Peshwa Bajirao, the great Maratha general and statesman, changed the map of India in the mid-eighteenth century. His military campaigns were classic examples of his genius.
It was he who expanded the Maratha Kingdom beyond Maharashtra across the Vindhyas and got it recognised in Delhi, the capital of the Mughals who kept Bharat (India) under their rule for many years. The Maratha Kingdom created by its founder, Shivaji, and later expanded by Bajirao reached its peak during his sons reign twenty years after his death. After driving the Afghans out of the Punjab, they raised the saffron flag not just on the walls of Attock, but even beyond.
Bajirao is thus acknowledged as one of the greatest warriors in Indian history.
Peshwa Bajirao I (b. Aug 18,1699- d.28th April 1740) is considered the most valiant amongst the Peshwas. His swift cavalry movements and brilliant military strategies make him second only to the great Shivaji.
Bajirao was the son and successor of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath Bhat.
A young Bajirao was appointed the Peshwa (prime minister) by Chatrapati Shahu immediately after the death of Balaji Vishwanath (17th April 1720, at Masur camp near Satara).
Bajirao and his brother Chimaji were trained in the art of warfare, horsemanship and administration from their early teens, and were predestined to play a major role in Maratha history.
Bajirao was also a part of Balaji Vishwanaths entourage to Delhi (1718-19) and had gained first hand experience in mughal politics.
Bajirao was a very ambitious person and dreamt of expanding the borders of the Maratha kingdom further towards the north. He was witnessing a gradual deterioration in the Mughal power and wanted to take full advantage of this situation. Bajirao propounded a forward policy for Maratha expansion.
He is said to have thundered in Shahus court, Strike, strike at the trunk and the branches will fall off themselves. Listen but to my counsel, and I shall plant the Maratha banner on the walls of Attock.
Shahu was deeply impressed and exclaimed, By heaven, you shall plant it on the Himalayas.
Predictably the young Bajiraos quick ascendency caused resentment amongst several of the senior nobles. Moreso because their own seniority had been disregarded.
Also there was a difference in opinion with Bajirao whom they considered an impetuous upstart.
They believed that the Marathas first ought to consolidate their empire in Maharashtra and continue then with Shivajis policy for strategic depth in the south. Whereas Bajirao found no oppurtunities in an already ravaged deccan and sensed potential in the north.
It was eventually Bajiraos wish that prevailed.
The influence of Sayyad brothers at Delhi had also eclipsed, with the murder of Sayyad Hussain and the confinement (and subsequent death) of Sayyad Abdullah by the mughal emperor Muhammed Shah Rangila and the mughals no longer wished to honour their earlier sanads of chauth , sardeshmukhi and swaraj (given to the erstwhile Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath at Delhi, after a due treaty with the Sayyeds and the erstwhile emperor).
Subsequently Nizam Ul Mulk Kamruddin Khan Siddiqui was appointed the new Wazir and it was decided that he would deal with the marathas in the Deccan.
This also led to the maratha concentration in the north.
Clash with Nizam Ul Mulk
Bajirao had many stumbling blocks in his quest for creating Maratha hegemony. There were the Siddis at Janjira and the Portuguese challenging Maratha dominance on the western coast. But the foremost amongst Bajiraos foes was Nizam ul Mulk the mughal viceroy of Deccan (seated at Hyderabad), who sensing the weak control of the mughal emperors, had decided to establish his own independent kingdom in the Deccan.
The Nizam ul Mulk disregarded the right of the Marathas to collect chauth in the Deccan. Initial efforts towards a peacefull settlement (Chikalthan parley 1721) of the matter also failed despite the reaffirmation of the Mughal Maratha treaty from the Delhi court.
But in 1722, Nizam ul Mulks personal ambitions lay exposed before the mughal emperor and the latter (Muhammed Shah) started sidelining him. Nizam ul Mulk now rebelled openly against the mughal emperor and declared his regions as independent with the capital being Hyderabad. When the imperial army led by Mubariz Khan tried to seize the errant Nizam, the latter sought the help from his old enemies the Marathas and agreed to accept all their earlier demands. Shahu instructed Bajirao to send an contingent to assist the Nizam. Their collective armies subdued the imperial forces at Sakherkheda in 1724.
But true to his nature, Nizam ul Mulk after seeing the danger had passed by, once again provoked the Marathas by refusing to honour his word. To rub salt on the wounds, Nizam ul mulk propped up a coalition of Sambhaji II of Kolhapur, Chandrasen Jadhav,Udaji Chavan and Rao Rambha Nimbalkar against Shahu. When Peshwa and his troops had gone to collect Chauth in the south (in 1727), the Nizams forces made an surprise attack on Poona, whereby he proclaimed Sambhaji II to be his accepted Chatrapati. (Satara too came under threat and Ch.Shahu himself had to seek refuge in fort Purandar near Saswad).
Battle of Palkhed
Hearing the news of the attack, Bajiraos troops proceeded towards Poona . The Nizam was already waiting for the Peshwa with a huge army and artillery.
But the clever Peshwa was obviously a step ahead of the Nizam as far as war machinations were concerned. Instead of confronting the powerful Nizam's artillery in a pitched battle, he created a detour by plundering Nizams territories like Jalna, Khandesh and proceeded toward Burhanpur a rich mughal outpost in the control of the Nizam. Bajirao thus provoked the Nizam into leaving his base and give the Peshwa a chase. However the Nizam had to leave behind his heavy artillery in order to catch up with the Peshwas army. This was preciscely what the wily Peshwa wanted. As the Nizams army progressed towards the Peshwa, midway at Palkhed (a hill tract near Aurangabad) the Peshwa managed to trap and surround the Nizam.
The Nizam found himself in a precarious situation, surrounded as he was, without food and water supplies for days. The Nizam was soon forced to sign a humiliating treaty at Mungi Shevgaon (6th March, 1728), whereby the Nizam agreed to accept Shahu as the sole Maratha chatrapati and give up the cause of Sambhaji II forever. The Maratha rights for chauth were also recognized.
In October 1728, Bajirao and his troops launched an attack on Malwa. His contingent consisted of his brother Chimaji Appa, Tanoji Shinde,Malharrao Holkar and Udaji Pawar, all of whom were destined to great heights in the near future.The Marathas subdued the mughal forces and captured Malwa. The mughals later tried to dislodge the Marathas by deputing first Sawai Jaisingh of Amber and then Muhammed Khan Bangash. But their attempts to dislodge the Marathas from Malwa proved unsuccessful and they found themselves humbled.
Bundelkhand chapter : Mastani
Mughals under the governor Muhammed Khan Bangash had laid a siege in Bundelkhand since 1727. Its king Chatrasal (considering his friendly relations with the Marathas since the time of Shivaji ) appealed to the marathas for help, but the Maratha armies being engaged elsewhere, Shahu wasnt able to send timely help.
Chatrasal offered a stiff resistance to the mughals but eventually was wounded and captured by Muhammed Khan Bangash at Jaitpur. Chatrasal again appealed to Peshwa Bajirao (in 1729) to come to his aid. This time around Bajirao himself was in proximity to Bundelkhand (at Garha,Malwa) and with his army came to the rescue of Chatrasal.
The Mughal commander Muhammed Bangash was surrounded at Jaitpur (and his son's army, which coming to his aid was also routed), forcing Bangash to accept defeat . He pleaded with Bajirao for a free passage to Delhi which Bajirao accepted in return for a promise that Bangash would never trouble Chatrasal ever again.
Extremely gratified towards Bajirao, Raja Chatrasal declared in an open durbar that the Peshwa was now onwards his adopted son, and accorded him a personal jagir (one third of his kingdom) which included Sagar,Banda and Jhansi (Bajirao entrusted its administration to Govind Pant - who later came to be known as Govind pant Bundele).
Chatrasal also gifted Bajirao his beautiful daughter Mastani (from his Persian muslim concubine). Mastani later bore Bajirao a son who was named Shamsher Bahadur.
Gujarat had a lot of free booters (Maratha confederates who often acted independently in the province of Gujarat). Prominent amongst these were Pilaji Gaekwad and Kanthaji Kadam Bande.They owed their allegience to Sarsenapati Khanderao Dabhade who weilded influence in those regions.
The Maratha senapati Khanderao Dabhade was officially given charge for Gujrat by Ch.Shahu himself after the former had subdued the mughal officers in that state. After the death of Khanderao in 27th Sept,1729 his son Trimbakrao Dabhade was made senapati.
In Gujarat there was another player in the form of Hamid Khan who was a protégé of the Nizam ul Mulk.
When the mughal emperor despatched Sarbulund Khan in July 1724, to get control of Gujrat which was engulfed in rivalry between mughal nobility, Hamid Khan entered into a understanding with Bande to prevent the imperial interference. He gave him rights to collect chauth towards the north of river Mahi. Bajirao then asked (through his representative Udaji Pawar) Sarbulund Khan to grant him the chauth rights of Gujarat but was spurned. So Bajirao despatched his brother Chimaji Appa to Gujrat who looted the towns of Petlad and Dholka.
Sarbulund Khan was unable to simultaneously tackle Bande as well as the Peshwas armies and he was forced to sign an agreement with the Peshwa in 1730 whereby the Peshwa was given chauth and sardeshmukhi rights for Gujrat region (seaport of Surat was excluded from this agreement). But this didnt go very well with the mughal court and they replaced Sarbulund Khan with Abhay singh, son of Ajit singh of Jodhpur. But Abhay singh too reconciled with the idea that the Peshwa was the only person who could rein in the free booters and compromised with him.
Meanwhile the treaty between the Mughals and the Peshwa didnt go well with Maratha Senapati Trimbakrao Dabhade, who considered the Gujrat affairs his heridatory right . He was already having ego clashes with the Peshwa, whom he wasnt entirely comfortable accepting as a second supreme authority after the king. Note the Peshwa on his part was also encouraging new blood like Holkar-Shinde-Pawar and starting on war campaigns without consultations with the sarsenapati.Now this Gujarat issue only aggravated matters further. Sarsenapati Trimbakrao Dabhade accused Peshwa Bajirao II of breaching the contract made between the Dabhade family and Chatrapati Shahu.Finding the king also evasive in the matter, he decided to take on Bajirao directly. In a skirmish that followed at Dabhoi in April 1731, Trimbakrao Dabhade was killed (Pilaji Gaekwads son Sambhaji also died in that battle). Also captured were rebels like Udaji Pawar (he had fallen out with Bajirao) and Chimnaji Damodar who were fighting from Dabhades side.
The Elephant War with the Siddis
The trouble between Marathas and the Siddis (Abysinnian muslims) resurfaced when a Siddi (Abyssinian) faujdar, Siddi Satt desecrated the hindu temple at Parshuram in the Konkan and insulted a saint by the name of Bramhendra swami. This happened in the year 1729, after a elephant gifted by the Nawab of Savnur to the Siddis of Janjira was being transported through Maratha territory by the disciples of Bramhendra swami and enroute it had been captured by a contingent of the Maratha sarkhel(admiral) Kanhoji Angre. Presuming it to be a conspiracy of the swami, the Siddis faujdar roughed up the swamis disciples and vandalised the Parshuram temple.
Bramhendra swami was a highly revered person and this strained the historically stretched relations between the Marathas and the Siddis. Meanwhile Siddi nawab Rasul Yaqut died in 1733 and a succession war started between his sons. Kanhoji Angre had also died on 4th July 1729 and was succeeded by his son Sekhoji Angre as the Maratha sarkhel.
Bajirao sensing an opportune time despatched his army and besieged Janjira by sea. The fort was just about to fall , but for the untimely death of Sekhoji in 1733.
Sekhojis brother Sambhaji refused to take orders from the Peshwa and due to his non cooperation the siege had to be called off. Luckily for the Marathas, the Siddis son Abdul Rehman approached Bajirao for a succession settlement with his uncles and cousins whereby Marathas gave him the desired help. In return the previous territories of the Siddis like Raigad,Rewas,Chaul and Thal were recognized as parts of Maratha territory (1736).The other brothers too found it futile to resist the marathas and gave in.
Siddi was thereafter confined only to the territories of Janjira, Anjanvel and Gowalkot, with his powers greatly diminished. The main antagonist Siddi Sat was also killed in an encounter with Chimaji appa in few months time.Thus concluded what is now termed as the elephant war.
Bajirao thunders at the gates of Delhi
By 1735, the marathas had virtually gained control over entire Gujrat and Malwa. But some towns and areas under the influence of local mughal officers and zamindars refused to acknowledge Maratha control.
The Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah was also dillydallying over passing an official order chartering chauth and sardeshmukhi rights to the Marathas. Efforts by Bajirao to seek audience with the mughal emperor were also ignored. The Marathas decided to assert themselves and started plundering the adjoining territories of Rajasthan. The Mughals also retaliated by sending troops under under their Vazir Qamruddin Khan and Mir Bakshi Khan i Dauran. But both the contingents were routed by Maratha commanders (Pilaji Jadhav defeated the forces of the Vazir and Ranoji Shinde, Malhararao Holkar subdued the forces of the Mir Bakshi).
The Peshwa then decided to teach the mughal emperor a lesson of his lifetime. Bajirao personally marched towards Delhi with a large Maratha army in Dec 1737.
He divided the army into two. One contingent was led by Peshwa Bajirao and the other by Pilaji Jadhav and Malharrao Holkar. The contingent of Holkar was however anhilated by a much larger army led by Sadat Khan , the Nawab of Oudh and mughal governor of Agra . Malharrao Holkar himself managed to escape and reach the other group led by Bajirao.
Meanwhile, thinking that the Maratha threat was over, Sadat Khan sent the good news to Delhi. To join in the celebrations of his perceived success, the other mughal commanders also joined in , leaving Delhi virtually unguarded.
That was when the contingent of Bajirrao, in a swift movement , completely bypassed the encamped mughal army and reached the outskirts of Delhi (28th March 1737), covering a ten day journey in just fourty eight hours.
What followed thereafter was the total loot of the suburbs of Delhi. The Mughal emperor himself hid in the safe confines of Red Fort, while Bajirao and his men plundered the countryside in glee abandon. A eight thousand strong mughal army led by Mir Hassan Koka did try to take on Bajirao , but they were hopelessly outmanouvered and Mir Hassan himself was wounded in the skirmish.
Then before the main mughal army could gather their wits, Bajirao with his entourage returned back to the Deccan.
On 31st March 1737, the victorious Maratha army left Delhi with their large booty leaving behind Delhi, mauled and humbled.
On the way back to Pune , Bajirao planted his trusted lieutenants at various places in north and central India, which were to remain their permanent places of influence in the near future.
Treaty of Bhopal
Now the emperor turned back to Nizam ul Mulk who had earlier fallen out with him. Nizam ul mulk was made the supreme commander of the imperial forces and sent with an seventy thousand strong contingent to attack the Maratha dominions. On the way, many mughal officers, chieftains joined him. This large mughal contingent reached Bhopal to extract revenge from the Marathas.
But it was again a futile exercise. The Marathas led by Bajirao himself and his brother Chimaji Appa were all ready for the imperial army.
They completely surrounded the Mughals in Bhopal, cutting off all their supplies. Finally forcing the Nizam to sign yet another treaty, this time the treaty of Bhopal (7th Jan 1738, Dora Sarai) whereby, the mughals conceded entire Malwa, region between Narmada and Chambal rivers, besides fifty lakh rupees as war indemnity.
Bajirao and the Portuguese
Bajirao had already quelled the Portuguese threat to Manaji Angre in the Konkan. In return Angre promised him an annual tribute of 7000 rupees.
Bajirao was also having a grouse against the Portuguese over the island of Salsette (part of Mumbai, which the Portuguese had refused to lease out to the Marathas for construction of a commercial factory), following which Bajiraos brother Chimaji Appa (d.1741) attacked the Portuguese regions (near Bombay/ Mumbai) in March 1738. He successfully captured the regions of Thane,Parsik,Belapur,Dharavi, Arnala and concluded his campaign with the capture of Versova(Feb,1739) and Bassein (Vasai,May 1739).
Last campaign of Bajirao
Bajirao desired a corridor to Delhi through certain regions of Nizam ul Mulk (which earlier had been promised to the marathas in the treaty at Bhopal). Nasir Jung the Nizams son however refused. Hence he was besieged by Bajirao at Aurangabad. He sued for peace (28th Feb 1740) and ceded the districts of Handia and Khargon in Nemad, south of river Narmada to Bajirao.
Unfortunately this proved to be the last campaign of the great Peshwa.
Bajirao was struck by a virulent fever at Raver (near Indore,south of river Narmada) and hardly in a weeks time, he breathed his last (on 18 th April 1740). He was just fourty.
At the time of his death his wife Kashibai and son Janardhan were by his side. His son performed his obsequies.
Thus fate cut short the life of one of the most valorous of the Peshwas, a builder of empires and a leader of men.
The Kingdoms of Scindias (Ranoji Shinde) of Gwalior, Holkars (Malharrao) of Indore, Gaekwads(Pilaji) of Baroda, and Pawars (Udaiji) of Dhar were Bajirao's creation of a Maratha confederacy as he wreaked havoc on the disintegrating Mughal Empire and set up his jagirdars (fiefdoms).
Bajirao fought over 41 battles and is reputed to have never lost one. He is one of the three Generals in world history who never lost a battle. He is often compared with Napoleon Bonaparte by many great historians. His first encounter, the Battle of Palkhed was a good example of his innovative warfare tactics. Looking back at this battle one is compelled to admire him. His battle with the Nizam at Bhopal is known to be a masterpiece of tactical war strategy and maturity of political view. A brilliant military tactician, a born leader and a brave soldier; in every possible, sense he was the true torchbearer of Chhatrpati Shivaji's dream.