Varanasi residents say had Raj Thackeray studied history, he wouldn't have campaigned against those from Uttar Pradesh as towns like Varanasi (also know as Benaras or Kashi) are historically linked to Maratha leaders.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) went on the rampage in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik early in February after party chief Raj said north Indians should not be allowed in the state. Raj was subsequently arrested and released on bail for inciting violence among ethnic groups.
"Raj Thackeray, indulging in petty politics, can't understand our bond with Kashi," said Vinod Rao Pathak, a Sanskrit literature lecturer at Benaras Hindu University. "Sometimes we feel as if someone is stabbing our heart. The bond is an exchange of literary knowledge."
Pathak's Maharashtra Mandal Varanasi, a body that takes pride in Marathi culture as well as its Kashi connect, helped Varanasi's Divisional Commissioner Nitin Gokarn, a Mumbaiite, in culling information from books and other published literature on the historical connect between Maharashtra and Varanasi.
So, while MNS was campaigning against north Indians in Maharashtra, Gokarn, who studied at Wilson College and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, was busy with hoardings that he hoped youngsters would learn from.
The hoardings state: "The Marathas, chiefly the Peshwas, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar, the Scindias, the Bhonsales supervised the rebuilding of Kashi in the 1700s. The Holkars and the Scindias coordinated with priests to build the famous ghats of Kashi. Bajirao Peshwa rebuilt temples." The hoardings are displayed at dozens of places in Varanasi.
"Nana Phadnavis' Varanasi residence is the venue of an annual Ganeshotsav festival," said Gokarn. "Lokmanya Tilak had established a
(community) Ganeshotsav in Bhaironnath. Rani Laxmibai was born to Marathi speaking parents in Varanasi and spent her childhood here before getting married and becoming the queen of Jhansi."
Pathak said there are about 250 close-knit Maharashtrian families in Varanasi. "Our ancestors came with the slogan
Maratha Tituka Melawa
Maharashtra Dharm Melawa
(promote Marathi language and religion)," he said.