Today, the birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is the right day to reaffirm the great Maratha King’s belief in religious tolerance, says OSWALD PEREIRA

Born and bred in Thane, in Maharashtra, I grew up reading stories of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s bravery. Shivaji’s battles against the Mughal empire and his use of steel claws and a bichhwa or dagger to kill Adil Shah’s mighty general Afzal Khan, who towered over him, with the Maratha warrior barely reaching his shoulders, were stories that we found very exciting as youngsters.

But today on Shivaji’s 391st birth anniversary, the first thought that comes to my mind is the great warrior’s religious tolerance. Shivaji cherished the ideal of the oneness of religions. When he fought battles against the Mughal rule, it was not a  fight against their religion but a straight political battle.

That he bore no personal enmity against Muslims or their religion was evident by the   fact that his Maratha army had a lot of Muslim soldiers. Many of his trusted warriors were Muslims. For Shivaji, both a temple and a mosque were equally sacred. He was a fierce warrior but never destroyed any religious place in a battle.

Oswald Pereira

He hated Mughal rule but never disliked or disrespected Islam. He truly believed that despite conflicts for territory and supremacy, religions can coexist together. The fierce warrior, was, indeed, an embodiment of religious tolerance and a real secular king.

Shivaji said, “If a tree, which is not a highly elevated living entity, can be so tolerant and merciful to give sweet mangoes even when hit by anyone; being a king, should I not be more merciful and tolerant than the tree?”

Apart from tolerance, Shivaji was a very compassionate person and carried within his heart great respect for women. His enemies would violate women captured in war. In contrast, Shivaji treated them with respect and never imprisoned any woman living in the forts he won.

During his rule, rapists were punished severely and he directed his army to always be respectful to every woman irrespective of her religion or lineage. He strongly opposed harassment and violence against women.

His compassion for women was revealed in a small incident during his lifetime. It is said that once a stone thrown by an old woman at a tree to fetch a mango accidentally hit Shivaji. Instead of getting angry with her, he forgave her and rewarded her with wealth that would support her for the rest of her life.

An early-20th-century painting by Sawlaram Haldankar of Shivaji fighting general Afzal Khan (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Shivaji was raised by his mother Jijabai, as his father Shahaji was a warrior always busy in battles. She inspired him with stories from the epics. A great admirer of his mother, he naturally developed reverence for women and motherhood.

“Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother,” Shivaji said.

Shivaji was born on February 19, 1630, in the prestigious Shivneri Fort and was formally crowned as Chhatrapati of Raigad on June 6, 1674.

Shivaji’s mother was deeply religious and the Marathi king might have imbibed some of her qualities, for he himself studied the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which were believed to have made him a strong advocate of Hindu values.

I believe that these values inspired Shivaji Maharaj to follow the path of religious tolerance and make it an intrinsic and most important part of his rule and spiritual practices.

Oswald Pereira, a senior journalist, has also written eight books, including The Newsroom Mafia, Chaddi Buddies, The Krishna-Christ Connexion, How to Create Miracles in Our Daily Life and Crime Patrol: The Most Thrilling Stories. Oswald is a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, and practises Kriya Yoga.

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(Featured image courtesy India Today)