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‘Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj was never a Dharmaveer, he was a Swarajya Rakshak’, says NCP’s Ajit Pawar, here is why he is wrong

For preserving his Dharma, Chhatrapati Sambhaji paid the ultimate sacrifice of his life, therefore it is wrong to say that he was not a Dharmaveer

On 30th December 2022, Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party said in the Maharashtra assembly that Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj was not a Dharmaveer, but he was a Swarajya Rakshak (protector of the kingdom). His statement has caused a stir in Maharashtra’s social and political discourse. On the last day of the winter session in Nagpur, Nationalist Congress Party leader and leader of the opposition Ajit Pawar presented the proposal of giving the Brave Child Award in the name of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj.

While speaking in the assembly, Ajit Pawar said in his address, “I would like to say it again that we purposefully call Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj Swarajya Rakshak. There are a few people who call him Dharmaveer. The king was never a Dharmaveer. Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj never upheld Dharma anywhere in his life. Shivaji Maharaj also established a Hindavi Swarajya.” As Ajit Pawar said about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s Swarajya, he essentially meant that his kingdom was not based on Dharmic notions, but independent rule was the prime motive behind his movement.

Ajit Pawar further said, “But few people keep saying Dharmaveer, Dharmaveer, Dharmaveer. When I was a minister in the state government, while taking any decision, I would always tell everyone involved that we should call him Swarajya Rakshak Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj.”

MLA Bharat Gogavale is the chief whip of the Shinde group of Shivsena i.e. Shiv Sena (Balasaheb Thackeray) in the assembly house. He tried to intervene and tell Ajit Pawar about the sacrifice of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj for the sake of Dharma, but he was denied permission to talk in between.

Deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis gave a befitting reply to Ajit Pawar

State deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis took note of Ajit Pawar’s statement while talking to the media on 31st December 2022. He also gave Ajit Pawar a strong reply. He said, “Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj protected Dharma, Swadharma, and Hinduism. Why did Aurangzeb kill him? Sambhaji Maharaj was asked to convert but he did not agree. He was sacrificed for his country, his own land, and his own religion. His body was literally cut into pieces. However, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj did not give up the language of Swadharma, Swarashtra i.e. nation. So no matter how hard Ajit Pawar and people like his thoughts try, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj was not only a Swarajya Rakshak but he was also a Dharmaveer.”

Why there is a controversy about the title designated to the Hindu king?

There are two popular streams of Maratha historical discourse in Maharashtra. One of them is led by the likes of Babasaheb Purandare who gave his whole life the research about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, his Swarajya, and its further development. Followers of this thought line see Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj as the kings who reestablished a Hindu state in the nation amidst the tyranny of the Moghuls in the north and various Shahis in the Deccan. This stream ruling the hearts and brains of the people in Maharashtra, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj is always hailed as a Dharmaveer because he did not give up his faith even after being tortured and lured by Aurangzeb. He laid down his life for the sake of Dharma, therefore, he is known as Dharmaveer.

The others, however, try to separate both the Chhatrapatis from Dharmic notions and try to portray the Swarajya to be like any so-called secular, progressive, liberal state in the contemporary era which Swarajya was actually not. The ‘Sambhaji Brigade’ is one such organization propagating this view in which the great kings are seen from the point of view that would seem to be ‘politically correct’ in contemporary times. They call Chhatrapatii Sambhaji Maharaj a Swarajya Rakshak. However, the Moghul threats to Swarajya and the religious motivation behind those threats are comfortably ignored by this class. Ajit Pawar delivered the content often spoken by someone from this stream.

Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj stands tall as the Dharmaveer

The Sanskrit letter procured from the Jaipur state archives mentions Sambhaji reminding Ram Singh to take up the cause of Hindutva seriously after the gruesome tactic of Aurangzeb. It says,

“The present wicked Emperor believes that we Hindus have all become effeminate and tint we have lost all regard for our religion. We can no longer endure such an attitude on the part of the Emperor. We cannot put up with anything derogatory to our character as soldiers (Kshatriyas). The Vedas and the codes enjoin certain injunctions of religion…which we cannot allow to be trampled underfoot, nor can we neglect our own duty as kings to our subjects. We are prepared to sacrifice everything, our treasure, our land, our forts, in waging war against this satanic Emperor.”

Upon Samarth Ramdas’ enlightenment after ascending the Swarajya throne, Sambhaji made a formal grant of ten thousand Hons every year to his family Goddess Bhavani. The Grant is written in a tone of thankfulness towards the Goddess and details the lives of the Bhonsale family and their connection with the temple. Written in his own handwriting, the Sanskrit letter reflects how Sambhaji’s worldview and how he saw his ancestors. In the grant, Sambhaji has referred to his grandfather Shahaji as ‘Haindav-Dharma-Jeernoddharaka’ (हैंदवधर्मजीर्णोद्धारक) – the one who has restored Dharma. On Shivaji, Sambhaji unapologetically bestows the titles of ‘Mleccha-kshaya-dixita’ (म्लेंच्छक्षयदीक्षित) – the one who has mastered the killing of Islamic invaders and ‘Gau-brahman-pratipalaka’ (गोब्राह्मणप्रतिपालक) – The protector of cows and Brahmins.

Grant issued by Chhatrapati Sambhaji with his royal seal at the top

The capture

The advances of Sambhaji in fighting the Portuguese and the Siddis of Janjira were additional grounds for the Mughal Emperor’s arrival in the Deccan. Aurangzeb had a far-fetched aim of seizing all of Hindustan and putting it under Mughal control. When he arrived in the 1680s, the Nizamshahi, Adilshahi, and Qutubshahi all fell into chaos. Only the Marathas stood the test of time in capturing Aurangzeb in the Deccan, who never came back to Delhi until his death in 1707.

Sambhaji, along with Kavi Kalash, the poet, was seized in February 1689 by Qutubshahi leader Sheikh Nizam and his son Iklas Khan, who were now aiding the Mughals in Sangameshwar. The capture of Sambhaji delighted Aurangzeb, who ordered their confinement at Tulapur. When the Mughals captured Sambhaji, the Chattrapati of the Hindavi Swarajya, he was mercilessly humiliated.

The torture

Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash were paraded on camels dressed as clowns with bells strung around their necks. They were carried from their camp to Aurangzeb’s Darbar, where people lined up to behold their King robbed of his pride. The next day, Aurangzeb offered Sambhaji his life in exchange for the release of all his forts and treasure to the emperor.

Aurangzeb also told him to adopt Islam and promised him that if he did, he would not be executed. Sambhaji vehemently rejected the offer and attacked Aurangzeb and the Prophet, ‘giving vent to his long pent-up sentiments against the Muslim faith,’ recounts historian G S Sardesai. Aurangzeb was shaken by his fiercest enemy’s answer and insisted that he had gone beyond doubt for forgiveness. The long-drawn-out murder of Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash at Tulapur’s prison came next.

Sambhaji’s eyes were removed at the beginning, and Kalash’s tongue was chopped. Every day, Sambhaji was tortured as his nails were removed one by one. Sambhaji was steadfast enough to resist Aurangazeb’s attempts to entice him with promises of forgiveness despite his demands. A fortnight later, after suffering the brunt of the tortures, Sambhaji was beheaded on the Amavasya of Phalgun, the Hindu calendar’s last month. His limbs were removed while he was still alive, and the flesh was fed to stray dogs. Later, the slain heads of Sambhaji and Kalasha were paraded as emblems of Aurangzeb’s victory over Hindavi Swarajya.

The eternal sacrifice that inspired generations

For preserving his Dharma, Chhatrapati Sambhaji paid the ultimate sacrifice of his life. As a murderous warmonger, Aurangzeb’s cruelty knew no bounds. Subsequently, Marathas, notably Sambhaji’s wife Yesubai, his half-brother Rajaram, and later his wife Tarabai, were the last bastions of Swarajya in the Deccan. While the Mughal Emperor considered destroying the Maratha’s strength after Sambhaji’s death, it only flourished into a massive empire in the next century, led by the Peshwas. In Sambhaji’s sacrifice, Dharma won against Aurangzeb’s Jehad.

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