As the orange hues of the setting sun gave way to darkening dusk, the centuries old walls of the Red Fort in Delhi were to bear witness to a spectacle on a scale yet unparalleled and in audience were hundreds of people gathered from in and around Delhi waiting with eager anticipation for the grand musical opera on the life and times of one of India’s greatest rulers, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The opera was aptly titled ‘Raja Shivchatrapati- Aitihasik Gaurav Gatha’ (meaning ‘A Historic Tribute to King Shivchatrapati’), keeping in mind its historic grandeur and amidst the cries of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘Jai Bhavani! Jai Shivaji’ from the audience, as per Indian tradition, the saga unfolded with a prayer to Lord Shri Ganesh (the God of Wisdom) and Ma Tulja Bhavani (the Kuldevi of the Marathas) offered by the Chief Guest for the evening, Shri Devendra Fadnavis (Hon. Chief Minister, Maharashtra), the nonagenarian writer of this play Shivsahir (the poet singing praise of Shivaji) Babasaheb Purandare, Olympic Medalist Yogeshwar Dutt and other guests of honour.
The audience was treated to a three hour long extravaganza akin to being transported back in time by 350 years- what with a multi-storeyed dynamic set built to resemble a mountain fort in the Sahyadris, more than 250 artists and live horses and camels. The story began with a note of tragedy that the glorious land of Maharashtra had suffered for several years being plundered at the hands of successive invaders- the Khiljis, Nizamshahi, Adilshahi and finally the Mughals; temples destroyed, the women folk and children sold as slaves and the common man struggling to eke out two square meals against the backdrop of exorbitant and inhumane revenue demands. It was in such a time that Shivaji was born to Shahaji Raje (a helpless, but loyal servant of the Nizamshahi and then the Adilshahi) and Jijamata, who had prayed to Ma Tulja Bhavani to bless her with a child who would deliver the state from the ills of slavery that had broken its back. The story then elegantly meanders through the struggles which Shivaji faces with an iron like resolve- revolt against Adilshah to establish a ‘Hindavi Swaraj’, tactically clever defeats handed out to the much stronger armies of Afzal Khan (whose evisceration at the hands of Shivaji is the stuff of legends) and Shaista Khan (uncle of Aurangzeb who escaped death only to go back from Pune losing three fingers), establishment of a Ram Rajya- the rule of law where everyone was looked after fairly and ends with the grand Rajyabhisek (coronation) of Shivaji Maharaj as Chatrapati and it is at this moment that the entire audience spontaneously burst into shouts of ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’.
The play was not only a brilliant piece of art, it was a powerful tool of reshaping the biased way history is looked at in our country (courtesy the stranglehold of a particular brand of historians) and setting of a new nationalist narrative. It was not without reason that the venue chosen was the Red Fort. What better a venue to announce the arrival of a ‘New India’ than the seat of power of the Mughals who occupy much of our erstwhile History textbooks in which Shivaji Maharaj is relegated to a footnote at best? Shivaji Maharaj must have smiled and showered his blessings from the heavens as he saw the Bhagwa (saffron flag) fly proud and high bang in the middle of the Red Fort Lawns. The play also kindles a sense of pride about the achievements of Indians when faced against the most adverse of the conditions- Shivaji started from scratch against adversaries much stronger than him and with his courage, tact, bravery and determination, came out on top. What better an inspiration than him for the youth of a ‘New India’?
In the troubled times of today when divisions on the lines of caste and religion are being deliberately stoked by some vested interests, Shivaji’s ‘Hindavi Swaraj’, provides a model of governance worth replicating. It was rule of law in its truest sense- not even the maternal uncle of Shivaji was spared when found guilty and the miniscule most of the complaints of the common men and women were promptly addressed. There was no discrimination on the basis of caste or religion and in a time when the enemy was destroying temple after temple and mercilessly raping women of the defeated kingdom, Shivaji Maharaj was a sterling example of true secularism and chivalry- he had several Muslim commanders in his army and made sure not a single woman or child was harmed after the enemy’s fort fell to the Marathas.
This opera was indeed a much needed step in the direction of strengthening a ‘New India’ of the future by drawing inspiration from its glorious past and is a must watch for each and every citizen of this nation.
Bharat Mata ki Jai! Vande Mataram!
Jai Bhavani! Jai Shivaji!!