Monday, February 11, 2008
Jijabai, Mother of Shivaji
Jijabai was the mother of Shivaji perhaps the most famous and succesful Hindu warriors of the medieval age. The life of his mother, Jijabai, is no less inspiring or sacred, and takes a proud place in our history.
Her father, Lakhuji Jadhav Rao, was an important leader serving under the Muslim Nizamshahi administration. During those days, many Hindu leaders of that region were serving under the Nizam. They had small armies of their own and had obtained lands, high position and ranks under the Nizam. But they hated one another and were always trying to increase their power and prestige at the expense of one another.
It was Holi, and Jijabai's father was holding a celebration at his hall, where many were assembled. Shahji, son of Maloji (who was serving under Jadhav Rao) the future husband of Jijabai was present. Shahji and Jijabai were still small kids. Jijabai poured coloured water over Shahji and Shahji did likewise. Jadhav Rao liked the boy, and drew him and his daughter to his side, and jokingly said "don’t you think these 2 make a great couple?" Everybody agreed. Maloji, who was watching, got up and said "Noble men, did you hear what our Jadhav Rao has said? Henceforth we are related to each other as parents of the bride and bridegroom!" But this was not what Jadhav Rao had in mind. He was in too high a rank compared with Maloji. He harshly rebuked Maloji, who was gravely insulted. Maloji left the hall, feeling embarrassed at the public spectacle.
In the following months, Maloji was deeply troubled. He was unsure of what next step to take in life. For a while he went back to tilling the fields, but he was sorrowed. One night, it is said that Maloji had a strange dream. The Goddess Bhavani appeared before him in dazzling splendour and advised him not to sulk, but strive hard in life, as a hero and bringer of a new era was soon to be born in his family. The next day in the field, late at night, he once again felt the presence of Bhavani, who advised him to dig at a certain spot. He did so, and unearthed 7 pots of treasure. However he was actually led to the treasure, its acquisition was to have an important bearing on India’s future. Maloji brought a unit of 1000 cavalry, and infantry. He provided security to the people, and to traders, and in doing so grew increasingly wealthy.
With his money, he dug wells, built lodges for travellers, fed the needy and renovated temples. His power and prestige grew, and more men began to serve under him. Maloji had not forgotten Jadhav Rao’s words. He was still insulted, and began to press him to allow Jijabai and Shahji to marry. Jadhav Rao refused, but Maloji resorted to intense pressure, and invoked the Nizam’s mediation, forcing Jadhav Rao to comply. Jijabai and Shahji were married. But Jadhav Rao developed a hatred for Maloji’s family, the Bhonsles. Shahji grew up as a renowned general and served the Nizam. Jadhav Rao joined the Moghuls (who were opposed to the Nizam) in order to harass Shahji, which he spent his life trying to do. This deeply troubled Jijabai. She was also unhappy that both her father and her husband were serving under Muslim sultans, who she saw as marauders. She cared not for the riches that this service could bring. It was liberty she loved.
In the meantime, the Moghuls invaded the Nizam’s dominions. Shahji was entrusted to look after the fort of Mahuli and Jadhav Rao joined in the attack. After 6 months resistance, Shahji had to evacuate the fort, with Jijabai, who was then 4 months pregnant. Jijabai got to Shivaneri, where she gave birth to Shivaji.
She used to pray, while pregnant in the temple of Jagadamba: "O Mother of the Universe, give me some of your strength. Put an end to the pride of the Marathas in the shameful service to the Muslims. Grant our lands independence. Grant that my wish be fulfilled, O Mother." She was angered at being around men whom could not protect their women, children, country and religion. She longed that her son may be part of a generation who could do this. She studied the intricate political problems of the country, in the company of experienced politicians and diplomats. She could see people falling into poverty in the once rich land and could see the culture which she loved so much being disintegrated. If only a leader could be born who could unite the scattered Hindus. It was ordered that while she was pregnant, every comfort be conferred upon her. But she wished for none of it. Rather, she wanted to climb to the tops of forts on hills, to wield swords, to discuss political questions, to put on armour and ride on horse back.
It has been said in ancient Hindu culture and is a proven fact today, that the pregnant mother, by the environment she provides, by the thoughts she thinks, and by what she wishes for her unborn child, does a tremendous amount to shape the childs life for good or bad. In Vedic traditions, there are a series of sacraments and chants to be carried out as to optimise the child’s potentials. Jijabai infused in Shivaji such a spirit, that was to emerge with great force throughout his life.
Then, the most crushing news struck Jijabai like lightening. Jadhav Rao, her father, who had recently been readmitted to the service of the Nizam, had been beheaded, together with her entire family. It is probable that the Nizam thought the Marathas were getting influential. Her husband too was in danger of meeting a similar fate, but he was shrewd and joined the Moghuls. Jijabai’s fiery spirit was set ablaze by the slaughter of her family. In the time that followed, whole villages of Marathas were wiped out. A Maratha princess was carried away while bathing. At one time Jijabai herself was kidnapped, as a bargaining chip. Such were the times in which she lived. But instead of frightening her, it just strengthened her resolve that an independent protector of the Hindus was an urgency. She brought up her son with a love of liberty infused in him. They lived at Pune, under the protection of Dadaji Kondev. Jijabai was one of the main administrators at Pune. She was educated, able and wielded great authority (not adhering to the myth of the "oppressed Hindu woman of medieval India"). When they arrived, Pune was a small village that had been consecutively ransacked by the Nizam, Adil Shah, and the Moghuls. Each and every Hindu shrine had been smashed. But soon Pune flourished, with the help of Jijabai. Jaijabai restored the shrines, and on many occasions settled disputes and metted out justice. She was responsible for most of Shivaji’s education. She had him learn in detail the lessons from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. He learnt about the holy scriptures and arts of administration and weaponry, and the political situations in the land.
Shahji married a second wife, Tukabai, and spent most of his time with her and her son. The effect this had on Jijabai, nobody can tell. Jijabai did not lose heart, and concerned herself as before, with admistration, bringing up Shivaji and in long periods of prayer and meditation. Jijabai even set the scenes for social reforms in Hindu society. To quote an example, on her advice, the brahmins allowed a soldier named Balaji Nimbalkar to re-embrace Hinduism after converting to Islam. In those days, many people were opposed to such a move, an attitude which to some extent persists today. But Jijabai could see that because Hindus created a system whereby people could leave the Hindu fold, but not enter it (which had no basis in the scriptures), Hindu society had been weakened. Jijabai impressed upon everybody the logic of this position. Further more, showing that she was genuine in her view, she gave Shivaji’s daughter Sakhubai in marriage to Balaji’s son.
While Shahji and Dadaji were worried when Shivaji, at the age of 16 first captured a major fort, Jijabai was overjoyed. When Afzal Khan, the renowned general of Bijapur came with a large army to crush Shivaji early in his career, Shivaji turned to his mother, who unlike others told him to face the danger resolutely. Shivaji’s army was tiny by comparison, but by biding his time and using lightening guerilla techniques, he worsted Afzal Khan’s army. When at a private meeting, Afzal Khan tried to kill Shivaji, Afzal Khan ended up dead. This episode greatly increased Shivaji’s prestige.
Jijabai treated Shivaji’s companions as her own sons, and was a source of courage and inspiration to them. Tanaji Malasure is one such renowned example. He lost the fort of Simhagadh to an intense Moghul attack. She famously told him "if you free Simhagad from the enemies you will be like Shivaji’s younger brother to me." Tanaji went forth, for what others advised to be mission impossible, and succeeded, but was martyred in the process. Jijabai was watching from her fort all night. When she saw the saffron flag of the Marathas ascend on the fort, she cried with joy. But shortly after she received the news of Tanaji’s death, she began to cry with pain and could not be consoled. Another hero, Baji Prabhu, a childhood friend of Shivaji, fought with great valour to save Shivaji’s life, and in doing so died. On hearing the news, Jijabai rather than being comforted that her son was safe wept as if she had lost her own son.
In her life Jijabai had to bare sorrow after sorrow, and did it bravely for her country and religion. She reflected the glory and strength of Mother Durga. We hope her life will always be remembered with reverance. In 1674, Shivaji held a vast ceremony, declaring himself an independent ruler. Jijabai was present at the ceremony. What joy she must have felt attending the ceremony - everything she had lived for had finally bore fruit. 12 days later, Jijabai died.