Chhatrapati Shivaji arranged for Brahmins from Kashi for his coronation on June 6, 1674

Although Brahmins then called Shivaji a 'Shudra', his reign was marked by caste amity and communal harmony. But three and a half centuries later, politicians are busy sowing discord in the state

Chhatrapati Shivaji arranged for Brahmins from Kashi for his coronation on June 6, 1674

Shripal Sabnis

Shivaji’s coronation took place on June 6, 1674, some 348 years ago. It is worth recalling that the great warrior king had to arrange for Brahmins from Varanasi for the rituals because Maharashtrian Brahmins were hostile and not willing to coronate a non-Brahmin.

Astonishingly, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s rule was marked by not only religious harmony but also harmony among various castes. He had not quite managed to annihilate caste but he did ensure in obliterating caste conflict. Even more remarkably, he restored trust between Hindus and Muslims in his own territory, which is why Maharashtra even today continues to be a relatively an oasis of peace and harmony.

It is, therefore, unfortunate that almost three and a half centuries later, politicians are trying to disturb, if not destroy, social and communal harmony in the state. Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has been busy provoking Muslims by insisting on blaring the Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers outside mosques. He may swear by Shivaji but he does not seem to understand the legacy of Shivaji Maharaj.

It is not surprising that Shivaji’s legacy is being appropriated by different castes, scholars and political parties. What is surprising however are attempts to misinterpret his reign and misuse his name. Shivaji Maharaj is not known to have been partial to any caste or religion, which is why people belonging to all castes and faiths reposed their trust in him and identified with him.

But sadly, Shivaji’s ecumenism is lost on most politicians and even scholars. His ‘Hindvi Swaraj’, they forget, had nothing to do with ‘Hindutva’. Shivaji fought for independence and self-rule, not Hindu supremacy.

Shivaji and Sant Ramdas were close is well known. By all accounts, Sant Ramdas did not treat Shivaji as the King emperor and the latter did not treat him as a mentor. But a group of scholars have been busy propagating that Sant Ramdas, a Brahmin, was Shivaji’s Guru. The implication being that without the support and advice of a Brahmin, Shivaji would not have been able to achieve much. Yet another group of scholars have concluded that Sant Ramdas was a spy of Moghul emperor Aurangzeb in Shivaji’s camp. Both are wrong.

While Shivaji’s son and heir Sambhaji built his father’s tomb, it was not maintained by subsequent rulers. The British rulers too neglected it. Mahatma Jyotiba Phule rediscovered the tomb and started Shivaji Jayanti celebrations. Lokmanya Tilak pitched in with fund collection for the exercise and Shivaji’s call for Swarajya was invoked to carry forward Tilak’s fight for freedom from British Rule. But some politicians, without much knowledge of history, have sought to drive a wedge between these iconic figures. Raj Thackeray even claimed that it was Lokmanya Tilak who built Shivaji’s tomb. However, Kunal Tilak, the fourth-generation direct descendant of Lokmanya Tilak, has himself denied the claim. How did Raj Thackeray then dream up the story of Tilak building the samadhi?

Scholars have not been far behind in distorting the syncretic culture of Maharashtra. No one has done more harm to the Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar ethos of the state than American author James Laine whose description of Shivaji as a ‘Hindu king in Muslim India’ was based entirely on Brahminical interpretations. Scholars like Babasaheb Purandare, ignoring historical fact that Brahmins had dismissed Shivaji as a shudra, attempted to paint Brahmins as Shivaji’s guru.

Comrade Sharad Patil in turn claimed Shivaji married an untouchable woman and made up a story of his second wife Soyrabai having poisoned Shivaji. None of these “scholarly” treatises were based on verified facts. Both Purandare and Patil are responsible for misinterpreting history, making up facts and distorting elements of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s life for their own gains.

Shivaji was a casteless, secular king; and Moghuls were more interested in subduing other Muslim dynasties than Hindu ones, as their alliances with Rajputs and others clearly indicate. It is unfair and dishonest therefore to use Shivaji to sow differences between Brahmins and non-Brahmins or communal hatred between Hindus and Muslims.

Any distortion of Shivaji’s harmonious legacy would be fatal for both the state and the country and set the nation on fire. Maharashtra and the country would be better served if politicians address the bread-and-butter issues of the people instead.

Be it Devendra Fadnavis, the Thackeray cousins, Sharad Pawar or anybody else, they all are playing their own political games. But games should not be played at the expense of history and harmony.

(Prof. Sabnis, a former professor at Savitribai Phule University in Pune, has authored a large number of books on history, philosophy and sociology. Views are personal)

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)