Under all the din of Shivadharma, something the good American Professor of Religious Studies hadn't reckoned with before he wrote a quick-fix book for no-less than OUP, it seems that the subalterns, illiterate or otherwise, are questioning the privilege of 'Indologists' and other scholars to make careers while riding roughshod over their living heritage and culture. An important issue not to be dismissed out of hand, as those concerned over here would love to do. The message is loud and clear, don't play with the sensitivities of the host cultures. We do bear witness to eruptions of fringe elements all over the world from time to time; but when the underlying issues are serious, or dear to the heart, you end up demonising a whole culture that is not in the fringe group!
Having said that, we come to the book, where Prof. Laine, unfortunately exhibits a serious tendency to put his foot in his mouth almost everytime that he opens it to speak! He relies on altogether untenable arguments, culled from obscure sources quite out of the context (often from western scholars), even while ignoring a vast body of historical evidence that may be contrary to his half-baked thesis, to serve us what we may call, yes, his unoriginal 'cracks' on the Shivaji story.
For example, the Ramdas issue. As every Indian knows, being non-vegetarian does not automatically bar one from the discipleship of vegetarian Gurus. Then again, there are Gurus themselves who may be non-vegetarian. We don't practice apartheid in matters of discipleship. Nor casteism, as even elementary knowledge of the Varkari tradition reveals. Ramdas himself has composed the most popular aratis in Maharashtra to Ganesh and Shiva as well as to Rama-Krishna. Being Vaishnav does not prevent people from worshipping Ganesh, Shiva, the Goddess or other deities and vice versa. Rama himself worshipped Shivalingams at various times, and Shiva is known to do mantrajapa of Rama's name! A Guru's absenteeing from a royal coronation is not proof of his rejection of a chela. Gurus are known to follow their own rules. Wanderers by definition, they are not on the keep of monarchs. Moreover, in his famous treatise, Dasbodh, (like his famous letter addressed to Shivaji) Ramdas has composed inspired verses on the great liberator, indicating that Shivaji was in fact a divine incarnation embodied to bring the rule of dharma in the ravaged land! [And let us remind the Professor of his stupidity in questioning Shivaji's role as the liberator and national hero, when this same fact is asserted, in the light of the present controversy, by revered Muslim politicians and scholars like Abdul Rehman Antulay and Rafiq Zakaria!]
Similarly, despite his claim of familiarity with the state, the author is unaware that for centuries, it is the Ganesh festival that has reined supreme in Maharashtra, which is why Tilak chose it as a vehicle for mass mobilization against colonial exploitation. Dr. Laine's egotistic monologues on the subject would have been rendered unnecessary had he developed sufficient openness to simply ask people in a straightforward manner, as a researcher and a scholar, rather than to impose upon the readers his own presumptuous and convoluted critiques! Unless he wrote only for those even less knowledgeable of the ground reality than himself, in which case the OUP should have restricted the sale to westerners only, with the injunction of "subject matter highly injurious to the peace of mind of natives and/or primitives"...
Then again, horror of horrors, the presiding deity of Maharashtra, Tulja Bhawani, of the 52 most sacred shaktipeeths in India, is castigated by the learned Christian Professor as a 'low caste deity' and a 'non-vegetarian Goddess'. This alone is enough to cause further rioting in other parts of India and Nepal, among an emotional people who take their religion seriously!
His citing an obscure Persian document without giving sufficient detail, to assert that Shivaji's granddaughters were married to Muslim nobles is another instance of irresponsible scholarship, thoroughly ignorant as the writer is of the strict rules governing marriage as a sacred tie among Hindus, and especially the royalty!
Then again, his contemptuous reference to Maharaja Sayajirao III of Baroda, as someone 'with even more questionable bloodlines' is simply additional proof of a loose screw that the Professor should get examined without further delay. He is blissfully unaware that the personage in question was one of the most respected rulers of India, who did much for the cause of education of women and also for the downtrodden in India, at a time that women were not even allowed to vote in the USA! Case enough for the descendants of Baroda to sue the writer publisher duo for serious libel! A concern that may be equally shared by other royalty, including the descendants of Shivaji Maharaj from Satara, Kolhapur and Thanjavur, especially, of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, for equally dismissive remarks.
There are innumerable instances of Prof. James Laine's skewed approach to the subject, and the question that really begs answer is as to what made the OUP collaborate on this venture, so full of utter disrespect to the leaders, culture and society of Maharashtra. While there are champions galore for such irresponsible and insidious scholarship in the name of freedom of speech, should not responsible people also uphold the right of book buyers to hold the writer accountable for the uncalled-for damage to the 'native psyche', in the blatant pillorying of its society and so many of its greatest nation-builders? The latter includes Lokmanya Tilak, whom Mahatma Gandhi held up as his inspiration in the struggle for freedom!
And even then, transparent truth would not have wrought the kind of denouement that this drivel has served up! It is the falsification of truth, and of the living reality of the people out there that must be condemned in this kind of a 'pseudo-intellectual' exercise. For all his self-proclaimed pious intentions, Prof. Laine has merely cast stones at 'the Shivaji story' on the basis of insufficient scholarship and then too with a highly prejudiced mind, to merely demonise all of Maharashtra. A contradiction couldn't get curiouser, in the light of the proof offered by the book itself!