In the featured image of this post, you see a man on a horse, wielding a sword. There is a sense of determination in his gait. Drowning in hints and riddled with meaning. A representation of what we- the people living today-perceive of him.
Accounts of historians tell you tales of times when India began its journey, through Shivaji to gain freedom. Shivaji’s encounters make for fascinating stories no doubt. However, the question remains about what we may have lost in translation and over time.
Many describe Shivaji as a ‘rebel’ or a ‘grand rebel’…
Shivaji is also called a Great Guerrilla.
[But] What is amazing is that he found a major flaw in the war-machinery of the established Empires and the Sultanates, and went on to establish his own Maratha army where chain-of-command reigned supreme. Not to forget, his unique spy and scout networ spread across the country. In those times when soldiers fled from the battlefield moments after their king fell, Shivaji’s empowered warriors fought for 27 years after his death to keep his dream alive.
Shivaji, almost a mythical historical figure, evokes and provokes a wide range of emotions – revered as a demigod, vilified as a rebel and robber, mocked as a mountain rat- his multifaceted personality is difficult to capture.
In my pursuit of learning- or rather re-learning- about Shivaji, I picked up Medha-Deshmukh Bhaskaran’s Chhatrapati Shivaji- Challenging Destiny.
Medha began her journey of learning about him more than a decade before she published her book. Walking down a memory lane of one of the most iconic men of the region where I was born- Maharashtra- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was a bitter-sweet experience. The history leading up to the birth of Shivaji and surrounding his life aren’t happy recollections. These were dark times of battles and bloodshed, of plunder and waste. Medha tells us the story of this region by presenting her research in a format which fluidly weaves Shivaji’s story into historical timelines and facts.
History, without a doubt, stands witness to his achievements and you see a trail of ideology left behind by the man through people. A diverse set of people and over many generations.
Portraits and statues of him reside in every corner of Maharashtra. They do prove to be quite useful as landmarks when you are subjected to the trauma of giving someone directions.
Even today, in the year 2017, he influences thought, action and many other aspects of the life of people residing in these regions. This is evident in the wake of a debate on the subject of the construction of a statue in his honour, to be placed in Mumbai, costing the Government 3600 crores. Where one wonders how the memory of a human being remains alive and strong beyond death and justifies spending a grand sum of money of the taxpayer.
Stories of his endeavours remain recorded in books and have been passed down orally.
The Powada (Marathi: पोवाडा) is a genre of Marathi poetry that emerged during the late 17th century in India. The powadas are a kind of ballad written in an exciting style and narrate historical events in an inspiring manner. The composer-cum-singers of the powadas are known as Shahirs. The early powadas are mostly composed by the eyewitnesses of the great events celebrated in these ballads.
But the answer to the question who was Shivaji largely remains unanswered. Was he just a boy who learned to protect his Jagir-estate? Or was he purely obsessed with his idea of Swarajya-Free land? His statues and busts decorate many museums as a symbol of his pursuit of Swarajya. And when we look around we are compelled to ask ourselves were his standards unfathomable to everyone but him? Do we really honour his memory or just involve it in topics of debate?
Medha Deshmukh’s book gives me records of His story and I indulge myself with deeper explorations of those incidents.
The word charismatic has been often associated with Shivaji and his leadership style. Charisma is our experience of a personality, the roots of which are hardly evident when we are awestruck by a personality on its own. The character of a person resides under this layer of personality, holding it together like roots do a tree.
While the people in power were free-loading on the wealth of the land and objectifying the masses who were under their governance. Shivaji spent his childhood restoring a wasteland-Pune.
Slaughtering of Kin for the throne or seat of power was a casual occurrence. Shivaji gave up a Fort crucial to his strategy to release his Brother and Father from imprisonment.
Those were the times when social norms allowed the mistreatment and trading of women; commoners and queens, alike. Shivaji was setting examples on the right kind of treatment for women in his court of justice.
Only the religious supremacies-Bhramins- were granted the gift of academics. Spirituality and religion were mere pawns in political agendas. Shivaji befriended Saint Tukaram who was a mystic, philosopher and also an Untouchable- Untouchables were the lowest caste in Hinduism and as the title suggests their touch was deemed impure.
Here was a man who was different and for the better.
The most character-defining incidents about Shivaji narrated by Medha was the trial of a Patil.
When Shivaji was barely fifteen, a Patil of a village called Ranjhe that fell into his jagir misbehaved with a woman. The Patil was summoned and the perpetrator could not believe that what he had done was indeed considered a crime; it was his right, wasn’t it?
First, he started cursing and then begging in the courtyard of Lal Mahal that was filled with people who had come from far and near to witness the court proceedings.
With his mother sitting next to him and with Dadaji standing behind him, young Shivaji gave his verdict, pronouncing the Patil ‘guilty’ and handed over the punishment:
‘Patil of Ranjhe, Taaraf – Khedebare, Babaji Bhikaji Gujar, has committed an act of offence, while serving in his office as a Patil. The report of his actions has reached us – and his guilt has been proved beyond doubt. Thereupon, as per our orders, chop off his limbs, all four limbs.’
That was a landmark judgment, for never before had any (poor) man or woman of the region felt so safe and so happy. On that day, the vulnerable of Maval must have fallen in love with Shivaji.
Who can blame whom when emperors and men of power have already set an example? Muslim invaders regarded women and children as war booty.
Shivaji was known to have administered justice swiftly and fluidly. While the Mughals, Nizams and Adil Shahis were stuck in their own web of expanding their empires. And generations after generations of destroying the heart of culture which began with hideous disregard of human dignity. Shivaji began sowing the seeds of Social Evolution using his clarity as a tool for efficiency in its implementation.
The clarity resides in the realization of a simple truth: ‘The nature of justice will not change according to our- human- convenience and exceptions.
The chaos could be assumed to have erupted from having a land under constant ‘Siege’ and ‘Progress’ at the same time. What didn’t allow him to follow suit was an ideal definition of principles, roots of a belief system that transcended his times.
This will hopefully throw some light upon the character- root – of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to remember the next time we see him in brick, stone, and paint or in spirit.