Babasaheb Purandare, historian and authority on Chhatrapati Shivaji, passes away at 99

The Padma Vibhushan awardee was diagnosed with pneumonia a week ago and was undergoing treatment at the city’s Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital.

Updated - November 15, 2021 10:25 pm IST

Published - November 15, 2021 07:54 am IST - Pune

File photo. Writer and theatre personality from Maharashtra Babasaheb Purandare during the felicitation ceremony of the 'Maharashtra Bhushan' award in Mumbai

File photo. Writer and theatre personality from Maharashtra Babasaheb Purandare during the felicitation ceremony of the 'Maharashtra Bhushan' award in Mumbai

Eminent historian and Padma Vibhushan awardee Balwant Moreshwar Purandare, popularly known as Babasaheb Purandare, passed away aged 99 on Monday.

Mr. Purandare, an authority on the 17th century Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, was diagnosed with pneumonia a week ago and was undergoing treatment at the city’s Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital.

His health rapidly deteriorated since Sunday evening and he was in an extremely critical condition after having been put on ventilator in the intensive care unit.

Known by his moniker ‘Shivsahir’ (literally Shivaji’s bard), Mr. Purandare is considered one of the pre-eminent authorities on Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Pained beyond words, says PM

Tributes flowed in from the political spectrum with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being one of the first to express his condolences.

“I am pained beyond words. The demise of Shivshahir Babasaheb Purandare leaves a major void in the world of history and culture. It is thanks to him that the coming generations will get further connected to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. His other works will also be remembered,” Mr. Modi tweeted, remarking, “Shivshahir Babasaheb Purandare was witty, wise and had rich knowledge of Indian history. I had the honour of interacting with him very closely over the years. A few months back, had addressed his centenary year programme.”

Energy and inspiration: Uddhav

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who announced a state funeral for the historian, said that Mr. Purandare’s eternal adoration of Chhatrapati Shivaji and his dedication to studying the life of the Maratha warrior king had been his greatest source of energy and inspiration throughout his life.

“There was no fort, structure or historical area pertaining to Chhatrapati Shivaji that Babasaheb had not studied… He gathered every possible reference to the great King’s life and studied and researched him with an awe-inspiring sincerity as Babasaheb considered this to be the work of his life…his demise will leave an unfillable void in Maharashtra's cultural, literary and artistic heritage,” Mr. Thackeray said in a heartfelt statement.

Raja Shivchhatrapati , Mr. Purandare’s widely popular two-part, 900-page magnum opus on Shivaji in Marathi, was first published in the late 1950s and has since been a staple in Marathi households, going through numerous reprints over decades.

Noted Pune-based historian Uday S. Kulkarni said that Babasaheb Purandare had single-handedly brought alive the epoch of Chhatrapati Shivaji like no other historian.

“His place as a great historian is assured. Apart from discovering several original letters and other valuable documents pertaining to the epoch of Chhatrapati Shivaji, he took the warrior king’s history to the masses of not only Maharashtra, but India and abroad as well,” said Mr. Kulkarni, the author of such popular works as Solstice at Panipat and The Maratha Century .

He further noted that Mr. Purandare’s books were written in Marathi and the translations did not do justice to his imagination and ideas.

“Babasaheb used to lament about our apathy in preserving our rich Indian and regional histories…for instance, when we visited the great battlefields in Europe like Waterloo, he was impressed how the Europeans had preserved their history and made it alive. His life was dedicated for doing the same for Chhatrapati Shivaji’s era,” said Mr. Kulkarni, speaking to The Hindu .

He further said that Mr. Purandare never encouraged deification for its sake but urged people to think seriously about the actions of Chhatrapati Shivaji in his struggle with the mighty Mughal Empire.

Bal Thackeray’s ideologue

The historian was one of the earliest ideologues of Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena in the 1970s. He also conceived and directed the theatrical history extravaganza on Shivaji’s life titled Jaanata Raja in the mid-1980s — a mammoth production performed by more than 200 artistes across the country and even abroad and is said to have given more than 12,000 lectures on Chhatrapati Shivaji during his lifetime.

Jaanata Raja was a three-dimensional approach towards recreating Chhatrapati Shivaji’s era…it is a unique achievement and one that could only be conceived by someone as energetic and dedicated like Babasaheb. Besides being a great historian, he was a man of great generosity of spirit who never bore ill-will towards anyone,” Mr. Kulkarni said.

Earlier this year, Mr. Modi along with other political leaders had paid fulsome tributes to Mr. Purandare on the occasion of the historian having completed 99 years, with the Prime Minister greeting Mr. Purandare via a video message. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis were also among those who paid rich tributes to the historian while Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray visited Mr. Purandare’s residence to felicitate him in person.

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