The year was 1895. Under a moonlit night of Madras summer, a few people had gathered to hear a young sanyassin from a distant land.
In the group was a young doctor. It was a deep interest in spirituality which had brought him there. He had heard about this sanyassi and how his talks were spiritual and mesmerising as also soothing to the listeners.
In the course of this address, the sannyasi had suddenly broke into a Hindi song in his flawless melodious voice:
Daava drum-danda par, cheetah mruga-jhunda par,
Bhushan vitunda par, jaise mrugraj hai;
Teja tama ansa par, Kanha jimi Kansa par,
Tyaun Maliccha bansa par, ser Shivraj hai
As forest-fire is to the forest trees, a leopard to the deer-herds,
And a lion to the stately elephants, says Bhushan;
As light is to a patch of darkness, as Krishna was to Kansa,
So was king Shivaji, a lion, towards the clans of Mlechchhas
Dr M C Nanjunda Rao, the doctor who came to hear spiritual, esoteric truths from the sage was shocked. He had read about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in his history textbooks. The textbooks spoke of Shivaji Maharaj as ‘an upstart robber, a marauder and a treacherous murderer.’
Why was a spiritual monk singing the praise of such a man? On hearing this question, the calm Swami flared up and answered:
“... This is what comes of your reading Indian History written by foreigners who could have no sympathy with you, nor could they have any respect for your culture, traditions, manners and customs which they could not understand. Is there a greater hero, a greater saint, a greater bhakta and a greater king than Shivaji? Shivaji was the very embodiment of a born ruler of men as typified in your great Epics. He was the type of the real son of India representing the true consciousness of the nation...”
That young monk, Swami Vivekananda, went on to give a comprehensive yet forceful narration of the life of Chhatrapati Shivaji. All were spellbound. None thought of even taking notes. Fortunately, the doctor later serialised the entire address of that night in Vedanta Kesari magazine of Sri Ramakrishna Mission.
The important point to note here is the way Shivaji Maharaj became a phenomenon in the national consciousness of India.
It was in 1645, in a letter written to Dadaji Naras Prabhu, that Shivaji Maharaj first used the words ‘Hindavi Swarajya’.
Later, in 1906, Dadhabai Naoroji (1825-1917) brought the term ‘Swaraj’ to the modern political vocabulary of India.
In a detailed essay on the concept, Bipin Chandra Pal (1858-1932) elaborated its ancient origin and its modern relevance and importantly, how the modern Indian polity inherited the term from the Hindu Pad Padshahi installed by Chhatrapati Shivaji:
This word Swaraj, recently introduced into our current political literature by Dadabhai Naoroji, though evidently borrowed from the political records of the Mahratta Confederacy, belongs really to our ancient philosophical and theological literature.
It occurs in the Upanishads to indicate the highest spiritual state, wherein the individual self-stands in conscious union with the Universal or the Supreme-Self. When the self sees and knows whatever is as its own self, it attains Swaraj:— so says the Chhandogya Upanishad. . .In spite of our excessive metaphysical emphasis. . . the Universal has always been the quest of our social economy also. . .
And we claim to understand this philosophy better, because from of old, our holy men have known and revered every human individual, whatever his colour, creed, country and caste, as Narayana himself. Every human, the lowest socially as well as the highest, is uniformly saluted by the holiest of our holy men all over India, as Narayana.
This definition of Swarajya is the basis of Hindavi Swarajya as envisioned by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Far ahead of his time, Shivaji Maharaj, guided by spiritual sages like Sant Tukaram and his own Guru Samartha Ramadas, tried to materialise a society in which diverse communities would be held together by values of spiritual egalitarianism and acceptance of theo-diversity.
During the Shivaji-Afzal Khan meeting of 1659, when Sayyad Banda, Khan’s body-guard, raised his sword and was about to strike Shivaji, it was Jiva Mahala — a warrior from what was traditionally regarded a barber caste — accompanying Shivaji who severed the hand of Sayyad and saved Shivaji’s life.
The incident is a pointer to many changes that Shivaji brought into the system. Clearly, Shivaji was giving more importance to worth than birth.
Shivaji sought the inclusion of the communities, who were in the periphery of the socio-political arena then, into the centre of Swarajya.
Marathas, Kolis, Brahmins, Mahar, Mang, Ramoshi soldiers and tribal communities were included in the military and administrative system of Shivaji. Hindavi Swarajya thus paved the foundation for social inclusion and mobility.
This vision of Hindavi Swarajya in turn has its roots in the spiritual vision of Bhakti saints of Dakshin Bharat — called in English as Deccan.
Mahadev Govind Ranade brought this out in his landmark book ‘Rise of Maratha Power’ (1900):
Roughly speaking we may state that the history of this religious revival covers a period of nearly five hundred years, and during this period some fifty saints and prophets flourished in this land, who left their mark upon the country and its people so indelibly as to justify Mahipati in including them in his biographical sketches.
A few of these saints were women, a few were Mahomedan converts to Hinduism, nearly half of them were Brahmans, while there were representatives in the other half from among all the other castes, Marathas, kunbis, tailors, gardeners, potters, goldsmiths, repentant prostitutes, and slave girls, even the outcaste Mahars.
Much of the interest of this religious upheaval is centred in the facts we have noticed above, as they indicate plainly that the influence of higher spirituality was not confined to this or that class, but permeated deep through all strata of society, male and female, high and low, literate and illiterate, Hindu and Mahomedan alike.
This is a process — the Bhakti-infused national resurgence — that has been seldom studied by historiographers.
It is notable that M G Ranade not only identified this process but also pointed its unique nature in the history of the world nations:
These are features which the religious history of few other countries can match or reproduce, unless where the elevating influence is the result of a widespread popular awakening.
The legacy continued despite social constraints of the period.
This is not to say that Hindavi Swarajya was a utopia without caste conflicts. There were caste conflicts and forces of social stagnation were still at work. Yet compared to other states around the world then, including in Europe, Hindavi Swarajya should be considered as the first conscious attempt to break the barriers of social hierarchy, social stagnation and social exclusion.
When Aurangzeb, in 1688, got Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son, killed, Sidnak Mahar raised a Mahar battalion and it fought valiantly for Hindavi Swarajya. He was honoured by Sambhaji’s son, Shahuji.
Sidnak Mahar was made Patil of Kalambi village. The grandson of Sidnak Mahar, also named Sidnak, too fought for the victory of Hindu flag.
After the loss at Panipat (1761), it was the victory at the battle of Kharda (1795) that decisively made Hindu confederacy the masters of Hindustan.
In this context, it is important to point out that a very popular Mahar cultural-memory was validated by none other than Lokmanya Tilak:
It was the custom and the privilege of the Mahar Chief to have his tent put up by the side of the Peshwa. Once, it so happened that Nana Phadnavis got his tent pitched in the place of the Mahar chief.
The chief when arrived, refused to be re-encamped anywhere else and would not get down from his horse, when ultimately Peshwa Sawai Madhavaro had to unpitch the tent of Nana Phadnavis.
The oral tradition also holds that the Peshwa made a scathing remark at those who wanted the Mahar tent removed. He said that it was not a party but a military camp.
It was this martial heritage of Mahars in Hindavi Swarajya which helped both social reformers and Hindu Sangathanists (mutually non-exclusive groups) to assert for the inclusion of Mahars in military recruitment.
That the important voices for universal military recruitment in India, against the colonial policy of martial races/communities, came from Maharashtra, namely Moonje, Ambedkar, Savarkar, is in all probabilities the continuation of the legacy of this inclusive recruitment by the founder of Hindavi Swarajya.
It is to be noted that it was six years after the publishing of M G Ranade’s book which repeatedly mentions the project of Swarajya, that Dadabhai Naoroji introduced it again in the Indian political context. The conversations that Gandhi had with Savarkar, another Maharashtrian devotee of Shivaji, triggered the former to write Hind Swaraj.
Later, in 1931, Gandhi called Swarajya a sacred and a Vedic term.
In the early pages of his book Ranade suggests that the Maratha confederacy achieved the same objectives that the Lutheran movement achieved in Europe, but to a lesser extent. That is evidently wrong.
The Lutheran movement was a fundamentalist movement which was against the spirit of Enlightenment. It also justified the massacre of peasants.
But Hindavi Swarajya was propelled by peasants and poets, mystics and militia. In terms of the overall effect and the quantum of impact on human lives, one can say with confidence that Hindavi Swarajya was more important than the French revolution and Renaissance Enlightenment of the West in making the world more egalitarian.
From the Hindu point of view, Hindavi Swarajya is a uniquely Hindu nation-building phenomenon. It did not start with Shivaji. It started long back — right from the Vedic times — by emphasising human emancipation through the realisation of the unity that permeates all.
This Upanishadic vision expressed itself through Bhakti. Bhakti ushered in organic social changes.
Political forces anchored in Indian soil have always been tools of realising this fundamental vision of unity-in-diversity. In modern times, Bhakti culminated in Shivaji Maharaj and gave him the Mantric words ‘Hindavi Swarajya’.
After that, all social and political movements that happened in India, which ushered in human happiness and removal of misery — flowered from these two words.
Social upliftment, military consolidation, spiritual diversity, democracy — all come from this seed-vision of Shivaji.
In short, the modern Indian ation-state has an eternal soul and its name is Hindavi Swarajya.
Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.
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