When Rajwade Toured Maharashtra on Foot in a Quest for Truth

Each time a new discovery of historical material was reported to him, Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade would personally travel to the place mostly on foot.
When Rajwade Toured Maharashtra on Foot in a Quest for Truth

In this Series

When Rajwade Toured Maharashtra on Foot in a Quest for Truth
Remembering Vishvanath Kashinath Rajwade: The Maharashtra Historian Extraordinaire

IN THE HALLOWED ANNALS of the stalwarts of the modern Indian Renaissance, we have some like Prof. M. Hiriyanna who wrote very less but what he wrote became immortal by the sheer dint of authoritativeness. Then there are folks like Radhakumud Mookerjee, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Jadunath Sarkar, and P.V. Kane, the variety of whose body of work ranges from doing original, seminal research to writing correctives, summaries, digests, and encyclopaedias in just one subject.

Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade belongs to the latter category.

An examination of even some portions of his monumental body of work is the standing proof of his eminence.

Occupying the topmost spot are the aforementioned twenty-two volumes of the sources of the history of Maharashtra. These apart, he wrote six original volumes on the various aspects of history, compiled three volumes of his translations and contributed critical and other articles to about fifteen magazines and newspapers. On an average Rajwade brought out one volume every year.

Sources of the History of Maharashtra

Here are the brief contents of the twenty-two volumes of Rajwade’s Sources of Maratha History.

The introductions that he has written to these volumes are extraordinary lessons in history-writing meriting an independent study in its own right. As we mentioned in the previous part of this series, Rajwade’s analysis of the events leading up to the third battle of Panipat is not only original but explodes several myths mostly propagandized by the British. Needless, Rajwade is at his passionate best when he writes about Shivaji based on a thorough and critical examination of his Bakhairs and other primary source materials.

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Another notable theme of these introductions is Rajwade’s intense feeling and pathos about the mindset of our people who were—and continue to remain—criminally indifferent to their own history.

If this was not enough, Rajwade also managed to find time to write essays and columns in various Marathi newspapers, journals and magazines including Granthamamla Vishvavritta, Lokashikshana, Sarasvati-mandir, Rashtrodaya, Itihas, Aitihasik, Ramdasi, Vidyasevak, Chitramaya-jagat, Kesari, and Dnyanprakash. The gamut of subjects included history, philology, social issues, critiques, literature, politics and others of a general nature. I am told that these columns were highly influential in Rajwade’s own time, and after his death, an effort to compile them all into a single volume was made.

Philosophy and Method of Work

The other area of Vishubhau’s phenomenal contributions is how he patiently listed down by hand the names of thousands of cities, towns, and villages that had seen the impact of the Maratha rule. He examined and explained their meanings from the strength of his mastery over philology, etymology, and linguistics. The result was an extraordinary series of articles with the general title, The First Colonisation of Maharashtra.

Rajwade’s conviction, which reflected in all his works, was that history research was not merely an academic discipline or a hobby but was the very foundation on which a nation must be built and nourished. This indeed was the precise trait shared by all such luminaires of his time including K.M. Munshi, Jadunath Sarkar, S. Srikanta Sastri, et al. He was also not blind to the hardships that this pursuit entailed. Like all honest scholars, he realized that a big contributor to these hardships was the appalling lack of selfless patronage given by a duty-conscious society. And he didn’t shy away from expressing his blistering criticism against it. In his own words,

An increase in the number of research-workers and their associations accomplishes half the task only; the other half is dependent on money. There are rich people, associations and princes in our land, but they have not yet developed the sense of knowing why, where and for which object money should be spent for the advancement of learning. The rich can patronise pets, wrestlers and even cheap actors but they have not yet cultivated the sense by which they could discover the learned, the research-workers and the leaders of thought. When they do that, this land will abound in the growth of fine arts, sciences and literature of a high order. To fill up the want caused by absence of money, young men must come forward to make self-sacrifice.

Indeed, Rajwade had embraced self-sacrifice by leading the life of a renunciate. History was his Karma-bhoomi on which he first reaped and then distributed substantial harvests year after year expecting nothing in return, and when we briefly examine his method of agriculture, we are stunned into speechlessness.

The Starting Point

Vishubhau was first stirred into action when he read the racist and imperialist versions of Maharashtra’s history written by the likes of Grant Duff. It was the typical conqueror’s history not essentially different in its basic nature from the “histories” of medieval Muslim chroniclers. Among other things, these histories floated the inflated balloon of falsehood that Shivaji was a rebel, and that the Maratha people were uncultured marauders.

When Rajwade Toured Maharashtra on Foot in a Quest for Truth
A Colonial British Surgeon’s India Diary: Circa 1891

In the initial years of his research, Rajwade received a letter from a student which changed his life in one stroke. The letter mentioned the discovery of a metallic trunk full of old documents located in Wai. Rajwade immediately rushed to the spot. It was the beginning of countless such journeys dotting Vishubhau’s life. The trunk was a veritable treasure-chest of 202 primary records related to the third battle of Panipat. He took the trunk home and meticulously catalogued each record, and drew up timelines for each event and then began editing them. The outcome was the first volume of the aforementioned Marathyanchya Itihasachi Sadhane.

Its immediate success transformed him into an irresistible magnet in the world of historical scholarship. Scholars, academics and laymen began sending him news and documents related to the history of Maharashtra. He began touring the whole state. Wherever fresh historical material was reported, he would be there. He was fine with any means of transport. He travelled on foot for several days at a stretch carrying with him minimal clothing and cooking utensils. An orthodox Chitpavana Brahmana, Rajwade washed his own clothes, cooked his own food, and did not miss his Nitya-Anushtana for even a single day, no matter where he was.

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The decades-long culmination of this ardour was a huge hoard of historical material on art, iconography, architecture, war records, bureaucratic and ministerial notes, correspondence, social customs, language, literature, and folk traditions. A highly prized discovery was the oldest commentary on the legendary Jnaneshwari. Rajwade edited it, added explanatory notes and published it by retaining its original (i.e., earliest) grammatical form. He also edited Jayaram Pindye’s Radha Madhav Vilas Champu, written during Shahaji’s time. The scholarly world also hailed this work for its importance in understanding the history of Karnataka’s relationship with the Maratha Desha.

A True Karma Yogi

Till the very end of his life, Vishubhau remained a true Karma Yogi impelled by ceaseless activity in the service of Bharatavarsha and his beloved Maharashtra. He lived an austere life dedicated to the service of Saraswati and put in as many as fourteen hours of work each day.

This is what he wrote on his 46th birthday:

On the 8th of Ashadh, this Vishvanath will commence his 46th year, which means that he has 54 years more to live. During that remaining period, may he do such actions as will be beneficial to all the world and give strength to his nation. So far, he has spent his time in compiling material for our national memory or history. In future he must devote himself to action. Otherwise, his life will have been spent in vain. He must work and toil unremittingly for at least forty years more. If he will be blessed with health, pure air, good water, clean habitation and wholesome food, this will become possible. God's grace must abound.

Unfortunately, God’s grace did not abound. An extremely taxing schedule, incessant travel and long hours at the writing table axed his earthly life in 1926, at the relatively young age of sixty-three.

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Thankfully, his legacy survived him. A few months after his death, the Rajwade Sanshodhak Mandal (Rajwade Research Institute) was established at Dhule, Maharashtra, and his works and historical collections were preserved there. Among the legions of his disciples, D.V. Potdar, V.S. Bendrey and G.H. Khare are notable.

In the next and concluding part of this series, we will publish some excerpts from Rajwade’s conception of history and his notes on undertaking historical research.

To be continued

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