Bhonsle (clan)

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The Bhonsle (or Bhonsale, Bhosale, Bhosle)[1] are a prominent group within the Maratha clan system.

Maratha clan
LocationMaharashtra, Tamil Nadu


Earliest members

The earliest accepted members of the Bhonsles are Mudhoji Bhonsle and his kin Rupaji Bhonsle, who were the village headman (pāṭīl) of Hingani — this branch has been since known as Hinganikar Bhonsles.[2] A branch seem to have split soon, who went on to claim an ancestral right to the post of district steward (deśmukhī) of Kadewalit: Suryaji Bhonsle during the reign of Ahmad Nizam Shah I (early 1490s), and his son Sharafji Bhonsle during the conquest of the region by Daniyal Mirza (1599).[2][a][b] This branch has been since known as Kadewalit Bhonsles.[2]

The next significant Bhonsle was probably Maloji Bhosale from the Hinganikar branch.[3] He was the great-grandson of one Kheloji (c. 1490).[3]


In the opinion of Jadunath Sarkar and other scholars, Bhonsles were predominantly Deccani tiller-plainsmen from the Shudra caste; they were part of the Marathas/Kunbis, an amorphous class-group.[4][5][6][7][c] Scholars have however disagreed about the agricultural status of Bhosles.[3] Rosalind O'Hanlon notes that the historical evolution of castes grouped under the Maratha-Kunbis is sketchy.[8] Ananya Vajpeyi rejects the designation of Shudra, since the category has remained in a state of flux across centuries; she instead notes them to be a Marathi lineage, who enjoyed "reasonably high" social status as landholders and warlords, being in the service of Deccan Sultanate or Mughals.[3][d]

According to R. C. Dhere's interpretation of local oral history and ethnography, Bhonsles descend from the Hoysalas and Yadavas of Devagiri, who were cow-herding Gavli sovereigns.[3][9][e][f] In early thirteenth century, "Baliyeppa Gopati Sirsat", a Hoysala cousin of Simhana migrated from Gadag to Satara along with his pastoral herd and kul-devta; the Sambhu Mahadev was thus installed at a hill-top in Singhnapur.[3][g][h] Historical records indicate that this shrine received extensive patronage from Maloji onwards.[3][i] Further, there exists a branch of the Bhosles named "Sirsat Bhosles" and Bhosle (or "Bhosale") is linguistically similar to "Hoysala".[3] M. K. Dhavalikar found the work to convincingly explain the foundation of the Bhosle clan (as well as Sambhu Mahadev cult).[10] Vajpeyi too advocates that Dhere's theory be probed in greater detail — "[f]rom pastoralist big men to warlords on horseback, is not an impossible distance to cover in two to three centuries."[3]

Shivaji and invented origins

By 1670s, Shivaji had acquired extensive territory and wealth from his campaigns.[5][11] But, lacking a formal crown, he had no operational legitimacy to rule his de facto domain and technically, remained subject to his Mughal (or Deccan Sultanate) overlords; in the hierarchy of power, Shivaji's position remained similar to fellow Maratha chieftains.[5][3][11][j] Also, he was often opposed by the orthodox Brahmin community of Maharashtra.[3] A coronation sanctioned by the Brahmins was thus planned, in a bid to proclaim sovereignty and legitimize his rule.[5][11][13]

On proposing the Brahmins of his court to have him proclaimed as the rightful king, a controversy erupted: the regnal status was reserved for those belonging to the kshatriya varna.[14][15] Not only was there a fundamental dispute among scholars on whether any true Kshatriya survived in the Kali Yuga,[k] having been all destroyed by Parashurama but also Shivaji's grandfather was a tiller-headman, Shivaji did not wear the sacred thread, and his marriage was not in accordance with the Kshatriya customs.[11][13][16] Thus, the Brahmins had him categorised as a shudra.[11][13]

Compelled to postpone his coronation, Shivaji had his secretary Balaji Avji Chitnis sent to the Sisodiyas of Mewar for inspection of the royal genealogies; Avji returned with a favorable finding — Shahji turned out to be a descendant of Chacho Sisodiya, a half-Rajput uncle of Mokal Singh.[3][l] Gaga Bhatt, a famed Brahmin of Banaras,[m] was then hired to ratify Chitnis' find, and the Bhonsles were now permitted to stake a claim to Kshatriya caste.[18][3][15][n] The coronation would be re-executed in June 1674 but only after going through a long list of preludes.[3][o]

Led by Bhatt, who employed traditional Hindu imagery in an unprecedented scale, the first phase had Shivaji penance for having lived as a Maratha despite being a Kshatriya.[3][11][20] Then came the sacred thread ceremony ('maunjibandhanam') followed by remarriage according to Kshatriya customs ('mantra-vivah') and a sequence of Vedic rituals before the eventual coronation ('abhisheka') — a public spectacle of enormous expense that heralded the rebirth of Shivaji as a Kshatriya king.[3][p] Panegyrics composed by court-poets during these spans (and afterward) reinforced onto the public memory that Shivaji (and the Bhonsles) indeed belonged from the Sisodiyas.[3][15]

However, the Kshatriyization was not unanimous; a section of Brahmins continued to deny the Kshatriya status.[21] Brahmins of the Peshwa period rejected Bhatt's acceptance of Shivaji's claims and blamed the non-dharmic coronation for all ills that plagued Shivaji and his heirs—in tune with the general Brahminical sentiment to categorize all Marathas as Shudras, carte-blanche; there have been even claims that Bhatt was excommunicated by Maratha Brahmins for his role in the coronation of Shivaji![16] Interestingly, all claims to Rajput ancestry had largely vanished from the family's subsequent projections of identity.[3]


Vajpeyi notes the "veridical status" of Chitnis' finds to be not determinable to "historical certainty" — the links were tenuous at best and inventive at worst.[3] Shivaji was not a Rajput and the sole purpose of the lineage was to guarantee Shivaji's consecration as a Kshatriya, in a tactic that had clear parallels to Rajputisation.[3][q] Jadunath Sarkar deemed that the genealogy was cleverly fabricated by Balaji Awji and after some reluctance accepted by Gaga Bhatt, who in turn was "rewarded with a huge fee". V. K. Rajwade, Dhere, Allison Busch, John Keay and Audrey Truschke also agree with Sarkar about the fabrication.[7][22][20][15][23] G. S. Sardesai notes that the descent is "not authentically proved".[24][r] Stewart N. Gordon does not pass any judgement but notes Bhatt to be a "creative Brahmin".[3][11][s] André Wink deems that the Sisodia genealogical claim is destined to remain disputed forever.[18][t]

Princely States

Satara State, Kolhapur State, Thanjavur State, Nagpur State,[25] Akkalkot State,[26] Sawantwadi State[27] and Barshi[28] were amongst the prominent states ruled by the Bhonsles.

See also


  1. ^ The precise familial relation between Mudhoji/Rupali and Suryaji is unclear.
  2. ^ Stewart Gordon and other scholars deem the "deśmukhī" to have served as a 'hinge' between the local populace and the imperial authority which frequently changed. Without their loyalty, commanding authority in newly conquered territories was difficult.
  3. ^ Susan Bayly and Eraly however emphasize that the Marathas were located outside the peripheries of Brahminism and people thereof did not form any rigid caste.[5][6]
  4. ^ Vajpeyi however notes that the Bhonsles almost-certainly never featured in the traditional list of 96 families, which allegedly composed the Maratha identity.
  5. ^ This was published in "Sikhar Singanapurca Sri Sambhu Mahadev" (2002) for the first time.
  6. ^ The caste-status of these Yadavas and whether they were a part of Bahminical hiearchy is disputed.
  7. ^ The Hoysalas as well as the Yadavas were competing feudatories of the Chalukyas with battles being as much common as matrimonial alliances.[3] The migration was prob. motivated by pervasive droughts in the region and an opportunity to seek out some independence for himself.[3]
  8. ^ The shrine continues to serve as one of the most significant Shaivite shrine in modern Maharashtra.[9]
  9. ^ Texts produced under patronage of Shahaji make explicit connection between the Bhosales and Balip. Also, the "samadhi" (memorial) of Sambhaji, Shivaji, and Shahuji neighbor the shrine.
    However, for a span of about 250 years — from Balip to Kheloji — the history of the shrine is not clear.
  10. ^ Most of the great Maratha Jahagirdar families in the service of Adilshahi strongly opposed Shivaji in his early years. These included families such as the Ghadge, More, Mohite, Ghorpade, Shirke, and Nimbalkar.[12]
  11. ^ Madhav Deshpande notes that one of the oldest texts in support of such a viewpoint was drafted by Kamalakara Bhatta, a paternal uncle of Gaga Bhatta.
    However, he was hardly a radical (unlike Nagesbhatta, to whom even the Rajputs were Shudras) and allowed expiatory rites for the rare "fallen" Kshatriya-Shudras, provided he did not exceed the upanayana age-limit of 22 years. In his judgement, he was following his father Ramkrsna Bhatta as well as grandfather Narayana Bhatta.
  12. ^ Chacho was born of a Khati concubine and in contemporary times, was pejoratively referred to as a khātanvālā.[17] People like Chacho were categorized into separate caste-groups at the lower end of the hierarchy—even unfit for inter-dining with—, and excluded from Rajput ganayats.[17]
  13. ^ Gaga Bhatt was a preeminent legal scholar, whose scholarship focused on the relative status of different varnas across different regions. Shivaji was already in contact with him since 1664, when he was asked to adjudicate upon whether the Saraswat Brahmins (then, Syenavis) were indeed Brahmins.[16] It is very plausible that the idea of coronation was Bhatt's suggestion — during the previous encounter, he had already proclaimed Shivaji to have born into a "pure royal family".[16]
  14. ^ Susan Bayly views the episode to reflect fluidity in the caste system.[18]
  15. ^ Contemporary Dutch East India Company archives[19] indicate that even then, Shivaji's upgradation of status was only accepted by Brahmins after he had promised them to not rule tyrannically anymore.[18]
  16. ^ The expense was huge enough to impose a coronation tax on his subjects for the next few years.
  17. ^ She however cautions that the summary rejection of Shivaji's ancestry claims in contemporary historiographical literature often stemmed from a Brahminical anti-Maratha perspective, imbibed from the Peshwas.[3]
  18. ^ Sardesai noted that the claims were supported by some 'firman's in possession of the Raja of Mudhol but many scholars [unidentified] considered them to be forged.
  19. ^ Gordon however points out that Shivaji might have "thought of himself as a Rajput" since long back. He evidences a letter (1656) sent by Shahji to Adil Shah II where they had boasted of Rajput pride and another letter (18 July 1666) from Parkaldas (an officer under Jai Singh) to Kalyandas, where three Rajput chieftains are noted to be admiring of Shivaji as a great Rajput with all the "characteristic qualities".
    Vajpeyi interprets the former use to signify an exalted royal status rather than any connection with the Rajput clans. A. Sievler deems the latter translation to be dubious; Mehendale comments that "Rajput" simply meant a Kshatriya in the context. In another contemporary source—a letter from Jai Singh himself to his Prime Minister—, we see Shivaji being regarded to belong from a low caste (and pedigree), who was not even fit for inter-dining with Rajputs.
  20. ^ In a footnote, Wink mentions of two letters before the coronation ceremony, where Shivaji had referred to himself as a Rajput.


  1. ^ Kulkarni, Prashant P. (6 June 1990). "Coinage of the Bhonsla Rajas of Nagpur". Indian Coin Society.
  2. ^ a b c Vendell, Dominic (2018). Scribes and the Vocation of Politics in the Maratha Empire, 1708-1818 (Thesis). Columbia University.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Vajpeyi, Ananya (2005). "Excavating Identity through Tradition: Who was Shivaji?". In Varma, Supriya; Saberwal, Satish (eds.). Traditions in Motion: Religion and Society in History. Oxford University Press. pp. 239–268. ISBN 9780195669152.
    Edited version of Ananya, Vajpeyi (August 2004). "Making a Śūdra King: The Royal Consecration of Shivaji". Politics of complicity, poetics of contempt: A history of the Śūdra in Maharashtra, 1650–1950 CE (Thesis). University of Chicago. p. 155-226.
  4. ^ Christophe Jaffrelot (2006). Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste. Permanent Black. p. 39. ISBN 978-81-7824-156-2. Obviously, Ambedkar had in mind the Brahmin's refusal to recognize Shivaji as a Kshatriya. His theory, which is based on scant historical evidence , doubtless echoed this episode in Maharashtra's history, whereas in fact Shivaji, a Maratha-Kunbi, was a Shudra. Nevertheless, he had won power and so expected the Brahmins to confirm his new status by writing for him an adequate genealogy. This process recalls that of Sanskritisation , but sociologists refer to such emulation of Kshatriyas by Shudras as ' Kshatriyaisation ' and describe it as a variant of Sanskritisation.
  5. ^ a b c d e Bayly, Susan (22 February 2001). Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. Cambridge University Press. pp. 57–59. ISBN 9780521798426.
  6. ^ a b Abraham Eraly (2000). Emperors of the Peacock Throne: The Saga of the Great Mughals. Penguin Books India. p. 435. ISBN 978-0-14-100143-2.
  7. ^ a b Jadunath Sarkar (1992). Shivaji and His Times. Orient Longman. p. 158. ISBN 978-81-250-1347-1.
  8. ^ O'Hanlon, Rosalind, ed. (1985), "Religion and society under early British rule", Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India, Cambridge South Asian Studies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 13–14, ISBN 978-0-521-52308-0, retrieved 12 July 2021
  9. ^ a b Feldhaus, Anne (2003), Feldhaus, Anne (ed.), "The Pilgrimage to Śiṅgṇāpūr", Connected Places: Region, Pilgrimage, and Geographical Imagination in India, Religion/Culture/Critique, New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, pp. 45–87, doi:10.1057/9781403981349_3, ISBN 978-1-4039-8134-9
  10. ^ Dhavalikar, M. K. (2000). "Review of SHIKHAR SHINGANAPURCHA SRI SHAMBHU MAHADEV (In Marathi)". Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute. 60/61: 507–508. ISSN 0045-9801. JSTOR 42936646.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Gordon, Stewart (1993), "Shivaji (1630–80) and the Maratha polity", The Marathas 1600–1818, The New Cambridge History of India, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 86–87, ISBN 978-0-521-26883-7, retrieved 26 June 2021
  12. ^ Daniel Jasper (2003). "Commemorating the 'golden age' of Shivaji in Maharashtra, India, and the development of Maharashtrian public politics". Journal of Political and Military Sociology. 31 (2): 215. JSTOR 45293740. S2CID 152003918.
  13. ^ a b c Baviskar, B. S.; Attwood, D. W. (30 October 2013). "Caste Barriers to Initiative and Innovation". Inside-Outside: Two Views of Social Change in Rural India. SAGE Publications. p. 395. ISBN 978-81-321-1865-7.
  14. ^ Rajmohan Gandhi (1999). Revenge and Reconciliation. Penguin Books India. pp. 110–. ISBN 978-0-14-029045-5.
  15. ^ a b c d Busch, Allison (2011). Poetry of Kings: The Classical Hindi Literature of Mughal India. Oxford University Press. pp. 190–191. ISBN 978-0-19-976592-8.
  16. ^ a b c d Deshpande, Madhav M. (2010). "Kṣatriyas in the Kali Age? Gāgābhaṭṭa & His Opponents". Indo-Iranian Journal. 53 (2): 95–120. ISSN 0019-7246.
  17. ^ a b Kothiyal, Tanuja (14 March 2016). Nomadic Narratives: A History of Mobility and Identity in the Great Indian Desert. Cambridge University Press. p. 103–104. ISBN 978-1-316-67389-8.
  18. ^ a b c d Kruijtzer, Gijs (2009). Xenophobia in Seventeenth-century India. Leiden University Press. p. 143. ISBN 9789087280680.
  19. ^ Sen, Surendra Nath (1958). Foreign Biographies of Shivaji (2 ed.). Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi & Company, Indian Council of Historical Research. pp. 265–267.
  20. ^ a b John Keay (12 April 2011). India: A History. Atlantic. p. 565. ISBN 978-0-8021-9550-0.
  21. ^ Rao, Anupama (13 October 2009). "Caste Radicalism And The Making Of A New Political Subject". The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. University of California Press. p. 42. doi:10.1525/9780520943377-006. ISBN 978-0-520-94337-7. S2CID 201912448.
  22. ^ Krshnaji Ananta Sabhasada; Sen, Surendra Nath (1920). Siva Chhatrapati : being a translation of Sabhasad Bakhar with extracts from Chitnis and Sivadigvijya, with notes. Calcutta : University of Calcutta. pp. 260, 261.
  23. ^ Truschke, Audrey (2021). "Rajput and Maratha Kingships". The Language of History: Sanskrit Narratives of Indo-Muslim Rule. Columbia University Press. pp. 183–184. ISBN 9780231551953.
  24. ^ Sardesai, G. S. (1946). "Shahji: The Rising Sun". New History of the Marathas. Vol. 1. Phoenic Publications. p. 46.
  25. ^ Nicholas Patrick Wiseman (1836). The Dublin Review. William Spooner. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  26. ^ Kulkarni, Sumitra (1995). The Satara Raj, 1818-1848: A Study in History, Administration, and Culture. Mittal Publications. ISBN 9788170995814.
  27. ^ "Portuguese Studies Review". International Conference Group on Portugal. 6 June 2001.
  28. ^ "The Gazetteers Department".