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Shahaji-I – a Prolific Music Composer


Shahaji I (1684 - 1712).

Shahaji I (1684 - 1712).

Shahaji’s compositions don’t figure in music concerts, a lesson worth learning for all who seek to create a culture. Great music, created by him and his royal successors, died with the short-sighted abolishment of the Devadasi community in the early 20th century. They never thought of popularising their music to a larger group nor did their descendants fund musicians to learn it. Among a constellation of royal composers, Shahaji I stands unsurpassed. His magnificent operas and padams that focus on the heroine seeking merger with the lord are soaked in metaphor and elegance, and must have had very creative deployment of the ragas. Sadly, all of this is relegated to dusty corners of the Thanjavur library in palm leaves that are rarely touched today. We have one tantalising glimpse of the music in an opera the king wrote, to be danced in his favourite temple for Siva as Tyagaraja in Tiruvarur. For this we need to thank that redoubtable musicologist Prof. P Sambamoorthy. (via The Hindu : FEATURES / SUNDAY MAGAZINE : Songs of a forgotten genius.).

Not in my dreams

In all my life, I was not prepared for Shahaji-I being a music composer.  A Maratha king, who composed poetry and music in Telugu and Tamil! I am still not quite able to accept this magnitude of achievement.

But then Shivaji’s dynasty, though short-lived were possibly the last great Indic rulers. Can anyone point out one palace that Shivaji or his immediate successors built. Or the erudition or learning displayed by Sambhaji or Shahaji! Instead look at the opulent palaces of the Holkars, Scindias, Gaikwads – who finally divided Shivaji’s legacy amongst themselves.

Another writer a lawyer-admirer, Anant Darwatkar is writing a book on  Chhatrapati Shri Sambhaji Maharaj, a job that a specialist should have done a long time ago. Shahaji-I’s descendant,

Sambhaji even wrote books— Boodhbhushanam in Sanskrit and Saatshatak, Nakshika and Nayika Bhed in Hindi. “While Boodhbhushanam talks about politics, governance and defence strategies, Nakshika and Nayika Bhed are based on how women have been perceived and idolised over the centuries. Unfortunately, even these authentic works have never been translated,” mentions Darwatkar.

I wonder why is it that Indian history does not bring out this part of forgotten history.

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  1. Galeo Rhinus
    November 2, 2010 at 4:38 am

    >> Instead look at the opulent palaces of the Holkars, Scindias, Gaikwads…

    …a lot of things happened post 1857… and it is easy to flagellate all and any…

    let’s not get anachronistic and project the post 1857 “sell out” to the ancestors of the Holkars, Shindes and Gaikwads…

  2. A fan of your blog
    November 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    But then Shivaji’s dynasty, though short-lived were possibly the last great Indic rulers.

    Shivaji’s dynasty lives on today. Its a different matter that none of his descendants did anything noteworthy. But then, it is difficult to match Shivaji’s skills and talents as a warrior as well as an able, just and secular administrator. Shivshahi is the golden rule of Shivaji, similar to Ramrajya. The Maratha power transformed itself into a force to reckon under the Peshwas. At one point, the Marathas captured 90% of India. Peshwas never distanced themselves from Shivaji’s dynasty, always professed their allegiance to Shivaji’s descendants and never proclaimed themselves as kings. The history of the Peshwas is not very well known across India because the rule of the Peshwas was not glamorous and they did not build any big temples of monuments to glorify their rule. The Holkars, Scindias and Gaikwads were essentially Sardars of the Maratha kingdom. After the second battle of Panipat was lost, the Maratha kingdom lost stronghold on these Sardars, who then went on to proclaim themselves as kings in their own right. Had the Maratha power not declined, I doubt these generals would have done that. Also, keep in mind that the Maratha kingdom operated in franchisee format, letting the local rules who owed allegiance to them take care of all day to day administration activities including revenue collection. This lead to optimal local solution development to local problems and higher satisfaction and engagement among subjects. This was dramatically different than the Mughals, who did not let go of their control, thrust their rule on the local subjects and led to higher levels of dissatisfaction amongst them.

    True, the Marathas never built big palaces, temples or forts. But if you look at it from another perspective, the forts being built by these generals were theirs. Marathas were not known for comfort and fancy. They were rugged and down-to-earth warriors, always on a mission.

  3. November 3, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Galeo Rhinus :

    …a lot of things happened post 1857… and it is easy to flagellate all and any…

    let’s not get anachronistic and project the post 1857 “sell out” to the ancestors of the Holkars, Shindes and Gaikwads…

    It is interesting to see how values of Bharattantra were diluted by some Rajputs during Mughals times (and not by some like Rana Pratap).

    Similarly, we see Bharttantra values upheld by Shivaji’s clan for some time – and to degenerate into opulent palaces of the the Holkars, Scindias and Gaikwads…

    No flagellation … this!

  4. Galeo Rhinus
    November 3, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    …I assume you are flagellating post 1857 Holkars, Gaikwads and Shindes…

    …pre-1857 – the Holkars, Gaikwads and Shinde’s were deeply embroiled in fighting the Europeans on all fronts… wrong to describe the 1700s role of Holkars, Gaikwads and Shindes as “opulence”… it was far from it…

    …I am saying – do not follow the footsteps of the flagellating marathi historians – who have done nothing but to assassinate these names with deliberate metachronism…

    …let’s not project the actions post 1857 kings to the 18th century heroes… you do injustice to their sacrifices like all traditional historians – unwilling to take a second look…

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