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Shivaji: India's Great Warrior King. Book Review

Shivaji:India’s Great Warrior King

Author: Vaibhav Purandare

Published by: Juggernaut Books

Genre: History/Biography

Pages: 320. (261 pages in text, rest in notes, citations, bibliography and index.)

MRP: Rs.799/-

Thank you @juggernautbooks for a media copy.

Disclaimer: I have the utmost respect for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and mean to provide him with the proper designations and salutations that he deserves. However, I have in places referred to him as Shivaji, not because I mean any disrespect towards him, but because of ease of reading.

History has divided Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj into various segments. Some Say that he was establishing a secular state or simply a Maratha empire in that region of the sub-continent. The author has arrived at a conclusion that “Shivaji was not out to establish a secular or non-religious kingdom, nor was he bent on founding a Hindu theocratic state. He was establishing a Hindu polity-one that was broadly inclusive, tolerant and all-encompassing and at the same time drank deep on the foundation of Hindu culture and civilization. “ He never demonstrated any personal dislike of Muslims or their faith; instead, he continued grants to mosques given before his time and explicitly told his soldiers to treat holy men of the faith and their holy text , with respect.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj has been a leader that most Indians are proud of. As they should be. But according to some from the Lutyens’s gangs, he was limited to being a ‘regional leader from Maharashtra’. When Aurangzeb Road was renamed in New Delhi to Dr Abdul Kalam Road, Ramachandra Guha, the “historian” wrote an article, that there should be no road renamed after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.( The way backward and a way forward - Hindustan Times). The reasons that he gave were,

  1. It shall feed into the majoritarianism that has been a creepingly dangerous presence in our body politic.

  2. He was essentially a regional figure. (Do note: The man who birthed an empire from Peshawar to Plasie , is being called a regional figure.). These expressions of Maratha pride make some sense in regional contexts; less so in the capital of our large and diverse country.

  3. He was a lord in the age of feudalism. Endorsed caste hierarchies and consolidated scriptural and social practices which led to the subordination of women.

When the article was published, i.e., September 9th, 2015. There already existed three roads in Delhi after Shivaji. So much for fact-checking. Shivaji was by no mean or form, a “regional leader” and as the author of this book concludes, Shivaji was not, at all, a theocratic Hindu leader. He was indeed proud of his heritage and Hindu identity and endorsed it as much as he could, being he was the first one to make the official language of his seal, in Sanskrit, unlike even his parents, Shahaji Bhosale and Jijabai, whose seals were in the well-established norm of the Persianate Age, Persian. Tagore, Tilak and even Nehru agreed that Shivaji Maharaj was the symbol of a resurgent Hindu Nationalism. But Shivaji’s Hindu state was for Hindu’s and non-Hindu’s alike and did not conceive of any difference in treatment between the two. He even had Non-Hindu’s in high ranking positions in his Army and Navy. Coming to the point on “endorsed caste hierarchies and social practices which led to subordination of women”. There’s this one incident the author mentions about a case which comes to him, a lower caste woman had been sexually assaulted by a higher authority and caste village Patil. the Patil was the village headman and the most important Vatandar of the village. His main duties were to be the collector of revenue, as well as being the head of police and justice. So after conducting investigations, he found the Patil to be guilty and ordered capital punishment (which was not so uncommon, at the time).

While reading the book, through the subtext you will get to know about the origins of several Maharashtrians surnames of today, such as Kulkarni, Deshmukh, Patil etc. Also much about Maharashtra’s geography and topography of those days. The author’s surname itself is ‘Purandare’ , and Purandar is quite a historically important place, especially in this book. I can’t help but wonder.

Shivaji’s father Shri Shahaji Bhosale, was a jagirdar under several different rulers at different times. He served under the Ahmadnagar Sultanate (The Nizam Shahi(which ceased to exist)), the Mughal Empire , and ultimately the Bijapur Sultanate (the Adil Shahi). Mohammad Adil Shah had pronounced three openly discriminatory regulations against Hindu’s, who formed the majority of his state’s population.

  1. Only Muslims could be appointed Governors in the provinces, while Hindus could be given clerical and non-executive posts; no executive responsibilities, and no governorships would go to the Brahmins and the other Hindu’s, for they were disturbers of the land and the faith.

  2. All efforts must be made to propagate the rules of Islam, with no infidel being allowed to insult, oppress or claim equality with a weak Muslim. Muslims who injured infidels ,on the other hand, need only be admonished orally ‘but never… punished in any way for the sake of the infidel’

  3. Muslims were told to refrain from participating in ‘infidel celebrations like Holi, Diwali, Dusshera’ because these were ,’bad’, though as a concession, these celebrations were not banned, so the Muslims couldn’t object to them or obstruct them either.

Shivaji , from a young age could not but be aware of all of this. He shoes to make a statement. When he started issuing orders in his own name at the age of 16, only as an administrator of his father’s jagir, his chose Sanskrit as the language, against the Persian which was the norm in those days. He started out as a natural Rebel, the son of a jagirdar militating against well established system of doing and arranging things, and then he began moving inexorably in only one direction: of freeing his land from the culture of oppression, suppression, harassment and ignominy heaped by the many sultanates and the mighty empire of the Mughals who had their original home on the steppes of Central Asia. The rest of Shivaji’s life-with all its victories, defeats , compromises , adjustments, retreats- has to be seen in the light of this clarity of thinking and intent he demonstrated at the age of 16.

The book looks at several myths that have acquired popular and legendary status, but it separates fact from fiction and presents the real Shivaji of history, whose life is so filled with Drama that it scarcely requires further embellishment in the form of made-up tales.

Shivaji was brutal to his enemies at the time. The author tells his tale in chronological order one major enemy after the other. Fatah Khan, The More’s of Jawali, Afzal Khan, Adil Shah, Mughals (Aurangazeb), Siddhi Jauhar , Shaista Khan, Jai Singh and I’m sure I’m missing some. The battles are written terrifically and keeps the reader hooked. All the Victories and defeats alike. All the major events like his infamous battle with Afzal Khan , his historic escape from Panhalgad fort, his state of mind while signing the Treaty of Purandar , all are described in great detail. As I had initially complained on social media that the length is too short and that I want to read more, while that would have been nice, to know more about perhaps the context that lead Shivaji to raid Surat and some other gaps in the story, and one other event, when Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son decided to deflect to the Mughals for a brief while, though covered , that decision seems to not have been discussed. But the book doesn’t lack in detail any way otherwise and doesn’t miss any major event in the Maharaja’s life. The way the author writes about his life, one can’t help but awe.

The book definitely works as a definitive biography, albeit with some gaps in the storyline. The author has provided enough credible citations wherever necessary and from all sides of the spectrum. Overall a very enjoyable read. Will highly recommend everyone to pick up this book. Especially the younger generation who are interested in history but are intimidated by big thick books with hard vocabulary. This book is very easy to read. It reads like a breeze.

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