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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.”
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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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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.