Pune Shivaji Museum: Indian history as it really happened – Francois Gautier

Shivaji

Francois Gautier“At every step we have encountered problems creating this museum, some foreseen, some unforeseen, some even coming from our own people. Trying to portray Indian history as it happened, not as it has been written, is a very sensitive task that exposes one to all kinds of troubles. We are facing threats from a Shivaji group which objects to Shivaji Maharaj being associated with Mother India or the Vedas.” – Francois Gautier

AHDOOSI covered Kashmir as a journalist during the worst of its unrest, for Figaro, the largest French political daily, from the late-1980s till the Kargil war. Without doubt, it is there that I underwent some of the most dangerous incidents of my life, and where I acquired, I think, a little bit of fearlessness, which has helped me till today.

There was only one hotel open to journalists during the unrest. It was called Adhoos and it was on the bank of the river Jhelum. There was curfew most of the time and nobody could go out without a pass, but at night I would step out of the hotel and walk on the bund that stops the river from overflowing into Srinagar.

One could hear gunfire and sometimes even grenades in the distance, but I could feel the presence of the millions of saints, yogis, avatars and simple people who had prayed and meditated for thousands of years in Kashmir. It seems today like an abstract experience, but then and there, it was so strong and vivid that I felt it was the very reason India should keep Kashmir — for its sacredness and the Mother’s presence in spite of all the strife.

I came to Pune seven years ago for an Art of Living course. I knew of course about Shivaji Maharaj, having researched him for my books and having been a long-standing admirer of him. I had some time after the course and I asked my driver to take me to the main museum, which is called Kelkar. I was surprised and shocked to find that there was not a single exhibit on Shivaji and that even in the city of his birth, there was no museum worth the name honouring him.

ShivajiGreat men and women who walk this earth and are instruments of god, do most of their work while in their physical body. But when they die, I believe they leave something behind, a presence, a will, an influence. I felt that I should do something to honour Shivaji Maharaj who was so devoted to his country — which he worshipped as the Mother.

The idea of a museum of true Indian history, dedicated to Shivaji Maharaj, started taking shape in my mind. Pune is the ideal place for this museum as it’s Shivaji Maharaj’s realm, it is central to India and easily accessible from south or north. More than anything, Marathas have a stronger national fibre than people do in other States and I felt the museum would be better-protected there.

Yet, having spent the first 18 years of my life in France, I still believe in logic. What is the purpose of the Shivaji Maharaj shrine which has three exhibition halls? First, this is a place of knowledge. People can come to the temple, meditate, pray to Mother India or do puja and come down a little — from their heads to their hearts. They can learn something about the history of their country in the three exhibition halls, while the main museum comes up.

Programmes can also be organised in our small amphitheatre — films made by our foundation, FACT, can be screened, plays, satsangs can take place along with Art of Living courses. Some of the Pune youth may come out feeling a little prouder for being Indian, a little more knowledgeable about the history of the great civilisation that is India. It is a tragedy that the Indian education system produces so many brilliant youth who are just good for export as they are not made to learn about their own history, poets, avatars, and legends.

This is a difficult project. Anyone who has never attempted to raise money for a museum should give it a try. I have met hundreds of potential donors, but when you say “I need funds to build a Museum of Indian History, as it happened and not as it has been written,” you can almost see the mind of your interlocutor going ‘click’. Pat comes the answer, “Oh, I have to speak to my board” or “We only give money for health or education projects.”

Devi Bhavani & ShivajiAt every step we have encountered problems, some foreseen, some unforeseen, some even coming from our own people. Trying to portray Indian history as it happened, not as it has been written, is a very sensitive task that exposes one to all kinds of troubles. We are facing threats from a Shivaji group which objects to Shivaji Maharaj being associated with Mother India or the Vedas.

Shivaji was an extraordinary being, an instrument of god and whoever binds him to a particular caste, or even a particular guru, demeans him and hampers his work. He was a supra national figure and his qualities of dedication to Mother India, of extreme courage, of respect for human rights and honest administration, are needed in today’s India.

This is just a humble beginning. We have already started laying the foundation of the main museum which will house exhibitions from Vedas to India of tomorrow. It will be a wonderful and noble project that will be talked about for centuries.

But for that we need funds, a lot of funds. I hope those of you who will read these words will be touched and will pass along the message to your friends. – Niti Central, 12 October 2012

» Francois Gautier is a French journalist who has been living in India since the 1970s. He is married to an Indian and lives in New Delhi. Gautier is one of the few westerners actively defending the hindutva movement. He can be reached at fgautier@rediffmail.com

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