The legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji

Shivaji’s Hindutva was certainly a far cry from the hate-filled, divisive Hindutva of the RSS-BJP. While the BJP razed a masjid (Babri), Shivaji had one built for his Muslim subjects

The legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji

Sujata Anandan

As Maharashtra celebrates Shivaji Jayanti today (19 February) with multiple rallies and processions, it might be time to recall what a professor of political science at Shivaji University in Kolhapur told me recently.

There are three types of Hindutva in Maharashtra and the first and most original one of them is that of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, which is actively practised by all the Marathas even today. Which means Shivaji believed in Bhavani and never went to war without sacrificing a goat in her name at the temple to the Devi. But one of his 10 personal bodyguards and 13 of his 22 army Generals at one time, who accompanied him to that worship, were Muslims.

In fact it was his Muslim bodyguard Siddhi Ibrahim Khan Barbar who was the one who warned him that Adilshahi General Afzal Khan’s invitation to discuss a truce and ceasefire over dinner was actually a plot to assassinate him, hatched with Afzal Khan’s advisor Krishnaji Bhaskar Kulkarni.

It was this warning by Barbar that prompted Shivaji to go to the dinner armed with a ‘tiger claw’ concealed under his knuckles. So, when Afzal Khan and Kulkarni leapt upon Shivaji, he could tear out their entrails without having any of the weapons he had carried and which the hosts had divested him of before dinner.

So why should a high-ranking Maharashtrian Brahmin have been conspiring with an Adilshahi General to kill Chhatrapati Shivaji? Now thereby lies the story of why Maharashtra, though racked with the usual discriminatory tendencies of Hinduism, is still among the most secular of states in the country and could give rise to social reformists like Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj and B.R. Ambedkar.

While Shivaji was a devout Hindu, he was also hated by Brahmins and priests for his attempt to equalise all of Hindu society under his banner. No one was considered a child of a lesser God. That is why even today, if they can get away with it, a section of the Brahminical class attempts two things—either they dismiss Shivaji as of a lesser caste, or, if that is not possible, to pretend his education, lessons of warfare and weaponry and general demeanour were all imparted to him by Brahmins.

There have been the agitations in modern day Maharashtra against this Brahminical narrative, while on the other side, even Phule and others made weak attempts to appropriate Shivaji as one of their own.

Left to them, the Brahminical class would have loved to eliminate Shivaji before time, as they did his son Sambhaji Bhosale (r. 1681-1689) by betraying him to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who put him to a brutal death.

But Shivaji lived long enough to lay the firm foundations of an empire that would later extend to Peshawar in modern day Pakistan and spread across India in all directions. His Hindvi Swaraj was not about a Hindu Rashtra but about self-rule. Starting from a small plot of land in modern day Pune, he was squashed between the Mughals to the north and the Adilshahi and Nizamshahi kingdoms to the south.

But he recognised the Moghuls as the greater enemy and so he made treaties with other Muslim sultanates who were also threatened by the Mughals as Aurangzeb desired only one Islamic dynasty to rule over India.

Accordingly, Shivaji had 13 trusted Muslim Generals in his army— Siddi Hilal, Daulat Khan, Ibrahim Khan, Kazi Haider, Siddi Ibrahim, Siddi Wahwah, Noorkhan Beg, Shama Khan, Hussain Khan Miyani, Siddi Mistri, Sultan Khan, Dawood Khan and Madari Mehetar. Daulat Khan and Siddi Mistri, in fact, were his two commanders-in-chief. His foreign secretary was Mulla Haider and his earlier bodyguard, Madari Mehetar, was the one who helped him escape Aurangzeb’s dungeons moments before he was to be put to death after being captured in battle by Man Singh, the Rajput general in Aurangzeb’s army.

Despite his bitter history with Aurangzeb, Shivaji later built a mosque for his Muslim subjects in front of his palace in Raigad next to the Jagdishwar temple where he went for daily worship. Moreover, after killing Afzal Khan, he had also buried him with full military honours and Islamic rites and rituals at Pratapgarh where his tomb still exists.

The Brahmins hated him for all this and would not agree to coronate him, so he sent for priests from Benaras and accomplished that task.

The Marathas, following this legacy, emerged as the secular rulers of modern-day Maharashtra. Most of the chief ministers of Maharashtra have been Marathas.


Again, in the Shivaji tradition, the second kind of Hindutva— followed by Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena—was the kind wherein Thackeray senior made a distinction between the Abdul Hamids (Param Vir Chakra Haviladr Abdul Hamid) of India and its Dawood Ibrahims. Muslims loyal to India, and not Pakistan, were automatically ‘Shiv Sainiks’, he always said, given his party was named as the army of Shivaji.

The Shiv Sena’s anti-Muslim face emerged only in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the ensuing riots. Before that, the Shiv Sena’s rioting had been aimed at secular targets like ministers’ cars, government objects like electricity lines and milk booths which they uprooted in rebelling against the award of Belgaum to Karnataka or the attempt to turn Bombay into a Union Territory.

That is the original Shiv Sena Hindutva that Uddhav Thackeray has been attempting to return his party to. That is why Muslims felt very safe under his tenure as the chief minister and that is why his party was broken up and snatched by the BJP which follows the third kind of Hindutva, which is far removed from that of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Hindutva.

This last kind of Hindutva, a very hate-filled and divisive ideology, was brought forth and nurtured by the RSS.

One firmly believes that Jawaharlal Nehru’s ashes that mingle with the soil of India, despite the damage done to the nation’s ethos in the past eight years, will help his legacy to be the one that will ultimately endure. Similarly, it is Shivaji’s DNA and legacy which still prevails in Maharashtra which the BJP and its Brahminical supporters even today find very difficult to overcome and prevail over.

They cannot ignore the Chhatrapati but they have also failed to appropriate him. The Thackerays and their supporters are fighting back in his name. They may even name their new party as the Chhatrapati Sena, if need be, and even the great Maratha families, including Shivaji’s direct descendants, have caught on to how the BJP is appropriating them and then reducing them to nothings.

There is a pushback happening to reclaim the narrative. In fact, it will be the Chhatrapati who will ultimately defeat the RSS-BJP agenda in the country and restore the state and the nation to its former glory.

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