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!
If you have any questions please post it below
Humour is a serious matter.
“Really?” you may ask. Is it not an antithesis?
The English word humour comes from the Latin word Humere, Humor meaning ‘fluid and juice in the body’.
Humere- Bodily fluid and juice
How the word humour, which originally represented ‘bodily fluids’, came to mean something ‘funny’ is a little hazy. Fluids in body affect physical and mental state of a person. Perhaps humour comes from this notion.
Humour, Hasya, Hasi, Laughter, Beautiful
In India, the word for humour is Hasya meaning ‘that which invokes laughter, Hasyam’. From the word Hasya is derived the Hindi word Hasi for laughter.
The word Hasi has its own significance. In Urdu, people call their children Haseen (boy), Haseena (girl) meaning, ‘one who is beautiful’, a beauty that comes with joy, happiness.
Haseen and Haseena
In Africa too, the name Hasin means good.
Laughter is beautiful. Humour makes life beautiful and a situation good.
Smile – The most tasteful ornament
In Tamil, Nagai Chuvai is the word for humour. Nagai means laughter, smile. Nagai also means ‘ornament’. Chuvai means ‘taste’. Among all the ornaments, humour and smile are one of the most “tasteful” ornaments one can wear.
Ornament – Nagai
The Significant 9
In this land, while every number has its unique feature, the number 9 has a special place.
The precious gems are 9. Ratna means gems.
Indian dance forms typically showcase 9 basic emotions of humans called Navarasa, nava for 9 and rasa for “something that is experienced, i.e. mood.”
One of the 9 Rasa is Hasya, mirth, laughter.
The word Rasa has a connotation of essence.
Mood forms the essence of one’s behaviour and behaviour forms the essence of a relationship. Rasa therefore determines the underlying flavor of a relationship.
The number of courtiers in some of the well-known kingdoms of the land has been 9. As each courtier is a gem in himself, they have been collectively referred to as Navaratna or 9 gems.
In the court of Vikramaditya, Krishna Deva Raya and in Akbar’s court, there have been these Navaratna.
Navaratna of Akbar’s Court
Navaratna of Krishnadeva Raya’s Court
One of the courtiers among these 9, is usually a Vikata Kavi, humorous poet.
Vikata Kavi – A Humorous Poet
Tenali Raman is a Vikata Kavi, court jester extraordinaire. The episode of how he got his boon of humour and poetry from the Divine Mother Kali is itself through Hasya, humour.
When the fearful Kali appeared before him with her many faces, instead of being afraid of her wrathful form, he started laughing.
A taken aback Kali asked the reason for his laughter. In humour, he responded that he was unable to handle one runny nose when he had a cold. So he was wondering how Kali would handle her many running noses when she had a bout of cold.
Tenali Raman and Goddess Kali
Tenali Raman converted a fearful situation into one of humour and thereby secured the grace of Mother Kali and got the title of Vikata Kavi, the one who could handle difficult situations through humour. He adorned the court of the Vijayanagara King, Krishna Deva Raya who ruled from Hampi between 1509 to 1529 CE.
Humour – A tool to handle situations
Like this, many kings of this land have had a Vikata Kavi, a jester in their court. The other famous Vikata Kavi was Birbal, in the court of Akbar.
There have been many famous jesters in history and literature in the courts of rulers in other lands too.
Rulers of yore had realized that all serious matters of court cannot be handled only through serious deliberations. Jest, humour was needed to handle many situations.
Humour has been used in this land in poetry, in court, in family and in many situations.
Humour in Play
In Samskrt and other Indian language plays, over the last couple of millennia, one of the essential characters has been the presence of a Vidushak, a jester, comic character.
Hasya Kavi Sammelan has been a tradition of this land. Kavi is ‘a poet’. Hasya Kavi is a humorous poet. Sammelan means ‘meeting’.
Hasya Kavi Sammelan is a meeting forum for humorous poets to show their prowess in humour.
Humour – A Rejuvenator
It is a well-known fact that actions such as laughter, sneeze, yawn etc. create a sense of rejuvenation in the body. Along with the forceful expulsion, exhaling of air during laughter or yawning, the built up stress in the body also gets released making a person feel lighter and more energetic.
So we see laughter, hasya as a rejuvenator and stress buster.
But is that all there is to humour?
Even tickling can produce laughter. Jokes or funny situations produce laughter.
Is humour, hasya just sheer laughter alone or something more?
Humour – Just Laughter or More?
If we really look at a joke or a funny situation, it usually is a case where something or somebody has been placed at a disadvantage either physically, mentally or monetarily, in an unexpected, surprising manner. However, instead of arousing compassion for the disadvantaged, it ends up invoking laughter in us.
Humour is an innate part of Human nature. It is something unique to humans. It is something that appeals to the humane side of humans.
The laughter that comes with a joke actually is coming out of a sense of a wonder, a wonder that even something like this can happen, even something like this can exist or something like this can be thought of. It is a wonder that is accompanied by a sense of empathy too for the people in the situation.
This wonder and the following empathy makes the situation special and brings it close to one’s heart.
Wonder causes respect, awe for the object of wonder.
When we look at a beautiful flower and wonder as to how it got its colours, a smile automatically lights up our face. It is the wonder at the beauty of a pup that brings a smile to our face. It evokes a sense of concern, care. This wonder and smile makes them special for us. It brings us in harmony with the flower or the pup.
Likewise, if we pause to wonder at the people we come across or interact with, it will put us in a state of empathy with them and make them special and close to us too. They become worthy of our attention. We get into a harmony with them.
As the popular English writer W. Somerset Maugham said, “You are not angry with people if you laugh at them. Humour teaches tolerance.”
W Somerset Maugham
Humour to Uplift Our Spirits
Again, when plunged into a state of despair about things that did not go right, if we reflect back with wonder at how events took their turn even beyond us or our efforts it will help us realize how insignificant we are in the whole game plan of the Universe.
It will make us smile at our own foolishness in assuming ourselves to be the controller. It will help us make light of the situation, see the humour in it and move along in harmony with the world around us and the forces beyond us.
Mahatma Gandhi once quipped, “If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide.”
Laughter is the best medicine as many say. A dash of humour can help the sick recover faster. Many hospitals today therefore, engage humour specialists to amuse their patients, especially the young ones. One such specialist Willace the clown had this to say from experience, “There is not much of laughter in medicine but lot of medicine in laughter.”
A happy mind helps the body heal faster. A happy and healthier body helps one get into harmony with everything around.
Wisdom in Humour
Infact humour has been used in many civilizations, across generations to impart wisdom and moral lessons to the people at large in an easy and interesting manner. One such is the example of tales of Mulla Nasruddin or Nasruddin Hodja as he is known in Turkey.
Many anecdotes have been woven around this Persian, Sufi, folk character, popular from Turkey to Punjab in India. Portrayed as a teacher who appears to be a fool, his foolish acts and quotes are meant to make people laugh and then think to learn nuggets of wisdom for leading a good life.
Harmony with Humour
Humour can thus help us stay happy under all circumstances as it brings us in harmony with ourselves, with others and with forces beyond us that lead to various situations – good and bad.
The first sign of happiness is a smile. The word for smile in Indian language is Smita.
Everyone is smitten by a Smita when it comes wholeheartedly!
Smita is the first step towards happiness.
When the step is extended to laughter, humour, Hasya it becomes the Rasa, mood, the essence, essential to flavor one’s own as well as everyone’s life with happiness and harmony.
“Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing.” – Mark Twain.
Given all that has been said about humour, all will tend to agree that humour is indeed a serious matter. Rather, the lack of humour in our day to day life is something we need to take seriously.
Humour is a serious Matter
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.