There was an age when provincial boundaries were blurred, when India and the states as we know them, were a sea of principalities and kingdoms not exactly divided by the linguistic barrier. Who would have known that the tomb of Shahaji Bhosle, the father of the great Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Maratha Empire, who fought the might of the Mughals till his last breath, is not in Maharashtra but in Karnataka, in our own Davangere? Built at Hodigere, a tiny hamlet 70 km away from the district headquarters, the tomb is a symbol of the unique link that Kannadigas and Marathas enjoy. Belagavi notwithstanding. VITTAL SHASTRI traces the historic connections of the Marathas with ancient Karnataka and how Emperor Shivaji and Shahaji Bhosle are deeply revered by Kannadigas and Marathas alike.
There is not a single Maratha household in Hodigere, the sleepy village situated adjacent to the Chitradurga-Shivamogga National Highway-13 in the arecanut growing belt of Chennagiri taluk. The seven thousand strong population belongs to 17 different castes and includes Kurubas, Lingayats, Dalits and Muslims as per panchayat records. But the great Maratha kings unite them all and they leave no stone unturned to protect the tomb of Shahaji Bhosle, though all of them are Kannadigas.
There are Marathas in Davangere and adjacent districts, and they and Kannadigas have maintained harmonious ties despite the two states locking horns over the inter-state boundary dispute. Every year, on January 23, thousands from across Karnataka and neighbouring Maharashtra gather to observe the death anniversary of the 16th century Maratha general, Shahaji.
Around 300 Marathi speaking families live at a colony in adjacent Chennagiri town. Every household displays photographs of Shivaji Maharaj on their door as they worship him as God incarnate. Their day begins only after performing pooja to his photo with the tomb of his father turning into a pilgrimage centre for thousands of Marathas. The tales of his bravery and stories of the victories by King Shivaji and his father Shahaji are deeply entrenched in the minds of every Maratha here. Though their mother tongue is Marathi, they have the highest regard for Kannada. (Asia's second largest lake, Sulekere, also called Shanti Sagar, and the historic pond or Pushkarani in Santebennur village are some other attractions in Channagiri taluk for tourists visiting Shahaji Bhosle's tomb.)
“Our region provided shelter to Maratha kings at the time of Mughal invasions. Even Lingayat families have photos of the Maratha king in their houses as he fought for the protection of Hindus. Kannadigas and Marathas have developed a unique bond though some vested interests are trying to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere between both communities,” said Y Mallesh, president of the Shahaji Tomb Rejuvenation Committee.
The Marathas were great builders of temples and renovated the beautiful temple to Goddess Bhavani here, built in the 17th century. They believe that the goddess gave Shivaji Maharaj a sword, blessing him to free India from the oppression of the Mughals. Kannadigas serve as priests at the temple and perform pooja as per Maratha rituals. Plans are afoot to create infrastructure including a community hall to attract tourists to the historic tomb. Maratha leaders are also exerting pressure on the government to rename the village as Shahaji Puram by building a Sainik School besides preparing project report to construct a museum to store arms and ammunition and the clothes of the kings. "We want to build a beautiful statue of Shahaji Bhosle, a dome-shaped tower over it and a garden adjacent to his tomb. The village should be developed to encourage youth to have a sense of national consciousness when people are divided on linguistic and religious lines", said Yashwant Rao Jadhav, the president of Davangere Kshathriya Maratha Vidyavardhak Sangh.
Shahaji was born to Maloji Bhosle, who was childless for a long time and was blessed with a child after seeking the blessings of famous Sufi pir Saheb or saint, Hajrat Shah Sharifji. He named his two sons, Shahaji and Sharifji. Maloji was a valiant soldier and was awarded the Jagir of Pune and Supe districts in the court of Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar. Shahaji become a Maratha general and was also an early exponent of guerilla warfare. The princely states of Thanjavur, Kolhapur and Satara in Maharashtra were also under Bhosle rule.
Shahaji was well known not only for his military and leadership skills but as a man who kept his word. He did not lose a single battle which made him a Maratha legend, treated on par with the Nizam and Adil Shah. While serving in the court of Adil Shah, he was awarded the title of Farzand, with an army of 10,000 soldiers at his command, equivalent to that of a prince.
And how did Shahaji Bhosle arrive in Hodigere village and die there? He was in Davangere to expand his kingdom and heard the problems confronting the villagers who said they feared attacks by wild animals. He died in an accident falling from his horse while on a hunting mission in the jungle to protect the villagers on January 23, 1664. His Samadhi was first erected by his son Vyankoji (also known as Ekoji I who is King Shivaji's half-brother). Adil Shah granted the village to him for the maintenance of the Samadhi and it was in good condition till 1773 and was worshipped by local rulers.
Later, it was neglected with no one to take care of it during British rule and when the Mysore kings held sway. Over the centuries, the little forts in the village have been ruined and the house which Shahaji visited, has been encroached upon. The tomb was discovered in 1910-12 after a stone inscription was unearthed in Hodigere to prove that it was Shahaji Bhosle's final resting place. It remained in the same state till 1940 when some Marathas started restoration work. The tomb received a complete makeover only after the first Union agriculture minister, Panjabrao Deshmukh visited it in 1956. The Archeological Survey of India took over the place and now, the descendents of Shahaji Bhosle still arrive from Maharashtra to visit the tomb.
“We feel proud to have this historic tomb in our village but more infrastructure development has to be taken up by obtaining permission from Archeological Survey of India. Community leaders have built a hall which is yet to be completed,” said B Marulacharya, retired headmaster of the government school in the village.
Shivaji Maharaj’s legacy will continue to endure and inspire countless generations and so will his father Shahaji Bhosle, whose valour made him a living legend from Satara to faraway Thajavur. The age when men lived and died by the sword are gone but the countless stories of how they sacrificed everything for their land and honour will continue to send the blood racing through our veins. In a little corner of Hodigere, a tomb stands to remind us of a man, a king who challenged death every moment he lived, relishing a place in eternity like his immortal son....