King Shahaji of Tanjore

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 25 00:26:03 UTC 1998

The recent query about the Tanjavur Marathas got me thinking about a
peculiar situation with respect to these rulers. The Tanjavur Marathas
and the Maharashtrian Marathas trace common descent from Shahaji
Bhosale, who was a jAgIrdAr under the Adilshah sultan of Bijapur. The
Tanjavur branch was descended from Venkoji, and the Maharashtra branch
from his better known half-brother, Sivaji.

However, there seems to have been a substantial difference between the
way the two branches were received by their respective subjects,
especially in the early formative stages. The Tanjavur branch extended
patronage to the brAhmaNa groups associated with the court of their
predecessor Nayakas, and we see works like sahendravilAsam and
kosalabhosalIyam being composed in their honor. The Marathas seem to
have simply stepped into the shoes of the earlier Telugu Nayakas in
Tanjavur, and there seems to have been no orthodox objection to their
rule. In Maharashtra proper, however, Sivaji faced substantial
resistance to being accepted as a ruler. The very kshatriya status of
the dynasty was being questioned. Sivaji was not crowned a king till
1680, just a few years before he died, and he is also supposed to have
obtained a sammati-patra from a brAhmaNa council before his coronation.
This can't have been simply because Sivaji's mother was a second wife,
and surely this also was not due to any loyalty of the people to the
Adilshahs in the south or to the Mughals in the north. Sivaji was the de
facto king of a substantial part of the land for at least a decade
before he was crowned.

It seems to me that brahma-kshatra relations in 17th-c. Maharashtra were
very different from the contemporary situation in Tamil Nadu. Most
studies of Maratha history simply focus on Sivaji and his descendents,
and in any case, what is called Maratha history is mostly Peshwa
history. The Bhosale houses of Kolhapur, Satara and Nagpur were all more
or less subordinate to the Peshwas, who were, interestingly enough,
brAhmaNas. And it took almost a century of expansion before the Shindes,
Holkars and Gaikwads asserted their independence from Peshwa rule.
Meanwhile, the collateral Tanjavur dynasty hardly receives the attention
of Maratha historians. This seems to be fully in keeping with the
uniform neglect of south Indian history by Indian historians. Somehow,
life south of the Narmada just doesn't seem that important to them. If
the Marathas had not become a power to contend with in Rajputana and in
Delhi, I think they would simply be put down as a small rebellion within
the Mughal empire.

If the vision of north Indian historians doesn't go south of the
Vindhyas, that of the Tamil historians doesn't seem to go much farther
north than Mysore. Those who study the Tanjavur Maratha dynasty simply
don't compare them with their cousins in Maharashtra, beyond giving a
genealogical table or two. Most of the attention paid to the Tanjavur
Marathas tends to be along the lines of their cultural patronage of
south Indian music and dance. A fully integrated study of the Marathas
should offer useful insight into Hindu state (re)formation, and its
regional variations, the more so because this history is quite recent.
It should also be more immediately relevant than studying the Guptas and
the Mauryas. Plenty of source material should be available, if one just
looks for it. But no one seems to have done such a study so far.


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