:38 pm

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