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Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India [Hardcover]

James William Laine
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (13 Feb 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195141261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195141269
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,456,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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In 1988, an Indian friend gave me a social science textbook intended for fourth grade schoolchildren in the state of Maharashtra. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Book never reached me 25 April 2013
By Saurabh
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Book never reached me though informed by the vendor after a while. However I was informed late. But money was promptly returned.
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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Courageous & Historical Author 18 Nov 2005
The most amazing thing about this book is that it has made history. Its author, James Laine, has shown the courage to criticise a national hero, the criticism that caused a historic and barbaric attack on the Indians who helped the great author. As a consequence the book is not merely about Shivaji and his times but also indirectly about us and our modern times. It would not just be a historical narration and interpretation but an inspiration to those who dare to challenge the stereotype, fundamentalism, and prejudice.
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Amazon.com: 1.9 out of 5 stars  40 reviews
102 of 123 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to get too excited about 25 Mar 2004
By Pankaj SAXENA - Published on Amazon.com
This is not so much a review of the book as my take on the controversy surrounding it and some of the comments in the other reviews on Amazon. Yes, I've read the book. Yes, it's silly in parts. But nothing to get so upset about....
I read with dismay about the ban on this book and the vandalism at BORI, with the loss of so many irreplaceable historical documents and treasures. This is Indian history that was lost forever through senseless destruction, and Indians are the poorer for it. It's a shame that a democracy has to resort to book banning; and so readily produces mindless mobs who wantonly destroy priceless history. Democracy can't exist without the freedom of speech, including speech you consider to be wrong or contrary to your beliefs.
That said, this book is an ill-assorted compendium of half-digested facts and speculation, without any attempt at rigorous scholarship. I know the author has since explicitly stated that it is not meant to be historical; it is in fact a collection of stories about Shivaji -- some historical and documented, others that he heard from his buddies over a cup of tea in Pune. The trouble is that most people *do* see it as a factual account (with authority conferred by the credentials of the author and the Oxford University Press). To some extent, it is the fault of the author for not being sufficiently explicit to begin with, but then again, he probably did not expect such scrutiny from the public.
No one knows the truth except the author himself, but I really do not think he set out deliberately to demean Hinduism or to defend Islam. The hints of cultural smugness, his confidence in the interpretations of Western rather than Indian scholars, and the discussion (funny and inept though it may be) of why Indian scholars might be biased in their accounts, are probably also not deliberate. It is common practice to assume that someone who has nothing invested emotionally in the culture or religion under study is more impartial. This viewpoint ignores any biases that the scholar may bring with him from his own culture, but the assumption is not inherently demeaning or mischievous.
I see more prosaic explanations. First, there is this trend in the West to introduce ambiguity into *all* history. All history was written by humans, who no doubt had their own biases and motives -- so all history is suspect. All history, that is, except physical, archeological evidence. But that doesn't really tell us who the heroes were, and who the villains. I'm sure a healthy skepticism is good for research. Sometimes though, and this book comes across as an example, it is carried to an extreme, resulting in a very flexible history where one man's speculations are as good as another's documented facts; and who cares about the difference anyway so long as you tell a good story.
That brings me to the second reason. Aside from getting brownie points from fellow scholars for being fashionably ambiguous, it also opens up a popular mass-market for your books. Many of the scholarly books that score big with the lay public do so not because of their originality or scholarship, but because they tell a lurid and exciting tale. And anyone who thinks that "scholarly" authors like James Laine didn't have this market in mind is kidding himself. They check their Amazon sales rank as often as any newbie novelist.
The book indeed shows no sensitivity towards Hindu beliefs or culture, but why is that so strange. It was written by a Christian, who at the very least, must believe that Hindus are deluded and must be brought into the fold. By the nature of Christianity (or Islam, for that matter), you do people a favor when you chip into their heathen beliefs and soften them up to accept your God. This is hard for Hindus to understand on an emotional level, since Hindus are typically born into Hinduism, not converted. They have no experience of the missionary-conversion zeal, except as it was done to them by Muslims and Christians.
My suggestion is, get used to it. As India modernizes and becomes part of the global economy, more world attention will be focused on it. You will see much more of this kind of attention, and banning books or destroying manuscripts only gets bad press. Indian historians and intellectuals have their own accounts to give. These are valuable accounts, largely unknown to the West. A century's worth of respectibility and authenticity has attached itself to the interpretations of dead white colonial men. It can't be dislodged in a day, and surely never by book bans and mob violence.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India 2 Sep 2004
By William Coate - Published on Amazon.com
The fundamental confusion is synthesized in the sub-title. James W. Laine attests to a cultural crossroads in India where two cultures were grappling wirh one another in terms of being at times comprehensive and at times confrontational.

Generally. looking in on a situation from the outside, without being part of it, or being within it, is not conducive to an understanding of human relationships since humans in a time/place frame have their own rationales and it is questionable that "objectifying" them is going to make them any more accessible. Only conceptual arrogance can convince otherwise: We cannot oblige everyone to think the way we do. In other words, our terms are not the only ones to think in. "Our" traditions and "our" rationales, talking of the U.S.A., could easily become the laughing stock of the world. In Studies in Classic American Literature, apparently suppressed in 1923, the year of its publication, D.H. Lawrence does a good job of it. He argues that hypocrisy, ably portrayed in the works of Fenimore Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, and others, will be the seed of our destruction.

I believe that the purpose of Laine's thesis crumbles when he confuses the thesis of historical perfection with human frailty. The imperfection of human beings is all too well known. Lain recurs to his youthful miscomprehension of Davy Crockett as a regional or national hero seen as a villian, he assures us, in the eyes of Mexican status quo. And evidently the scenario does present confrontational issues that, however, cannot be resolved in terms of pseudo terminology brought into existence by contemporary situations, e.g. "Anglos as Illegal immigrants," (pp.89-90). -- Both of which terms belong in the XXth and XXIst centuries and can only be applied retoactively to create conceptual inaccuracy.

Riots? Destruction? have to be seen as an indispensable reaction to intrusive arrogance. (Look at what happened in Los Angeles in 1992 when the wrongdoers were whitewashed.)

The really muddy part of Laine's presentation becomes quagmire when he talks about being allowed "to entertain certain unthinkable thoughts." (p.90,2nd paragraph).

Shivaji appears to have risen above personal limitations to represent a non personal ambition of unity for his people and shouldered the responsibility of guiding and governing them by their own ideals and princibles. In spite of his recurrent cynicism Laine provides the answer he is seeking in his quote from Sivabharata (p.98):

all men formerly fearful

now reached their goals

Certainly that would not have occurred had Shivaji not liberated the nation.

A more complete rating would be:

Content- 4 stars, Style- 2 stars, Viewpoint- 0 stars.
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very interesting, biased 17 Dec 2007
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
The main thesis of this book is that history is bunk and that the writing of history is a modern attempt to recreate the past to mirror our own perceptions of the present. In a supreme irony the author does not realize he has fallen in his own net. The book sets out to rpove that the Hindu Nationalists have stolen Shivaji, the king of the Marathas, and made him into a legend in order to be anti-Muslim. But the true story of Shivaji was supposedly different. According to this book Shivaji was a diveristy loving, multi-cultural, moral relativist and perhaps even a secular-humanist, who loved Islam and didn't really care about Hinduism. It is nice to project our own modern loves into the past but nothing could be further from the truth.

Shivaji was a warrior king who desired to assert the independence of his people, Hindus, from a colonial power, Mughal Muslims. He was a freedom fighter. If he was tolerant, that was by accident. He was not 'Davy Crocket' as the author tries to paint him. Legends about him don't abound with him fighting bears, but rahter with him waging a war of independence. The documents, both Muslim and Hindu, attest to the authenticity of his life. Sometimes modern historians should be mature enough to accept that some legends are real, they arn't all cynical manipulations by modern politics.

Seth J. Frantzman
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Controvery Reviewed 24 Mar 2005
By W. Harwood - Published on Amazon.com
The New York Review of Books analyzes the background to this book and the controversy reflected in these reviews and in its issue of April 17, 2005, with a long analysis of contending interpretations of Indian History.
20 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Minefield of Bloomers 11 Feb 2004
By "ndhrupad" - Published on Amazon.com
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!
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