Paying Tributes to a Maratha Hero

February ushers in Shivaji Jayanthi on the 19th of this month. It is a day observed by the state Government of Maharashtra to mark the birthday of a boy born about 400 years ago.

Birth Place of Shivaji Maharaj and his cradle

A boy, who would grow up to establish the Maratha empire and become its ruler as Chatrapathi Shivaji.

shivaji

 Chatrapathi Shivaji

Born Shivaji Raje Bhosle, Shivaji made significant contributions not only to the Maratha empire but also to the destiny of the rest of India.

Named Shivaji after the deity Shivaidevi, a form of Goddess Durga, an embodiment of courage, strength and fearlessness, Shivaji, true to his name, fearlessly strode the path that would eventually liberate the land from the oppressive rule of the Mughals and their vassals in different parts of India.

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Sculpture of Shivaji Maharaj from his life time

The legends of Shivaji, his conquests, the Guerilla warfare that he popularized, the ploys he adopted to outwit the Mughals, are all well known and well documented.

An old painting, dated c.1668 CE, of Shivaji Maharaj with soldiers setting out for war

Shivaji, the humanist

Apart from his conquests, Shivaji is known for his respect for every human being, He honoured every women even if they belonged to the enemy ranks.

Jadunath Sarkar in his book ‘Shivaji and His Times’ speaks of an incident that shows the high upbringing of Shivaji. He writes,

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Built a robust administration

We all know Shivaji as a great warrior, but how many know he built up a very robust administration too. And this when he had no formal education and spent most of his life in battle. Some of his achievements

1) Ashta Pradhan a council of 8 ministers who advised him on all matters

2) Recognized the importance of a navy to protect Konkan coast and built one.

3) Built sea forts at Sindhudurg, Jaigad to protect from pirates.

4) Did away with Jagirs and paid army in cash, this eliminated corruption.

5) Built up a very professional army.

6) Disallowed dancing girls, to maintain discipline in army.

7) State looked after families of dead soldiers.

8) All enemy property seized during a campaign belonged to Treasury, none was allowed to use for personal purpose.

9) Robust revenue collection system.

10) Maintained a large network of forts and garrisons.

A Wrong perception

A popular statement made by many is that,

the British took over the political control of India from the Mughals”.

Little known to many is the ground reality, corroborated by British Maps themselves.

Ground reality

After Shivaji and his forces had dealt a decisive blow to the Mughal forces, the Mughal empire, along with many of their vassals had disintegrated. In their place, the Maratha rule and the Maratha confederacy of Peshwa, local kings and heads of principalities, started ruling different parts of India.

A Portrait of Shivaji Maharaj

It was a confederacy because while there were many Peshwa ruling in their respective localities, they shared the ideals, principals, goals and the rule of law of the Marathas.

All this is borne out as a fact when we see the British map of 1780, during the times of Robert Clive, where it shows the Maratha Empire covering pretty much, most portions of present day India – Central, North and South India.

It stretched from Tamil Nadu in South India to Peshawar in the north, in modern day Pakistan and upto Bengal in the east.

BritishMapOfIndia1780

British Map of India, 1780 – Maratha Empire is the Region in Yellow

The Naval force that the Marathas created under the able leadership of Kanhoji Angre, helped guard the Konkan coast for nearly a century and kept the colonial powers at bay. The colonial powers could only function as minor trading posts in the Konkan coast and become colonial powers in this region only after they managed to defeat the Naval forces of the Marathas.

 kanhoji-angre

Statue of Kanhoji Angre in Alibag, Maharashtra

A rare gold coin of Shivaji prob. issued on the occasion of his coronation.- Devnagari Legend on the coin reads Shri Raja Shiv Chatrapati.

The Maratha Power

Shivaji had personally marched through much of Karnataka, central parts of Andhraand visited even Madras, which was a fledgling town then, primarily a British trading post operating out of Fort St.George.

During this visit to Madras, the British sent him gifts, honorariums, which in the local language  is called “Kappam”, twice within a month, to his camping site near the Kalikambal temple, which formed the entry point to Madras then. They did this as a good will gesture requesting him not attack their trading post saying that they were only peaceful traders.

Fort_St._George,_Chennai

Fort St. George, Old Madras

This corroborates the point that it was indeed the Marathas, who were in power when the British arrived in India.

If Shivaji had then gone ahead, attacked and decimated this fledgling trading post, then the history of India would have taken on a different turn.

The only live sketch of Shivaji Maharaj , discovered by historian V S Bendrey

The Maratha Effect

Many years later, Anqetil DuPerron, a French orientalist and linguist, who had visited India and stayed here for 7 years between 1755 and 1761, quotes a traveller as,

“When I entered the country of the Maharattas, I thought myself in the midst of simplicity and happiness of the golden age … misery was unknown … the people were cheerful, vigorous and in high health.”

Anqetil du Perron

Anqetil DuPerron

This statement of DuPerron highlights to us that not only had Shivaji and his lineage of Marathas, conquered the lands they did, but were administering them in a sustainable manner with the welfare of the people in mind.

Barring a few parts of India, it was the Maratha Confederacy which was in power after the Mughals. It was a campaign, initiated and given a form by Chatrapathi Shivaji, that brought India together as a cohesive unit after the Mughals and before the British.

Then how could the British have taken over India from such a powerful empire?

While it was a period of resurgence in India, which applied a healing balm to many a wounds that had been inflicted by the various foreign invasions and their oppressive rule, sadly this period of resurgence was shortlived.

The defeated Mughals started joining hands with the Afghans and the Nawabs to counter the expansion of the Maratha empire and started pushing the Marathas back.

Also, the individual rulers in the Maratha Confederacy, whose autonomy had grown over the years, soon started fighting amongst themselves due to jealousy and thirst for power.

It was by dethroning these individual, infighting rulers in the Maratha Confederacy in the 1800s, through bribe, deception, trade, threat, treachery and force, that the comparatively smaller in size, but devious British force, weakened the confederacy and gained monopoly over India – literally every inch of it.

All the unification brought about by Shivaji and his followers, had gone to vain. This is an excellent lesson on how,

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

The word “Maratha” today conjures up an image of present day Maharashtra alone, for the present generations. It invokes a picture of pleasant, simple, sincere and hardworking locals, popularly termed as “Marathi Manus” these days.

The contribution of Shivaji and the Marathas, towards the unification of India before the British and in the development of a spirit of fearlessness in the Indians, which helped them later to resist the British and eventually gain Independence, cannot be acknowledged enough. Anything said will only be an understatement!

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February – A Lovely Month

February is a short sweet month. It is a time when the cold winters have just receded.  A month which is not yet hot.  A transitory month.  A month of spring in some parts of the world. A month where trees, plants and over all nature bloom forth with life after the cold, when they were in hibernation.

This is the month, when nature begins to bloom. In recent times, this month is much awaited for, for the celebration of Lovers’ Day, Valentine’s Day on February 14th.

Why is this day alone celebrated as Lovers’ Day? And what is its connection with Saint Valentine?

There are at least 3 Saint Valentines in the early part of the first millennium.  These three different Saints were all known by the name Valentine or Valentines.

Emperor Claudius of Rome thought that single men made better soldiers than married men with wives and families.

 Emporer Claudius II

Emperor Claudius

So he outlawed marriages for young men. Saint Valentine defied the decree of Emperor Claudius and got young lovers married, in secret. When this act of Valentine was discovered, he was put to death. This probably could be the reason for linking Saint Valentine to young lovers.

 Saint Valentine

St.Valentine getting a couple married – A painting

 In all the old cultures of the world, including India, this transitory month between winter and summer, February and March, was earlier celebrated as the Vasantha Utsav month. The Vasantha season was considered fit not only for humans to fall in love this month and marry, even the divinities thought this month fit to marry in. Thus Rama married Sita, Shiva married Parvathi, and in South India, Kartikeya married Devasena during this period.

It is a season of celestial marriages when nature is more pleasant and conducive for endearing thoughts and deeds. It is in this month that Krishna played with the Gopika.

 krishna gopika

Krishna playing Holi with Gopika – a painting

The Vasantha Utsav, the  month long celebration culminates in the Holi festival, festival of colours, festival of joy when people come together, forgive each other, bond with each other, forgetting the mistakes of the past.

 holi colors

Colours of Holi

In Punjab it is celebrated as Basant Panchami, also has “Hola Mohalla” festival.

 Basant-panchani

Mustard Fields in Spring

In Rajasthan as “Gajh Shingaar”, “Jamboo Holi” and in Bengal as “Nabanna Utsav”. In Goa it is celebrated as “Shigmotsav”.

 In down south, in Tamil Nadu, from time immemorial, it has been celebrated as “Indira Vizha” or the festival of Indra, for the whole month.

In Tamil Nadu, one of the descendents of the Maratha King, Chatrapati Shivaji, a king by the name Sarfoji Maharaja of Tanjavur, used to visit the Manmada temple, the temple of Cupid, with his wife everyday of this month and encouraged young lovers to visit the riverside and enjoy the beauty which nature has to offer.

What comes forth to us from this, is that,  much in contrast with a single evening, spent in pubs or night club parties or hotel dinners,  it is not  February 14th alone that is the Lovers’ Day, as celebrated in the limited sense now, but it is a ageless tradition of a whole month of celebration of the beauty that nature has to offer us.

A beauty to be enjoyed in the company of our loved ones, adhering to the norms of a civilised society, in a civilized manner.  It is a time for re-establishing the sense of harmony between loved ones and with nature.

Vasanta Panchami – A Festival for Sarasvati

Vasanta Panchami or Basant Panchami festival heralds the arrival of spring in India, Vasanta Ritu.

After winter solstice, the sun starts its northward journey from the tropic of Capricorn, Uttarayana. With this, winter slowly ebbs and warmer days begin to arrive.

Vasanta Ritu – A change in Season

Vasanta Ritu is welcomed in the northern parts of India which reel from severe cold in winter. We see a pleasant change in seasons with the arrival of spring.

In the celebrations of Vasanta Ritu, the pinnacle is the festival of Vasanta Panchami.

Sarasvati Brahmotsav

While Vasanta Panchami is celebrated as spring festival, it also was the festival of River Sarasvati. In many parts of India, Sarasvati Brahmotsav, a festival spanning 5 days, starts from Vasanta Panchami.

Vasanta Panchami – A Festival for Sarasvati

One may wonder what is the connection between Vasanta Panchami and the festival for Sarasvati?

With the arrival of spring, the glaciers in the Himalayas, which used to feed the River Sarasvati would melt causing an increase in the flow of River Sarasvati in days gone by.

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River Sarasvati

Mother Sarasvati – The very life line

River Sarasvati, the mother of all rivers, nourished the Sindhu Sarasvati civilization which flourished more than 5000 years ago. She was literally the life line of this civilization.

Greek records of 300 BCE, i.e., a little over 2000 years ago speak of over 1500 prosperous cities along the banks between the Sindhu and Sarasvati. This finds mention in Elphinstone’s book, ‘History of India’.

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1500 cities along Sarasvati River

For all these people of this civilization, the gush of fresh Himalayan waters augured prosperity. With Sarasvati waters, also came the Himalayan riverine soil which made the lands on either banks very fertile and that led to good harvest in the seasons to come.

Yellow flowers – A sight to behold

During this season, the mustard plants, Sarson, cultivated along the banks of this river, go into full bloom. In days of yore, when this mighty Sarasvati was in full flow, it must have indeed been a breath taking sight to see miles and miles of land along its banks swathed in yellow colour from the mustard flowers.

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Yellow Mustard Flowers

This sight is what gave River Sarasvati and Goddess Sarasvati who was embodied by this river, a yellow drape during this time, and since time immemorial people have therefore associated Goddess Sarasvati with the colour yellow during this season.

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Goddess Sarasvati draped in yellow

 As a tradition, people continue to wear yellow clothes on Vasanta Panchami.

Birthplace of Veda

Along with the fertile lands on the banks of the river, education also gained prominence during the times when Sarasvati was in flow, because, the Rishis of India lived along these banks and composed the Veda, the universal knowledge base, on the banks of this river.

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Hence, the River Sarasvati and Goddess Sarasvati embodied by this river came to be associated with education and knowledge.

Vasanta Panchami –The day to Revere knowledge

So, for people across India, Vasanta Panchami is also the day to revere knowledge and education. Children are initiated into education system on this day with the belief that their knowledge will grow in leaps and bounds just as the gushing flow of the mighty River Sarasvati.

Today, instead of the flowing river, we have only dry rivers beds of River Sarasvati here and there along its original path.

This river went dry more than 2000 years ago. But, the mustard flowers continue to bloom in this belt, bathing it yellow even today.

People may have forgotten the River Sarasvati with the flow of time, but, the traditions from those times have continued from generation to generation, and Vasanta Panchami is a living festival even to this day.

Sound Knowledge

The River Sarasvati flowed in the North Western part of India through Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The river has gone dry in the last few millennia, but the Sarasvati festival is celebrated on Basant Panchami in February, popularly called as Sarasvati Puja. Sarasvati is the name of a river as well as the Divinity for knowledge.

Vak devyaicha vid mahe

Virinji patnicha dheemahi

Thanno vani prachodayath.

 

O Divinity of Vak, I take cognizance of you

O consort of Brahma, I think of you

O Vani, May you kindle my intellect.

This verse is the invocation to the divinity Sarasvati who has been the embodiment of knowledge in this land from as far as one can trace the source of knowledge. Knowledge in this land has been synonymous with Sarasvati, also called Vak Devi, the divinity for Vak.

Why Sarasvati?

What is Vak?

What have Vak and Sarasvati got to do with knowledge?

Vak can be limitedly explained as “speech”.  It is speech that forms the backbone for communication and it is communication that forms the backbone for knowledge transmission.

But Vak goes beyond mere speech. It transcends into the realm where thoughts originate. It goes into the thought itself. It takes the shape of words that describe that thought. It forms the speech sounds that enable the words to be spoken and thus the thought to be carried across, for it to be heard.

Vak is thus the subtle, yet perceivable form of thought, intellect, knowledge.

Sound Communication

The domains traversed by Vak, speech, in Indian thought has been understood and described through various stages.

 

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These four stages of speech have been further listed from the subtlest to the human sounds as,

–         Para, the origins of an idea or thought in the mental realm, beyond description (para means beyond grasp)

–         Pasyanti, that which emanates as an impulse to talk and is the first “visible” sign in the body of the thought (Pashyan means to see)

–         Madhyama, the intermediary stage between the impulse and the actual voicing of the thought, the stage where thought takes form of words (madhyama means intermediate)

–         Vaikhari, when it finally emerges as sound from the mouth, after passing through the vocal chords and getting manifested as sound waves (khar denotes solid, vaikhari is that solidly manifested utterance )

These subtle aspects of Vak, communication, have been brought out beautifully by the medieval poet Kalidasa in his ballad Raghuvamsa, through the verse.

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Vagartha Viva Sampruktau

Vagartha Pratipattaya

Jagathaph Pitarau Vande

Parvati Parameshwarau

–         Raghuvamsa by Kalidasa

A speaker should

Speak what he means and mean what he thinks.

A listener should

Listen to what is said, Understand what is meant and Assimilate the thought behind it.

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The speaker and listener are complementary to each other and form a pair similar to the divine pair Parvati and Parameshwara.

It is only then, does complete communication take place.

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Parvati – Parameshwara

Vak embodies all these aspects of thinking, meaning, speaking and communicating, all of which are vital for transmission of knowledge in a society.

The knowledge expressed by the power of Vak goes beyond knowledge needed for day to day living and the various sciences. It transcends into the realms of knowledge of the gross as well as the subtle Universe, knowledge of the self and knowledge of knowledge itself.

Knowledge thus stretched from Vignana – sciences, to Pragnana – wisdom, to Gnana – knowledge.

The root Gna, in the word Gnana is the root for words related to “knowing” in Latin and English such as gnostic, gnosis, gospel, know and knowledge.

Sound – A Sound Carrier

While mind, memory and intellect give rise to the thought, it is speech with sound, Vani, that acts as the medium for transmitting the thought, knowledge in a communication.

This is the power of sound, vani.

Sound travels as waves agitating all the particles in its path and in the process transfers its contents, its payload, its energy, through vibrations. Sound attracts and captures attention. It focusses the mind. When we hear any sound, our mind is immediately drawn to it and what it is conveying, i.e. the thought it is carrying. Other thoughts vanish.

This is the power in sound, vani.

Thus the medium of sound has been an effective carrier of knowledge, communication, wave after wave, across generations.

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Sound Waves

Knowledge Flows With Grace

These concepts of Vak – speech, Vani – sound and Vidya – knowledge, are symbolized by the divinity Sarasvati also called Vak Devi, Vidya Devi, Vani.

Sarasvati, means “one who flows gracefully”.

Sarasvati is the embodiment of a ceaseless, unending, graceful, gracious flow of knowledge.

It is along the banks of the wide Sarasvati river that much of the Veda were composed many millennia ago. Her gracefully flowing waters carried this knowledge, nurturing the civilization living by her side to flourish and carry this knowledge further into lands spread far and near.

Sarasvati is depicted as a gracious lady seated on a solid rock in a gracefully flowing stream, playing a stringed instrument called Veena, flanked by swan like birds called Hamsa.