Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shivaji's Rajput ancestry

It is said that Gaga Bhatta accepted the fabricated genealogy for Shivaji, tracing his descent from the Sesodia Rajputs of Mewar, which had been prepared by Balaji Avji. After that Shivaji was crowned as king in 1674. For the practices to be followed in the coronation, Shivaji consulted ancient texts, and sent agents to the powerful Rajput kingdoms in the north to study their customs. In a letter to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Shivaji acknowledges their contemporary, Rana Raj Singh of Mewar as "the head of the Hindus". It is said that Shivaji claimed Rajput ancestry because there was no independent Hindu power left in southern India.

When he attempted to convert the Mughal empire into an Islamic state, Aurangzeb first attacked the Rajput kingdoms, because they were powerful and covered a vast expanse of northern India. The Maratha principalities on the other hand were no threat to the Deccan sultanates, and until the rise of Shivaji no major campaign was needed to control them. The Marathas took part in the Islamic conquest of southern India, including the sack of Vijayanagar, in which several Maratha chieftains were present. As Jadunath Sarkar writes: "Before he came, the Marathas were mere hirelings, mere servants of aliens. They served the state, but had no lot or part in its management; they shed their lifeblood in the army, but were denied any share in the conduct of war or peace. They were always subordinates, never leaders."

In the eyes of the European visitors to India, the Rajputs were considered the main enemies of the Islamic invaders. One record states: "These inhabitants are Rashpootes which goe after a more free and souldier like manner, than other Hindooes, rather like masters than subjects." An East India company record from 28th Nov 1659 states: "Sevagy, a great Rashpoote issues forth from his fort Rayguhr to strike blows on the Emperor, Duccan, Golconda and the Portuguese." It is possible that the spectacular rise of Shivaji led contemporaries to mark him as a Rajput. However a contemporary record from the Jaipur archives, which reports on Shivaji's visit to Agra, confidently asserts:

Shivaji is very clever; he speaks the right word, after which nobody need say anything on the subject. He is a good genuine Rajput....and says appropriate things marked by the spirit of a Rajput.
In this instance Shivaji is accepted as a Rajput from his bearing and conduct.....but was it also a consequence of Shivaji's private meeting with Raja Jai Singh, his conqueror? The eyewitness account, the Sabhasad Bakhar, written by Krishnaji Anant Sabhasad who was in Shivaji's service, claims that Jai Singh accepted Shivaji's Rajput ancestry and hence promised to protect him as a kindred Rajput from the hostility of the bigoted Aurangzeb. The bakhar also makes Shivaji describe himself as a Rajput, during the earlier invasion of Aurangzeb's general Shaista Khan:
As soon as the army started from Delhi, the Raje learnt of it. He was at Rajgad. He assembled all the Sarkarkuns, important persons, and the Sarnobat, and questioned them. In the opinion of (them) all- "Peace should be concluded. An interview should be sought. It is not possible to hold out by fighting. What is our force and what is the Delhi army ?" Such were (their) reasons.

The Raje was of opinion (that), "If peace is decided on, there is no influential Rajput, (with the Khan) as would, (considering the fact that) we are Rajputs and he too is a Rajput, protect the Hindu religion and guard our interests. Saista Khan is a Mahomedan, a relation of the Badshah ; bribe and corruption cannot be practised on him. Nor will the Khan protect us. If I meet him in peace, he will bring about (our) destruction. It is injurious to us."
Shivaji's father Shahaji also claimed Rajput ancestry. Years before Shivaji's coronation the poet Jayaram, described his patron Shahaji as descended from Dalip and born in the family of the Rana [of Mewar] who was the foremost among all kings of the earth (Hinduan Suraj). And going back even further into the history of the Mudhol principality in Karnataka, whose rulers previously held the significant title of Rana; they still have original documents tracing their descent from the Rajput rulers of Mewar. Some Maratha clans claim kinship with Rajputs, and have similar sounding names: Chavan/Chauhan, Pawar/Parmar, Sulke/Solanki, More/Mori. Other clans could have been founded by cadets of Rajput clans, unable to succeed to the rulership in their native kingdoms, sought their fortunes by migrating elsewhere. This was certainly the case with Sajjan Simha and Kshem Simha, born in the clan of Sesodias, and being set aside by their father migrated to the Deccan. The descendants of Sajjan Simha founded Mudhol and the Bhosale clan.