ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Shivaji's Myth and Maharashtra's Syncretic Traditions

Despite fears of increasing communalisation in public life and the attempt to portray Shivaji as a 'Hindu' raja, long-standing syncretic traditions observed by followers of different communities, from diverse caste backgrounds continue to flourish till date across Maharashtra. As borne out by several case studies cited in this article, Hindus and Muslims frequent dargahs, mazars and chillahs, and there are instances of temples in the Konkan region drawing followers of Islam. There are also shrines and sacred sites that possess a dual identity - they are both a dargah and a temple at the same time; deities bear both Hindu and Islamic names and priests of both communities officiate at ceremonies.

 Two of the most rabid communal parties in India have their bases in two of the largest urban and commercial centres of India. While Mumbai is one of the biggest and most populated metropolises of the country, Nagpur is the second biggest city in Maharashtra. While Mumbai is the commercial capital of the country with a large hinterland, Nagpur is the biggest trade centre of central and western India through which perhaps the largest transactions of the raw materials for export – coming from the tribal hinterlands take place. While Nagpur is the headquarters of the RSS, Mumbai is the same for Shiv Sena. According to the Marxist axioms the nexus between capitalism and communalism is a proven fact .It is in this state the ideological underpinning of communalism is rationalised by and large by projecting the image of Chhatrapati Shivaji. The process began mainly during the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when many of the nationalist leaders like Tilak tried to mobilise the nationalist forces for the freedom movement.

Though, there may be some truth that Shivaji was a great warrior, and he may also have been a devout Hindu, but the image projected about him does not appear to be totally true as has been already argued by several distinguished academics in the country. After all he was an astute strategist who relied mainly on guerilla warfare with the support of local people who belonged to diverse backgrounds – different castes, tribes, nomadic groups or even nationalities. In fact a study of the religious practices among the masses in the state reveals that the masses in Maharashtra are far from rigid followers of a particular faith and a syncretic faith is the rule of the day. Communalism is mainly rooted in the urban areas and no political party in the state can come to power riding only on the issue of religion. We would first seek to provide a brief background to the concept of syncretism before discussing about Shivaji’s own move in this direction. Finally we would provide illustrations of some important syncretic shrines and communities of the state to provide a glimpse to the prevailing ground realities.

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