Shivaji: Beyond the Legend (and some surprises)

The following post was inspired by the news last week that the government of Maharashtra is planning to build a huge statue of Shivaji off the coast of Bombay (that’s right, I said Bombay), on the scale of the American statue of liberty. The statue will be built off-shore, on an artificial island constructed especially for the purpose.

I’m not actually opposed to the idea of the statue — as far as I’m concerned, it’s all part of the great, entertaining tamasha of modern Bombay — though obviously I think there could be some other figures from Indian culture and history who might also be worth considering (how about a 300 foot bust of a glowering Amitabh Bachchan, for instance?). But reading the news did make me curious to know some things about the historical Shivaji that go beyond the hagiographical myths and legends one sees on Wikipedia, so I went to the library and looked at a book I had been meaning to look at for a couple of years, James Laine’s Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India (Oxford, 2003).

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In 2004, James Laine became a target of the Hindu right after the publication of his book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, but as is often the case the people burning down libraries, and destroying priceless works of India’s cultural heritage, clearly did not read the book. If one actually reads Laine’s work, one finds that Laine is quite careful not to frontally challenge the myth of Chatrapati Shivaji, the 17th century Maratha warrior. Indeed, there is much there that actually supports the pride that many Maharasthrians feel about Shivaji.

The conclusions Laine comes to after surveying the evidence on Shivaji were surprising to me. Though I obviously came to the book looking for objectivity as an antidote to the bloated mythology loudly propagated by the Shiv Sena, I presumed that “objectivity” and “secularism” would be more or less synonymous. The reality may be somewhat more complex in Shivaji’s case. Though he’s clearly not quite what his partisans believe he was, Shivaji’s story remains inspiring and heroic even after some scholarly scrutiny. And though he was more secular than many Hindu chauvinists will admit, Shivaji certainly did pointedly assert his identity as a Hindu and promote symbolic elements of Hindu religion and culture against the increasingly intolerant imposition of Islam during the Mughal empire under Aurangzeb and the final years of the Bijapur Sultanate (see Adil Shah). Here is how Laine describes his project near the beginning of the book:

The task I have set myself is not that of providing a more accurate account of Shivaji’s life by stripping away the legends attributed to him by worshipful myth makers or misguided ideologues, but rather to be a disturber of the tranquility with which synthetic accounts of Shivaji’s life are accepted, mindful that the recording and retaining of any memory of Shivaji is interested knowledge. . . . In the modern popular imagination, many of [the different strands of the Shivaji story] are woven together and reproduced in both bland textbooks and dramatic popular accounts as though the simple facts can be taken for granted. In other words, the dominance of a certain grand narrative of Shivaji’s life is so powerful that the particular concerns of its many authors have been largely erased. (8)

The scholarly debunker is sometimes a powerful ally in ascertaining the often complex and nuanced truth behind historical legends, but in this book Laine doesn’t see confrontational debunking as his primary task. Rather, he wants to get back to the fundamentals of the Shivaji story (i.e., what can be objectively known based on primary historical sources), before following the path of the revisionist, nationalist, patriotic remaking of that story through the 19th and 20th centuries.

Laine starts by looking directly at the 17th century sources (in Sanskrit and Marathi) written by those who were close to Shivaji himself.

The primary texts he works with were written in Marathi and Sanskrit, both of which are languages in which Laine is proficient. Afzal Khan Vadh (“The Killing of Afzal Khan”) is a series of Marathi heroic ballads, authored by a poet alternately known as Agrindas or Ajnandas in 1659 (while Shivaji was still alive). Two other primary sources cited by Laine are written in Sanskrit, by Brahmin authors who were commissioned directly by Shivaji himself: the Sivabharata (or Shivabharata), an epic poem written by Kavindra Paramananda in 1674 (at the time of Shivaji’s coronation as “Chatrapati” – Lord of the Umbrella/Umbralla-Lord), and the Srisivaprabhuce, a historical chronicle written by Krishnaji Anant Sabhasad, in 1697.

The first surprise is that there’s little reason to doubt the best-known aspects of the Shivaji legend: the three works are surprisingly consistent with one another, especially regarding Shivaji’s childhood and upbringing, his emergence as a warrior with the killing of Afzal Khan, the punishment of Shaista Khan, the escape from Aurangzeb’s court at Agra, and the conquest of Simhagad in 1670. The most significant “humanizing” point Laine makes (and this is also one of the major sources of controversy) is his suggestion, late in his book, that Shivaji’s parents seem to have been estranged from one another –- Shivaji was brought up by his mother in one principality, while his father was a soldier for another, rival kingdom, who left before Shivaji was born. (Later hagiography would smooth over this aspect of the history, suggesting that Shivaji’s father sent him and his mother to Pune as part of a great plan.) The point of raising this is not to “take Shivaji down a notch” or find shame or scandal in the story. Rather, from my point of view at least, humanizing Shivaji in this way gives us a certain (modern) psychological explanation for why Shivaji was so driven as an adult: he had something to prove.

The second surprise for me is Laine’s acknowledgment that all the evidence supports the idea that Shivaji was assertive about Hindu religion and culture. It’s still wrong to use him symbolically as some kind of nationalist Hindu “freedom-fighter,” who devoted his life to killing mleccha invaders (for Laine, it’s more correct to say that Shivaji was a kingdom-builder). But it’s also not accurate to say that religion is somehow completely irrelevant to his story. This comes out first with reference to Shivaji’s coronation in 1674:

One important moment for the construction of an official biography was surely the grand event of Shivaji’s coronation. For the last decade of his life, he was relatively free of Mughal pressure, and in 1674, was enthroned chatrapati of an independent Hindu kingdom in an orthodox lustration ceremony (abhisheka). The ceremony, which had fallen out of use in Islamicate India, was seen as a revival of royal Hindu traditions. In other words, there is clear evidence that at the end of his career Shivaji began to think in new ways about his exercise of military and political power, ways that drew upon ancient symbols of Hindu kingship. He called upon a prominent pundit from Benares, Gaga Bhatta, to establish his genealogy and claim of true kshatriya status before investing him with the sacred thread, performing an orthodox wedding, and then a royal lustration ceremony of enthronement. At this time, Shivaji lavished great wealth on all the Brahmins who were gathered to confer legitimacy, and he employed two poets to write laudatory epic poems about him. On was Paramananda, whom we have mentioned as the author of the Sanskrit Sivabharata, a text that is clearly composed for the coronation though never finished . . . The second was Kavi Bhusan, who wrote the Sivarajabhusan in the Braj dialect of Hindi. (30)

And Laine expands upon the implications of his interpretation of the coronation a few pages later:

Shivaji himself, growing up in Pune, at that time a remote and insignifican town far away from the Bijapuri court, was unlike his father and grandfather in being not only less content to be in vassalage to a Muslim sultan but also concerned to extend the scope of Hindu culture. Moreover, he dealt with sultans who adopted a more rigorous religious policy than their predecessors. I would argue that his elaborate Sanskritic coronation, his choice of Sanskrit rather than Persian titles for his ministers, and his patronage of Brahmin pundits . . . are all signs that he wished to extend the boundaries in which his religion reigned, not so much geographically as socially and politically. These may have been gestures of legitimation, but he could very well have chosen better-known Persianate ways of achieving the same end.

In other words, Shivaji was raised at some distance from what Laine is describing as the “Islamicate” culture dominant in north and central India in the 17th century. He also clearly went out of his way to assert Hindu/Sanskritic symbols during his rule, when that was not the norm, even for other Hindu kings of the time.

Laine continues:

This is to say that Shivaji was not only discontended with the idea of being Islamic, he was discontented with even being Islamicate, that is, he read his religion not as a strict constructionist or in purely theological or essentialist ways, but saw religion as broadly diffuse throughout culture. We might say that he saw ‘religion’ as dharma. Thus, although Richard Eaton has emphasized the new Islamic rigorism in the Adil Shahi regime after 1656, a rigorism that parallels the later policies of Aurangzeb (Eaton 1978), I would say that Shivaji was similarly disposed to see Hindu and Muslim subcultures —- not just theologies — as distinct. There would be constraints on Shivaji’s religious agenda, as there were for Aurangzeb of course, and there were ways in which Shivaji was not wholly consistent in his Hindu policy. For example, he wore Persian royal dress and used words such as faqir and salaam quite unself-consciously, as well s being qt times quite willing to accept vassalage to the Adil Shah or Mughal emperor. But I would have to disagree with Stewart Gordon, who has written: ‘Shivaji was not attempting to construct a universal Hindu rule. Over and over, he espoused tolerance and syncretism. He even called on Aurangzeb to act like Akbar in according respect to Hindu believes and places. Shivaji had no difficulty in allying with Muslim states which surrounded him… even against Hindu powers” (Gordon 1993). I do not think I am disputing the evidence Gordon adduces, but my interpretation depends on how one uses the word ‘Hindu.’ (39)

This is a more complicated set of academic arguments, relating to how one interprets the idea of “religion” in an earlier historic moment, outside of Abrahamic norms. Putting it quite simply: to see Hindu religion as “diffuse throughout culture” doesn’t necessarily weaken it; rather, it was one of the ways Shivaji could find a new way of asserting it against the dominant powers of the time.

Secondly, Laine is arguing that though it’s wrong to read Shivaji as a kind of proto-communalist, it’s also a mistake to see him as someone who primarily espoused “tolerance and syncretism.” He was actually somewhere in between.

78 thoughts on “Shivaji: Beyond the Legend (and some surprises)

  1. JGandhi @ 19. Your last name is Gandhi, so I assume you are a Gujarati. I find it hard to believe that you think Shivaji was only hero among Marathi people. Have you heard of great Gujarati poet during the freedom struggle in 40s called “Jhaverchand Meghani”. He was the famous bard from Saurashtra who has penned some memorable battle songs and if I remember wrote one about Mahatma Gandhi when he was jailed by British. Meghani has written a very moving tribute to Shivaji in his poem that starts with: Shivaji ne Nindroo Naa Aave, Mata Jijabai Jhulave….. In this poem Meghani has praised Shivaji like no other Gujarati or Marathi. Just because your last name is Gandhi, that does not make you an authority on anything and everything Gujarati – I am just saying. Peace.

  2. 43 · vijay said

    M Karunanidhi to Sivaji Ganesan :)

    Not MK, although Sivaji is right. It was EVR better known as Periyar!

    The demonym is “Maharashtrian” and not Marathis.

    Marathi is right as when you say, Mumbai madey Marathi maaNsa var gor atyachar hotat ahe

    Bridget Jones’s Diary: How can a concept become a misnomer? Balladeers were a popular lot in those days – you needed entertainment right? And the Marathas much of India following the Mughals, and were in large measure responsible for the end of the Mughal empire. Laine’s book is superficial. As long as court chroniclers like Romila Thapar – who are unschooled in and incapable of writing in any other language than English – hold sway, this is the best we are going to get. It is amusing how the same approach that is used to study time spans of a few centuries that were dominated by 2-3 languages (say as in US History) is used to study much longer time spans and far more expansive societies as in India. It is even funnier to read ignoramuses holding forth on philosophy, aesthetics, and literature based on cursory visits to the Encyclopedia Britannica and Nehru’s Discovery of India.

  3. This article from Frontline magazine is one of the very few mainstream media articles that go to the heart of the controversy.

    Apparently, trouble began with a long critical review of the book in the Marathi magazine Rangataranga (October 2003). The reviewer drew attention to a short passage in the book that allegedly questioned Shivaji’s “paternity” citing a joke circulated in Maharashtra. He denounced it as “ridiculous”. It was this reference that triggered the controversy. A note introducing the review “publicly condemned it [the book], the author, and those who have provided him with false and malicious information”. In early November, letters were sent to OUP demanding the withdrawal of the book. OUP apologised and withdrew the book later that month. But the worst was yet to come. In December 2003, a Mumbai-based journal, Chitralekha, gave a new twist to the controversy. Sathaye, Assistant Professor of Sanskrit Literature at the University of British Columbia, Canada, notes in his essay that the Chitralekha articles on Laine’s book interpreted the controversial passage as part of a “long-running Brahmin conspiracy to denigrate Shivaji’s rule in favour of the Peshwas”. Chitralekha identified by name the people who assisted Laine in the work for the book. In another issue, the journal said that none had yet “stood up and actually confronted those of perverse minds who have nurtured James’ vileness”. The articles dragged the book into the vortex of Maratha-Brahmin caste disputes over appropriating Shivaji and his legacy. On January 5, 2004, about 150 cadre of the Sambhaji Brigade attacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), ransacked its library and destroyed invaluable artefacts, manuscripts and books (Frontline, January 30, 2004). Although Chitralekha later condemned the “unforgivable” attacks, Sathaye says that “it is clear that [its] writings provided an intellectual and ethical foundation” to the violence. The Canadian scholar, who was in Pune at the time of the attack, points out the difficulty in categorising the Sambhaji Brigade as a “Hindu fundamentalist” outfit. He says: “The literature of [the Sambhaji Brigade's] parent organisation, the Maratha Seva Sangh, stresses devotion to Shivaji, to his mother Jijabai, and to modern non-Brahmin leaders Jyotiba Phule, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Shahu Maharaj, as part of a new religious/political movement known as Shivdharma. Founded in 2000, this largely lower-caste movement consciously regards itself as distinct from mainstream Hinduism and is particularly hostile towards Brahminic hegemony. Shivdharma is, in short, a marriage of a passionate folk devotion to Shivaji with anti-Brahmin politics.” As Sathaye notes, Laine expected his book to be controversial, but for “his portrayal of Hindu and Muslim identity, and not for publishing a joke about Shivaji’s mother”. Two weeks after the attack, the Pune Police registered cases against OUP and Laine and the Congress-NCP government banned the book.
  4. I’ve been a stalker on here for years, and I’ve found the blog to be highly informative. I don’t say much as I either agree or would probably develop a puerile rant with poor punctuation. But every now and then there is a post (like this one), the contents or the comments of which are truly disheartening. Debate is good, but on topics like the Ramsetu or now the Shivaji statue, the condescension by many of those who even try to justify the Conservative Hindu outlook is bordering on despicable.

    I know there are a lot of well-informed, well-read denizens of this place, but most of you seem to take affront anytime ANY case for defense is made for the “Hindu Right” (whether such a monolithic body exists is irrelevant, right?)

    For example, the below statement might not have cited references, but the response to it was lovely! Moornam: The group that burnt books and vandalised was an offshoot of the Congress party…but you did not know that, did you? Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery: But were they not Hindus? Yes they were all Hindus. It completely does not matter if they were Maharashtrians or Telugus, Saraswats and Niyogis. We were all doing it for the Ummah.

    Onto the book itself: “In other words, Shivaji was raised at some distance from what Laine is describing as the Islamicate culture dominant in north and central India in the 17th century. He also clearly went out of his way to assert Hindu/Sanskritic symbols during his rule, when that was not the norm, even for other Hindu kings of the time.” I read this book while I was in India a while back. Even on perfunctory readings, the scholarship on the book is incredibly laine. Even for someone like me with a transient knowledge of the “Islamization” of Hindu Kings in Northern India, the assumption that the Hindu kings embraced Islamic culture because of its “universal appeal” (Any CAR peeps representin??) is baseless. For example the architectural design of the buildings in Jaipur is that way because its function (that their legacy last) followed form (the Persian design ensured that invaders would not destroy their “infidel” designs). They adopted titles for out building a commonality more out of fear and sycophancy, than that “Shah” contained more star appeal to it.

    Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery: Except that in many cases the people who act as leaders of the Sangh and its related organizations seem to have an incomplete or even wrong understanding of what the essence of Hinduism is and thus they end up acting contrary to the beliefs of Hindu philosophy. Not to mention that they presume that they speak for all Hindus. The VHP, RSS and other organizations (that I’m heartily not a part of or subscribe to) are and have always been a product of the reaction to what is an overwhelmingly and absurd derision of Conservative culture in India. That and those few hundred years of the Mughal rule, where as any reading of Indian history not in the NCERT, Marxist or Congress annals will drop hints on the many attempts to “purify” India’s (or of) Hindus.

    “contrary to the beliefs of Hindu philosophy”? I’m sorry, you mean like Dvaita philosophy is contrary to Advaita philosophy? Hinduism, Vedism or whatever, has always been based on the interpretation of the world around us and appending it to the knowledge that exists from times past (as in the Vedas). The concept of conversion does not exist in Hinduism, or at least did not until all these gentlemen decided to “reconvert” people. People used to sit and debate over their philosophy, and whoever lost the debate would ascribe/preach the knowledge of the other. (read the story of Sankara and the debate with the garlands, for a reference) The VHP or RHS is free to have its own interpretation of the Vedas, or would you prefer that we have a Sharia?

    “Remember that, pre-independence, Bombay was never really part of Maharashtra. It was more or less independent, and might as well gone to Gujarat if it weren’t for Marathi fanatics.” Remember that, pre-independence, there was not a Maharashtra. And yes, it might as well have gone to Gujarat, just like Madras was supposed to have to to Andhra Pradesh. Again, please learn Indian history outside of perceiving it through a lens that your local Marxist chapter gave you.

    sakshi: “Instead of a statue of Shivaji, they should build a mammoth Shiv linga at the site. That will be more in keeping with the Freudian subtext of the idea.” Point 1: The Phallocentric psychodynamic theories are Lacanian not Freudian. Point 2: Yes, that is totally what 99% of Hindus think when they are worshiping the Shiva Linga. Point 3: The Shiva Linga is symbolic of union, not just the male part. Point 4: Well, look-a-here, Herschel. We got us one of them self-hating Jews.

    “It should be said that their politics has evolved into becoming more of Marathi manus (regional pride) one in recent years after they started getting branded as a communal party. Thus recent campaigns have been against Biharis and UP wallas, illegal Bangaladeshi immigrants, South Indians. Raj Thackeray’s MNS is but an offshoot of the Shiv Sena.” Yea, Bangladeshi Immigration is something we should not get riled up about. It is not a problem coz we have so few people and such a well managed infrastructure. Look how beneficial they have been to Calcutta and the lovely establishments they have created on its sidewalks. These ignant mofos should not be protesting their arrival in B-Bay, where my Cosmo at?!

    bombayite “it is hilariously ironic how the rallying cry for maratha nationalism are based on claims of pervasive maratha failure – at least according to the illustrious jgandhi. i believe that taking pride in maratha achievements will do more for their manus than nursing this exhaustive catalog of grievances.” Yea you tell him brother, how dare he use religion and guns because his economic status is bad!

    “somebody should sit jgandhi down with bal thackeray the next time that loon goes off on the uneducated bihari and bangladeshi migrants leeching off of bombay. that way, jgandhi can explain to him that it is really the native marathas who are the leechers. but maybe chauvinism doesn’t need logic? who woulda thunk?” Neither does elitism.

    “Hyderabad an Andaraite city” Its Andhra, by the way and I would like to be called a Telugu thank you. But I’m sure the people from Telangana or the MIM would not like you calling it an Andaraite (sic) city. And are you telling other people what they should call themselves or be called? Next time you are out here on the South Side, I’ll give you a word you can use and try to explain to the people you use it on as to why it should work. I don’t wanna ruin the surprise but the word starts with an “n”

    Your last name is Gandhi, so I assume you are a Gujarati. This was just funny, the irony of that statement inspired me to write this diatribe. Yes lets bash the “Hindu right”, those divisive bastards, while giving ourselves neat little labels. Someone please export all the critical theorists out of here, they can make a killing in India.

    All I would like, is if some day – people would just stop referring to the Conservative movement in India as “Hindu Nationalists” “Hindu Chauvanists” or something else that is innately derisive. For a change, go live in India and understand what you seek to undermine.

  5. One thing Laine completely misses is possible caste bias in his sources which was primarily the reason prats of Sambhaji Brgade had a go at Bhandarkar Institute (those darn Brahmins! Sambhaji Brigade apprently are a cult, they have their own religion, Shiv Dharma) , funnily how people who are Bombay born and bred, dont care to know the basics about people that surround, Maratha and Marathi for instance are not interchangeable, one is a caste while other is an ethnic group. I was born and raised in the English midlands and care very little for regional politics in Maharashtra , but i find it perplexing how easily dismissive people from Bombay can be about Marathis and their culture. I’ve read too many ill informed articles which confuse SS and MNS and their people with Marathis as a whole, and posts criticising MNS which quickly descend into insensitive characterisations of Marathis. Now i can only ephathise with how a normal Muslim must feel on reading those neo-con blogs like LGF which usually conflate Islamist nut-jobs with all Muslims.

  6. 54 · RahulD said

    I don’t say much as I either agree or would probably develop a puerile rant

    Such good judgment. And you had to go and ruin it all by typing…

    “Elitist”? Check. “Marxist”? Check. But you forgot to use “pseudo-secular”. Maybe next time?

  7. Bro you are so pseudo secular! But I’m glad you caught my self-deprecating ways, it was totally subtle and I applaud you for your erudition.

  8. Sorry about the typos. I did the whole post on one go and didn’t re-read it. Maybe could’ve trimmed it a little, seems some innocent comments got caught up in my frustration over bombayite and his ilk.

    CAR was supposed to be CAIR. and the sentence after was “They adopted titles for building a commonality, more out of fear and sycophancy, than that “Shah” contained a certain star appeal to it.”

  9. RahulD,

    Awesome commentary…However,

    Just the way the phrase “Hindu right” is misleading, your usage of the word “conservative” in two occassions (the Conservative Hindu outlook is ….of Conservative culture in India) is equally misleading.

    Hot button Words like “right”, “fundamentalist” and “conservative” are not applicable to the Hindutva movement, and are largely concoctions of the ELM cocktail elite. “Traditionalist” is probably the closest English word to describe this movement.

    M. Nam

  10. There seems to be an impression among some commenters upthread that Marathi = Maratha = Hindutva = Brahmin = … etc. A fact of cultural life in Maharashtra is the triangular tensions that have existed between Marathas, Brahmins and Dalits. A historical echo of this was the refusal of blueblooded Paithan Brahmins to officiate at Shivaji’s coronation. It continues to this day. One interpretation of the Bhandarkar Institute incident is that this Sambhaji Brigade (according to many an outfit closely associated with the Nationalist Congress Party led by the Maratha leader Sharad Pawar) was expressing its anger against the Brahmins of the Bhandarkar Institute cosying up to the ‘firang’ Prof. Laine in saying scurrilous things about the Maratha hero Shivaji (i.e. that he may not have been the biological son of Shahaji and instead the result of a liaison between his mother and the Brahmin pandit Dadoji Konddeo. Those are seriously fighting words in Maharashtra much as any similar comments about Guru Gobind Singh would be in Punjab).

    Someone else says upthread “Remember that, pre-independence, Bombay was never really part of Maharashtra. It was more or less independent, and might as well gone to Gujrat if it weren’t for Marathi fanatics.”

    This is umm… less than well-informed. Pre-independence there was no political-administrative unit called Maharashtra. And the demand for the state of Maharashtra and for the inclusion of Bombay in it came from a coalition of socialist/communist parties who saw in it a strengthening of democratic institutions. Shiv Sena did not exist at the time nor was there any other organization that could be labelled representative of “Marathi fanatics”.

  11. “Traditionalist” is probably the closest English word to describe this movement.

    Neanderthal? Nativist? Only trying to help with my erudition.

  12. I think JGandhi was just trying to put the particular POLITICAL attachment of Maharashtrians to ShivaJi in perspective, he wasn’t saying that ShivaJi wasn’t a hero to people from other regions…I think he is a hero to anyone who likes the idea of an indigenous non-Muslim leader asserting himself against the Muslim invaders/tyrant-rulers.

  13. bombayite #61,

    Neanderthal?

    Hindutva. So simple even a caveman could get it…

    M. Nam

  14. the assumption that the Hindu kings embraced Islamic culture because of its “universal appeal” (Any CAR peeps representin??) is baseless.

    I agree that several medieval Hindu kings did not embrace Islamicate culture because of ‘universal appeal,’ but you cannot ignore the role of political expediency in adopting Islamicate traditions, culture, and insignias of power. Powerful Hindu monarchs found it convenient to express their power through Muslim symbolism because it translated well in maritime trading relationships throughout the Indian Ocean.

    See: “Sultan among Hindu Kings”: Dress, Titles, and the Islamicization of Hindu Culture at Vijayanagara and book I’ve thought to contain many perspectives in Indo-Muslim relationships in medieval India:

    Amardeep, great topic for a post. Chetan #38, interesting information.

  15. portmanteau: I agree with you that it was for political expediency more rather than intellectual persuasion or religious appeal and if my point indicated otherwise I stand corrected. Thank you for the reference.

    bombayite: you do realize that I was being sarcastic with the labels I used? onanist?

    MoorNam: Any valid movement for identity assertion, in this day and age, should move away from narrow labels. The term “Hindutva” has been misused and abused by its proponents. The person who popularized the term is no good role model either(Sarvarkar). And the sad part is, the way it is used now – it is only the cavemen who DO get it. Most of the Hindutva proponents that I talked to on trains or platforms in UP at 2 in the morning, use it in a way that will never find an appeal amongst anyone who is rational. Conservative, traditionalist, you know…I prefer words that are more universal. But yes, Shivaji is a great role model for anyone who seeks assertion of their identity as a Hindu in India and what that means.

  16. He called upon a prominent pundit from Benares, Gaga Bhatta, to establish his genealogy and claim of true kshatriya status before investing him with the sacred thread, performing an orthodox wedding, and then a royal lustration ceremony of enthronement. At this time, Shivaji lavished great wealth on all the Brahmins who were gathered to confer legitimacy, and he employed two poets to write laudatory epic poems about him………….his elaborate Sanskritic coronation, his choice of Sanskrit rather than Persian titles for his ministers, and his patronage of Brahmin pundits … are all signs that he wished to extend the boundaries in which his religion reigned, not so much geographically as socially and politically.

    The fact that Shivaji, himself a low caste Sudra, had to bribe Brahmins to “legitimize” him as a Hindu King is so wrong on so many counts. Since for Shivaji “asserting hindu religion, culture and identity” inevitably involved pandering to brahmins and asserting the legitimacy of the geneologically based brahminical caste system, he does not deserve to be set up as a role model. There is absolutely no good reason to cling to a social system that is so patently false and enervating, and that has resulted in such a weak and low status for India in the world.

  17. sakshi: “Instead of a statue of Shivaji, they should build a mammoth Shiv linga at the site. That will be more in keeping with the Freudian subtext of the idea.” Point 1: The Phallocentric psychodynamic theories are Lacanian not Freudian. Point 2: Yes, that is totally what 99% of Hindus think when they are worshiping the Shiva Linga. Point 3: The Shiva Linga is symbolic of union, not just the male part. Point 4: Well, look-a-here, Herschel. We got us one of them self-hating Jews.

    Yes, I know that’s not what a lingam stands for. I picked a common misinterpretation in the interest of tasteless humor. The idea was to make fun of the motivation behind the idea: sorry if it offended your sensibilities as a hindu. I didn’t intend that.

  18. “There is absolutely no good reason to cling to a social system that is so patently false and enervating, and that has resulted in such a weak and low status for India in the world.”

    Racism and christian fundamentalism does not seem to have resulted in a weak and low status for the US in the world. What’s the reason for the difference?

  19. @54 RahulD:

    Your phrases :”We were all doing it for the Ummah.” , “..would you prefer that we have a Sharia?” reveal you for what you are. Quit telling us we should call your types “Conservative” and that “the condescension by many of those who even try to justify the Conservative Hindu outlook is bordering on despicable.” It is your bringing the ummah and sharia into a debate that has no place for them that is despicable. To call you part of the Hindu right would be polite.

  20. Now you know how it is when a religion/culture’s icons are denigerated by making it them out to be open to “scholarly study”. There is nothing wrong with me juxtaposing parallel philosophies from other cultures. I wanted to make a reference to an earlier point about the Gujrat-Maharashtra struggle, with the recreation in Midnight’t Children. Speaking of Rushdie, I wonder what happened to him when he expressed an opinion on another historical figure – is he in Denmark? And to call me a part of the Hindu right, would not be polite, it would just be misplaced. You can label me something I’m not just so that you can write off a valid point by attribute it to “them crazies”, whatever works for you Bro. Keep studying more though.

  21. when we speak about “islamicate traditions, culture, and insignias of power” in the indian context, excluding theological issues, we might as well be speaking of Persian culture. almost contemporary with french being the language of diplomacy and high culture in early modern europe, persian played a comparable role for west and southern asia. the repeated use of the adjective “islamic” instead of “turko-persian” by early orientalists to describe the aristocracy of a region, or to characterize an invading horde, has led many people to misleading conclusions. one such is the notion that islam was the sole reason for central asian aggression and cruelty to indians. the shakas,kushanas and hunas just became the ghaznis and ghoris. i dont see why many a hindu monarch would not have favored persian culture and fashion over native options. how alien could it have been given the civilizational interactions of India and Iran stretch far into prehistory? particularly if there is no strong compulsion to convert, why not throw on some embroidered robes? i think some of those “islamicized” hindu princes felt positively natty in their new threads. the perception that persian culture was prestigious and cosmopolitan was shared by many other societies as well. as such it enabled participation in a much wider world. what bored aristocrat wouldnt want that? i wouldnt see it as evidence that india was subjugated and manipulated into feeling inferior. the process of cultural engagment between the deccan and iranian plateaus had begun many centuries before shivajis time.

  22. Point 4: Well, look-a-here, Herschel. We got us one of them self-hating Jews.

    Though most of this discussion is way over my head, you get props for the obscure Family Guy reference.

  23. you do realize that I was being sarcastic with the labels I used? onanist?

    i was responding to moornam’s labels, not yours. but maybe “onanist” describes the sexually frustrated goons who beat up lovers in parks and wreak havoc on valentine’s day celebrations best.

    And the sad part is, the way it is used now – it is only the cavemen who DO get it. Most of the Hindutva proponents that I talked to on trains or platforms in UP at 2 in the morning, use it in a way that will never find an appeal amongst anyone who is rational.

    i think this is the crux: the elitists/marxists/leftists/cocktail drinkers/insert-another-pejorative can only go to war against the hindutva there is, not the hindutva you’d want or like. and the movement as it is today is certainly not worthy of support or defense.

    as for a contemporary conservative movement that takes pride in the assertion of their identity as a hindu in india, i’d be interested in understanding what your vision of that is, and how it could achieve that vision without being exclusionary and nativist (i couldn’t agree with you more about people like savarkar). not that i think it is not possible, just that it would be politically difficult for a movement based on identity to be welcoming to people who it sees as not part of that identity. in practice, it is a short road from regional pride to blaming the “immigrant bangladeshis who litter calcutta’s highways” for your own bad economic status.

  24. Bombayite….stuck here at a Libertarian (sorry I mean libertarian) conference in Boston…all I can say is, the Hindutva movement is not only inefficient it is based on the wrong things. I wish I would find the desire and the affinity to go back to India and do my small part in convincing Arun Jaitley to be a spearhead for a rational revival…maybe one day.

    Sorry if I was annoying earlier

  25. This Laine fella should do more extensive research on the topic of Shivaji. Just because he was a Maratha king doesn’t mean that he was all for Maratha supremacy in India, like some of you have commented. Some of his trusted generals were Muslims so how could he not be secular? Some of you are quick to harp on the “Hindu right”. Don’t pose as an intellectual, get your facts straight! Many muslims are supporters of the Shivaji orgs.

  26. Pingback: Shivaji: Beyond the Legend (and some surprises) | Sepia Mutiny | TodayCourse