WHAT MARATHA HISTORY TEACHES US

-Sir Jadunath Sarkar

“Unite all the people, fill them with one spirit.
Wherever Marathas are, unite them;
extend the spirit of our Maratha ‘dharm’.
Bahut lok milavave, ek vichare bharave.” – Swami Ramdas

“Maharashtra has been my second home, I have paid more than forty visits to it, and travelled to its hamlets and forts far away from rail and bus routes, making friends everywhere. And my study of Maratha history has been second only—if second at all, to my devotion to Mughal history.

SCHOLARSHIP, MILITANCY & PATRIOTISM

The Maratha people stand unique among the races of India in having produced in the historic past close to our days, whole classes who have been masters of the pen and the sword alike. Such a combination of military and literary ability in the same man or same family has been found among the Persians and the Eastern Turks (whom we call Mughals), but no other Indian race has produced such a galaxy of leaders in war and learning as Maratha history records. Is this the root cause of the fact that no other province of India in the closing sixty years of British rule has produced such constructive patriots of the modern civilised type as Maharashtra? I do not refer to the glib eloquence of platform oratory which can excite a contagion of momentary enthusiasm but soon falls flat like a soda water bottle when its frothy effervescence is ended. In that respect several other provinces of India can, I admit, beat the descendants of Shivaji and Ramdas.

SOCIAL SERVICE & RECONSTRUCTION

Maharashtra’s noblest sons have shown in every field of human endeavour, a marvellous persistency and earnest lifelong devotion to patriotic ideals, and not in political agitation merely. The net achievement of these construc¬tive workers will endure for ages. Let me take two examples only : the Servants of India Society of G. K. Gokhale and the Women’s Home and University of D. K. Karve. Imitations of them were started in some other provinces of India with beat of drum, but where are they now? These two Maharashtrian institutions endure and their usefulness has gone on expanding year after year.

Another characteristic of Maratha patriotism is significant ; their institutions for the service of the people have been built up and kept alive entirely by private donation and not by grants from the public exchequer. In other provinces, our patriots throw the burden of their pet schemes on the Government or Municipal Corporations at the earliest opportunity, or else they die of starvation. The honourable spirit of true public service is not extinct in Maharashtra. Such disinterested devotion to the people’s welfare in every field is still being shown by the sons of Maharashtra. Without meaning to ignore others, I shall cite one example only, because it has been personally known to me from its foundation in 1926. I refer to the Talegaon Charitable General Hospital and especially its eye-clinic and the attached T.B. Convalescent Homes which attract sufferers from all parts of India. Here, physicians of the first standing in Bombay and Poona attend regularly giving their services for absolutely no gain and some even bear their own travelling expenses. Where else in India can we find its parallel on the same scale?

PLAIN LIVING, HIGH THINKING, COOPERATIVE LIVING

What is the fountain-head of this pure water of life that is now regenerating Maharashtra? My reflections lead me to only one conclusion : it is the spirit of plain living and high thinking which animates the entire educated and middle classes of that land, and the priceless experience in managing local affairs in mutual co-operation which the common people of Maharashtra have acquired by twenty centuries or more of life in “village communities”. These village communities have been rightly described by Elphinstone as “little republics, having nearly everything they can want within themselves.” Every such village had in pre-British days its own set of hereditary officers and menials, paid by allotments of plots of land round the village, and settling their disputes by a Grand Jury of all classes of the local people …. Such village communities were crushed out in Northern India long ago by the ruthless advance of foreign conquerors and the formation of centralised despotic monarchies of vastnesses possible only in the boundless plains of the Gangetic valley.

SELF-RELIANCE, SELF-RESPECT, EQUALITY

I have travelled extensively through the Sahyadri Hill range and river valleys, and everywhere noticed with surprise the free self-reliant character of the commonest people, peasants and day-labourers, such as can never be seen among the helpless ryots of big zamindars in Hindustan, or the police-ruled population of indigo-growing areas, the vassals of feudal jagirdars in Rajputana and Malwa. There is a wonderful “diffused sense of democratic equality and self-respect” among the Marathas which can make them the best nationals of Free India.

SCHOLARSHIP

We talk of the heroism of Shivaji and Baji Rao I, Lakshmi Bai and Tara Bai, but how many of us remember that the same race has produced some of the finest scholars in India? The only Senior Wrangler(1) among the Asiatics is a Maratha Brahman; and the most learned and correct editions of the Sanskrit classics are produced in Maharashtra, at the Nirnaya Sagar Press of Bombay, the Anand Ashram of Poona, and the Bhandarkar Institute of Research, the last of which has the unique distinction of bringing out the world-recognised edition of the Mahabharat.

WOMEN’S FREEDOM & INSPIRATIONAL LEADERSHIP

Maratha women have enjoyed from the earliest times high honour and perfect freedom of movement and activity. What other Hindu community in India has produced queens like Ahalya Bai and Tara Bai, female warriors like Lakshmi Bai (of Jhansi) and Rai Baghini (the wife of Udiram of Malegaon), besides social workers like Rama Bai and the female Karves (to mention a few only)? Was not Shivaji’s mother Jija Bai, the patron saint and effective administrator of her son’s kingdom and people during Shivaji’s visit to Aurangzeb and captivity in Agra?

There is record of a significant dialogue held during the first Anglo-Maratha War. The Rana of Gohad was scornfully asked by Col. Camac and other English allies in their camp at Sesai (south of Gwalior):

“What has your Mahadji Sindhia done that you praise him so highly?”

The Rana (who was then fighting against Sindhia) replied, “Mahadji is no ordinary man ; he has restored the Emperor to his throne in Delhi, and his wife rides out to battle.”

Camac asked, “Do not your wives ride out?” The Jat chief replied, “No. We are Kshatriyas, we observe parda.” [Bodleian Library, Persian manuscript.]

After Tukoji Holkar’s camp had been beaten up by Mahadji Sindhia’s Generals at Suraoli (1792), Ahalya Bai Holkar wrote to her Generals, “If you delay in going out to renew the war and avenge this defeat, I shall myself take horse and command my household troops personally in battle”. And yet she was better known as a pious and charitable lady and a religious devotee. Such is Maratha womanhood.

PERSISTENT PATRIOTISM

In nobility of aims and heroic persistence of endeavour, the Maratha people have an advantage which no other race in India possesses. They, alone among the Hindus, had beaten back the tide of Muslim conquest and defended the independence of their country against all the resources of the mighty Emperor Aurangzib and at a time when their King was almost a prisoner in the far off Madras coast. And later, under the Peshwas, they gained a still higher experience in politics in the best sense of that term. I here quote my own words used elsewhere:

“The Marathas have a historic advantage of unique importance in the India of today. Their near ancestors had faced death in a hundred battlefields, had led armies and debated in the chamber of diplomacy, had managed the finances of kingdoms and grappled with the problems of empire; they had helped to make Indian history in the immediate and not yet forgotten past. The memory of these things is a priceless asset to their race”.

BHAKTI SAINTS

Over all this “great realm” Maharashtra, there has spread the benign and yet manly influence of the saints and preachers in the vernacular, elevating, fortifying, and yet mollifying the character of the people from the rulers down to the meanest tiller of the soil.

HISTORIOGRAPHY

This legitimate pride in their real and immediate past, has prompted the Marathas to preserve, collect, edit and publish their historical records in a voluminous size and a high level of successful attainment, not one-tenth of which can be seen in any other Indian province, not even in the imperial cities of the Mughals or the antique capitals of the Rajput princes. To this success many learned men of unsurpassed industry and self-abnegation have contributed. Among the dead I shall mention only Kashinath Narayan Sane, Vishwanath K. Rajwade, and V. V. Khare. No other race in India has produced their equal.

Finally, the Indian army will one day need to raise a corps of Commando troops. I cannot imagine better material for such a select body than the Marathas. This is no reflection on other “martial” races of India, but the special aptitude required for such a corps d’elite is not so prominent among others.

INTERNECINE FEUD, A FATAL FLAW

At the end, it is the impartial historian’s duty not to conceal the defects of the Maratha racial character. They have been strong, they have been free, but they have not been united. Like the Afghan tribes or the clans of the Scottish Highlands, Maratha family has fought Maratha family, clan has fought clan, in selfish personal feuds. The result has been disastrous to the interests of the nation as a whole. That perfect type of Maratha cavalry leader and organiser of tactics, Santaji Ghorpare, was killed not by a Muslim but by another Maratha Nimbalkar, whose brother this Santa had killed in an earlier internecine battle!

Even today caste-squabbles are not dead in Maharashtra, though the newspapers carefully exclude information on this unsavoury subject. Brahman-Prabhu wrangles about religious claims arc still boiling up; even the Brahmans are not a happy family in all their branches. Are Karhada Brahmans totally at ease about Chitpavan hostility, say in Ratnagiri? Let those who know the facts ponder on the consequences.

After all, there cannot be a truer message to the Maratha people even today than the advice given by Ramdas Swami nearly three centuries ago: —

Unite all the people, fill them with one spirit.
Wherever Marathas are, unite them;
extend the spirit of our Maratha ‘dharm’.
Bahut lok milavave, ek vichare bharave.”

NOTES:

(1) Top mathematics undergraduate at Cambridge University in England

SOURCE: Sarkar Jadunath (1955) House of Shivaji, 3rd Edn., M.C. Sarkar & Sons Ltd. Calcutta, pp 334-339

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