|Location||Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu|
The earliest accepted members of the Bhonsles are Mudhoji Bhonsle and his kin Rupaji Bhonsle, who were the village headman (pāṭīl) of Hingani — this branch has been since known as Hinganikar Bhonsles. A branch seem to have split soon, who went on to claim an ancestral right to the post of district steward (deśmukhī) of Kadewalit: Suryaji Bhonsle during the reign of Ahmad Nizam Shah I (early 1490s), and his son Sharafji Bhonsle during the conquest of the region by Daniyal Mirza (1599).[a][b] This branch has been since known as Kadewalit Bhonsles.
In the opinion of Jadunath Sarkar and other scholars, Bhonsles were predominantly Deccani tiller-plainsmen from the Shudra caste; they were part of the Marathas/Kunbis, an amorphous class-group.[c] Scholars have however disagreed about the agricultural status of Bhosles. Rosalind O'Hanlon notes that the historical evolution of castes grouped under the Maratha-Kunbis is sketchy. Ananya Vajpeyi rejects the designation of Shudra, since the category has remained in a state of flux across centuries; she instead notes them to be a Marathi lineage, who enjoyed "reasonably high" social status as landholders and warlords, being in the service of Deccan Sultanate or Mughals.[d]
According to R. C. Dhere's interpretation of local oral history and ethnography, Bhonsles descend from the Hoysalas and Yadavas of Devagiri, who were cow-herding Gavli sovereigns.[e][f] In early thirteenth century, "Baliyeppa Gopati Sirsat", a Hoysala cousin of Simhana migrated from Gadag to Satara along with his pastoral herd and kul-devta; the Sambhu Mahadev was thus installed at a hill-top in Singhnapur.[g][h] Historical records indicate that this shrine received extensive patronage from Maloji onwards.[i] Further, there exists a branch of the Bhosles named "Sirsat Bhosles" and Bhosle (or "Bhosale") is linguistically similar to "Hoysala". M. K. Dhavalikar found the work to convincingly explain the foundation of the Bhosle clan (as well as Sambhu Mahadev cult). Vajpeyi too advocates that Dhere's theory be probed in greater detail — "[f]rom pastoralist big men to warlords on horseback, is not an impossible distance to cover in two to three centuries."
By 1670s, Shivaji had acquired extensive territory and wealth from his campaigns. But, lacking a formal crown, he had no operational legitimacy to rule his de facto domain and technically, remained subject to his Mughal (or Deccan Sultanate) overlords; in the hierarchy of power, Shivaji's position remained similar to fellow Maratha chieftains.[j] Also, he was often opposed by the orthodox Brahmin community of Maharashtra. A coronation sanctioned by the Brahmins was thus planned, in a bid to proclaim sovereignty and legitimize his rule.
On proposing the Brahmins of his court to have him proclaimed as the rightful king, a controversy erupted: the regnal status was reserved for those belonging to the kshatriya varna. Not only was there a fundamental dispute among scholars on whether any true Kshatriya survived in the Kali Yuga[k], having been all destroyed by Parashurama but also Shivaji's grandfather was a tiller-headman, Shivaji did not wear the sacred thread, and his marriage was not in accordance with the Kshatriya customs. Thus, the Brahmins had him categorised as a shudra.
Compelled to postpone his coronation, Shivaji had his secretary Balaji Avji Chitnis sent to the Sisodiyas of Mewar for inspection of the royal genealogies; Avji returned with a favorable finding — Shahji turned out to be a descendant of Chacho Sisodiya, a half-Rajput uncle of Mokal Singh.[l] Gaga Bhatt, a famed Brahmin of Banaras,[m] was then hired to ratify Chitnis' find, and the Bhonsles were now permitted to stake a claim to Kshatriya caste.[n] The coronation would be re-executed in June 1674 but only after going through a long list of preludes.[o]
Led by Bhatt, who employed traditional Hindu imagery in an unprecedented scale, the first phase had Shivaji penance for having lived as a Maratha despite being a Kshatriya. Then came the sacred thread ceremony ('maunjibandhanam') followed by remarriage according to Kshatriya customs ('mantra-vivah') and a sequence of Vedic rituals before the eventual coronation ('abhisheka') — a public spectacle of enormous expense that heralded the rebirth of Shivaji as a Kshatriya king.[p] Panegyrics composed by court-poets during these spans (and afterward) reinforced onto the public memory that Shivaji (and the Bhonsles) indeed belonged from the Sisodiyas.
However, the Kshatriyization was not unanimous; a section of Brahmins continued to deny the Kshatriya status. Brahmins of the Peshwa period rejected Bhatt's acceptance of Shivaji's claims and blamed the non-dharmic coronation for all ills that plagued Shivaji and his heirs—in tune with the general Brahminical sentiment to categorize all Marathas as Shudras, carte-blanche; there have been even claims that Bhatt was excommunicated by Maratha Brahmins for his role in the coronation of Shivaji! Interestingly, all claims to Rajput ancestry had largely vanished from the family's subsequent projections of identity.
Vajpeyi notes the "veridical status" of Chitnis' finds to be not determinable to "historical certainty" — the links were tenuous at best and inventive at worst. Shivaji was not a Rajput and the sole purpose of the lineage was to guarantee Shivaji's consecration as a Kshatriya, in a tactic that had clear parallels to Rajputisation.[q] Jadunath Sarkar deemed that the genealogy was cleverly fabricated by Balaji Awji and after some reluctance accepted by Gaga Bhatt, who in turn was "rewarded with a huge fee". V. K. Rajwade, Dhere, Allison Busch, John Keay and Audrey Truschke also agree with Sarkar about the fabrication. G. S. Sardesai notes that the descent is "not authentically proved".[r] Stewart N. Gordon does not pass any judgement but notes Bhatt to be a "creative Brahmin".[s] André Wink deems that the Sisodia genealogical claim is destined to remain disputed forever.[t]
Obviously, Ambedkar had in mind the Brahmin's refusal to recognize Shivaji as a Kshatriya. His theory, which is based on scant historical evidence , doubtless echoed this episode in Maharashtra's history, whereas in fact Shivaji, a Maratha-Kunbi, was a Shudra. Nevertheless, he had won power and so expected the Brahmins to confirm his new status by writing for him an adequate genealogy. This process recalls that of Sanskritisation , but sociologists refer to such emulation of Kshatriyas by Shudras as ' Kshatriyaisation ' and describe it as a variant of Sanskritisation.