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Hindavi Swarajya: Unapologetically Hindu

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born in an India which was very different to the one he left. The Mughal empire was at its peak, the Deccan sultanates seemed impregnable. In his own homeland of the Sahyadris, no one had heard about Swarajya since Allaudin Khilji’s invasion three centuries prior.

Says the renowned historian Kashinath Rajwade:

“Poverty and decadence had taken over the land. As for the Hindu religion, the old practises and customs had barely managed to survive. The effect of the changed conditions began to be felt in the social and economic life”

The Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar had been eclipsed, and its capital of Hampi completely destroyed two generations prior to Shivaji Maharaj’s birth.

Hindus did manage to rise to high army ranks in the Deccan sultanates, but this was more out of necessity than any magnanimity on part of the rulers. Since the Mughal empire made it difficult to acquire Turks, Afghans, Persians and Uzbeks of sufficient calibre, they began to recruit locally for certain ranks.

The administration was still dominated by foreign elements. Chhatrapati Shivaji’s achievement lay in pushing back against the inertia of three hundred years in the Sahyadris when he established his ‘Hindavi Swarajya’.

One of the ways in which the Hindu religion was kept alive in the face of invasions was the Bhakti Movement.

Shorn of royal patronage, and in fact officially persecuted, Hindus could no longer enjoy the pomp and splendour of yore. The religion thus took to a more simplistic form, but it provided the people a much-needed anchor in those trying times.

A noted Bhakti saint — Namdev (1270-1350) says,

Kalichiye anti honar Kalanki, Maaril mlencha ki ghodyavari,

Firun dharmachi ubharil dudhi, Kruta Yuga prodhi kari tochi,

Tonvari sadhan Harinam kirtan, santachi sangati nama mhane

Translation: Kalki Avtaar will herald the end of Kalyug. He will ride a steed and slay the Mlecchas.

Once again the flag of Dharma shall rise. Till then we can only chant the name of Hari.

Rajwade sums it up when he says…

“This way through the route of Bhakti, these saints kept the multitudes within the folds of Hinduism and protected Hindu culture. Thus, their contribution to our country is priceless”

It was in such a social and cultural context that Chhatrapati Shivaji built a polity that was unabashedly Hindu in nature. He recognised the need for two important developments if the yoke of Islamic rule was to be successfully challenged: One was the return of political power into Hindu hands and the will to sustain it.

Second, corollary to the first, was the cultural revival of Hinduism that depended entirely on the success of the first.

There has always been a bunch of characters who have sought to downplay this aspect of the Hindavi Swarajya. Either it is via platitudes on secularism picked out of some modern-day political party’s manifesto, or it is a perfunctory, broadstroke description — “religion had no role to play whatsoever, it was all politics”.

On this, one remembers the words of M G Ranade from his work Rise of Maratha Power:

The close connection between the religious and political upheaval in Maharashtra is a fact of such importance, that those who without the help of this clue, have tried to follow the winding course of the growth of Maratha power the purely political struggle becomes either a puzzle or dwindles into a story of adventures without any abiding moral interest. Both European and Native writers have done scant justice to this double character of the movement, and this dissociation of the history of the spiritual emancipation of the national mind accounts for much of the prejudice which still surrounds the study of Maratha struggle.”

Chhatrapati Shivaji knew fully well the challenge he was facing. Those were trying times and to even mention the idea of a Hindavi Swarajya was unfathomable.

While much has been, and can be written, on the atrocities perpetrated on the Hindu populace, a short exchange between Chhatrasal Bundela and Chhatrapati Shivaji brings out the essence of the times and Chhatrapati Shivaji’s approach to it.

The court poet of Maharaja Chhatrasal Bundela, Gorelal Purohit, has preserved this conversation in his Chhatraprakash.

Says Maharaja Chhatrasal:

Hindu Turak deen dve gaaye, tin saun vair sada chali aaye,

Lekhyo Sur Asuran ko jaiso, kehari karin bakhyanyo taiso,

Jabtai saah takhat par baithe, tabtai Hindun sau ur ainthe,

Mahange kar tirthani lagaye, Ved devale nidar dhahaye,

Ghar ghar bandhi janjiya linain, apane man bhaye sab kinain,

Translation: Hindus and Turkis belong to two different religions. Their enmity stretches three hundred years. Ever since Muslim rule has begun, the lives of Hindus have become miserable. Heavy taxes have been imposed on pilgrimages and temples brutally demolished.

Chhatrapati Shivaji heard all of this and gave a beautiful reply:

Siva kissa sunike kahi, tum Chhatri sirtaj; jeet aapni bhum kau, karo desh ko raj

Karo desh ko raj chhatare, hum tumte kabahu nahi nyare,

Dauri des Muglan ke maaro, dabti Dilli ke dal sangharo,

Turkan ki partit na maano, tum kehari turkan gaj jaano,

Turkan main na bibek bilokyo, milan gaye unko un rokyo,

Humko bhaee sahai Bhavani, bhay nahi Muglan ki manmani,

Chhal bal nikasi des main aaye, ab humpe umraai pathaye,

Hum turakani par kasi krupani, maari karenge kichak ghani,

Tumahu jaayi des dal joro, turak maari tarwarani toro.

Translation: You are the crown of Kshatriyas. Win over your own land and rule the country.

You rule the country, O brave one! I am never different from you.

Conquer the lands captured by the Mughals. Face the armies of Delhi.

You are a lion, the Turkis are elephants.

The Turkis do not show any discretion, do not trust them.

Stop those who have gone to meet them.

Bhavani has been helpful to us. Now we are not scared of Mughal atrocities.

They have come here through cheating and marauding. And now they are extending the hand of friendship!

We are wielding weapons against the Turkis. We will crush them, just like Bheem crushed Keechak.

You too, go to your land and assemble soldiers. Weigh the Turkis down with your swords.’’

Chhatrapati Shivaji knew his history well. The kingdom of Krishnadevraya had been vanquished in 1565 at Talikota. The turning point of the battle had been the declaration of jihad by Adil Shah, which led to two important Muslim commanders of Vijayanagar switching sides, causing mayhem in their own army.

Chhatrapati Shivaji sought to prevent a repeat of that incident. To this end, firstly, he prevented a coalition of the Mughals and Deccan sultanates against him.

Second, he also prevented any defection from his ranks. This ruled out any possibility like the defection of the Gilani brothers who, together commanding thousands of troops, had suddenly switched sides from Vijayanagara to Adil Shahi.

A good example of this approach was seen in his Dakshin Digvijay campaign to Gingee.

Chhatrapati Shivaji signed a truce with the Mughals, who were only glad to sign it as they were then engaged in a battle with Bijapur. He sent out presents to the Qutub Shah at Golconda and loudly proclaimed his intention to visit him.

Then he marched through the Adil Shah’s territories at the head of a huge army to reach there. Once in southern India, Chhatrapati Shivaji annexed large portions of the Adil Shah’s territory especially around Gingee and Vellore.

One of the aims of the campaign was the equitable distribution of jagirs which his father, Shahaji Raje had left him and his half-brother Ekoji. But the sailing was hardly anything but smooth and Chhatrapati Shivaji was forced to engage his brother in battle and as expected, defeated him.

An important and famous letter was then written by Chhatrapati Shivaji to Ekoji, wherein he mentions…

“You employ Turkis in your army and I kill the wicked Turkis. How do you expect to win against me?”

Another point worthy of attention, related to this, is the number of ‘Turkis’ he would then allow to obtain any position of importance in his army or administration.

What if one such leader suddenly turns and takes an entire battalion with him? Of course, betrayal on the battlefield was not the preserve of a particular group, as Indian history will unfortunately show. But at least he could prevent a Talikota.

To downplay this approach of the Chhatrapati, a long list of commanders is usually ferreted out to buttress his “secular” credentials.

For our purposes in this piece, these information nuggets should suffice:

All of his cabinet or Ashta Pradhan were Hindus. The Ashta Pradhan mandal itself showed that his court was inspired by an ancient Hindu polity. It was the Sukra Niti that propounded the concept of eight ministers. Moreover, these were Sanskrit titles.

As Mehendale has emphasised in his works, no Muslim is found in any position of authority in Swarajya after 1660. A couple of Muslim administrators existed in the Pune region prior to this, but none after 1660. An infantry commander named Nur Baig disappeared around the same time.

Shivaji Maharaj had 10 bodyguards with him on that fateful day when he killed Afzal Khan. One of them was a Muslim. While his importance is not diminished, his genesis is worth noting. He was the adopted/purchased servant of Kheloji Bhosale and had been brought up in a Hindu household since he was a child.

There were a couple of Muslim officers in the naval forces, but they were also ousted eventually, as and when Hindus acquired the required skills and experience.

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