Interviews

Regal Splendour – In Conversation with Vijaysingh Raje, the former Raja of Sangli

Tell us something about your family.

In 1801 Chintamanrao aka Uppasaheb Patwardhan prayed to Ganeshji to give him strength to be able to start a new dynasty and vows to build a Ganesh temple. On that note, he started a new family and 6 areas that now extend into Karnataka, came under the rule of the Sanglis. In 1809 he started the construction of the Ganesh mandir and finished it in 1813.

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Now all the states have changed. Even the boundaries of the then-Bombay Presidency had changed. So therefore nothing of the previous era remains. Chintamanrao was a very progressive ruler – he believed that he is ruling the state as a trustee on the behalf of Lord Ganesha. In those days the administration was so good that when there was a drought in Ireland, aid was sent by him. The value of the rupee was so high that he could buy 13 dollars in one rupee. Things were so good in India in those days that the country was known as Sone Ki Chidiya. During the period of the Peshwa Empire, there were four major Sardars of the Peshwas. In the north were the Gaekwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore and the Scindias of Gwalior. In the south, the Patwardhans were given the responsibility to protect all the land between Pune and the southern borders of Adil Shahi.

When the Peshwai came to an end, all these rulers were told to accept the suzerainty of the British Crown, and they all became independent states.

Around 1800 or so, the first Chintamanrao, who established the state of Sangli, declared Sangli the capital of his state. It consisted of six talukas, three of them in Karnataka and three of them in Maharashtra. Extremely forward looking, the fort that he built in 1809 had 7 chowks. One of the 7 chowks was named Chand Puruj to honour the Muslim population within the state, while in the taluka which was called Takdel taluka, Urdu was an official language and was taught in municipal schools. He gave large tracts of land to Masjids and churches and was a very secular leader. He died in 1851 and was succeeded by Prithviraj Maharaj, the next ruler who was also very forward-thinking. He kept an eye out on all the developments that were taking place around the world.

When the first public hospital was built (the JJ hospital in Bombay in 1850), by 1855 he established the beginnings of a similar hospital. By the beginning of the 19th century, he also finished the land revenue recording, much before the British – who finished later in the 19th century. About that time, my grandfather succeeded the throne and ruled for a good 75 years of his life. He was known as a benevolent ruler and he gave large tracks of land for development in the state. He also started the first local railway from Sangli to Miraj. The British government at that time was hesitant to start that, but later said that the state would give him the guarantee. They said that he should start it and that if there was any loss then the state would pay for it. However from the first year itself, we made a profit. He died in 1965 and I was recognised as the next ruler by the President of India. One of the things that I did was that my grandfather told me “This is your janma bhoomi; make this your janma bhoomi as well”. So I have been following that advice.

Tell us about yourself.

I became the fourth and last Raja of Sangli in immediate succession to Shrimant Chintamanrao II and am a double graduate in Engineering & Law having received my degree from Mumbai University.

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From a very early age, I showed interest in business, administration and music. I did my schooling from Doon School Dehradun and St Marys Mumbai and am also the business consultant and the legal advisor for several national and multinational companies. I was also the industrial consultant for several companies abroad for many years before returning to India in 2001, when my mother passed away.

Since childhood I always had a fondness for the violin and I would use it in most of my compositions. I have been fortunate enough to have participated with some of the biggest names in music including Lata Mangeshkar, Mahendra Kapoor,Mohammad Rafi, Indeevar, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Mohan Saigal, recordist Kaushik and producer Anil Tejani, to name a few. Dev Kohli gave me my first break, after which we worked together in many films – Road To Sikkim, Dimple, Khoon Khoon, Upmaan, Partner and more. After that Lata Mangeshkar and I sang the title song for Sanjeev Patil and Poonam Dhillon’s film Kabhie Ajnabi The.

I also composed the title track for Amol Palekar’s Kachchi Dhoop which featured my daughter Bhagyashree. Over the years I have collaborated with a large variety of artists and have been responsible for launching 21 singers into the limelight.

I also subsequently endeavoured in implementing my vow of beautifying the Ganesh Temple and building a ‘Mahadwar’ at the entrance. The Mahadwar stands as a beautiful monument to Hindu-Muslim fusion architecture and I also constructed a ‘Darbar Hall’ from where my great great grandfather First Chintamanrao had ruled 200 years ago and installed a 14 foot beautiful statue of him.

In Aug 2002, I started the ‘Annachhatra’ with the intention that no one in Sangli should sleep hungry. Over 4 lakh people have benefitted from this facility so far. I have undertaken activities such as teaching German and Urdu free of cost, free computer and information technology classes, as well as providing artificial limbs to those who have lost their own, among many other social programmes.

A few of the programmes that the Shrimant Vijaysinghraje Pratishthan conducted for the benefit of the people include:

– Free Food Shelters

– Raja Vijaysinghraje Lions Hospital

– Rehabilitation of Potters behind Ganpati Temple

  • Rest Centre for the Blind and Physically handicapped
  • Free Child Diagnostic Centre & Medical Facility for the whole complete year.

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 What can you tell us about the educational facilities in Sangli?

By 1948, we had five major colleges and it was called the next seat of learning after Mumbai and Pune. We had medical colleges, engineering colleges, arts and science. There was no university; we were connected to Poona University. Kolhapur has come into prominence only now because they started a university and there were no colleges. The university was started for political reasons and they chose Kolhapur. I myself have been involved in multiple social work programmes and have personally taught German, Urdu and even music to literally thousands of citizens both young and old.

I have been told that Ganesh Chaturti is the main festival of Sangli. What can you tell us about the celebrations?

Yes, Ganesh Chaturti is the main festival. Basically this was a tradition that was started even before Lokmanya Tilak started it in Pune about 160-170 years ago. This is a function where people from different walks of life participate. For example, the Gwalas – they have the right to hold the sticks while the procession goes ahead. The Bhui community has the right to pull the rath, nobody else is allowed to do that. The ultimate visarjan is done by the fisher folk. At the end, they come and take the idol of Lord Ganesha to the middle of the river and the responsibility of doing the visarjan is theirs. So in this way different people from different societies collectively participate in the festival. In the olden times, they used to perform acrobatics. There used to be a performance including the daan patta (a flexible sword). Various warrior performances were held, led by elephants and horses when they were there. Later on, when the new rule came about not keeping the animals in captivity – vanyapraani, all these performances involving animals were discontinued.

This procession is the largest of its kind in Maharashtra and the Ganpati festival started 50 years before Lokmanya Tilak started the golden aarti as you know it, about 150 years back, to bring the Hindus together. The function was to bring all the people together, the process was the same.

Do your other family members also come to Sangli to join in the festivities every year?

Most of the time what happens is that those who are here, they try to be a part of it. Everybody’s got a family and they’ve got children who have school. So it is not necessarily possible for them to come every time.

What does being royal mean to you?

Well I have seen the change before Independence and I have seen what it was after. Here I believe what my great great grandfather used to say, that we are put in a privileged position in order to be of service to the people of Sangli. I believe that and believing that of whatever service one can be to the people, one must make the effort to do exactly that.

 

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