Thursday 25 July 2024

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Legacy of Pune


Such is the tradition of Pune. But …but.., it lacked one important aspect. The city lacked knowledge of science and was unaware of the scientific temper. There was Dnyan, but there was no Vidnyan.

I was introduced to Pune at an early age. The primary School Text book contained a story about a boy hero. The illustrated text carried a picture of a young boy in regal fineries ploughing a field. His mother and an elderly man stood alongside and appreciated his work. The text captivated our young hearts. The boy was Shivaji who at the tender age of sixteen, captured the “Torna” fort and went on to establish the Maratha Swaraj. The Text said that Pune was his Jagir. He ploughed it with a golden plough and thus reestablished the township of Pune which was ravaged by the Mogul marauders.

Shivaji inspired us. Shivaji’s exploits   thrilled us.  Shivaji, the short bearded young man, bringing down the tall and mighty Afzal Khan bewitched us. His escape from Aurangzeb’s house arrest at Agra captivated us. His coronation at Raigarh swelled our hearts.

Then came Sambhaji, the brave son of a brave father. Treachery had him captured. Aurangzeb offered him amnesty and pardon provided he became a Muslim. Sambhaji refused. He preferred death. Aurangzeb tortured him and killed him.  His   death left in our hearts a deep scar, despair and a fierce craving for revenge.

Then came the Peshwas. They spread the Maratha kingdom far and wide. Bajirao and Madhav Rao and Nana Phadnavis have left behind a trail of marshal achievements and cunning diplomacy. Last days of Peshwa raj has also left behind a story of degeneration of the once splendid and glorious administration.

The Rulers engaged in debauchery, corruption and nepotism. Caste and Varna assumed importance over personal dignity and human rights. The dalits were treated inhumanly. Even their footsteps and shadows polluted the upper castes.  They were made to wear a broom behind at the waist and carry a spittoon round their necks. They could not use the public roads. They had no access to public or private water sources. Punishment for offence by the dalits included cutting of limbs, death and ritual by fire and boiling oil. The upper Castes were given minor sentences for similar offences.

The defeat of the Peshwas at the battle of Khadki ushered in the British Raj. This opened a new chapter. A chapter of contradictions - of Political subjugation but also of renaissance of thoughts, knowledge, and creativity.

The Maratha Reign coincided with a conquest of a different kind. Maharashtra saw a great upsurge in practical spirituality. ”Vithal” of Pandharpur became the rallying point for people of all castes, high and low. The “Warikaris” are an example of equality, fraternity and dignity of labor. Their tradition continues to this day. The “Bhakti Marg” preached by the saints allowed the commons to attain great spiritual heights.

“Vedas’ was the monopoly of Brahmins. Sant Tukaram launched a scathing attack on this discrimination and on inequalities and superstition prevailing in the society. Sant Tukaram proclaimed that he   lived and preached according to the tenets and spirit of the Vedas and rebuked and taunted the upper castes that they were like porters carrying Vedas as head-loads without understanding their meaning.

Sant Namdeo spread the gospel of Bhakti Marg far and wide. His Abhangas and Bhajans find a place in the “Guru Granth Sahib” of the Sikhs. Sant Chokhamela (a Mahar ), Sant Janabai ( a housemaid),  Sant Rohidas (a Chamar), Sant Gora Kumbhar (a Potter) and numerous other Saints who sprang up from so called low vernas and low castes have left behind a legacy of equality, unity and oneness of mankind   under “one God”  the “Vishvawatmak Dev”.   Sant Ramdas preached the importance of health and exercise through the upasana of Lord Hannumn. His “DAS BODH” is a treasure trove of morals and guide lines for a successful sojourn in this physical world. Sant  Dyneshwar epitomizes  all that  is  the best in the physical and  spiritual world . “Dyaneshwari”, the commentary on “Bhagwad Geeta” raised the Marathi language to the status of a classical language. His Pasayadana, the ultimate prayer to the Lord Almighty could as well be the Universal National Anthem.   He invoked Vishwatmak Dev   

                   आतां विश्वात्मके देवे।  येणें वाग्यज्ञें तोषावें।

                  तोषोनि मज द्यावें ।  पसायदान हें

   And he prayed

           जे  खळांची व्यंकटी सांडो, तया सत्कर्मी रती वाढो

           भूतां परस्परें पडो , मैत्र जीवाचें

           दुरितांचे तिमिर जावो ,विश्व स्वधर्मसूर्ये पाहो

           जो जें वांछील तो तें लाहो, प्राणिजात

                       वर्षत सकळमंगळी ,इश्वरनिष्ठांची मांदियाळी

                       अनवरत भूमंडळी ,भेटतु भूतां

                       चलां कल्पतरूंचे आरव, चेतना चिंतामणीचे गांव 

                       बोलते जे अर्णव, पीयूषाचे

                       चंद्रमे जे अलांछन मार्तंड जे तापहीन

                       ते सर्वांही सदा सज्जन , सोयरे होतु

                       किंबहुना सर्व सुखी, पूर्ण होऊनि तिहीं लोकी

                       भजिजो आदीपुरुखीं, अखंडित

                       आणि ग्रंर्थोपजीविये, विशेषीं लोकीं इयें

                     दृष्टादृष्ट विजये, होआवें जी

                      येथ म्हणे श्रीविश्वेशरावो, हा होईल दानपसावो

                       येणे वरें ज्ञानदेवो ,सुखिया झाला

Such is the tradition of Pune. But …but.., it lacked one important aspect. The city lacked knowledge of science and was unaware of the scientific temper. There was Dnyan, but there was no Vidnyan. India had in the hoary past attained great insights in science and metaphysics. The discovery of ZERO is attributed to an Indian. In fact Mathematics and  Astronomy was a forte of the great Indian mind. The Indians knew that celestial bodies were round and that they rotated round themselves and revolved round a central star. They had made accurate measurements of their shape, size and speed and velocity and had evolved tabulations which the modern science still accepts. Great Rishis like Kanaad, Brahmagupta, Charak and Shushrut were revered for their great discoveries in Physics, Mathematics, Medicine etc. Not only Pune but the entire Country somehow, for some unknown reason deviated from the path of pure and practical sciences.

The British and the other Europeans had during this period worshipped science alongside their God in the heaven. Renaissance had ushered in the industrial Revolution. Fire –arms were invented and perfected. They were a great advantage over the sword. Even the steel used for the sword was better made by Europeans. The famed “Bhavani Talwar” bears an inscription in Portuguese suggesting that it was made in Portugal. Shivaji’s Talwar was no match to the long range fire arms of Europeans. Eventually the Country was enslaved by the British on the strength of their superior firepower.

In the good old days, education was a monopoly of a select few. A  “vidwan” or a learned person was one who could recite the Vedas  and Upanishads by heart.  To-day that job is better done by a tape –recorder or still better by a magnetic chip. In today’s world knowledge is all pervasive and universal. It is open to all and sundry. English has become Universal link language. Indians, who boast of almost 8000 languages and dialects, find it easy to communicate with each other through English and or Hindi. English and Hindi have becomes linguistic adhesives.

Pune Pioneers like Pandurang Tarkhadker, Dhondo Keshev Karve, Mahatma Phule, Vithal Ramji Shinde, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Mahadeo Govind Ranade, all advocated modern Education. Lord Macaulay laid a Curriculum for teaching English language. It was and is being ridiculed as a factory for “Babus”- true in many respects – but it also opened our eyes to western culture, philosophy, ethics, morals, religion and more importantly to science.

The freedom movement galloped simultaneously with the demand for social reforms. Reformists like Dr. Annie Besant, Mahatma Phule advocated Social Reforms as a precursor to full freedom.  “Home Rule” was demanded as a necessary interregnum between British Dominion and  Independence.  Mahatma Gandhi ushered in a two pronged movement - one against British imperialism and the other against social inequalities. His Experiments in Truth and Satyagraha are glorious chapters in the struggle against moral and social deprivation as well as imperial sub-jugation.

 Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar established once for all that intelligence is not the prerogative of a select few but that given an opportunity even a person of so called “low birth” can reach pinnacle of glory. He urged the dalits, to rise, to struggle and to study. Speaking about books and knowledge he said “I was ostracized by the upper castes but Books embraced me.” Bal Gangadhar Tilak proclaimed that “Swaraj is my birth right” and speaking about books and knowledge he said “if I am offered Paradise and Books and told to select one of the two, I would certainly prefer Books over the Paradise.”

Pune’s march down the history is a march towards equity and scholarship. It has also added the third path –that of Pursuit of Science. Dr. Raghunath A Mashelkar is a Puneite and so are Dr. Vijay Bhatker and Dr. Jayant Narlikar. All three are eminent Scientists. And there are many more. Dr. Mashelkar, originally a Goan, personifies grit and determination against adversity and poverty. So is the case of Dr. Vijay Bhatkar who put together India’s first super Computer when America resiled from their commitment to provide one in the wake of the Pokhran Atomic Blast by Smt. Indira Gandhi. Dr. Jayant Naralikars research in Astronomy continues to enrich us.

 To this we may also add a number of Pioneers in diverse fields like, literature, Arts, Music, Architecture, Engineering and so on.  Pu.La Deshpande, Shanta Shelke, Fa. Mu. Shinde, Narendra Bodke are eminent writers. There are many more. Vishwarah Karad of MIT, Navalkishor Kadam etc have blazed great paths in education. Political leaders like Kakasaheb Gadgil and now Sharad Pawar are bright stars in the Political sky. Kirloskar and Kalyani are Business and Industrial Czars. Deodhar, Chandu Borde are Cricketing legends. Babasaheb Purandare, the ripe old man, never tires in telling and retelling the tales of Shivaji and his compatriots.

The list of achievers from Pune in both the past and the present is long. They inspire and prod us to achieve heights of glory and erudition and eminence. The Constitution of India is now our Bible, Koran and the Geeta. It has established our own RAJ through the democratic path of universal suffrage. We have promised ourselves lofty ideals of equality, fraternity and justice. It has proclaimed a form of Governance which has no alternative provided we live by its spirit and tenets. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ramakant Khalap

Adv Ramakant Khalap is former Chairman of the Goa State Law Commission. Being a veteran politician of Goa, he has served the political arena as the union law minister as well as Goa’s deputy chief minister and the opposition leader in the past. He also takes keen interest in literature and cultural activities while heading several institutions, especially in the field of Marathi literature.


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