Rare Prints That Chronicle Glory of Maratha Kings Reproduced Through eBooks
Pictures of Maratha kings with swords are common, but how about one in which a king holds a musket? A rare sketch of king Sambhaji (eldest son of Chhatrapati Shivaji) holding the musket in the recently-released e-book Rare Prints: A tribute to Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji’s Sarasvati Mahal Library shows how advanced our weapons were even a couple of centuries ago.
A portrait of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, is another among the great collection maintained by Maharaja Serfoji’s Sarasvati Mahal Library (TMSSML), one of Asia’s oldest libraries. The rare sketches and photographs of kings and princes add significance as it is the first time such images are brought out in the form of an e-book.
Compiled by Pratap Sinh Serfoji Raje Bhosle, a scion of the Thanjavur Maratha dynasty, the idea of the picture book is to create awareness among the public about such a wonderful collection in the library and also about the Maratha dynasty, which ruled the Thanjavur region of today’s Tamil Nadu from 1676 to 1855.
The library in the Thanjavur Palace complex originated during the reign of Raghunath and his son Vijayaraghava (1600-1634) of the Nayak dynasty. After the Nayaks, successive kings of the Maratha dynasty renovated and enriched the library. It was Maratha king Serfoji II who contributed the largest collection of books and manuscripts to the library during his reign (1798-1832). “Serfoji II was a scholar of great repute, proficient not only in English but also in Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Sanskrit, French, German, Danish, Greek, Dutch and Latin. He even performed cataract surgeries. Music and dance at the palace durbar flourished during his rule,” says Pratap, who is the 14th descendant of the Thanjavur-Maratha family.
The TMSSML houses thousands of rare manuscripts and books. It was king Serfoji II who instructed his library officials to begin cataloguing the manuscripts; the first palm leaf manuscript, according to Pratap, was catalogued in 1801, and the first paper manuscript in 1807.
It was while searching for the photographs of his grandfather prince Tulajendra Rajah P Bhosle shot during the celebration of the birth anniversary of King Serfoji II that Pratap found the bound albums with rare sketches and photographs of kings and princes in one of the shelves of the library. However, he wanted to get permission from the district collector to reproduce them for the benefit of the researchers. “Many don’t know the bound albums have rare sketches and pictures. It was a surprise for me as well. The compilation was challenging because I had to get permission from the district collector for reproducing the rare sketches and photographs,” said Pratap, who is the author of three books, including Contributions of Thanjavur Maratha Kings. He also maintains a blog on Maratha cuisine.
The bound albums contain sketches and pictures of Indian kings and British officials. One such album dating back to 1908 has rare images of illustrious kings. Other bound albums have pictures on hand-made paper of Indian kings and princes of various dynasties.
Pratap’s Rare Prints begins with the sketch of king Chhatrapati Shivaji, founder of the Maratha Kingdom, riding a horse. It was reproduced from the bound album of 1908. The second sketch, however, is of Dharmaveer Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, the eldest son of Chhatrapati Shivaji, holding a musket.
“Sambhaji ruled the Maratha empire for nine years. The king holding a musket shows how advanced weaponry of the Maratha kings were those days,” says Pratap. It is said that the southern staple food ‘sambhar’ is named after king Sambhaji. “Sambhar originated in the royal kitchen during the rule of King Shahaji II. When king Sambhaji visited Thanjavur, he was served a new dish, and from then on, the dish was known as Sambhar,” says Pratap.