Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India

Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India

Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India

Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India

Synopsis

Shivaji is a well-known hero in western India. He defied Mughal power in the seventeenth century, established an independent kingdom, and had himself crowned in an orthodox Hindu ceremony. The legends of his life have become an epic story that everyone in western India knows, and an important part of the Hindu nationalists' ideology. To read Shivaji's legend today is to find expression of deeply held convictions about what Hinduism means and how it is opposed to Islam. James Laine traces the origin and development if the Shivaji legend from the earliest sources to the contemporary accounts of the tale. His primary concern is to discover the meaning of Shivaji's life for those who have composed-and those who have read-the legendary accounts of his military victories, his daring escapes, his relationships with saints. In the process, he paints a new and more complex picture of Hindu-Muslim relations from the seventeenth century to the present. He argues that this relationship involved a variety of compromises and strategies, from conflict to accommodation to nuanced collaboration. Neither Muslims nor Hindus formed clearly defined communities, says Laine, and they did not relate to each other as opposed monolithic groups. Different sub-groups, representing a range of religious persuasions, found it in their advantage to accentuate or diminish the importance of Hindu and Muslim identity and the ideologies that supported the construction of such identities. By studying the evolution of the Shivaji legend, Laine demonstrates, we can trace the development of such constructions in both pre-British and post-colonial periods.

Excerpt

Many times, I have taken the Deccan Queen from Bombay to Pune. Leaving Victoria Terminus Station in the late afternoon, one is aware of the humidity and the crowds. Half a dozen languages fill the air—among them Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, and English— but the hawkers and hustlers and taxi drivers call out in the lingua franca of Bombay Hindi. The train pulls out, and the many workers who live in Pune but work in Bombay settle into the second-class cars to drink tea, play cards, or read newspapers on the four-hour trip home. Rumbling through the seemingly endless neighborhoods of this great port city of fifteen million, the train takes an hour to reach the countryside, the green paddy fields of the coastal plain.

Then the air cools and freshens as the train begins to climb into the Western Ghats, the ridge of beautiful mountains known in this part of India as the Sahyadris. They may be green, lush from coastal monsoon rains, and there is a palpable relief to be free of the city. The multilingualism gives over to Marathi as the train enters the heartland of Maharashtra, land of Marathi speakers. Here, across the mountains is the dry, upland plateau known simply as the desh (deś), “the country”; then the train enters Pune, the Marathas' eighteenth-century capital, the old center of Maharashtrian culture, and now a prosperous city of universities and high-tech industries.

At every station along the way, newspaper stands bear signs above them with the image of a tiger and the words “Shiv Sena” (Shiva's army). This Hindu political party is named not for the well-known god who . . .

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