Ram Shastri Prabhune was the Chief Justice (Mukhya Nyayadhish or “Pantnyayadhish” ) in the apex court of the Maratha Empire in the latter half of the 18th century.
Prabhune is best remembered for having passed strictures against the sitting Peshwa of the time for inciting murder. Ram Shastri’s honesty in public affairs is regarded as a model for all times.
Ramshastri Prabhune was born in the Deshastha Rigvedi Brahmin family in the small town of Kshetra Mahuli, near Satara. Little is known of his early life, with references to him being available only after he entered the service of the Peshwas.
Ram Shastri held office under the Peshwas during the latter part of the 18th century. Known for his honesty and integrity, he even refused a royal gift made to his wife. He turned down the offer of an official mansion and continued to live in his humble ancestral home in the Brahmin quarter of Poona city on his modest income.
His wife sold milk from their two cows and a buffalo to supplement his monthly income.
Prabhune was renowned for his knowledge of law (including British law), philosophy, and the theories of statecraft and political science.
He was skilled in the Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, and English languages.
As a young Brahmin student of Advaita Vedanta, he had studied the Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas and was so well-versed in the Hindu scriptures, that he was considered as an authority in Pune in those times.
He once debated for five days with Shri Varadendra Teertha, a pontiff of the Madhva sect. After the debate, as a mark of honor and tribute to the scholarship of the pontiff he gave up his house and the structure is surviving to this day as the Shri Varadendra Swamy Mutt on Laxmi Road in Pune.
Strictures against the Peshwa
In 1772, Peshwa Madhavrao I died, leaving his brother Narayan Rao, a minor, as heir. Madhavrao’s paternal uncle, Peshwa Raghunath Rao, was designated regent in the minority of his nephew.
The following year, an act infamous in the history of the Maratha Empire was performed when the young boy was murdered by Raghunath Rao’s guardsmen at the direction either of the Regent or his wife Anandibai.
On the quiet winter night of 17 December 1772, the assassins entered his private quarters at Shaniwarwada in Pune; the boy-Peshwa ran for safety to the apartments of his uncle and aunt, knowing little about the true origin of the plot.
These guardsmen murdered Narayan Rao in the very presence of Raghunath Rao and Anandibai. While passing the statement, Ram Shashtri said that for this heinous act there is no other punishment than a death sentence.
Narayan Rao’s wife delivered a son shortly after the death of her husband.
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