| James Laine: Stunned
Mumbai, Jan. 11: Shivaji’s descendants want him “hanged” and the Maharashtra government threatens to have him arrested through Interpol.
A surprised James W. Laine, both of whose works on Shivaji are banned in Maharashtra, has explained that he had never meant to compare the Maratha hero with Greek king Oedipus. His use of the expression “Oedipal rebel” was merely a way of describing the conflict between Shivaji and his father Shahaji.
“The use of the word ‘Oedipal’ does not compare Shivaji to a Greek hero, but is used to describe the literary theme of father-son conflict. It was not meant to be derogatory in any way,” Laine said in an e-mail interview from Macalester University in Minnesota, where he chairs the department of religious studies.
“The entire 16th chapter involves Shivaji’s reflection on his differences with his father and there are numerous references to the fact that whereas Shahaji worked for (the kingdom of) Bijapur, Shivaji chose to rebel against the sultan (Adil Shah of Bijapur).”
The expression, however, offended the Maratha hero’s 13th descendant, Udayan Raje Bhosle, who filed in a complaint in November 2005. Last Monday, the state banned The Epic of Shivaji on the grounds that the book may “hurt the people’s sentiments” and cause a law-and-order problem.
Laine’s 2003 book, Shivaji: The Hindu King in Islamic India, too, had been banned.
The Epic is co-authored by Sanskrit scholar S.S. Bahulkar and is based on a treatise, Shivabharata, written by Shivaji’s court poet Paramananda.
“If my intentions were to defame Shivaji, why would I spend several years translating a Sanskrit text that Shivaji himself commissioned' The text (Shivabharata) is a lengthy glorification of Shivaji written at the time of his coronation (in 1674),” Laine said.
“I wrote the book for other scholars, not for a popular audience. Much of the misunderstanding comes from the fact that I am accused of making outlandish historical claims, whereas the primary purpose of my work is to reflect on how stories get told.”
Laine said it was his interest in heroic literature that had attracted him to Shivaji.
“The stories of Shivaji seemed to me part of a grand heroic narrative that goes back to the classical epics in India. How is it that a person like Shivaji so captures the imagination of a people that he becomes a great hero, and what is the difference in being a hero (like Arjuna) and being an incarnate god (like Krishna)'” Laine asked.
“For me, what makes this compelling literature is the tension between the glory of the figure and the unwillingness of the epic author to ignore the down-to-earth realities of the world. There is always a tragic element to heroic literature missing from pure myth. Heroes are mortal, while gods never die.”
Bhosle has little use for such arguments. He demanded the scholar be “hanged” for “defaming a national hero” and has filed a writ petition demanding action against the author.
Laine is surprised by the silence of Indian academics. “It is not really my business. It is up to Indian intellectuals to decide whether they want books banned,” Laine said.