My Rating – 5/5
Shreeman Yogi is a historical novel depicting life of Chatrapati Shivaji. Scripted by Ranjit Desai, the celebrated Marathi author, Shreeman Yogi along with Swami is considered as the best among his works.
Being a Maharashtrian it is extremely difficult for me to critically review any work on the life of Shivaji. Shivaji is revered by us as the greatest among the Indian kings. So rather than writing about how Shreeman Yogi elucidates his greatness, I am going to write about how it helps us understand “How small Shivaji was?” This is going to be a very long post but I sincerely urge you to read on.
How Small Shivaji Was?
Shivaji created a kingdom. History remembers him as the creator of the Maratha dynasty. There are at least 500 known dynasties in India. All had founders. Shivaji is one of them. So how is he different? Almost all the realms were created by exploiting the political turmoil of their time. A strong satrap of a weak king forms his own kingdom, a powerful general or minister dethrones an inept king and starts his own monarchy. This has always been the route of all the founders right from Chandragupta Maurya. They get ready made royal army, administration and other functionaries. But is there someone like Shivaji who had to build his kingdom from the scratch?, someone who did not get a ready made army of thousands of trained soldiers but had to build it brick by brick from among the peasants and the moment he started his efforts, his tiny kingdom was attacked by formidable enemies. Shivaji’s neighbours – the Adilshah and the Kutubshah were not in decline but on ascend. It was the period of its biggest expansion for Bijapur. Before Shivaji, Adilshah had absorbed half the kingdom of Ahmadnagar and during Shivaji’s lifetime the entire Karnataka. This was the period of the greatest glory of the great Mughal Empire. Shivaji never had powers to defeat his enemies in a straight one to one battle. Whatever he created in 20 painstaking years, he lost in 4 months in 1665. In spite of that, after 30 years of toil he created a dynasty. Give me a king in Indian history to compare with Shivaji on these grounds.
Hindu kingdoms had certain peculiarities. They won battles. But that did not mean the enemy was vanquished. That did not mean either that the victor’s kingdom increased in size. In fact it normally meant the powers of the Hindu king got diminished. So annihilation in defeat and loss of strength in triumph was the norm. (Remember the battle of Talikota that destroyed the Vijaynagar Empire or the battle of Devagiri that spelt the death knell for the Yadav Empire). Expansion of rule and strength with every new conquest, sustaining force and grit in defeat, this new history started with Shivaji. Normally Hindu kings were unaware about the moves of enemies. So the enemy will attack and march in their kingdom, destroy the crops and even if defeated will retreat to its own land safely. This history changes from Shivaji. He was always vigilant and carried surprise attacks in enemy territories. Third thing that changed with Shivaji was trust shown in adversaries. Hindu kings made pacts and their enemies back stabbed them. Shivaji ensnared his rivals, ambushed them and stunned the world. Once I find a couple of kings like this, I can easily compare them with Shivaji and tell you how small he was.
Shivaji was a believer in religion but not a fanatic. He was tough but not cruel. He was audacious but not reckless. He was idealist but not a day dreamer. He was visionary but pragmatic enough to translate his vision into reality. He lived with grandeur but was not profligate. He was tolerant of other faiths. You can easily compare him with Ashok, Harsh and Akbar for his tolerance. But unlike others Shivaji indulged neither in beauty nor in arts. Patronising paintings, architecture, music, poetry and of course beautiful women was never his élan. He did not have money to build great monuments. He never had time for them nor was it his inclination. Shivaji did not have the panache to build Taj Mahal by spending 20 crores with the power of hunter when millions were dying in famine. He was not devout and pious enough to build temples and inns for the pilgrims while British were slowly swallowing India. He was a “sinner” and “materialistic” – just like you and me. Khafi Khan, Aurangzeb’s biographer says Shivaji went to hell. Yes. I totally agree with him. Shivaji definitely went to hell. I don’t think he would have enjoyed the company of great kings who preferred to die a martyr rather than being alive and fight again, Kings who relished performing Yadnyas and other religious ceremonies than constantly striving to expand their kingdom. And all of them are in heaven.
Akbar is praised for his tolerance towards Hindus. Remember, Hindus were majority in his kingdom. They were paying taxes, were his army, dying for his kingdom. Hindus did not have the history of violence and attack on other faiths, they neither raped nor massacred. A stable system cannot be built without appeasing majority. In contrast, Muslims were a tiny minority in Shivaji’s domain. They were not source of his revenue. They did not form his army. His enemies were Muslim dynasties constantly on the lookout to annex his kingdom. Aurangzeb was imposing Jizya and yet Shivaji treated Muslims with respect. Not out of fear but due to his benevolence.
No doubt Shivaji was a great general, but he was an equally able administrator. He fought many battles but never levied any extra taxes on his subjects. He built new forts and settlements, offered provisions to farmers, created panchang and vyavaharkosh, reconverted Hindus who were forcefully converted. The irony is neither his friends nor his followers ever understood him. (This is true even today). The only person who truly understood Shivaji was Aurangzeb.
Shivaji created a navy. During his times Portuguese were the main foreign power. All the Indian kings felt the brunt of Portuguese navy and yet it was only Shivaji who built a formidable navy of his own. He constructed many sea forts and even fortified the islands of Khanderi and Underi so as to keep a watch on British activities in Mumbai.
The most important point in my opinion is his subjects fought for 27 years after his death. After Shivaji, for 9 years under the command of Sambhaji, his eldest son and after Sambhaji was killed for next 18 years almost on their own. During these 27 years they could never defeat Aurangzeb. Marathas never had that power. There was a period when the kingdom was in complete disarray, The King (Rajaram, Shivaji’s second son) was in south, The Prince (Shahu, Sambhaji’s son) and his mother were Mughal hostages and the capital, Raigad was under Mughal dominion. Still Marathas kept fighting. For 27 long years Aurangzeb toiled in the ranges of Sahyadri. He won all the battles and yet lost the war. After 27 long and painful years all he could achieve was to see half a million Mughals killed, crores of rupees blown and the once mighty Mughal Empire crumbling. Every day of his life Aurangzeb must have cursed himself for not killing Shivaji in Agra. People fought against Ashok to save Kalinga. People fought again in 4th century for the kingdom of Youdheya. 1200 years later, people fought once again for Shivaji’s kingdom. Why was this? Was it a fight for their religion? But then why did not people fight for Prithviraj Chauhan and Rana Pratap? I think the real reason is Shivaji gave his people the self-confidence that they can fight. He invented the technique of hit and run. He established the principle of hit, run, survive, sustain, reorganise and hit again instead of fighting and dying for false glory. He founded a kingdom based on justice and looked after the well-being of his people. Religion comes third.
These are the benchmarks on which I want to compare Shivaji. But with whom should I compare him? Where is that yardstick? Once I find someone I will easily tell you How Small Shivaji Was.
(This post is a loose translation of a portion of “Introduction” of the book written by Narhar Kurundkar.)
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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