Book Review of Who was Shivaji by Govind Pansare on

Who was Shivaji

“Wood naturally was important for the navy. There were thick jungles, rich in timbre. And yet look at the following striking command (of Shivaji).

The wood of mango and jackfruit trees can be of great use for the navy. But do not allow anyone to touch them. These trees do not grow in couple of years. The ryots (citizens) planted them and nursed them like there own offspring. Their grief will know no bounds (if these trees are cut). Even if a tree is found dying, it should be bought from its owner, that too after he is persuaded to part with it and he is totally satisfied, cuts it with is own hands.”

Why I Picked This Book?

Shivaji is one historical figure which everyone has read about during their school times and otherwise also. For years a narrative was built that Shivaji was a great Hindu King (which he was) and he fought against Muslims to save Hindus. In the recent times this has been amplified by many Hindutva groups and Shivaji is reduced to merely a great king who fought for Hindus and Hindu religion. This narrative was never there when we read about him in our school days. I wanted to know more about Shivaji and came across this book by rationalist Govind Pansare. 

The Book

Who was Shivaji? is a book by Govind Pansare which gives an insight about Shivaji and presents the facets of Shivaji’s personality which makes him a great King. While reading the book one will get to know that Shivaji was a self made king as opposed to many who inherit the throne and kingdom. The author dwells into the facts why Shivaji was adored and respected by his people. 

There are many myths about Shvaji which are popularized by vested interest to garner support for their ideology.  He has been claimed to a Hindu king fighting for Hindus only and against Islam. Now it is true that he was a Hindu and he fought against Mughal opponents, but that does not mean that he did not fight with Hindu kings. There wars were for expanding their states and defending their state from enemy attacks be it from a Rajput, Maratha or a Mughal. Religion was never the basis of any war he has fought. There are many Muslim generals who fought under him and in fact his body guard was a Muslim. The book breaks this myth of Shivaji being a Hindu King, who fought for defending Hindus from Islam, on the contrary he was an egalitarian king with a focus on the betterment of his subjects.

The book presents the reader with the aspects of Shivaji which makes him a great leader loved by the masses. His administrative skills which he used to fix many shortcomings that were there since ages. He is among the first kings to give salaries to the soldiers, he is the one who made significant changes in the way taxes were collected from the citizens, He made sure that people are not unnecessarily burdened and forced to pay taxes in case there is a natural calamity. His strength was taking decisions considering all the people who are affected by those decisions and to make sure no one is unduly harmed by his decisions. He was people’s king.

“Who was Shivaji?” is a short and crisp read. The book breaks a lot of myths around Shivaji, tells the readers why these myths are created and who benefits from it. People for their own selfish reasons has limited Shivaji only to Maharashta and Maratha pride. Once you read the book you will Shivaji in a new light.


About The Author

Govind Pansare (24 November 1933 – 20 February 2015) was a left-wing Indian politician of the Communist Party of India (CPI). He was also the author of the best selling Marathi language biography of 17th century ruler Shivaji, Shivaji Kon Hota (Marathi:शिवाजी कोण होता?, literally Who was Shivaji?).He and his wife were attacked on 16 February 2015 by gun-wielding assailants in kolhapur district. He died from his wounds on 20 February.

Pansare has written 21 books, most of them commentaries on social wrongs. Shivaji Kon Hota? (Marathi for Who was Shivaji) is considered his most notable work. It was based on a speech he gave in May 1987. It was a counter to the ideology of Hindutva organisations and right-wing organisations like Shiv Sena, for whom the king Shivaji is icon. Pansare said in his book that Shivaji in reality was a secular leader who appointed Muslims as his generals. He also pointed out that Shivaji respected women, abolished serfdom and also appointed to prominent posts.The book has been translated into Hindi, English, Kannada, Urdu and Gujarati. Since its first print in 1988, the book has seen 38 editions, with each print run being of 3000 to 5000 copies. It has sold over 1,45,000 copies.

Our Verdict

This is a must read for everyone and should be in school curriculum.

To get your own copy click on the link below.


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