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The Dispute over the Deshkulkarni Watan of Chiplun

in the 17th Century: Text and Context

Avanish Patil

Chhratrapati Shivaji College, Satara,

In 1913-14 the eminent historian of the Marathas
Vishvanath Kasinath Rajwade published a historical essay on
the social history of Chitpavan Brahmins of Konkan. 1 Rajwade
appended a number of documents he had found in Konkan
region to his essay. One of these documents was a karina of
chitpavan deshkulkarnis of Chiplun, a document which narrates
in some detail the story of the efforts of a woman called
Gotmai and later her heirs to retain the deshkulkarni watan of
Chiplun in the face of six disputes.2 The case is interesting not
because it is representative, but because it is unique. First, the
dispute over the Chiplun deshkulkarni watan took place in the
later half of the 17th Century, a period straddling the Adilshahi ,
Maratha and Mughal rules in Konkan. Secondly, the
protagonists of the dispute- Gotmai and her heirs- were
seemingly helpless to defend their watan against the
aggressive efforts of other individuals scheming to usurp their
watan. Since they were accountants or record keepers of the
pargana, they did not have martial traditions as the
deshmukhs and therefore there is no recourse to violence to
settle the disputes over their watan.
1 V. K. Rajwade, Chitpavananchi Samajik Mulpitika: Madya va Sadya
Stiti, Bharata Itihasa Samshodhana Mandala Dvitiya Sammelan

vritta Shake 1836, pp.26-81. The Konkan/Konkan Coast is a

rugged section of the western coastline of India. It is a 720 km
long coastline
2 V.K. Rajwade, op.cit, Appendix II, pp.52-66. Note: There has been a
mistake in typesetting of the columns of the last part of the karina.
Deshkulkani was a heridatory district level officer and the watan was
an land grant given to him for the performance of his duties.

The genre of historical literature called karina is derived from

the arabic word qrn meaning to join or connect. The karinas
were mostly narratives of the history of the watans held by
Maratha elite deshmukhs, deshkulkarnis (despandhes), patils
and kulkarnis; an explanatory history of how they acquired
their lands and held their lands.3 In his study of the Jedhe
Karina D.G. Godse defined karina as a chronologically
consistent account of a story or legal dispute and identified
some special features of the karina genre. The karinas were
mostly written in the 17th century in the Ghatmatha region of
the Sayhadris known as the Muraya-Maval region. Unlike the
bakhars they did not contain phantasmagoric events, or
frequent mention of gods or religious rituals and customs.
However, the karinas were a literary form based on historical
events and prone to literary flourishes of the writer. Godse
even put forward a conjecture based on the literary analysis of
the text of the Jedhe Karina that the author of the karina was a
non-brahmin.4 Many a times, especially in a karina dealing with
a legal dispute the narrative in the karina was attested by
people from the local community and therefore formed
common knowledge of the local people.
This paper uses the device of reducing the scale developed
by the practitioners of microhistoria to explore the dispute over
the deshkulkarni watan as reflected in their karina. It is hoped
that investigating of a single case will reveal new information
which may have slipped the attention of scholars who were
involved in research at the systemic level. 5 The paper analyses
3 Sumit Guha, Speaking Historically: Voices of Historical Narration in
Western India, 1400-1900, American Historical Review, Oct. 2004,

4 Dattatreya Ganesh Godse, Samade Talash, Shrividhya Prakashan,

Pune,1981, pp.65-79
5 Giovanni Levi, On Microhistory, in Peter Burke (ed.), New
Perspectives on historical writing, 2nd Edition, The Pennsylvania
State University Press, 1992, pp.97-119; Carlo Ginzburg, Preface to

the karina in a new way, it treats it as a text subject to

multiple interpretations rather than as merely a source of valid
or confirmed information or data about events. Moreover, the
uncovering of the context in which the protagonists in the case
acted, it is hoped, will shed light on not only the process of
conceiving legal rules at the local level (local knowledge) but
also the method and manner of applying them. I propose that
the larger setting of larger setting of the discourse regarding
the deshkulkarni watan dispute was the uncertainty of political
rule in the 17th Century reflected in the military skirmishes
between Adilshahi and the Marathas and later the Mughals and
the Marathas. These unsettled conditions encouraged rival
claimants to plot to supplant the deshkulkarnis of Chiplun
which in turn prompted the writing of a narrative of the
contested past in the form of a karina that justified the holding
of the watan with the family of the then existing deshkulkarnis
of Chiplun.
First Dispute- The Papers stolen from the Pillow episode
In 1923, the extract from the karina of the Deshkulkarni watan
of Chiplun was published in the Maharashtra Ithihas Manjiri, an
anthology of select historical episodes from the history of
Maharashtra under the bizarre title Ushetilya Kagadpatranchi
Chori or Papers stolen from the Pillow. The title suitably
represented the strange incident which befell Gotmai, the main
protagonist of the karina.
V. K. Rajwade traced the geneology of the Chitpavan
Deshkulkarnis of Chiplun to Narsihpant Kale ( about 1548)
Vinaji Narsi (1578) Parshram (1608)- Kalo Parshram (1633)
Antaji Kalo and his mother Gotmai (around 1658). 6 Gotmais
husband Kalo Parshram was killed by davedars (rival claimants
or persons bearing a grudge). The son of Gotmai, Antaji Kalo
was literate and looked after the watan, however he went to
the Italian Edition, in The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a
Sixteenth-Century Miller, John and Anne Tedeski (trans.), The John
Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1992, pp.xiii-xxvi
6 V.K. Rajwade , op. cit., p.36

Bijapur for some work and died suddenly. The responsibility of

managing the Deshkulkarni watan of Chiplun in Dabhol Subha
in Konkan fell on Gotmai, after her son, Antaji Kalo, who looked
after the watan died. It was imperative to find a literate person
to manage the Watan, as the most important job of the
Deshkulkarni was to keep the accounts of the pargana. Though
the husband of Gotmai , Kalo Parshram , had a brother Vinaji
Balal , he was illiterate and had left Chiplun. Gotmai was left
with no choice but to appoint Harbaji Datir , the father-in- law
of her son, Antaji Kalo, as the mutalik of the Deshkulkani watan
of Chiplun by taking the permission of the panchayat. 7 Harbaji
Datir looked after the watan for about 30-40 years. However
frequent fights began to take place between him and Gotmai.
Gotmai falsely accused Harbaji that her son had died because
Harbajis daughter had married him. This slanderous
accusation of Gotmai eventually resulted in bitter domestic
dispute between her and Harbaji Datir. Fed up with the
domestic quarrel , Gotmai decided to change the mutalik of the
Deshkulkarni watan. However, she was advised by the people
to search for a new mutalik before removing Harbaji Datar.
Gotmai began to search for a new mutalik- her choice fell on
Timaji Bhaskar Helvagkar and Gangaji Bhaskar Helvagkar, who
had come to Chiplun after being ousted as Kulkarnis of another
village. Timaji and Gangaji Helvagkar had initiated themselves
in the good graces of Gotmai by flattering her
(arjavasampadana). After taking the permission of the
panchayat Timaji and Gangaji began functioning as the mutalik
of the watan.
The newly appointed mutaliks, Timaji and Gangaji, however,
harboured an ambition to be masters (khavanda) of the watan.
They slowly maneuvered and made all the important people of
the area favourable to them. Then they schemed to get a
farman (decree) for the watan from the Adilshahi government.
Timaji and Gangaji had come to know that Afzul Khan had been
appointed to challenge Shivaji. They went to Bijapur and
7 Mutalik A public officer. He was a deputy and had authority to
use the seal of his principal.

influenced a Adilshahi official named Diyanrau, to grant them a

farman of the Deshkulkarni watan in their name by claiming to
be descendants (aphalada) of Gotmai. When they returned to
Chiplun , they kept the farman secret and began to influence
the important local people to get the farman converted into a
mahazar.8 Keshavseth and Gagseth Sethye informed Gotmai of
the efforts of the mutlaliks and advised her to keep the original
documents of the watan at a safe place. To safeguard the
original documents, Gotmai began to keep them in her pillow.
She used to check her pillow everyday to see if the papers
were there. Timaji and Gangaji realized that as long as Gotmai
had the original papers to the watan, they could not use the
farman granted by the Adilshahi officer to get a mahazar of the
watan in their name. Timaji eventually found out that the
original papers of the watan were kept by Gotmai in her pillow.
At an opportune movement he stole the original papers and
replaced them by other rough papers (kharada). When Gotmai
found out that she had been duped, she was furious and went
to the house of Timaji and started wailing in anguish (bomba
marne). She screamed at Timaji You have written in the
farman that you are descendant of my daughter. Are you the
offspring of my female slave (batika)
The efforts of Gotmai
Gotmai made efforts to get back the control over the watan.
She met her relatives like Krishnaji Somnath and Konhere
Raghunath Turumkar who were well placed government
officials, but to no avail. Realizing that her efforts were not
bearing any fruit she started staying in the Parsharam temple
near Chiplun. When the priest of temple Naranbhat asked her
the reason for staying in the temple she replied I have no
home to stay , wherever I go bad luck follows me, therefore I
have come to God to die. The news of this incident reached
Antaji Bavaji Saswadkar, who was in charge of the Chiplun
pargana. When Antaji met Gotmai he advised her to change
the mutalik of watan as he would inherit it in case she died. He
8 Mahazar is a written statement of a suit or case and of the award
upon it.

also gave her a letter of reference to his son Mahadaji Anant

who was in charge of Dabhol Subha. Gotmai met Mahadaji
Anant and narrated her efforts to get justice as well as the
deeds of Timaji. Mahadaji Anant asked her if she had any
relative who could accept the Deshkulkarni watan. Gotmai
replied that she had a nephew , Krishaji Somnath. Mahadaji
called Krishnaji Somnath and asked him to accept the watan.
At this moment Vinaji Balal, brother of Gotmais husband, who
had left Chiplun, reappeared. However, Vinaji Balal was
illiterate, therefore he could not be made the deshkulkarni.
Later Mahadaji was successful in convincing Krishnaji Somnath
to take up the management of the Watan but he was not ready
to put his name in the papers. A compromise was reached in
which it was decided that Krishnaji Somnath would be the
mutalik but the watan should be in the names of Haripant, son
of Krishnaji Somnath and Vinaji Balal in the official papers.
Moreover, in future, the sons of Vijaji Balal would inherit the
watan of the Deshkulkarni. The official papers were drawn by
Mahadaji to reflect this compromise. In the meanwhile, Timaji
had died and Gangaji had taken over the mutaliki of the
Deshkulkarni. Gangaji was ousted and Krishnaji Somnath
began to look after the Deshkulkarni watan. Later, Gotmai put
forward her wish to adopt one of the three sons of Krishnaji
Somnath. However, the Pandits who knew the Sastras ruled
that this could not be done as Gotmai belonged to the
Jamdagni gotra and Krishnaji belonged to the Vaisistha gotra.
Since Gotmai could not adopt the son of Krishnaji, she
requested permission of the Pandits to allow Vinaji Balal to
adopt the son. As a result, Krishajis middle son, Janardan, was
adopted by Vinaji Balal. Vinaji Balal gave it in writing that
Haripant will along with his two sons inherit the Deshkulkarni
watan of Chiplun.9
A number of important persons
government officials and local community members- were
present on the occasion.
The Second Dispute (Reign of Chhtrapati Sambhaji)
9 Vinanji Balal had two sons who were alive- Janardhan (adopted)
and Bapu

Annaji Datto, had procured the Deshkulkarni watan of

Sangmeshwar as it had no master (Khavand) from Chh.
Sambhaji. Another important official Raghuji Somnath also
demanded a watan of Deshkulkarni in the neighbourhood of
Sangmeshwar. At that time Vekaji Gangadhar Helvagkar, the
nephew of Timaji who had been ousted from the mutaliki by
Gotmai had gone to Raigad. He gave the information that the
Deshkulkarni watan of Chiplun did not have a master.
Therefore, the Deshkulkarni watan was granted to Raghuji
Somnath by Chh. Sambhaji. Krishnaji protested against this
decision for about six months, but the government officials did
not heed his complaint. Once when Kabjeebaba (Kavi Kalash)
had come to the Parshuram temple on his way to Raigad,
Krishnaji advised Vinaji and his sons to throw themselves on
his feet and ask for redressal of the injustice done to them.
Kavi Kalash asked the Karbhari, Konherepant to do the needful
in the matter. One day when Kavi Kalash was discussing the
principles of justice with some Sastris- the principle that it was
a grave sin to take something from one and give it to another
was discussed. Konherepant took the opportunity and told Kavi
Kalash that the Chiplun deshkulkarni watan rightfully belonged
to Krishnaji and the brahmin had been unrightfully deprived of
it by the state. The discussion of the principle of justice and the
story told by Konherepant had their impact. Kavi Kalash
resolved to return the deshkulkarni watan to its rightful heirs.
In the meanwhile Rahuji Somnath had come to Chiplun to get
the Mahazar granting the deshkulkarni watan to him, attested
by eminent persons of the area. Krishnaji advised Vinaji and his
son to give out a cry of injustice is being done in the sabha
where the people had assembled. The people who had
assembled thought this to be inauspicious sign and left the
sabha. Rahuji Somnath returned to Parshuram temple where
he was admonished by Kavi Kalash for trying to usurp a watan
belonging to a poor brahman.
Krishnaji did not stop here. He wore saffron clothes, went
to Raigad and began to fast. As soon as Chh. Sambhaji came
outside he performed mujara. When Chh. Sambhaji had gone

to a place called Gangoli, Krishnaji followed him. When Chh.

Sambhaji had gone in a lake in a boat, Krishnaji cried out Oh
Omniscient (sarvadnya) master (saheb),
you know the
meanings of the Sastras yet why has this punishment
(parpatya) befallen on me. Chh. Sambhaji at last heard the
story of Krishnaji and asked Nyayadish Pralhadpant to do
justice in the matter. Pralhadpant said Shivaji Maharaj did
not, in whatsoever circumstances, take watan from one and
give it to the other. However, injustice had been done to
Krishnaji by the state. Chh. Sambhaji removed Rahuji
Somnath from the Deshkulkarni watan and granted it to
Krishnaji. He sent a rajpatra to Vekaji Nibdev , the Subhadar of
Third Dispute
The third attempt to expropriate the Deshkulkarni watan
was done by Rayaji Hari and Lingoji Hari, daftardars of Chiplun.
Rayaji and Lingoji tried to corrupt Vinaji Balal by offering him
clothes, good food etc. They influenced Vinaji to remove
Krishnaji from the mutaliki of Deshkulkarni watan and appoint
them in his place. They made great efforts to get the mutaliki
by taking Vinaji to government officials to argue their case.
However, Rajashri Raghunath Narayan, an important official
who had been a majmudar of Shivaji, was present at that
time. Raghunath Narayan realised that the watan belonged
(khavand) to Krishnaji. He therefore did not let Rayaji and
Lingoji to succeed in their scheme.
Fourth Dispute
The fourth person to lay claim to the Deshkulkarni watan
was Pandurang, son of Harbaji Datir, the father in law of
Gotmais son, Antoji Kalo. Harbaji Datir had been the mutalik of
Gotmais watan for many years and had been removed by
Gotmai due to domestic differences. Pandurang, son of Harbaji
Datir, reappeared and questioned Krishnajis right to the
watan. He argued that it was his right to inherit the
deshkulkarni watan as his sister had been married to Gotmais
son. The people tried to persuade him by saying to him You

should have put forward your claim when the mutaliki of the
deshkulkarni watan was given to Krishnaji. To protest against
this stand Pandurang went around the village for three days
asking for undressed corn as bhiksha (Korann Bhiksha).
However, the inhabitants of the village did not entertain him
and drove him away from their doors. Finding that he was
fighting for a lost cause, Pandurang ultimately left the village.
Fifth Dispute
After Chh. Sambhaji had censured Annaji Datto and Rahuji
Somnath and imprisoned them, the responsibility of managing
the affairs fell on Khanderao Pansambhal. He sent two mutaliks
to the parganas of Sangmeshwar and Chiplun. To protest
against this action Krishnaji went and told the whole story
(karina) and argued for four months. After he had narrated the
genealogy of the family, an agreement was done and Krishnaji
was sent back to Chiplun to his watan.
Sixth Dispute
The sixth dispute which the karina narrates is the effort
of the wife and two sons of Rahuji Somnath to obtain a share of
the deshkulkarni watan. After the death of Rahuji Somnath , his
wife and two sons went to Ramchandrapant Amatya at
Vishalgad to ask for a decision on the watan. Ramchandrapant
Amatya made a settlement which gave two portions of the
watan to the wife and sons of Rahuji Somnath and one portion
to Krishnaji. Krishnaji however did not agree to this. He started
a dharna until death to protest against the decision.
Ramchandrapant Amatya got angry and sent him outside the
Vishalgarh fort. Krishnaji sat with nothing on his head (bodke
doke) in a yogic body posture at the door of the fort.
Ramchandrapant saw him when he had come to the door to
receive his father Naro Nilakanth. Ramchandrapant took pity
on him and assured him that he will get him the whole
deshkulkarni watan later if he agrees to the settlement put
forward to him. Krishnaji reluctantly agreed. However precisely
at this time the Mughal army attacked . Sarf Khan attacked
Satara and Sheikh Nizam laid seige to the fort of Vishalgad.

The whole Konkan fell to the Mughals and the whole watandari
system was disturbed.
After a number of days things calmed down and people
started returning to their homes. Chh. Rajaram had established
his court at Satara. Haripant , son of Krishnaji , went to Satara ,
to get the documents of the watan in his name. He met Chh.
Rajaram. Rajaram sent him to Nyayadish Konerepant, who
heard the story from him. However, Konerepant said that the
deshkulkarni watan will be in the name of the sons of Vinaji
Balal; his name cannot be written in the papers unless he
produced a document which showed his right to the watan.
Haripant produced the written letter of Vinaji Balal which said
that the watan will be inherited by Haripant along with his two
sons. After examining the letter the name of Haripant was
written in the papers along with the two sons of Vinaji Balal. At
this time, the Maratha state was in acute need of money and
therefore Konerepant took 200 rupees from Haripant and gave
him the papers for the watan. As Haripant was leaving, the two
sons of Rahuji Somnath reached there and pushed him back
into the Kings chamber. Sons of Rahuji claimed in front of
Chh. Rajaram that Chh. Sambhaji had granted the
deshkulkarni watan to them and therefore they should be given
the watan. In his reply Chh. Rajaram said How did Daji (Chh.
Sambhaji) take a watan from one and give it to another. Chh.
Rajaram mentioned clearly that it was not necessary to discuss
the deshkulkarni watan and sent Haripant to his watan with the
The End
After narrating the various obstructions to the truth, the karina
says that ultimately it is truth that had triumphed. After the
death of Krishnaji, it was his son Haripant who managed the
watan of the deshkulkarni. At the end of the karina , the writer
tells us the story narrated in the karina to have been told by
Gotmai and that the writer himself knows that it is true. Only
the reality has been written and that the writer has not used
his imagination in writing the karina. At the very end it is
mentioned that Gotmai, and the family of Vinaji Balal lived

along with the family of Haripant.

However, it seems that the happy ending alluded to in the
karina did not last for long. After the death of Chh. Rajaram in
March 1700, his Pratinidhi Parshuram Trimbak granted the
watan of deshkulkarni of Chiplun to the sons of Rahuji
Somnath. The letter of Parshuram Trimbak, dated 18 th August
1700, tells us that Kashi Rahuji and Trimbak Rahuhji , sons of
Rahuji Somnath, approached the government to get the grant
of the deshkulkarni watan which was being enjoyed by Hari
Krishna Vasisth (son of Krishnaji). Rahuji had been jailed by
Chh. Sambhaji and had later died. After the death of their
father they had gone to Chinchwad. The possession of their
watan was taken over by Hari Krishna Vasisth. After that they
had told the story to Ramchandrapant Amatya who had divided
the watan. When Chh. Rajaram had come to Satara, Hari
Krishna misguided him and told him a false story and
continued to enjoy the watan. Therefore, sons of Rahuji
Somnath , requested Parshuram Trimbak to give them a
adnyapatra which would hand over to them the watan which
belonged to them. Parshuram Trimbak cancelled the rajpatra
held by Hari Krishna and handed over a adynapatra, which
gave the possession of the watan to the sons of Rahuji
It is not certain that the possession of the watan was really
transferred to the sons of Rahuji Somnath. V.K. Rajwade
mentions in his essay that the present deshkulkarni of Chiplun
is a Deshasth Brahmin and not a Chitpawan Brahmin.
Therefore, some time later, it is certain that the descendants of
Gotmai lost the possession of the watan.
The karina throws light on the important question of the
relationship between the state and local society. It mentions
the sabhas only in one context- when the rival claimants
wanted to get the farman granted to them by the political
10 G.S. Sardesai (ed.), Selections from the Peshwa Daftar, Bombay
1931-34, Vol. 31, Letter No. 79, pp.70-71

authorities converted into a mahazar. Thus when Timaji

Bhaskar procured a farman in his name from an Adilshahi
official he tried to get it attested by local worthies. Even a high
ranking official like Rahuji Somanth had tried to get approval
from important people of the locality to the farman granted by
Chh. Sambhaji. Therefore, getting a farman for a watan from a
political authority did not automatically guarantee the
possession of the watan. However, at the sametime it must be
noted that both Timaji and Rahuji Somnath did make efforts to
influence the people to give their attestation to convert the
farman into a mahazar. It is only because of the protests of
Gotmai and Krishnaji that they did not succeed. This shows
that the local bodies like the gotsabha and majalis could be
influenced by powerful persons to do their bidding. Moreover,
the failure of Rahuji Somnath to get the farman given to him
converted into a mahazar, did not prevent Ramchandrapant
Amatya to advocate the case of his wife and sons, nor did it
prevent Parshuram Trimbak from granting the watan to them.
This brings us to the role of documents in the dispute.
Clearly legal documents played an important part in the
dispute. Timaji was aware that unless he stole the documents
from Gotmai , his farman granted by an Adilshahi official was
of no use. When Haripant, son of Krishnaji went to Chh.
Rajaram to get the documents of the watan, he was asked by
Nyayadish Konerepant to produce papers which showed his
right to the watan. However, it should also be noted that in the
times of political instability and military skirmishes, the very
existence of documents was endangered. A letter of Krishnaji
tells us that the documents granting the watan to him which
were given to him by Nyayadish Pralhadpant, Nilopanth
Peshwa and Chh. Sambhaji were burnt during a raid by the
The legal argument invoked throughout the karina to justify
the holding of the watan by the descendents of Gotmai is that
11 See V. K. Rajwade, Chitpavananchi Samajik Mulpitika: Madya va
Sadya Stiti, Bharata Itihasa Samshodhana Mandala Dvitiya

Sammelan vritta Shake 1836, p.67

of antiquity of tenure.12 Gotmais family had a right to the

watan because it was genealogically connected with a person
who was the acknowledged holder of the watan in the past and
because they had possession of the watan for quite a long
time. The karina tries to give credibility to the argument by
mentioning its acceptance by political figures like Kavi Kalash,
Chh. Sambhaji and Chh. Rajaram.
However, there were also
rival claimants like Timaji and Rahuji Somnath who made
efforts to get hold of the watan by procuring farmans from the
persons in power. Thus the principle that it was wrong to take
a watan from one and give it to another was clearly a
contested principle
It is the unsettled conditions in the Konkan that provided the
motive for writing of the karina. The later half of 17th century
was period characterized by changing political boundaries and
indefinite jurisdictions due to the Mughal and Maratha contest.
Written or unwritten law and customs and practices could be
invoked or set aside by the political authorities. It was also a
period where documents could be easily destroyed or stolen.
These conditions made it imperative to justify the right to the
watan by appealing to the past. The past itself was contested,
for it is possible that the rival claimants could have had their
own versions of the past. The karina of the Deshkulkarnis of
Chiplun details the struggle of Gotmais family against the rival
claimants and interlinks it with locally well-known events
happening at the regional level. Below the narrative are
mentioned a number of names of important historical persons
like Sambhaji Raje, Rajaram, Raghunath Narayan Pandit,
Pralhad Pandit, Kabjeebaba (Kavi Kalash) and others. By doing
this the karina attempts to provide credibility to its version of
the past. The karina emphasizes the struggle against the false
intentions of the rival claimants and the ultimate triumph of
12 For a interesting discussion on the rights of people in 18th
Century Maharashtra see Sumit Guha, Wrongs and Rights in the
Maratha Country: Antiquity, Custom and Power in Eighteenthcentury India, in M.R. Anderson and Sumit Guha (eds.) Changing
concepts of rights and justice in South Asia, Oxford University Press,
New Delhi, 2000 , pp. 14-29

truth in form of the watan being granted to Gotmais kin. It

itself becomes the justification for the holding of the watan.