As a child my connection with Shivaji was zero. I really have NO memories of him. Except like innumerable stories etched in mind thanks to Amar Chitra Katha, I’d read his amazing stories -informative caricatures that depicted the stories which is the way our History need to be. Shivaji raja’s story was my favourite. I would dream of slipping into the wicker basket & escaping the tyrant-like Aurangazebs, in my life- my school teachers.
So that was the brief school-time infatuation I had with Shivaji. Having studied in an ICSE school there was no western region or state focus as it happens in SSC-state board. We had world wars, bomb explosions & details on the innumerable treaties. i can’t remember such forgettable history.
We read about all the Charles, Georges, Chandra Gupta, Cholamandal, Ashoka –interestingly we read more of Ashoka the king than Shivaji. Anyways they were all too taxing for my tiny brain, because all their dates, times of wars, famines, plagues, defeats -victories the various places meetings took place, plus tongue-twisting names, too many intricate details which were to be by-hearted. Volumnous amounts of pages, so by the time i was on page 3, I’d be fantasizing all of these kings, their harems because they had plenty of queens, women & more so time. That’s what i gathered, they’d produce countless children, plus exciting lifestyles. And honestly, i’d have forgotten rest of history! I used to wonder they really must be vicious or vellas to keep conducting wars or fight with others…live & let live ya….
We read the most on Moghul empire so obviously they briefly mentioned Shivaji. In contrast there were innumerable stories on Akbar & the more witty Birbal –loved him to bits. Later chunks of Chanakya –he’s confusing till date. He was advisor of Chandragupta, who Hindus still think highly of. Then i’d get lost who was first King that converted to Buddhism, quite a few converted, but after they had hacked to death thousands of innocents. OS not only we had remember the post conversion policies they undertook but we were expected to remember the number of killings. History was scary for kids, at that time…
From college onwards too much of politics took place in the name of Shivaji. I think the elite of then Bombay got the biggest setback when the airport was NOT named after JRD Tata & was named as Chhatrapati Shivaji…..at that time I felt pretty pissed. Though later as i gained more knowledge & information reading about colonial rules, the whole ideology of re-naming across the world i understood this in a wholistic way. This I shall write about later. Though i don’t know whether the JRD & Shivaji are the apt names in the first place.
Till college i really don’t think I had Shivaji Raja on my radar. In addition I didn’t take much effort to know about Shivaji or for that matter any king, to be honest. In our family too there weren’t like forcing any history down my throat. We would discuss politics, music, stories & especially my aaji she would read out stories to us from Ramayana, other magazines, books.
I was more into reading newspapers, heavy duty fiction reading, gossip yes for sure and lots on athletics. Sports magazines, autobiographies, sports persons & posters. College years of adventure brought me close to the King whom i now adore the most -Shivaji. It was on the various hikes that I began understanding more of Shivaji as a King. And i am glad it was first-hand experience that aroused my curiosity. The first time i went to Rajmachi fort in Lonavala i was bowled over. But the most moving moment came when just out of school i went past NDA to Simhagadh fort.
Seeing it, climbing it is to believe! Firstly we drive to a point & then realise shit we have to climb this mountain as we look upwards. Actually at the beginning of every climb of a mountain, hill of any height i get this feeling. Then we catch the glimpse of the fort-like stones, the wall & mammoth structure. As we begin climbing believe me its inexplicable feeling-even though we are left gasping for breath. The cool air hits in you in your temples & something makes you want to climb further, curious to see more up there. Just as we reach the top there is a well that has sweet cold water. Even if a sceptic like me will question how this well has water 365 days since the time of Shivaji the fact is the well still exists. It is sweet & cool water. As we inch to the top, its just unbelievable!
That was my turning point. I mean how did this man even think of building forts? What a genius! From the outside the whole exterior resembles like any other mountain with stones inbetween. There in the middle lay forts, at that time full-fledged cities were situated inside these mountains. Scores of his own people, their families & those cities resided cut off from rest of the world. More importantly, very safely & were protected.
That is the key-Shivaji raja ensured his people were safe & secure. The fort inside a mountain was a natural shield & the fact the people had markets, trade flourished inside these forts spoke volumes of this king. His governance, control, more over his faith in his army, people, Shivaji had the systems & processes in place, the tax collection & the returns to the people all of it was well-laid out. This was real power.
Atop Simhagadh you can see escape routes, the areas which may have been rooms where people lived or did more. The secret exits, meandering steps. Was Shivaji an architect? Or the rustic masons were just simply great, i’m overawed. Although i go climbing Shivaji forts the fact is i always say, “This Shivaji never climbed any fort man. He rode atop a horse, why do i have to climb?” But that’s the experience, to walk in these rains atop the forts he built. It gives you an idea how frustrating it must’ve been for Shivaji’s enemies.
Then over a period of time my curiosity increased lot more about this King from Maharashtra. The story when he was captured & escaped under Aurangzeb’s shrewd eyes, he snubbed the Moghul emperor, which was NEVER heard of at that time. His escape is THE greatest story in history. Apart from the escape, the one factor that struck me the most was on Shivaji’s acumen as king in control of his empire. He was a fine administrator, had governance & excellent tax structure. I read this piece written by Kumar Ketkar which said this part is actually taught in the school books of Pakistan. And when some Pakistani students had come to Mumbai in 2010 I inquired. They were happy to talk about Sivaji king (as they call him). “Yes. We have learnt that Shivaji’s tax system was good and he was a fine administrator.”
This feedback from the Pakistani students was enough for me to believe that some History at least in this world is taught honestly. Are we so gracious of any Pakistani ruler or king? Apart from that, in India politicians and specifically politicians in Maharashtra only make publicity in the name of Shivaji. I began speaking to other people who studied the state board curriculum. It turns out they only remember Shivaji as the ‘Hindu King.’
“We learnt Shivaji was anti-Muslim, a Hindu king…we were fed up of learning about Shivaji, shivaji….” quite a few told me this, yes even Hindus, Marathis said this. Primarily because the way the politicians have profited in the name of Shivaji. It made me think. What kind of history are we teaching our youngsters. The scholars & politicians indulge in petty politics in the name of Shivaji. And that is being taught as history on our soil. There is also the huge controversy created by the loose gossip that Brahmins of Pune spread about Shivaji raja & his mother Jijabai. They went a step ahead & leaked it to James Laine. Laine refered to this loose gossip in his book – Shivaji the Hindu in Islamic India. He claimed it was local ‘folklore’ that questioned who the real father of Shivaji was. Now firstly these Brahmins weren’t born at that time, they have NO right to indulge in loose gossip about another woman –Jijabai-though its not a surprise because Brahmin men per say are not really gracious about women or giving them due rights.
The fact is Jijabai surprised all men & kingdoms (i also think she surprised her own husband). Jijabai’s husband at that time who was busy fighting war had NO time for his family or the kingdom. Jijabai had to single handedly bring up her huge flock. Moreover she had to take care of the kingdom & groom her son-Shivaji. She ran the kingdom ably and ensured her son would be the legal able heir. She stood strong against the Moghul empire & i am sure these self-proclaimed scholars, intellectual Brahmins really must be envying this lady. The fact is the lady Jijabai braved all, by herself. And I’m sure she is the one who passed on her values, able administrative skills, knowledge & protecting the kingdom to her older son- Shivaji. She guided him & that was visible in the way he protected his people.
I really would have loved to be born at that time to understand how did this man perceive so much ahead of his time. This is what we should have been taught in our books Shivaji’s perceptiveness, his system of communication & the way he protected his people. Instead some romantic stories that some scholars or more learned people doled out as history lessons were given to us. I can’t reason with strong haters. Their minds are made up. But for those who haven’t, I’d suggest read more, start hiking in these rains & visit the Forts Shivaji built. Even this legacy we can’t protect, while many make a dime in his name!