In the Marathi classic Shriman Yogi, the author tells the story of Shivaji, the fearless Maratha.
What many people do not know is that Shriman Yogi is as much a story of Shivaji’s mother Jijabai and the influence she had on his upbringing, as it is of Shivaji.
While there are many episodes which move you to tears, I have extracted some poignant moments from the novel.
In one episode, Shivaji is heartbroken having been forced to leave Sambhaji behind with Mirza Raja Jaisingh, under the command of Aurangzeb, till he fulfills his promise of returning all the forts. All the efforts of his past seem wasted including the sacrifices of the ones who laid their lives for him. To leave the young Sambhaji behind was more than what he could tolerate. Realizing that Shivaji has not eaten anything for a few days and that he has refused to meet anyone, Jijabai goes to meet him.
Here is what Ranjit Desai writes…
. . .“Shivba! Open the door. It is me!”
A few moments passed. She could hear footsteps and then the bolt moved. But the door did not open. Jijabai stepped forward and pushed the door. She stopped dead in her tracks.
Raje stood with his back to the door. His hair was disheveled and his hands were clasped behind the back, his fists clenched. Jijabai exclaimed,
She heard his gruff voice,
“Maasaheb, please leave me alone. Your Shivba is not here. Nor is your Raje. They both were sacrificed at the altar of Mirza Raje yesterday.”
“Maasaheb, please leave. I am not sure whether I should live or die. I feel that death would be more beautiful.”
Jijabai’s heart tore at Raje’s words. Her tears froze in her eyes. She spoke with an edge in her voice,
“Raje, If you are so fond of death the why did you involve me in your pursuits?”
Raje unclasped his hands and slowly turned around. Jijabai was shocked to see the state in which Raje was. His eyes were dull and the shine on the face was long gone. He looked at her saying,
“Maasaheb, when did I involve you?”
“You may forget; but I cannot. When your father left us, I was prepared to accompany him in sati but you stopped me. You had fallen at my feet saying, ‘Maasaheb, don’t leave me. I need someone to see my exploits. I am bound by my oath to establish the Swaraj.’ Have you forgotten that? If you don’t believe in your promise then you should not have made it. Did you make me stay back to see this exploit of yours?”
“No Maasaheb!” Raje’s lips were trembling as he spoke. “I had many dreams which I nursed. I had hoped that I would be able to establish my Swaraj and take your blessings. Was it a crime? I was dreaming of the Hind Swaraj and now am reduced to being a slave to the Mughals. The forts which I built with my own hands, captured them without carrying for my life, are now in possession of the Mughals. I managed to get people to work on barren lands and make them prosperous. I have handed over my own son, my flesh and blood, to the Badshah. Maasaheb, my dreams are shattered. My own identity is no more! Why should I live?”
Jijabai’s face was hard. She could not tolerate to see Raje’s frail image. She said, looking directly into his eyes,
“Raje, you are narrating stories of your tragedy and loss? Your father left me when I was seven months into pregnancy. You were born in an unknown land in someone else’s house. My elder one was with my husband. I was alone with no support. How did I live?”
“You were just six of years of age. I stayed in the barren fort of Pune holding your hand. I was the landlady of a barren village! But I did not get scared. Raje, the Pandavas had to bear the fourteen years of vanvaas. Even Lord Ram had to go through this. If the Gods had to endure this then who are you and me to question? People who are scared of troubles or problems cannot dream of creating His Swaraj, Raje!”
“Don’t say a word now! You don’t feel like living, is it? Prefer death to living? If you feel so then pick up your sword and march over to Mirza Raje right now. Listen to me! I am willing to see you being sacrificed on the battlefield but Raje…..”
Jijabai hesitated for a brief moment and continued, her words laced with sarcasm,
“….But I cannot afford to have a blemish that I gave birth to a son who was scared and took his own life out of fear. I am leaving now. I don’t feel like seeing your face. You may do whatever comes to your mind.”
She turned and started walking with slow, heavy steps.
Raje ran and fell down at Jijabai’s feet. He said, clutching her feet,
“Maasaheb, please! The world may be against me but please never leave me. I made a mistake. I said what I should never have. Don’t punish me so harshly for this. If possible, please forget whatever I said. I promise you. I won’t forget the oath I took. I…”
Raje fumbled for words…
Jijabai bent down her hands shivering. Tears flowed down her cheeks. She pulled him up and said,
“Shivba! My dear!!”
Both of them were lost in each other’s embrace. Their tears continued to flow…..
Raja Ravi Varma, in one of his paintings has shown Shivaji receiving the daughter-in-law of the Subedar of Kalyan, who has been defeated in a battle. As per the Mughal traditions, all loot, including the womenfolk, were at the mercy of the winner. The episode has been made immortal with a popular Marathi song
Asheech aamuchi aai aasti, sundar roopavati
aamihi sundar jhalo asto, vadhale Chattrapati
Had my mother been so beautiful
I too would have been a handsome man!
Here is what Ranjit Desai writes….
. . .The Muslim Subedar and his son were asked to march forward. Raje was impressed seeing the father and son duo. They were fair complexioned, tall and handsome men. They looked at Raje with a mixture of pride and anger in their eyes. Raje ordered their release and asked them to leave for Bijapur. Their release was unexpected as they did not expect anything other than a death sentence.
Abaji Mahadev stepped forward and bent down in mujra. Raje asked,
“What is it, Abaji?”
“I have one more prisoner to be presented before you.”
“Who is it?”
“The daughter-in-law of the Subedar.”
“Abaji!” Raje exclaimed in anger.
Abaji hesitated for a moment and said, “Maharaj, I beg your pardon but she was travelling with her husband when we looted the caravan. She too was arrested along with others. How could we decide her fate without informing you?”
“Abaji you could have taken the decision yourself. I would not have blamed you. But it seems this daughter-in-law is someone special.”
“Yes, Maharaj. She is lovelier than the flowers you see. Her radiance spreads a divine fragrance all over the place.”
“Wah, Abaji! It looks like you have become a poet now. Please present her before me. I am curious to see such a beauty.”
Abaji clapped twice and the curtain of the palanquin was moved. The Subedar’s daughter-in-law stepped out along with two maids. She sported a thin veil. Her hands, with the lovely mehndi on them, shivered in anticipation of some fear. The toes of her lovely fair feet dug deep into the soft carpet.
Raje let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes for a moment. He got up and walked staring at her face. She could see his feet but did not dare to look up. Raje glanced at the crowd to see the Subedar father and son looking at him, their eyes burning with anger. He lifted her veil and placed it on her head. Everyone present in the durbar gasped seeing the radiant beauty. She continued looking at the floor while tears flowed down her cheeks. Disturbed at the sight of her tears, Shivaji came back and sat on his chair.
The Subedar’s daughter in law was surprised to see Shivaji turn back. She looked up to meet his gaze. He was wearing a saffron top while his forehead had the traditional tilak. She saw him looking at her with a penetrating gaze. She returned his gaze without flinching. Most people were unable to look into his eyes for more than a few seconds.
Raje turned his eyes to Abaji and said, “Abaji, this girl is really beautiful. I do not know what to do with her. What do you suggest?”
“Maharaj!” Abaji hesitated.
“Please speak without hesitation.”
“Maharaj, as per tradition she can join the dancing girls troupe. That itself would be a reward for her. This is the way the enemy treats our women. No one showed any mercy to Rani Padmini. In fact such ladies fill up the harem for the Badshah. She is the daughter of an enemy. Even if you make her a mistress of someone, you cannot be blamed. It will not be against protocol.”
“Enough Abaji! One sin cannot be eliminated by another. I believe in recognizing the law of humanity rather than what society and protocols say. Our flag sports the saffron colour of the Lord. It is a representative of the Lord himself. I was stunned seeing the beauty of this girl. I had never seen such pristine beauty” and then pointing a finger at her he continued, “Seeing her, I wondered…” Shivaji could not continue as his voice was choked with emotions.
“What is it, Maharaj?” Abaji asked.
“I wondered had Maasaheb been so beautiful, I too would have had the fortune of being handsome. Abaji, she has reminded me of my Maasaheb. Please treat her with utmost respect and dignity. Treat her the same way as you would treat Maasaheb. Send her back with care.”
The father and son looked at each other while the daughter-in-law had tears of joy in her eyes. She bent down and salaamed elaborately. Raje folded his hands in response. He got up and the entire durbar bent down in mujra. The Subedar and son too joined in their salutes.
In another episode, Shivaji brutally punished one of the enemy’s sons who had tried to escape and had been caught. In a moment of rage, Shivaji had ordered him to be beheaded. What transpired is a true example of how a mother can instil values.
. . .“Khamosh! I was treating you like a child but you seem be showing your true colours. You seem to have forgotten your father’s fate,” Shivaji shouted in anger at the young boy.
“Of course, I haven’t. In fact, I am not scared of treading the same path. I can’t forgive our enemies.”
“Pant, take this arrogant brat away and behead him. After all a snake’s hathcling is going to grow up to be a snake even if you feed him milk.”
“Raje!” Pant exclaimed, hearing the harsh punishment.
Raje turned in anger and said, “Pant, this is my order and I expect you to obey it. I also want the people who helped the brothers to escape to be arrested and put behind bars.”
Krishnarao was taken away. Raje woke up in the afternoon to the sobs of someone crying. Krishnarao had been beheaded a while back.
Raje was not at ease since the time he had issued the orders. Everyone was scared of meeting him. He would get angry at the slightest of pretext.
Raje had been asleep when he was given the message of Maasaheb’s arrival from Purandhar.
“Maasaheb?” He asked surprised, “Where is she?”
“She would arrive at the gates any moment.”
Raje got up hurriedly and by the time he dressed up, he heard the commotion of the soldiers running to receive Maasaheb. Jijabai stepped out of the palanquin and Raje bent down to touch her feet. Jijabai did not smile but managed to touch his back without saying a word. Raje asked,
“Is everything fine?”
“Raje, I have been worried for the past two days hearing of the beheading of More’s son.”
“Maasaheb, you heard of the beheading but would you not want to know why?”
“Sure, that is the reason I have come here. Tell me.”
“Maasaheb, I got the boys settled here and treated them with love and care. But they were plotting an escape and managed to get Ghorpade to help them. In fact Baji did manage to escape.”
“Is that all?”
“No. Krishnaji was not even ashamed of his act when caught. On the contrary, he was arrogant when I challenged him. Someone else in his place would have begged forgiveness at my feet.”
Maasaheb laughed sarcastically saying,
“Raje, you were consumed with anger. You wanted him to fall at your feet and beg for forgiveness. Why? Just because you captured Jawli? Raje, it is easy to accept defeat but much more difficult to live with victory. I am disappointed that you were not aware of the arrogance which follows success.”
Maasaheb’s voice had a deep sense of regret and discomposure. She seemed deeply affected by the incident. Raje’s throat went dry and was unable to say anything. He did not have the courage to meet her gaze. She said, with a sigh,
“Raje I know that More was not willing to come to you despite your request for a friendly alliance. It was imperative for you to capture Jawli before More turned to Khan for help. I know that you beheaded him. He had acted in a manner which deserved such a punishment. But his children; what had they done to deserve such a punishment? You could have turned them into allies.”
“Maasaheb, it was impossible. They would have grown up to become poisonous snakes. They would have bit us one day.”
“Raje, do you remember? You had gone hunting and had returned with two lion cubs? You knew that they would become ferocious lions one day yet you fed them milk and treated them with love and care. If you can treat an animal so, why can’t you treat humans the same way? If power is going to corrupt your wisdom then such power is of no use. You would be another one like the Sultans. Raje, I had not expected such behavior from you.”
Each word of Jijabai was hurting Raje and he felt suffocated. He had tears in his eyes.
Jijabai continued, “Raje, how will I go and face that poor lady? What shall I say when she asks me why you killed her son? Raje, it will be a great favour if you kill her too. At least she will not have to bear the torture of her son’s death.”
Raje could hear no more. He exclaimed,
“Enough Maasaheb! I am dying of shame.”
He fell down and hugged her legs and said,
“Maasaheb, I made a mistake. Please pardon me. I forgot my limits and got swayed by power. I have committed a crime. I promise you. I shall never behave like this in future.”
Jijabai lifted him affectionately and hugged him tightly. Both could not hold back their tears.”