Common Thread Between Maharashtra and Bengal – The Spirit of Nationalism
By Swapnil Hasabnis
Each year, February 19th is observed as ‘Shiv Jayanti’ by the Government of Maharashtra. It is a public holiday. Historians are divided over the exact date of birth, as February 19th happens to be the anniversary as per “Julian Calendar”, and not the Gregorian Calendar which is followed world over. However, the general public and the Hindu community largely follow the tradition initiated by Lokmanya Tilak of celebrations on Phalgun vadya tritiya (third day of Phalgun month of the Hindu Vikram Samvat calendar, which falls around February—March) as the birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Outside Maharashtra, the only state where ‘Shiv Jayanti’ or Shivaji Jayanti was celebrated with great nationalist fervour was Bengal. There can be no better occasion to start a new series which is a small attempt to highlight the mammoth contribution of this one state to the Indian freedom struggle, fired by devotion towards the Supreme Mother Kali and the ideation of ‘Hindavi Swarajya’ (self-rule of Hindus in the land of their ancestors) of Maharaj Shivaji. We take a look at how Bengal took the lead in igniting the flames of nationalism all over India, co-ordinating patriotic impulses from all regions to build a common movement of resistance, notably with Maharashtra especially in evolving the concept of Hindu nationalism during the vital years of India’s national history in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Recently the social media space has seen diatribes against the Bengali community from supposedly ‘Hindutvawadi’ social media influencers who however suffer from gross ignorance about the political, social, religious and intellectual movements in Bengal and its history, apart from the fact that they are motivated by present day political alignments, personal grudges, regional prejudices, and the impressions of unrefined and uninformed minds. This has only served to isolate the Bengali people and greatly hampered the revival of a Hindu movement in West Bengal emerging out of the 4 decades long communist hellhole that it had descended into, victim of a poisonous political ideology which has overtaken and destroyed some of the finest ancient civilisations in the world. The abusive chauvinism of these right-wing influencers and their minions are contrary to the very essence of Hindutva as envisaged by its originator, Vinayak Damodar ‘Veer’ Savarkar, who once said in a speech:
“Hindudom is an Organic National Being. If a Hindu gets ill-treated as a Hindu in any part of the world, it constitutes an insult to Hindudom as a whole and must be challenged by Hindus on any front convenient to them.”
This is would be the real triumph of Hindutva, a fact not understood by many.
In another speech, he said:
“Our Hindu brethren in Bengal are especially to be congratulated upon… because the Bengali literature is admirably free from any such unclean admixture of unnecessary alien words which cannot be said regarding our other provincial tongues and literature.”
The unnecessary targetting of Bengalis as a community by some people posturing on the right side of the political discourse is a bigger issue which will be taken up subsequently. Having touched upon the issue in brief here, let us move on to strike a positive note by reliving a few wonderful moments that affirms this partnership in building the nationalistic spirit of India: described in an article published in the Marathi daily ‘Saamna’, written by Dr. Anuradha Kulkarni, on the relationship between Maharaj Shivaji and Bengal – ‘Jayatu Shivaji’
An English translation of this article is presented here for readers:
“Bengal and Maharashtra share one special bond among the various states of India. That bond is Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The first detailed biography of Shivaji Maharaj in English was written by the pioneering Bengali historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar.
The first edition of the book was published in 1919. Another noted Bengali historian who researched and wrote at length on Maharaj Shivaji was Surendranath Sen.
The third name among great historians from Bengal is R C Majumdar, whose work was not mainly on Shivaji, but his regard for the Maratha king can be seen from his writings.
Besides these famed historians, there were three Hindu mahapurushas from among the Bengalis who demonstrated enormous respect for Shivaji Maharaj.
The first of them was Swami Vivekananda. A disciple named Najund Rao who was a famous doctor in Chennai narrates an anecdote on his interaction with Swami Vivekananda:
“Swami-ji in a sitting at a disciple’s home was reciting Kaviraj Bhushan’s famous composition with fervour:
“Just like agni destroys the forest trees, and
The leopard hunts deer
As a Lion kills an elephant, and
The Sun destroys Darkness
As Kṛṣña slayed the evil Kaṁsa
So does the lion Śivāji destroy the mlećchas”
Najund Rao who had limited knowledge on Maharaj Shivaji was surprised and expressed it to Swami-ji. Vivekananda replied to him “The fact that you are unaware of the greatest Indian king is indeed shameful. Maharaj Shivaji was verily an avatāra of God and the protector of Hindu dharma.”
Another admirer of Maharaj Shivaji was Sri Aurobindo. He had written a poem ‘Bajiprabhu’ on a famous incident from Shivaji’s life, published in an English Magazine ‘Karmayogin’ in 1909-10. The poem in English, on Maharaj Shivaji, ‘Bajiprabhu’ and Tanaji Malusare, depicts a conversation between Tanaji and Bajiprabhu Deshpande who sacrificed their lives for swarajya, a delightfully conceived setting for the composition!
Among the great names who were admirers of Shivaji Maharaj was also ‘Gurudev’ Rabindranath Tagore. The Shivaji Jayanti celebrations started by Lokmanya Tilak were also celebrated in Bengal. Inspired by it, Rabindranath Tagore wrote a poem ‘Shivaji Utsav’ in Bengali. Part of the poem translated in English is given below:
“Oh Shivachhatrapati! Our Vanga-bhumi (Bengal) was silent when you thought of making our country free.
The flame of freedom that you lit kept burning in the matri mandir
Your inspirational chant of ‘Hara Hara Mahadev’ is now being sounded again
When you gave the clarion call from Maharashtra-bhumi, we could not join in
But eight crore children of Vanga-bhumi now bow before your singhasana to follow your word
The mantra to free Bharata-bhumi which you gave us centuries ago has now become the life breath of each region
That’s why, oh Bengalis, you too must say ‘Jayatu Shivaji’ (Victory be to Shivaji!)”
Let us all repeat after one of the greatest of poets of our land, Rabindranath Tagore: ‘Jayatu Shivaji, Jayatu Shivaji!’
Let these words in the article be the thought that guides our attitudes and mutual interactions, instead of heckling each other and petty regional one-upmanship which has always, through history brought the overall unit of India down.
 “The Shivaji festival of 1906 was, according to the otherwise antagonist Times of India, celebrated with such enthusiasm as was hardly surpassed in Maharashtra itself.” (Pg. 68, ‘Shivaji and the Indian National Movement’, by Anil Samarth)
 An emphatic, powerful statement by Savarkar. It is ironic that instead of being supportive of the Bengali Hindus fighting a hard battle for cause of Hindutva, many in right wing choose to instead revile and abuse them as a community. They are no contributors to the cause of Hindutva and in fact are counterproductive. Comments like “Waste Bengal”, “West Bangladesh” etc. to inveigh against a regional identity by many the loudest voices in social media, just because of the anti-Hindu or anti-BJP comments of a small, but voluble section of left-leaning individuals with Bengali surnames, would no doubt have greatly disturbed Savarkar.
 (Pg. 47, ‘Hindu Rashtra Darshan’, by V D Savarkar)