The Life and Works of Late Historian Ninad Bedekar
By Smita Mukerji and Swapnil Hasabnis
Today (May 10) is the Fifth anniversary of death of one of the most outstanding historians of our times, Ninad Bedekar. Few people outside Maharashtra are familiar with this giant among historians whose enthralling historical writings and orations from a rigorously fact-based and scholarly approach, make up one of the most valuable body of works in historical research. We try to look back at the life and works of Late Ninad Bedekar whom the veteran historian and biographer of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Babasaheb Purandare, referred to as the ‘Moving Encyclopaedia of History’.
History as an instrument in the hands of dominant powers to exercise greater influence by controlling the narrative and thereby the minds of the people, is well known and has been used throughout the ages by those who held political authority. This holds true for Indian history as well and at the turn of the century, concomitant to India’s struggle for freedom from British rule there arose the movement of great Indian historians, pioneered by Sir Jadunath Sarkar, R. C. Majumdar, Surendranath Sen, G. S. Sardesai, among others, who challenged established colonial versions of Indian history and endeavoured to evolve an authentic Indic account, to wrest the prerogative for Indians to tell their own story unmarred by Eurocentric biases.
In the same period, ‘Itihasacharya’ Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade, led the movement of Indic historiography in Maharashtra, augmented by noted historians like Datto Waman Potdar, T. S. Shejwalkar, Vasudeo Sitaram Bendrey, G. H. Khare, and others. In the year 1910, V. K. Rajwade founded the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal (BISM) भारत इतिहास संशोधक मंडळ, in Pune, an association of scholars committed to rectification of the Indian historical narration. BISM grew to be a premier institution for historical research in Maharashtra and possesses today a veritable treasure of historical documents and artefacts, some of which date back to the pre-Christian era. One of the most important personalities associated with this institution as a lifetime member was Ninad Bedekar, who utilised the phenomenal resources of BISM to bring alive the past before us enriching history lovers across generations.
Bedekar mastered various scripts like Modi, Farsi and Urdu, and learnt Persian, Portuguese and French, in order to conduct firsthand research on Maratha History. He was a Sanskrit pandit and had a deep interest in Braj Bhasha.
Ninad Gangadhar Bedekar was born on August 17, 1949 in a family with a rich historical background. His maternal side (Raste family) were sardars (military and administrative chiefs) in the Maratha Confederacy. Both his parents had been freedom fighters. An engineer by profession, he worked at a private company for over one and half decades before resigning from active service to devote himself completely to research on Maratha history and other aspects of Hindu history.
He frequently visited forts and sites of historic significance, often with the company of Babasaheb Purandare, and soon came to be known as an authority on forts in several states in India as well as outside. He extensively researched and wrote on the founder of the Maratha State, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, and various aspects of his military leadership, administration, fort warfare and the building of the Maratha Navy.
His thorough study of Maratha history and Medieval India as a whole gave him such command over the subject that on one occasion he gave several lectures on Shivaji for six days in a row without a single paper in his hand for reference.
Among his notable works are: ‘थोरलं राजं सांगून गेलं’ (Thorle Raje Sangun Gele – Thus Spake The Elderly King), ‘समरांगण’ (Samarangan – compilation of the wars fought by Shivaji), ‘कालातीत व्यवस्थापन तत्त्वे’ (Timeless Management Principles – a co-authored book on war techniques of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Peshva Bajirao), ‘Shivbhushan’ (a collection of 586 verses in Braj Bhasha of Kavi Bhushan along with their Marathi translation), ‘झंझावात’ (Jhanjhawat – a summary of major victories of the Marathas outside Maharashtra), and ‘विजयदुर्गाचे रहस्य’ (Mystery of Vijaydurg – a book that unravels the mysteries surrounding the sea fort of Vijaydurg. Along with historians Gajanan Mehendale and Dr. Ravindra Lonkar he wrote ‘आदिलशाही फर्माने’ (Farmans of Adilshah – a compilation of Adilshahi decrees in Persian, along with their Marathi translation, an excellent resource book on the history of medieval Deccan). He produced the Devnagri transliteration of the ‘Bakhar of Panipat’ (a 1761 eyewitness account of the Battle of Panipat, by Raghunath Yadav, translated into English by Dr. Uday Kulkarni).
Ninad Bedekar wrote over 35 books in Marathi, published several hundreds of historical articles and research papers, and reproduced many original letters pertaining to Maratha history.
He received the ‘Best Literature in Marathi Language’ award in 2001-2002 by the Government of Maharashtra, for his work ‘Gajkatha’. He was also recognised with several other awards like ‘Shivbhushan’, ‘Durg-sahitya’, ‘Jijamata Gaurav’, ‘Puran Purush’ and the ‘Shivpunyatithi Raigad’ award.
Bedekar was also known for his riveting oratory and delivered several thousands of talks both in India and abroad on topics he was passionate about, the Panipat War of 1761, the 1857 War of Independence, the life of Savarkar, ‘Shivcharitra’ or talks on the life of Shivaji, on ‘Pratapsurya’ Bajirao Peshwa, and other personalities from the Maratha annals. He had committed to memory all 586 verses of Kavi Bhushan in Braj Bhasha and his spellbinding rendition and elucidation of those was a rousing experience for history lovers.
Bedekar knew like the back of his hand almost 400 forts of India and some 75 others in other countries that he had personally trekked to, and later he organised excursions for history enthusiasts to these places explaining their background and historical importance to them. His love and passion for history can be assessed from the fact that he completed trekking to 101 forts in his 61st year in spite of suffering from health problems. He scripted the ‘Light and Sound Show’ at Shaniwarwada, the residence of Peshwa Bajirao in Pune and now a memorial building, and wrote the script for the Marathi TV Serial ‘Peshwai’. He provided vital inputs to director Sanjay Leela Bhansali for his award-winning movie ‘Bajirao-Mastani’ based on the life of Peshwa Bajirao I.
Bedekar was associated with several organisations for historical research, among them, as a life member and Chairman of ‘Shri Shivaji Raigad Smarak Mandal’ – Pune, and the Chairman of ‘Gonida Durgpremi Mandal’. He was convenor of the ‘Panipat Ranasangram Smriti Samiti’ formed in 2011 to mark the 250th Anniversary of the War between the Marathas and Afghans at the famed battleground of Panipat in Haryana, and to spread awareness about history and remember the sacrifices of the Marathas for the civilisational unit of India. Bedekar was also a keen sportsman and an excellent artist.
Ninad Bedekar passed away on May 10, 2015 at the age of 65 after a prolonged illness. It is a poignant coincidence that this date is significant from the point of view of two historical events that Bedekar was passionate about: the 1857 Indian War of Independence (which started on May 10, 1857) as well as the date (May 10, 1937) on which ‘Veer’ Savarkar, a man Bedekar ardently admired, was released from captivity by the British.
The title ‘Shivbhushan’ conferred on him stuck, an epithet by which he was known by history lovers all over Maharashtra for his dedication to the history of Shivaji and his evocative recitations of Kavi Bhushan’s poetry.
Ninad Bedekar stressed on pluck and enterprise among the youth, coupled with an awareness of the past in order to arrest the general decline in Hindu society and nation. He left an unfinished work at two chapters on Peshwa Bajirao I, which could have been another excellent resource on the historic personality and the era.
Bedekar advocated genuine history writing based on original sources and evidences without propagandistic motives. He said: “Nothing should be written or said by a history researcher without proper documentary evidence”. Though most of his works are in the native Marathi language, for precisely this reason they reached a wider audience and contributed to awareness among common people about their origins, disseminated in inspirational style yet through reliable and thoroughly factually sound portrayals sans polemics. His oeuvre is an invaluable contribution in emotive history-writing to awaken a people, apart from being definitive reference material for corrective re-writing of our history, available to us through his books and speeches which must be translated into English and other languages and mainstreamed.
Bedekar would undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest scholars of history the country has produced, alongside the illustrious Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Sitaram Goel and others. It is apt to conclude this tribute to Ninad Bedekar with the energising chant which he would utter before each of his speeches: “श्री आदीशक्ती तुळजा भवानी” (Hail the Divine Mother Tulja Bhavani!)