Maharashtra lost a most beloved historian who reinvented the Shivaji era for 7 long decades.
Babasaheb Purandare was a very learned historian from our state. And had the Maharashtra government taken it seriously, he would have got Bharat Ratna by now. He deserved it too. Any person who knows a little about the politics of Maharashtra knows that criticizing Babasaheb was politically motivated. The politics were about the castes. The problem was the fact that Babasaheb, sadly for them, was a Brahmin. Then the Maratha dominant politics could not digest a Brahmin representing the history of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. What can you expect from frail, pathetic souls whose only reason of existence seems to be seeing castes in people’s surnames? Lastly (and understandably) that is all that they are capable of seeing and understanding. Reading his books requires a lot of effort and some amount of intellect.
The approach of the opposition was that there is more fiction than fact in Babasaheb Purandare’s rendition of the life of Shivaji, though there are enough signs which show an anti-Brahmin element (Babasaheb Purandare is a Brahmin) in the whole issue. Some political groups had claimed that Chhatrapati Shivaji and his mother Jijabai had been maligned in Purandare’s work. These groups, especially the Sambhaji Brigade, seem to have grown to consider themselves as the de facto protectors and promoters of Shivaji’s work and Maratha history. Sambhaji Brigade also blamed Babasaheb Purandare for causing confusion over Shivaji’s birth date.
It is interesting to note that the Sambhaji Brigade has always tried to downplay the role of Dadoji Konddeo (a Brahmin) in the education and grooming of Shivaji, and that of Sant Ramdas (also a Brahmin) who was hailed as Shivaji’s political guru – and both have been featured favourably in Babasaheb Purandare’s work. The removal of Dadoji Konddeo’s statue from Lal Mahal, Pune (where Shivaji grew up) sometime around 2010 by is an example of the intensity of their opposition. They are also openly and vocally anti-Brahmin in other issues and on the Internet.
Perhaps the fact that one of the most eminent historians to document and reintroduce Shivaji’s life happened to be a Brahmin might have irritated them. Leaving this mudsling aside, no one can refute his enormous work. He is a brilliant historian and has brought history into every household of Maharashtra. Political workers that had been protesting against Babasaheb Purandare also filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court, in protest when the Maharashtra government decided to award Maharashtra Bhushan to him. However, the Bombay High Court, dismissing the public interest litigation, calling it a “publicity stunt”, ruled that the petition lacked “substance” and fined the petitioners Rs 10,000 for wasting the court’s time.
Babasaheb (Balwant) Moreshwar Purandare was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award on 25 January 2019. His works are mostly based on the events related to the life of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the 17th-century founder of the Maratha Empire; as a result, he is termed as Shiv-Shahir (“Shivaji’s bard”). He is mostly known for his popular play on Shivaji Jaanta Raja which was popular not only in Maharashtra but also in Andhra Pradesh and Goa. Purandare has also studied the history of the Peshwas of Pune. He is also known for his significant contribution along with Madhav Deshpande and Madhav Mehere as senior party leaders in the early-1970s of Shiv Sena along with Balasaheb Thackeray. In 2015, he was awarded the Maharashtra Bhushan Award, Maharashtra’s highest civilian award.
Purandare had started writing stories related to the period of Shivaji’s reign at a very young age, which were later compiled and published in a book titled “Thinagya” (“Sparks”). His other works include books titled Raja Shiva-Chhatrapati and Kesari, and a book on the life of Narayanrao Peshwa. But the most well-known of his works is the drama, Janata Raja, a widely popular play on Shivaji published and first staged in 1985. Since then, the drama has been staged over 1000 times in 16 districts of Maharashtra, Agra, Delhi, Bhopal, and the United States. Originally written in Marathi, this work was later translated into Hindi. This drama is performed by over 200 artists, as well as elephants, camels and horses. Generally, the performance of this drama begins around Diwali each year. For his works in the field of drama, he was awarded the Kalidas Samman by the Madhya Pradesh government for the year 2007–08.
With time, people have matured and have moved away from caste-based politics, though there are still a few anti-social elements present that are almost negligible. However, Marathi Brahmins themselves must also share some of the blame for all the attacks on Purandare. Many such incidents give enough evidence to demonstrate how furtively some members of the Brahmin sub-castes were engaged in trying to prove their imagined superiority over other sub-castes. Given the politically engineered anti-Brahmin sentiment in Maharashtra, it would have been wise for the Brahmin sub-castes (i.e., Chitpavan, Saraswat, Deshastha, Karhade etc.) to support each other rather than try to score points over one another. Meanwhile, we lost one legend, he was one of his kind.