Rajarshi Chhatrapati ShahuJi Maharaj was king of the Indian princely State of Kolhapur known to be a great social reformer of his time. Shahu Ji was a staunch follower of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and great admirer of Dr B.R. Ambedkar. Shahu Ji belonged to Oil presser “Teli” caste but devoted his life for the upliftment of the Dalit society. He challenge the Brahmanical supremacy in administration and on 26th July 1902 by sanctioning 50% Reservation for the backward Classes in Kohlapur StateServices This was against the tough opposition from upper caste Brahmin Ministers who numbered over 98% in administration against 3% share in population of Brahmins in the state. He assertedhis full authority over his kingdom and took a number of welfare schemes for the depressed class peoples As per his renowned biographer Shri A.B. Latthe “He was greatest Maharaja that ever sat on the thrown of Kohlapur and one of the powerful men that the nation ever produced in its long& Brilliant history”. Chhatarpati Sahu Ji Maharaj’s concern for good administration can be judged from his statement “Although I am on the throne of Kohlapur, I feel proud to call myself as solider, farmer or labourer . while addressing meeting in Madras he said “ I am here not as king but friend to those whose pitiable condition shall melt even a stone hearted person . He passed laws to allow training of non-Brahmin men as temple priests along with declaring religious places properties as Kohlapur State properties. He ordered that the appointment of Shankaachariyas in future shall be with Kohlapur State authority. He abolished Kulkarni system and appointed Kshatra Jagadguru ringing a bell of reasons and secularism for His subjects. He approved conducting of marriages with out a Brahmin priest. He promoted inter caste marriages among his subjects. However it created ill will towards Maharaja by irrational thinking superstitious Brahmins who were supported by Lokmanya Tilak and some others. While opposing right of higher Education to Bachward Classes, Tilak is on record to have said in one of his speech dated 11November,1917( Javatmal Maharathtra) “ would the tailors use sewing machine, the peasants their plough and the merchants the scale of balance in the council” Tilak & congress party was for the Bachward classes peopled to follow their ancestral trades, where only elementary education needed. Determined to implement his egalitarian thoughts so was prepared to face all his adversaries opposing them. On 15 April,1920 Chhatarpati Sahu Ji Maharaj replied thus to Tilak, “ Tilak would have been ashamed of expressing such thoughts in his speech Brahmin V/s Brahmantra. Tilak advised untouchables not to take secondary education after primary educatioin. He wanted them to learn them to learn the crafts of their castes, thus he believed in constitution of the caste profession for the untouchables and not in giving them the higher education to them “However Maharaja was not against Brahmins but Brahmanism and Brahmanical ways and their half hearted reforms. so many good hearted Brahmins like V.D. Topkhane, Gopal Krishan Gokhale, Rajaram Shastri supported the progressive efforts.
Shahu Ji was born on 26 July in the year 1874 as Yeshwantrao Ghatge. He was the eldest son of Narayan Dinkarrao Ghatke also called Appasaheb Ghatge and his wife Radhabai,. Narayan Dinkarrao Ghatke was the head of Kagal and his wife was the daughter of the Raja of Mudhol that’s in today’s Karnataka state.. Narayan Dinkarrao Ghatke was Regent to Kohlapur State, so lived in Laxminivas Palace in Kohlapur where Yeshwantrao Ghatge was born.
Sahu Ji Maharaj lost his father at the age of 12 years and his mother when he was only three years. Shahu received his earlier education under the care of his father. As luck would have it Yeshwantrao Ghatge when a child of only 10 years, he was adopted by Anandibai, the widow of Chhatarpati Maharaja Shivaji IV ( Narayanarao) of Kolhapur on March 17th, 1884. He ascended to the throne of Kohlapur Chhatrapati and was given the name as Chhatar Pati Sahu Ji Maharaj. Grown up Sahu Ji Maharaj was over five feet and nine inches in height and bore majestic appearance of a real Maratha king. Wrestling was one of the favorite sports of Chhatrapati
Shahu Ji Maharaj was married to Laxshmibaisaheba on 1st, April1891 then only 11 years old bride. She was daughter of a Maratha nobleman Shri Meharban Gunajirao Khanvilkar from Baroda having blood relation with Chhatrapati of Satara .Sahu couple was blessed with four children.
The Maharaj came in cotact with Dr B.R. Ambedkar when they were introduced by Dattoba Pawar and Dittoba Dalvi (artist) and their association lost till the sudden end of shahu Ji Maharaj in 1922. Sahu Ji was greatly impressed by his revolutionary ideas. Maharaj Ji always lent helping hands by all means to any body from untouchables found in distress. He met Dr B.R. Ambedkar a number of times during 1917-1921. When Dr Ambedkar expressed his desire to start a fortnightly newspaper to bring about an awakening among Dalits Sahu Ji Maharaj denoted Rs2,500.00 for this noble cause. Dr Ambedkar started “Mooknayak” (Leader of the Dumb) on 31st January ,1920. Also when Dr Ambedkar faced financial problems in completion of his for studies in September 1921. Sahu Ji sent Rs750.00 with assurance to Dr Ambedkar that he can write for any such help to him any time. Again Sahu Ji Maharaj sent a cheque worth Rs1500.00 to Dr Ambedkar at his London address on 5th October 1921. WhenMooknayak landed in financial distressed Shahu Ji Maharaj pulled it out by donating Rs750.00 in January 1921and Rs1000.00 on 21st Febuary,1921. The first conference of untouchables was organized under leadership of Shahu Ji Maharaj (21-22 March) 1920 at Mangaon Kohlapur , Dr Ambedkar was Chairman. The Maharaja told the gathering that they had found a leader in Dr Ambedkar who will work for their amelioration.
Shahu Ji Maharaj’s qualities of head and heart earned him honorary LLD from Cambridge University and ; G.C.S.I; G.C.V.O; G.C.I.E; titles from Queen Victoria, Duke of Co naught & Empiral Darbar Respectively. As per the law of the nature who so ever has born is to die. Some people live for others and they are remembered ages after their demise. Satarpati Ji Maharaj suddenly passed away on 6th May, 1922 at a prime age of 48 years. He has left indelible mark in the history of India. He worked with dedication, strength, intelligent and exerted his authority despite many hurdles. He shall go in the history of Indian Dalit empowerment