In January 2004, Professor Laine’s Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India (2003) was banned. This month, exactly two years later, his older volume The Epic of Shivaji (2001), an English translation of the incomplete Sanskrit epic poem by Shivaji’s court poet Paramananda, the Sivabharata, composed towards the end of the 17th century, suffered the same fate.
Why ban a book that has already been in the market for five years? That too, a book that is not even an original piece of history writing, but rather, the translation of a well-known poetic text that has been around for over 300 years, and has earned its place in Maharashtra’s rich literary culture? How is a Sanskrit poem, that has been circulating for over three centuries and was commissioned by the protagonist himself in the first place, to augment the splendour of his court and memorialize his life and deeds in a Mahabharata-style epic, all of a sudden threatening to public order and safety?
“The Indian government and the Indian people have the right to decide what book they want to read. All I can say is that the book is a mere translation of a 17th century work, Shivbharat, which was authorised by Shivaji during his coronation.
A few lines picked from the introduction have been used for banning the book. It’s sad it is being stalled and it’s a pity that Indian intellectuals are not raising their voice against it.”
And how exactly did James Laine pose a “threat to law, order and public safety”? What did he say that was so inflammatory, so defamatory? He referred to Shivaji, in passing, as an “Oedipal rebel”.
Here’s the actual quote:
“The historical fact that Shivaji’s father took a second wife in Bangalore and left Shivaji and his mother in Pune, and that his mother and goddess play such a powerful role in his motivation to rebel against Muslim authority, suggest that there is a folkloric and unconscious acceptance of Shivaji as an oedipal rebel.”
There’s nothing about this reading of Shivaji that seemed particularly controversial to the Babu, until he discovered that the proponents of the ban favour a closer reading than most. By the phrase “Oedipal rebel”, they think Laine is suggesting Shivaji wanted to sleep with his mother and kill his father–an interpretation that would have amused the good professor if the consequences hadn’t been so dismaying. The Babu wants a ban of his own, now, on mindlessly literal readings of the text.