V K Rajwade: Stories From The Maharashtra Heartland

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    For a long time, the history of Mumbai was thought to have started with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century CE. This belief was rubbished in 1924, when a noted historian published his version of an old document called Mahikavatichi Bakhar, and presented the history of Mumbai in a whole new light. His name was V K Rajwade (1863 – 1926), a scholar who defied all odds to rediscover the history of not only Mumbai but of Maharashtra.

    Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade, popularly known as ‘Itihasacharya Rajwade’, was a historian, a scholar, a writer, a linguist and a commentator. He is also considered the first to extensively research Maharashtra’s past.

    Born in 1863, in Raigad district in Maharashtra, Rajwade graduated from the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute in Pune in 1890. Here, he was inspired by scholars such as R G Bhandarkar and disappointed that the education system in India under the colonial British discouraged original thinking.

    A young Rajwade turned his attention to scholarly pursuits and launched a publication called Bhashantar (meaning ‘translation’), which translated the works of Western thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle as well as Indian scholars and writers. But it was a chance discovery that kindled in him a passion for research into Maharashtra’s history.

    Rajwade was told of a trunk containing records in Wai in Satara district, Maharashtra, which had him rushing to the spot. In it he found around 200 documents relating to the Third Battle of Panipat. It was an explosive find and, from there on, Rajwade dedicated his life to sourcing old and authentic records, which he used as the basis of his works on Maharashtra.

    Although Rajwade’s contribution to our understanding of the Marathas is invaluable, he wasn’t the first to work on Maratha history. Ironically, one of the earliest and most recognised books on the subject was written by a British army officer, James Grant Duff, titled History of Mahrattas (1826).

    But the colonial British believed that Indians did not have historical literature of any real value. Some British scholars who studied Indian history leveraged this erroneous belief to their advantage. This left a deep impact on Rajwade, who made it one of his life’s goals to reconstruct the social and political history of India using authentic sources to displace the colonial view of India’s history.

    Going To The Source

    Focusing on the Maratha Empire, Rajwade’s went about collecting original documents from all the families who had played a pivotal role or were directly or indirectly associated with the Maratha kingdom. Since the Empire, at its peak, was spread across large parts of the subcontinent, these families were settled in India and parts of present-day Pakistan.

    Despite the financial, physical and environmental obstacles this posed, he travelled all over, acquiring even the smallest piece of paper for documentation. His travels took him to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kanyakumari, Punjab, to even Rawalpindi and Karachi in present-day Pakistan. He visited almost every village in Maharashtra, on foot.

    As you can imagine, urging families to part with documents like these was a massive challenge. Even though they had been lying neglected for generations, stashed away in trunks, in attics and other forgotten corners of their homes, people were reluctant to part with these letters, records and other documents as they were family heirlooms. Unable to fathom their immense historical value, many refused to allow Rajwade to make copies.

    Despite these obstacles, Rajwade managed to collect thousands of coins, documents and inscriptions that formed the basis of his research.

    Making A Mark

    In 1898, the first volume of his series titled Marathyanchya Itihasachi Sadhane was published. It was based on 304 letters dated eight to nine months after the Third Battle of Panipat between the Marathas and the Afghans. These letters, written from the point of view of the Maratha camps and courts, shed light on the deadly battle and the events that had led to it.

    This volume brought Rajwade’s work to light and established him as a leading historian of Maharashtra’s history. Rajwade went to publish 21 more volumes of Marathyanchya Itihasachi Sadhane, sourcing information from documents such as the records of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s grandson Shahu Maharaj, Peshwa Bajirao I and the Maratha rule in Thanjavur. All these volumes became invaluable sources of Maratha history.

    Rajwade’s quest for authentic documents had taken him to the town of Chinchwad, near Pune, where he stumbled upon a bunch of papers in a house there. Not more than 55-56 pages, they had been stored along with old Sanskrit and Marathi documents and were falling apart. They eventually formed the nucleus of a document he published in 1922, titled Radha Madhav Vilas Champu, a biography of Shahaji, the father of Maratha King Shivaji, written by poet Jayaram Pindye in around the 17th century.

    Since the original document contained only 55-56 pages, Rajwade wrote an extensive preface of around 200 pages, in which he analyses the text to establish details such as the probable era and place in which it was written and Shahaji’s reign.

    A Legacy For Mumbai

    Rajwade’s most prominent work was the publication of the Mahikavatichi Bakhar, a historical narrative written in verse and one of the chief sources of the pre-Portuguese history of the Mumbai region. Composed over the period of the 15th and 16th century it is one of the oldest-known bakhars (historical narrative).

    The original document had been considered folklore for a long time and Rajwade’s publication in 1924 gave it legitimacy as he analysed different aspects of the bakhar like the time, language, place and authenticity in his elaborate preface of the bakhar. The bakhar records 400 years of history of the North Konkan and of Mumbai, from around 11th to 15th century. The bakhar played a crucial role in bridging the gap between the known ancient history of Sopara of the 3rd century CE and the Portuguese of the 16th century CE. It records the socio-political life of the people of this region and the different dynasties that ruled it.

    Another interesting work by Rajwade is on the institution of marriage. Titled Bharatiya Vivah Sansthecha Itihas (1926), it is a compilation of his essays written on the Indian marriage system. The document records different marriage practises prevalent in ancient times, using ancient texts like the Vedas, Puranas and the Mahabharata as his sources.

    Apart from his large body of written work, Rajwade founded the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal in Pune in 1910, along with scholar K C Mehendale. Rajwade donated all his documents collected over the years to the Mandal. The organization was to provide authentic resources to researchers and historians under one roof. However, he left the mandal after a short while, owing to differences with the administrators. Today, the mandal is a treasure trove of history, including historical documents, coins, paintings, sculptures, books and other written accounts, copper-plates, maps, early Marathi newspapers and manuscripts.

    Rajwade died in 1926 at Dhule, in Maharashtra, where the Rajwade Sanshodhak Mandal was later set up to house his latter works. The memory of the Itihasacharya also lives on in an award established by the Indian History Congress, a renowned professional and academic body of Indian historians. It is called the Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade Award for lifelong service and contribution to Indian history.

    Learn more about Maratha history, its lesser-known stories, new research and documentation, especially on the period that saw the rise of this great empire in the 18th century. Tune in to LHI Circle on Saturday, 7th August, at 7:00 pm IST, as we are joined by author and historian Dr Uday Kulkarni for the launch of his book, The Maratha Century.

    Subscribe to LHI Circle for this session and get access to many more such events and discussions.

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