The Vijayadashmi of Peshwas!

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During Peshwa’s time, the public festivals of Ganpati, Holi, and Dasara were held on a grand scale as state functions, where Shaniwar Wada, the beautiful mansion of the Peshwas formed the center of importance and the processions carried across the roads of the Poona. The occasions also meant amusements and entertainment in the itinerary of the program and hence a number of dancers, actors, musicians, etc gathered in Poona who were duly honored through the State exchequer.

Similarly, Vijayadashmi was a principal festival held in Poona in Peshwa’s times. The first nine days of Navratri belonged to the different distinct forms of Durga or Bhavani. Bhavani was the family deity of the Bhonsale family, which empowered Shivaji Maharaj to build upon the Haindavi Swarajya and hence the Dusshera festival was celebrated as a state function with all grandeur in the Satara till the death of Shahu Maharaj, after which Balaji Bajirao commenced the same annual gathering at Poona with the same Pomp.

In Peshwa’s times, the great ceremony which assumed significance was the procession and the Durbar in the Palace. Sir John Malcolm, in his account, gives a description of the Vijayadashmi Procession, he writes,

” On the morning of the tenth day, the Peshwa, with all his chiefs and soldiers, moves out to the camp in the vicinity of the city, each being ranged under his particular banner, mounted on his best horse, dressed in his finest clothes, and with his arms highly polished. Horses, elephants, and camels are all arranged in their gayest trappings, and every corps spreads its gaudiest flags and banners. The whole population of the capital, either as actors or spectators, join in this grand procession which moves towards the sacred tree, Shami, the object of adoration. After the offerings and prayers, the Peshwa plucks some leaves of the tree, on which all the cannon and musketry commence firing. ’

Why Shami, the sacred tree, is an object of adoration for Peshwas and all Hindus?

One of the stories that goes is, When Shri. Rama on the ‘Vijaya Muhurta’ did Puja and attacked the Ravan’s Kingdom, Lanka, the Shami trees were in abundance and was the witness of this Puja. Another story goes that, King Raghu Of Ayodhya and the ancestor of Shri. Rama performed the Vishwajit Yadnya after which he donated all his wealth and retired in the forest. At the same time, Maharshi Vartantu, the Guru of Sage Kautsa asks his disciple for Gurudakshina after his teachings. The Guru Dakshina that was asked was of 14 crore Gold coins and hence it was difficult to collect the amount. Considering this, Sage Kautsa appears before King Raghu and asks for the given amount of Gold coins. Perhaps, due to retirement in forests, King Raghu possessed none and asked a time of three days to come back with the Gold coins.

King Raghu’s search for the coins landed him in front of Kuber, the deity of wealth, however, Kuber rejected his plea. King Raghu hence decided to attack Kuber and out of fear Kuber showered Gold coins on the trees of Apta and Shami trees, which are called Mountain Ebony and Indian Mesquite respectively. Raja Raghu took the necessary 14 crore gold coins and distributed the rest of it to his subjects. Marking this story, the apta leaves are still exchanged among friends and relatives indicating a symbol of good fortune, additionally, the Shami tree also acts as a great help in enhancing the fertility of the land. Hence the object of adoration or the sense of divinity attached to it.

Apta Leaves| Image Source: Ugaoo.com

Hence for the given stories the Peshwas too would’ve considered the Shami tree as sacred and an object of adoration. After this worship, Sir John Malcolm writes,

“The Peshwa then plucks from a field purchased for the occasion a stalk of jowary or bajree, on which the whole crowd fire off their arms, or shoot arrows, and rush in an instant, and tear up the whole. Each endeavors to procure his share of the spoil; some succeed in carrying off a handful, whilst others content themselves with a few stalks: all however return home with shouts of joy, and the remainder of the day and night is devoted to festivity and mirth. Many other usages prevail at this festival, which is, I believe, peculiar to the Mahrattas; among others, that of sacrificing sheep and buffaloes, sprinkling the blood on the horses with great ceremony, and distributing the flesh of the former to all ranks, Brahmans excepted. The chiefs often give money to enable their soldiers to buy sheep to perform sacrifices, which from furnishing them with a good dinner, are by many considered as the most essential ceremonies of the Dusrah.’

Hence, along with the adoration of the Shami tree, the sacrificial ceremony was considered as the most essential ceremony after which the flesh was distributed to all except for Brahmanas.

On return from the Simolanghan, the Peshwa held a great ceremonial Durbar in the Palace, and’ all the military chiefs and Sardars, Shilledars and Darakdars, paid homage to the Peshwas, and in return they were presented costly dresses of honor according to their rank and dignity.

As per records, In the year 1794, the Peshwa presented dresses of honor worth Rs. 2,20,144 and amongst the recipients were the following important personages with their families and Sardars, Viz. The Raja of Satara, Chintamanrao Hari Phadke, Nizam of Hyderabad, Dowlatrao Sindia etc.

The list of honoring dresses also included Ali Bahadur, the Cavalry Officers and Shilledars, Sir Charles Malet, the British Resident, etc. The list also included the heads of different and military and civil departments and the mistress of Raghunath Rao Peshwa. Along with the tradition of presenting the dresses of honor, on the day of Dusshera, there were a number of military sports held at Poona which were, like the military tournaments of the present day, most attractive and popular.

The Peshwas continued this custom till 1818, however, after the British took over the Marathas, with the intent of subjugating the glorious history of Marathas, the beautiful palace of Shaniwarwada was converted into a military hospital, the procession of Peshwas on Dusshera was negated and the tradition of presenting the dresses of honor was adopted with the new cloth of ‘British Sovereign’s Birthday’ i.e. the date of presenting dresses of honors was replaced from Dusshera to the  ‘British Sovereign’s Birthday’.

Reference:

  • Poona in Bygone Days, D. B. Parasnis

Cover Image: Ganpati Rang Mahal – Peshwa’s Durbar in 1790| Reference: Wikipedia

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Sairaj Desai
About Sairaj Desai 9 Articles
Sairaj is currently working in a start-up based on providing 5G solutions. He is a post-graduate from the communications background in IIT, Madras. His areas of interest include history, culture, heritage and science & technology.